Bravery is a misused term in football. Too often bravery is used to describe physical effort – making a tackle or putting the body in harm’s way.
While there is no doubt these choices demonstrate bravery, true courage in football is about taking calculated risks with the ball to make a difference.
Michael Carrick, the Manchester United midfielder, is someone who knows what true bravery on a football pitch means. Winner of the 2008 Champions League and multiple English Premier League champion, he has been a mainstay of the Red Devils team for the last decade notching up almost 300 appearances.
“Getting on the ball…..that is the most important kind of bravery.[It’s] having the belief and confidence to try something instead of playing the percentages.”
Playing scared or playing fearless – that is the choice of every player when they step out onto the field.
For most players, the default position is to take the conservative option and not make mistakes. There is no danger to status in taking this approach – no chance of recriminations if things go wrong, no chance of losing the ball, conceding a goal or even losing the match.
However, playing with a desire to avoid mistakes at all costs puts a player in a mental straitjacket.
Players do not develop if they do not take risks, especially young players.
Individuals need to make a difference when they are on the field. They need to play fearless.
Young footballers must learn to constantly evaluate the risks around them.
Accurate risk assessment comes from either making mistakes or watching others make them – and then learning.
In football we need to have the courage and belief to let young players express themselves if we want them to become truly creative.
But if players are going to try something special coaches, parents and teammates need to understand that recrimination when something goes wrong is not the answer.
Carrick was fortunate to be part of a West Ham team that encouraged flair.
Managed by Harry Redknapp, he was instructed to constantly pass the ball out of defence from the start of his English Premier League career.
Ultimately he became a rarity in the English game – a ballplayer in the mould of Barcelona’s underrated Sergio Busquets.
When playing out of the back, Carrick looks up to see space and the runs of his teammates ahead of him. Many of his contemporaries only see the shirts of their opponents and take the easy option – lump the ball long – and lose possession.
The West Ham squad coached by Redknapp also produced the likes of Chelsea legend Frank Lampard, Manchester United captain Rio Ferdinand and, before injury blighted his career, England international Joe Cole. Each of those athletes could play football because they were told to play with flair.
From Moscow to Bill McKinlay
The ability to take control and not be afraid of failure is the trait of every player who walks up to the penalty spot during a penalty shoot-out.
Michael Carrick accepted this responsibility on a rain-soaked Russian night in 2008 when Manchester United played Chelsea in an all-England European Champions League final.
Telling himself it was “just a training exercise” he scored past the world class goalkeeper Petr Cech and ultimately became a champion as the Red Devils prevailed.
Bravery is about being able to take responsibility in those high-pressure moments.
It is a quality that we nurture in all Top Flight footballers.
Mistakes will occur but that is why we encourage learning now – so when those big moments come along later in life, an individual may take responsibility and be the difference to their team.
Moscow may be a long way from Bill McKinlay Park but the philosophy is the same – be brave and have the confidence to play.
The Big Interview with Graham Hunter podcast – “Michael Carrick: Inside the Box”
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