Liverpool: Steven Gerrard’s Obsession Is The Perfect Pointer For The Stars Of Tomorrow

paul_copeI WATCHED a film a few weeks ago that I absolutely loved.

The Founder was the story of McDonald’s and its founder, Ray Kroc. Throughout the movie, Ray Kroc was portrayed listening to a motivational record that repeated a theme over and over again:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” (Calvin Coolidge)

Now, obviously, the film is a dramatisation of the true story, with Michael Keaton playing the indomitable Kroc on his journey from discovering McDonald’s after it was created by two unassuming brothers in California, to turning it into the mammoth business that continues to thrive today.

If you watch the movie, you’ll see there are plenty of character traits that neither you nor I would want to preach as a virtue to anyone — and many of the things Ray Kroc was portrayed as doing along his journey did not show him in a positive light. But there was one thing that you couldn’t take away from him, which is the main reason I loved it.

Ray Kroc was not, on the face of it, a talented man. He didn’t invent the system that made McDonald’s such a good business and he didn’t even come up with the idea that ultimately made him one of the wealthiest men of his generation (to buy the land on which the McDonald’s franchises were built). He wasn’t a genius or well educated. He was a 52 year-old milkshake machine salesman.

But what he did have was persistence.

At 52 years’ old he had still not given up hope of achieving his dreams, and when he saw the opportunity to become involved in growing the McDonald’s franchise he jumped on it. He was obsessed by it and he grew it into the business it became in spite of the obstacles he faced.

What’s this got to do with football or Liverpool FC?

You might have seen a clip of Steven Gerrard doing the rounds this week which reminded me of Ray Kroc. For anyone who didn’t see it, take a minute to watch before reading on:

When asked about what he was like as a youngster, he said he was “obsessed”. “Obsessed to be the best player in training every single day.”

Not just driven. Not just determined. Obsessed.

Look at his face as he recalls the memory. Look at the passion in his eyes when he thinks about it, how you can feel every word he says. This is not a man telling others to do something he hasn’t done. This is a man who knows what it takes to move senior team mates out of his way by being obsessed. Every single day. To stay in the team, to captain it, to win trophy after trophy by being obsessed. Every. Single. Day.

What he went onto say next had me sending messages to my family and saving the video to show to my mum later in the week. You see, I’ve got a niece and a nephew who people love to describe as talented. My mum, their nan, loves to talk about how talented her grandkids are and, much as it’s lovely to see my mum being proud of the kids, I had to politely pull her up a few weeks ago to make the point that Gerrard has very kindly reiterated for me this week (my mum is more likely to listen to Steven than to me!):

“The word talent frustrates me as well, I love talent and I love seeing it but, for me, since I’ve gone into Liverpool’s academy and I’ve watched a lot of academy games of late, the important thing for me is that these players need to understand the other side of the game; fighting, winning, tackling, going where it hurts, letting your lungs burn, really digging deep…”.

I think this is the bit that most people don’t understand. Forget footballers for a minute. I was giving the example to some friends this week about blue sky thinking and dreams, which are all well and good and absolutely necessary if you want to achieve anything extraordinary in your life. But the thing that most people don’t see and, often, don’t want to see or acknowledge, is that the dream is the easy bit.

Deciding that you want to be an Olympic gold medallist is a relatively simple thing to do. You could decide whilst reading this article that you want to win an Olympic gold medal at the next Olympics. And when you’re standing on that podium with the national anthem playing and the adulation of the crowd all around you, you will be surrounded by people talking about your talent. What they won’t have seen, though, is that greatness is not achieved on the podium or in front of the cameras. Dreams are not realised in that final moment when everyone looks at you and proclaims how talented you are.

BIRKENHEAD, ENGLAND - Monday, March 13, 2017: Liverpool's academy coach Steven Gerrard watches the Under-23's take on Chelsea during the Under-23 FA Premier League 2 Division 1 match at Prenton Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Olympic gold medallists, elite footballers and anyone else you look at in any walk of life who you consider to be talented are generally made in the same way.

They get up every day and they work. They persist when no-one else is looking. They go for a run on the days when everyone else decides to stay in bed.

Greatness is made amongst the mundanity of everyday life. For sports stars, greatness comes every time someone offers them a dessert or a beer and they have to say ‘no’, when you and I say ‘oh, go on then’. Greatness comes when they’ve been rejected or knocked back time and time again and yet they still keep going. Greatness comes from looking at those above them and knowing that talent alone isn’t enough.

