CAPE TOWN - I’ve always wondered about talent - and not just talent, but real talent. Like there’s Nani, and then there’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Or there’s AB de Villiers, who just makes batting looks so easy. So, to explore the topic, here’s another trip down memory lane as illustration.
It wasn’t the summer of 1969, it was probably around the winter of 81. My passion for music has always been fervent and deeply emotional. Ask those closest to me and they’ll tell you that I’m noted for my motto: I don’t listen to music, I feel music. Growing up, I was obsessed with John Lennon and the Beatles, smitten with Bob Dylan, while Leonard Cohen was the centre of my universe.
So, in that winter of 81, I decided that, perhaps, I could emulate my heroes by learning to play guitar - and, who knows, where it could end? And, like Bryan Adams from his famous Summer of 69 tune, “I got my first real six string, and played it ’til my fingers bled”.
But, while I could master the chords, and I could probably today still hold my own around the braai to strum out a rendition of “Let It Be” or “So Long, Marianne”, I simply never had a real affinity for music. I was too robotic, too passionless in my playing, and just never had the natural flair or talent for it; in short, I never felt comfortable in its skin - the guitar, it was patently obvious, didn’t play for me.
Then, when my son was six, I started to teach him to play the guitar. And, boy, I got to witness first-hand what real talent is, and how real talent develops and matures. My kid was an absolute natural. By the time he was nine, he was far better than me.
His execution of the nuances that go with playing music, the intricacies of rhythm and strumming, the improvisational techniques, and the seamless, instinctive way he took to the guitar was, for me, a demonstration that there is a major difference between good and great. There are just those among us born with something else, something special.
So, to shift the spotlight to football, while coaching, application and mental strength are vital ingredients in shaping the end-product, in the end, some players will always have that something different, that something more.
Put it this way: Is it possible to take a footballer from any of the top leagues in the world, train him as hard as you want, and turn him into Lionel Messi? I don’t think so. The Argentine just has an extraordinary gift bestowed on him by the complex process of blood and genetics.
In scaling down the spotlight a bit, and shimmering it on the PSL, it goes without saying that, in a sea of good players, there are also those few who are, simply put, a little better. They have that something extra, a natural affinity for the game that transcends the ordinary, and make them a little better than their teammates.
It’s around the presence of such elevated performers that other players raise their game and, in the process, the coach is able to harmonise the disparate elements and create the team symphony.
We’ve all witnessed this season how the individual contributions of the gifted Percy Tau has animated and inspired Sundowns; and, from my own perspective in the Mother City, I’ve seen the elegant Teko Modise, even at the age of 35, still produce displays for Cape Town City which demonstrate his X-factor - he still has that something special that separates him from the ordinary.