If you read my blog of summer plans, you would know that my focus in recent weeks was about pre-season and finding a new team. So read on for my top tips and more wonderful advice for aspiring footballers.
I have had to make some small (read: big!) changes in order to secure myself a team for the 2021/22 season. And to add some complexity, not just any team. But a team that puts me in my preferred position.
Moving on from the youth division
In my case, due to my age, I was no longer eligible to continue in the youth division. So, I had to find and trial with a senior team. Considering I only played 1 game during my first and only proper, federation season in Spain, this was never going to be easy.
Here’s an insider tip. Everyone knows in Madrid, if not all over Spain, that signing and actually playing in every single game is hard. Particularly if your entry point is the U19 age group. So usually players have to look for opportunities at lower division clubs to gain experience. The goal at my age is to gain a performance portfolio.
Pre-season gets underway
I feel like a lot of people can really empathize with what I am about to say. Whether in a football context or not, I definitely learnt a thing or two about myself. And more to the point, about the industry I am venturing into.
So what happened in my first two weeks of pre-season at the club I was at?
I keep returning to the theme of evolving in every blog. Football is relentless in demanding that you pivot and move with agility.
Divisions can be divisive (don’t let them be)
In Spain there are so many divisions and not everyone will be scouted by Real Madrid. So what are your options?
To give a spoiler, the club I am currently playing with is the first team.
But the club that I originally trialed with was a second team of a club in a higher division. But the opportunity ended up falling through because there simply wasn’t enough space.
Even recently, I went to trial with the first team of another club for two weeks. However, I decided to look elsewhere. Later, I will explain more about this situation.
When first isn’t the best for you
You may read this and ask, “Max, why would you go to a second team rather than a first team?”
So my Top Tip from my pre-season experience: Club’s that have second teams will have first teams in higher divisions. Unless of course their first team is in a low division and is clawing it’s way up. Don’t look at the division, look at the potential exposure and vertical mobility and weigh up your options.
Try above all else to put ego aside.
When the training schedule clashes with your other commitments
Anyways, I had an opportunity with the second team of this club, which meant morning training sessions (my preference). Whereas the club where I eventually signed trains in the night.
Obviously it isn’t the end of the world if one team trains in the morning and the other in the night.
Max Ogawa getting ready for pre-season trials
Accept what you can’t change
I definitely prefer training in the morning because you are fresher. You get to start off your day on a high. And then you have the rest of the day to focus on your studies and other aspects of life. There is a risk though that football dominates the day. You can spend more time playing, thinking and dreaming about football than studying. I say all this with some personal experience.
Juggling football at a high level and the final semester of high school was challenging, and my university entrance was at risk until I could buckle down for final exams.
When I train at night, I find it easier to focus on both on my studies and football. With more mental clarity and focus to attend to the demands of study. So from a life balance point of view, I am better off training at nights (even if it is not my preferred way of working).
Regardless of the training times, I feel very privileged to be where I am right now. And if I have to train in the cold nights of Madrid, so be it.
Build your inner circle and listen to them
Fortunately, I have quite a few people who have my best interests at heart. I am very grateful that I have people around me who support me through thick and thin. Build your support network as soon as you can. One or two trusted advisors are key, especially ones that are there to help you figure it out.
More Wonderful advice
Trials work both ways
Anyway, back to my experience with the second team of a higher division club.
Moving to the seniors, I felt that I needed a couple weeks to become used to the physicality demands and the speed of play.
The first week of pre-season featured introduction drills. Players could get a lot of touches on the ball and build up their stamina.
The second week preparation began for pre-season games and the upcoming season. This meant drills that included pressing and playing out from the back. Towards the end of the week, to finish off, we played a game.
Count the minutes
The coaches put the players in their positions, except for me. The coaching staff did mix it up a bit. If the coaching staff felt that a player already signed could be useful elsewhere, they put them in another position. Regardless, in my case, my preferred position is as an attacking mid-fielder.
But I played right-back for one half. Right away I felt the need to say something because I didn’t feel useful there.
I knew I could compete against starting mid-fielders. But due to my status, the coaching staff wanted to see if I could gain minutes with the club.
As a young footballer just starting out the most important thing is to play. To play every single game and gather a lot of minutes. And to get a lot of good statistics to tell your player story.
Know when to walk away
Signing with the club was imminent. And even if I played at right-back, I can guarantee that I would fight for a starting spot. And earn it.
However, in these types of situations, you need to know when to leave. I knew my future in football would never be of myself playing right-back. It would be as playing as an attacking-midfielder, winger, or as a striker. And I need to focus on positioning myself for success.
Look to the quality of the coaching staff
Another thing that you should take into account how you are being treated. I don’t ask the world from coaches. But having a coach who critiques you is very important. It shows that he cares about your performance and your development.
Although it is still early, I feel some sort of worth given to me by the coaching staff. This is something that I lacked at Getafe CF and the club I previously trailed with.
The coaching staff never spoke to me before or after training explaining to me about how I can become a better player.
You may read this and say, “Max, in these types of situations, instead of them speaking to you, you need to ask them yourself.”
Indeed, I do ask coaches how I can improve. In the case of my time at Getafe CF, the responses were very blunt and not in-depth. Whereas a player the coach clearly cared about would get lots of 1:1 time after training.
More top tips for aspiring footballers
Long term thinking creates your player pathway
Fortunately, a new opportunity came up right away. I feel very honored and excited to begin this new stage and hopefully shine in this competition.
I can’t give away any specifics yet. Firstly, I need to wait until the club submits the necessary paperwork. And secondly, I need to wait until the club has announced my incorporation into the team.
At the time I am writing this blog, I am in my first week of pre-season with my new team. Time to dust off the cobwebs that have gathered during the summer break and prepare for the season ahead.
Now we will play against other clubs. Most are either in the same division or youth squads of big teams here in Madrid.
With the type of treatment I am receiving now, I already feel part of the team. Obviously I am playing in my preferred position. Instead of just being a fill-in if players are missing in other positions.
These types of things can make a player into a better player. It gives you more confidence, and with confidence you believe in yourself more, which will help you perform better.
Top tips for staying true to your abilities
Just to summarize everything, know when to stay and know when to leave. Seek other options if you feel it is necessary.
Never settle for a club that will play you in a position you do not believe will be beneficial for your future.
Know your worth and what you bring the table. If you get signed – in football or a normal work space – you will experience ups and downs.
I’d love to hear your own experience for creating a player pathway, in Spain or anywhere in the world.
Hi Max, I’m Roland from Uganda and I started training for football at 18 years, am now 20. Am not that talented But I would like to play professional football, do you think I can realise that dream of I train hard even if I started while older?
Hi Roland, I would say ideally football training starts at a young age. I personally started at 4 years old, just before my 5th birthday. But there have been some really famous players who started late – very late. Didier Drogba started at age 12 but others as late as 22. So I definately wouldn’t discourage you from trying. It’s the lack of talent that is more concerning….so I hope you have been working on your basic skills everyday because that is one thing the scouts won’t overlook unfortunately.