I love to reference Cristiano Ronaldo in these moments. It amazes me how many people look at Ronaldo and just see the caricature that he portrays, without looking beyond to the unbelievable competitor he is.

If you are old enough, you might remember when Ronaldo first appeared in England for Manchester United as a show pony, stick thin with little end product. He could be kicked out of the game with relative ease.

So, what did he do?

He worked tirelessly every day to make himself bigger, stronger and faster. He went from a scrawny young lad to a great specimen of a man in a few short years. Then, when he realised that Lionel Messi stood in his way to being crowned the greatest player in Europe, he stepped up again, doing everything he could to increase his performance by whatever small margins he could.

I saw a video of him a few weeks ago in which it said his jump is higher than the average NBA player. That is phenomenal.

I know many people will read this and say that’s what he should be expected to do for the money he gets paid, but how many other players do you know who do that, even at the elite level? How many other players get to the Premier League then decide they won’t rest until they are crowned the best player in Europe, ahead of Lionel Messi? Christ, how many players do you know who can’t even use both feet to the same level? I’ve read that he started resting in cryotherapy chambers to improve his recovery when no-one else had even considered it.

That is obsession.

It goes back to a point I referenced a few weeks ago that Michael Beale made about Ben Woodburn and his desire to learn and improve every day, which separates him from those around him.

Take a look at the post-match photo from Sunday and Trent Alexander Arnold’s physique. I had to look twice to realise it was him!

That is a lad who is determined to take the next step. That is a lad who knows that what will hold him back next is his physicality when coming up against Premier League players, so is clearly hitting the weights to make sure he’s doing whatever he can to make that step up.

I’m delighted that Gerrard is now at our academy, spreading that gospel amongst our lower age groups, instilling in them the real skill that they will need to succeed. Not speed, not strength, not agility.

Persistence.

If I could give one thing to people, above all else, it would be persistence. And the beauty of it is, you don’t even need someone else to give it to you. You can give it to yourself.

Just make the choice to keep going when everyone around you has stopped. Just decide to work harder or smarter. As a Liverpool player, rather than focusing on the abilities others have that you don’t, focus on what you can improve on a little bit every single day.

Make yourself a little bit better every single day. That’s the secret to achieving your dreams.

Just. Keep. Going.

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10 Comments

  1. Paula murphy

    Love that Paul brilliant! I’m a PE teacher and you’re right – young kids think talent is enough! I was so pleased to hear him say that the other day! Up the Under18 reds

  2. Excellent article. Should be posted in every classroom, every locker room – shit! – every business coffee room.

  3. Great article Paul, I just wonder how many kids at academies these days are “obsessed” with making it, with so much given to them so early. I think that is a major problem with young footballers these days, and you lose a bit of desire and mentality in the modern structure. Very interesting piece.

  4. May not have much of a place in discussing sport, where the relativistic concept of greatness you’re on about obviously has the primacy, but I’d argue that an obsessive approach to achieving your dream is actually the impetus for most of the evils of the world, so I always feel a bit icky when I read somebody glorify it without that caveat. Especially if they use Ray fucking Kroc as their exemplar.
    Turns out a lot of people’s dreams are selfish, and when you obsess on that end, your means can get a bit… Tory?

    • Jimmy Corkhill

      True. But on the other hand there’s a ton of people with dreams or a real desire to change the world for the better and have done so.

      Could relate to medicine, sport, politics or even someone like Phil Scraton who certainly wasn’t acting on a dream of his, but his persistence resulted in good things.

    • Working hard and being persistent doesn’t mean that you become an evil dictator or Maggie T. There’s plenty of people that work hard and stay true to themselves, remain humble and keep good values – so doing well and keeping grounded are not mutually exclusive concepts.

      Really interesting point you’ve made and also I thought it was a great article.

  5. Agreed Steven. I liked the article, but I couldn’t agree more with your point. McDonalds is one of the most despicable organisations out there, so I wish he hadn’t: http://www.mcspotlight.org/case/

    Choose your dreams carefully before you pursue them obsessively.

  6. Neil Wheelhouse

    Brilliant motivational article!!!

  7. Vincent O'Shea

    Reminds me of a clip a couple years ago on LFC TV. They were interviewing Carra, and asked him what his favourite sport was after football. He genuinely looked confused as if he couldn’t understand the question. His answer….’five a side’.

    Always stuck with me that. A man so engrossed in his job that nothing else existed for him.

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