By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu
FRANCE is most joyfully celebrating its world soccer victory following its team’s trouncing of Croatia 4-2 in an exciting do-or-die FIFA World Cup match in Moscow, Russia, on July 15 2018.
If the French, goalkeeper had not acted as if he was hypnotised, creating an unwarranted opportunity for Croatia to score a second goal towards the end of the pulsating encounter, the final score could have been 4-1.
Notwithstanding that strange mental lapse by the French goalie, the Croatian squad put up a spirited onslaught against the French but could not breach that team’s impassable rear guard.
Croatia is a small formerly little-known Balkan country with a population of slightly more than four million. It became an independent state in 1991 after the disintegration of the Federation of Yugoslavia, whose other components were Bosnia, Herzegovina, Macedonia, Slovenia, Serbia and Montenegro.
To become the World Cup finalists, France and Croatia must have religiously followed a well-known sports development programme — thorough selection of personnel to administer and train the team whose members were also chosen and screened without favour but purely on merit.
The suitability for an individual to be selected into a national soccer team is based on the following criteria: Skillfulness, physical fitness, mental acuteness, emotional stability and a high level of personal discipline.
A good soccer player should be able to use both feet, that is he or she should be bipedodextorous and has to be fast.
While it is most likely that a player may have more power in one foot than in the other, he or she should be able to use either foot with relative ease to control and kick the ball.
At national level, it is unacceptable to have a soccer player who is not able to use either foot to kick a ball.
Such players are acceptable only to village social teams.
Physical fitness refers to the whole body, from the soles of one’s feet to the crown of one’s hair.
A physically fit soccer player should have an above average stamina to which much more is added by well programmed practice sessions.
People with either known or suspected cardiac problems, rheumatic or osteo-muscular or visual or aural disability should not be a part of a national soccer squad.
A good soccer player’s mind and body are required to act in a split second very much unlike those of a chess player.
It is because of that fact that it is said that an excellent footballer thinks and acts about his immediate situation and anticipates those of his nearest teammates as well as those of his immediate rival or rivals.
Soccer, rugby, boxing, wrestling, tennis and quite a few other sporting disciplines involve fast action whereas chess is a relatively slow thinkers’ game.
People with past or current episodes of epileptic or any other type of fits are unsuitable for recruitment into a soccer team of whatever level, whether social or professional.
The reason is that their minds cannot bear long spells of stress because they do not have the stamina required for such a physically rigorous and mentally taxing sport.
Emotional stability is a necessary quality in a soccer player because a temperamental disposition may cause the player to react violently against either an opponent or a referee in taxing circumstances.
There have been instances where individual players of some soccer teams have assaulted even their own coach when they were substituted — behaviour that indicated that they should not have been selected in the first place.
At the recent World Cup games, one South American team exhibited highly temperamental behaviour against both the referee and some rival teams — one of its players even headbutting a rival under the chin.
Self-discipline is most important as it is common that some otherwise highly talented players consume either drugs or simply defy official orders and, in that way, become unmanageable.
Such players may not attend practises regularly, making it impossible for the coach and his or her colleagues to plan.
An undisciplined soccer player can be compared to an undisciplined soldier. He or she is a liability and not an asset to the team.
We now look at the need to practise hard because ‘practice makes perfect’ as the English sages aptly say.
Practice will follow the coach’s instructions, of course, but the general objectives should be to sharpen the team’s skill, develop and increase its speed and generate discipline in the team as a unit as well as in each individual player.
Some countries also employ physical trainers, at least for some brief periods to toughen the players in view of the highly physical way many soccer teams now play.
Services of sports medical doctors are certainly necessary to monitor each player’s reaction to the physical stress they experience during practice sessions.
Food and beverages consumed by soccer players should be those recommended by professional dieticians lest a physiological conflict occurs between the aims and effects of the coach’s programme plus those of the physical trainer on one hand and what the team eat and drink on the other.
Professional soccer trainers emphasise the need for players to avoid weight-creating foods and beverages just as much as they should avoid beverages that would force them to empty their bladders often. Soccer players are advised to consume foods and beverages that generate energy, that is to say that can give them the vigour to act physically for preferably slightly longer than the duration of each soccer game.
However, the details of that should be left to the professional wisdom of a team’s dietician.
The performance of every soccer team is affected by the condition of the pitch on which they practise or play.
The size, weight of the ball and the pressure in it should be those laid down by FIFA.
The equipment, such as that used for bodybuilding, is collectively referred to as ‘hardware’ in customer care service and sports development.
Soccer hardware should meet international standards as stated and required by the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA).
This is most unfortunately neglected by some so-called Third World governments, some of which, strange to say, have either sports departments or fully-fledged sports ministries.
Assuming that there are adequate necessary soccer facilities, team and coach selection has been strictly on merit, many southern African nations should reach the more or less last stages of the next FIFA World Cup tournament like little Croatia rather than be eliminated in the very early phases.
Africa south of the Sahara owes it to itself to feature prominently in all world sports events.
It was most significant that black people were prominent in several European teams in the just ended World Cup event in Russia.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email. firstname.lastname@example.org