Athletic ability accounts for so much. Some are born with it; a genetic mishmash of physical and mental coordination, while others build and earn their place through profound work and perseverance. More often than not, the hard workers have a stronger mentality in conviction and resolution than the naturally gifted. This can lead to mentality being overlooked in its creation of ‘stardom’.
Mentality maintains brilliance, coolness, poise, and fortitude. All sporting stars’ skills and talents are wasted and broken apart like the wash of waves against the stony shore if their mental attitude is poor. This perception of ‘stardom’ or brilliance and mentality was seen in Russia 2018.
Look at Brazil’s Neymar. Many blame Brazil’s exit from the World Cup though their visible funneling of attacks towards Neymar, hoping he would deliver the world-class individual skill he has shown to possess, but which he rarely delivered in Russia.
Wasn’t that failure due to Neymar’s perceived brilliance? He is perceived to be brilliant, but if he’s not playing for himself, for his own status, he seems to fall-short.
The vortex of Neymar actually weakened the Brazilian collective effort. The lithe Neymar, gifted with a nimble and spry build, showed himself to be a hot-head supported by a talented team. When the pressure was on, and the games were tight, the lack of cool-headedness replaced by ball-slapping or egotistical decisions to showboat his trickery instead of calculated passing, are a real testament to his lack of mental fortitude and selflessness as a player.
Neymar’s rainbow flick against Costa Rica was a dramatic flourish in a game in which he had been largely wasteful. Such an action was one of egotism, playing for oneself, and conveyed immaturity and a poor mental attitude. All such actions were supplanted by Neymar’s rolling on the grass, in a clear act of theatrics and lies, for a combined 13 minutes and 50 seconds between four matches; a disservice to his nation, his price tag, his fans, children, and football.
For all his talent, is he really worth €222 million? No, but not because European football is in an inflationary spiral. Neymar doesn’t possess the mental poise and graciousness someone of his talent and age should have to match his ‘next big thing’ status. His perceived brilliance has been exposed. He’s inconsistent in his brilliance, but consistent in his inconsistency and underwhelming appearances.
Unlike Neymar, France’s Kylian Mbappe had a scintillating performance, but akin to Neymar during France’s feisty last-16 victory over Uruguay, Mbappe clashed with Cristian Rodriguez in a needless manner and goaded the South Americans with a showboating pass on the edge of the box. That moment echoed Neymar’s rainbow flick against Costa Rica earlier in the tournament.
So, Mbappe is also perceived as brilliant and has a price-tag to indicate just that, coupled with him being 19-years old, having a €150 million valuation, and full of further nascent potential. However, he seems to be emulating Neymar’s playing choices, having witnessed the adulation Neymar wins with his penchant for dribbling and taste for the spectacular. Such actions are excusable at Paris-Saint Germains’ Parc des Princes, where patrons and loyal fans thrive upon such displays of audacity, but are a poor style for the heralded star that he is.
He may be young, but when he is too relaxed Mbappe has a tendency to willfully embarrass opponents or showboat. This could dissipate as he comes into his early twenties, but if this continues it will hinder his brilliance through consistently underestimating opponents and losing the ball, playing for his ego instead of passing, choosing to flaunt trickery, and getting into confrontation with players as his ego grows. His brilliance and ‘stardom’ would be another toxic thing to watch as he’d lack coolness, graciousness, and mental fortitude.
One final note would be the perception of Cristiano Ronaldo’s and Lionel Messi’s brilliance at the World Cup. It seems that Ronaldo lived up to that perception while Messi didn’t. This perception occurred again due to mentality: Ronaldo largely carried a now hollowed out, but once tenacious Portugal, while Messi crumbled with a stronger Argentina.
Teams go through cycles like all systems of life. Holland is in a downtrend; so is Italy. Portugal enters the same cycle now but we should rename it as “Ronaldogal” because without him, Portugal would have been slaughtered by Spain and not progressed to the knock-out stages had it not been for his ability to retain a strong mentality in the face of arduous opponents. He was the talisman on a mediocre Portugal team and didn’t put his head down. He stayed cool under pressure and performed. He looked to be leading and maintained his mental fortitude.
In contrast, Messi failed to live up to expectations. The supportive argument is because his teammates weren’t sufficient. If they had created enough opportunities for him to display his brilliance, then he could have won it for them. This is fallacious when you consider the team Ronaldo had. At least Messi had players like Sergio Agüero and Ángel Di María, prominent and grossly overpaid strikers on Manchester City’s and Manchester United’s teams, as well as Gonzalo Higuaín, Marcos Acuña and Javier Mascherano.
Leadership skills and mental fortitude are things born in the mind and that’s what separates the two. This is why the perception occurred, because once more, Messi put his head down as the matches turned into drawn-out struggles.
Messi did the same thing after the surprise loss to Chile at the 2015 Copa America, deciding to retire straight after, showing a lack of mental fortitude. Messi may be plainly wonderful to watch with more goals for club and country than Ronaldo at a ratio of 0.80 per game to Ronaldo’s 0.71 goals per game, and being the younger of the two, but Messi is mentally inconsistent and can choke. Even the staunch and stalwart naysayers and agitated reading this need to understand this does not strain credulity.
In closing, stardom and brilliance garnered through raw talent means nothing if you don’t have a good mentality. For all the perceived brilliance of Neymar, his mentality really undermines his status as the future world’s best. Likewise, for France’s Mbappe, he may have talent, but if he doesn’t mature or develop a cool humility, he’ll become another toxic footballing star.
And while many perceive Messi as this great anomaly, he has a prominent chink in his armour: being unable to persevere in challenging moments. Perhaps Ronaldo (€112 million), for all his envious talents and flaws too, must be recognized for possessing both physical gifts and mental aptitude, and while the rest are perceived brilliant and stars, the mental component of his stardom is still being overlooked.