The dividing line between success and relative failure in all sports, not just football, can be cruelly thin. And the idea that it is enough for a player to be born with outrageous God-given talents is fatuous.
Rodrigo Messi once said of his talented younger brother, Leo (in a promotional clip for the 2012 Ballon d'Or awards): "He has been gifted with a great talent, but if it wasn’t for an almost insane willpower to give everything and to progress, it would have served him for nothing."
We are reminded of the now famous quote from legendary South African golfer Gary Player, who when accused of being a "lucky" golfer, replied, "Yes, it's funny that, the harder I practise, the luckier I get." (Read more on the history of that quote here.)
But that isn’t to say, of course, that luck does not play a part in it.
Let me tell you the story of midfielder Victor Vazquez, who these days plies his trade for Bruges in Belgium’s Jupiler League.
Considered to be the greatest player of the legendary 1987 generation at Barcelona—one that produced players like Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique—his progress in the footballing ranks can hardly be deemed a failure, but neither can he feel he has risen to the dizzy heights predicted for him by most footballing experts at the time.
I think the good players make it, but luck also plays a part. You can have a lot of injuries or come across a coach who doesn’t like your style.
Victor made his debut in the Barca first team under Frank Rijkaard before playing a number of games under Pep Guardiola.
He played alongside Messi against Rubin Kazan in the Champions League and scored. Two weeks later, in a league match against Villarreal, he suffered a knee injury that saw him out of action for 14 months, and by the time he got back he could not return to the same level. As everyone knows, by this time the Barcelona midfield was somewhat overcrowded with talent. He plays now for Club Brugge.
The best definition I have ever heard to describe what is needed to make it to the very top came from coach Quique Dominguez.
“For me when they ask what a player needs to become successful I say that it is like the legs on a three-legged table," he told me. "Those legs comprise of natural ability, total dedication and luck.”
The inference, of course, is that you can have one or two very strong legs, but without the third the table will crash to the floor. Skill and passion are nothing without luck—the lack of desire, despite good fortune and natural brilliance, will take you nowhere, and if you haven’t got the God-given gift then all the passion and all the luck in the world will serve you for nothing in your quest to reach the very top.
The truth is that to classify any youngster, in any sport, as a "natural talent" is to potentially overshadow the struggle and sacrifice he needs to make to develop that talent further.
If he thinks he is born like this, he can begin to think that he has no need to put in any effort.