After I published the US needs a high level soccer coach, a great discussion ensued in the comments.
Today I want to focus on a particular topic that arose. Specifically, is it difficult to identify an elite player? And if so, why?
The answer is quite involved, but I will offer a good starting point. At one end of the spectrum you have a rare minority who “just see it”. On the other end, you have the vast majority who don’t.
It really does seem to be quite bi-polar, without much of a middle ground.
The reason being that high-level player identification is a “black art” if you will. There is no checklist one can go through.
For the vast majority it is extremely difficult
This is because there are no objective measures per se, that clearly distinguish one player’s quality over another. And even if we came up with a set of metrics; US Soccer, in it’s entirety, is not instrumented to record these “stats”.
Along these lines, reader Alberto shared a brilliant article that sheds some light.
But beyond the numbers, we have been saying for a year now that the two dominant factors in identifying elite players are Technical Quality & Soccer IQ. You can’t quantify these things!
How do you quantify the smoothness, the fluidity, the exquisite way a player caresses the ball? And make no mistake, these things matter. They are not simply superfluous aesthetics, but rather evidence of a player’s total control and mastery of the ball.
Perhaps even more difficult; how do you quantify a player’s decision making?
These questions are mathematically intractable. As such, we must rely on our judgment. You see it is a “pattern matching” / “pattern recognition” problem. And the human brain is by far the best instrument for this.
Why judgments differ
The game and hence players are perceived differently by different people. What distinguishes these perceptions is the foundation of your soccer education. That is, what are the core principles and philosophies that you have come to accept as truths about the game? It is these core ideas upon which all your conclusions come from. Anything from identifying a quality player, judging a coach, or analyzing a game to making real-time judgments during a match.
And there is no thorough and concrete checklist your brain consciously goes through to make a judgment. Instead, one sees a pattern. A pattern, again, which is a direct function of your core truths. So person A may see very different patterns, and hence have very different conclusions, than person B.
This begs the question: What are the better core principles or philosophies?
This is where I become baffled and frankly disgusted by US Soccer. Why? Because the answer is quite simple actually. The world has shown us. All the great teams and world class player producing countries have shown us the model for decades. We have examples year after year of what players have supreme Technical Quality and Soccer IQ.
There are many attributes these players have in common and they should all be studied under the microscope. But you know what the most fundamental thing is? They can retain possession far better than their colleagues. That is the starting point. That is a core principle!
If this is not one of yours, just understand that you are not aligned with the world class teams and players. And I contend as a result, the patterns you see and hence conclusions you make are fundamentally flawed.
And so here we are. We live in a country where this is not a core principle. Instead one of our core principles is size, strength, and speed. Another one we are heavily dependent on are strictly objective measures: goals, assists, games started, minutes played, what pedigree you have, etc. These are not fundamental indicators of Technical Quality and Soccer IQ!
There are many reasons why these ideas have become so deeply ingrained in our soccer culture. But that’s a whole other discussion.
For now, what do you think? How do you make judgments? Can your brain instantly recognize after just a handful of touches, or just one game, whether a player has technical quality? What about Soccer IQ? Do you find yourself looking to measurable properties to decide?