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To lead, to reflect, and to dream: The journey of an inexperienced leader of men

Claudio Villa

As another year comes to a close, an inevitable sense of reflection accompanies the festive cheers of Christmas and the loud bangs of New Year's (or the neighbors) celebrations. This is the time where we look back not only on the events that occurred in the past year, but on how the good and why the bad came to pass; how this year further shaped our character and what we can do to avoid repeating past mistakes.

So as 2013 ends, I share with you a somewhat unusual, though I hope refreshingly different, reflection of my 2013, from a footballing point of view of course, after all, this is football blog, the year in which I surprisingly became a leader of men.

I should probably begin by explaining how I became captain in the first place (or, as my accounting teacher always says: "When you don't know where to start, just start!"). Since at my level of recreational, though still strongly, strongly competitive football, teams are self-managed and a lot of it is volunteer-based, only the first teams have official coaching staff. Thus, the onus is on the players to deal with team-logistics. From making match-day lineups, to managing substitutions, checking who's present/absent for training and matches, making training programs for training, and arranging transportation to away venues. In the beginning, I did what I always do in new situations — lay low, analyze the situation, slowly earn respect, and then wait for my opportunity to strike and, well, strike. So slowly I became more involved when lineups were being made and important team issues were being discussed, and more vocal during matches and training. Before I knew it, I was fully entrusted with making match-day lineups and designing training drills! From that point, it was only a formality to be "voted/appointed" captain.

So, I had obtained the conflicting title of "player-coach-captain." When I think of professional player-coaches in the past, like Nicolas Anelka at Shanghai Shenhua and Rino Gattuso at FC Sion, I think, "No wonder that experience failed." For example, when I'm making the starting XI and include myself in it, I often get a demon-look from one of the bench players that think that I'm benching them too much and abusing my dictator powers, while really I am thinking in the best interests of the team and trying to play the best XI. What many fail to realize is the number of factors that go into making a lineup and deciding which takes priority over the other: fitness, tactics, team balance, bench time, chemistry, attitude, player characteristics, etc.

Another issue is training. When I explain drills and bark out instructions it often seems like I'm playing the "holier-and-wiser-than-thou" role while I'm still just a player like the others, not to mention their age as well. It makes it hard to be taken seriously and thus have them carry out the drill correctly. Respect and authority are two different things I've learned; obtaining one doesn't mean you've won the other. No wonder AVB failed at Chelsea; though honestly, his lack of authority, due to the aforementioned age issue, was the greatest catalyst of his downfall. My downfall may be my inability to balance the "player-mask" with the "coach-mask."

In my quest for success, I have looked at many current and past players and coaches for inspiration from their leadership styles on and off the pitch to figure out which style might be best to help me develop. Jose Mourinho's paternal style? Alex Ferguson's authoritative "step-out-of-line-and-say-hello-to-my-little-friend" style? Diego Simeone's never-ending pot of grinta? Antonio Conte's curious mixture of the three? Vincente Del Bosque's... Lord knows what that guy even does, the Mona Lisa exhibits more facial expressions than that man. Or how about Alessandro Del Piero's calm but seemingly timid on-and-off the pitch demeanor, Lampard's constant communicative/instructive leadership, ol' Oliver Kahn's perpetual yelling, or Totti's "lead-by-example" (i.e. lead by scoring more goals than everybody else)?

Enough talk of off-the-pitch affairs though (I'm sure John Terry knows all about them) about things on the pitch? One thing that has absolutely fascinated me during my playing time is how people's personalities really surface during games. It seems to be true — the quiet guys are quiet and less imposing, the disciplined guys are disciplined positionally and always willing to sacrifice for the team, the nice guys are willing to listen and do more of the dirty (defensive) work to allow others to express themselves offensively, the lazy, less altruistic chaps (who, for some reason, always tend to be the strikers) aimlessly wander about the halfway line watching life the game fly by (and have the nerves to claim they played a good game when they nothing except score 1 or 2 goals), the more flamboyant guys tend to be tricksters on the pitch and take more risks, the intelligent guys rationalize situations strategically, and the less intelligent guys are, well, quite frankly, idiots. So that makes me think that players like Claudio Marchisio and Kwadwo Asamoah are indeed quite timid, the Fernando Llorente's are humble warriors, the Andrea Pirlo's are, of course, the classy, intelligent thinkers, and the Marco Motta's are, ehm...

Nevertheless, for all the things that I've learned in 2013, there are equally many, if not more, things that boggle me. How do you deal with defeat emotionally and still find the strength and honor to "really give yourself" to a game that means so much to you, especially when the team seems to be in a perpetual losing spiral? What do you say in such situations anyway; what words can really make a change?

Thankfully, these things shape me not only as a player, captain, and coach, but also as a man, personally and professionally.

My passion for the game and desire to win remains boundless, though It really doesn't matter how low of a league you play in, it's about the principle of choosing to do something and having the honor and Saiyan pride to give it everything in doing that. If not, then just don't do it. I've seen enough people live with too many regrets in their lives to know that at least if I fail, I gave it everything, failed with honor, and have no regrets about what coulda, shoulda, and woulda been. So what if I play in the 7th division (with 1st being the highest)? It's still a dream for me to win a trophy; a dream which slowly may be becoming an "obsession." It's hard to truly explain the power, reasoning, and feeling behind dreams, but it suffices to say that my dream, one that may provide some strange sense of personal redemption, is one fueled by a desperate hunger for victory in my life. And that, I'm sure, is something we can all relate to (especially Seto Kaiba).

Much food for thought and things for me to comprehend remain though: If you're a leader of a team that, quite frankly, is shit, are you, and can you still be, a good leader (and how)? How do I leave a legacy behind (or like the Wu-Tang-Clan sang, "Here's a toast to your memory// And when I'm gone, how many n----s gonna remember me?")? How much do professional players consider football as an obligation and how much is it truly a passion and a dream (come true)?

Lastly, I extend my thanks to the writers of BWRAO for asking me to share my experiences with you all and giving me the opportunity to write about something that means so much to me. But also, I would really like to encourage people to get out there and get involved in the game, preferably by playing but if not by volunteering at a club in one way or the other. If playing in 7th division recreational football can make me spit out this amount of never-ending drivel so passionate and driven about something, and be such a dream for me, then who knows what it can do for you!

Happy New Year to you all, God bless, and Forza Juve my friends!