What is more important, to be talented at something or to train very, very hard? What do you think? | JULIAN AGUIRRE


This week we bypass the great Manchester United management debate and ignore European football tournaments except to wonder whether West Ham might be a good bet for the Europa League at 10-1.

That is because Frank Bruno was on the radio this week.

He turned 60 this month, has a book out and is always enjoyable to listen to.
The most interesting part of the interview was when he was asked what he would be if he hadn’t been a boxer and he replied, “I would have been a getaway driver, that’s what I would have done. Or been a gardener.”

There are plenty of examples of sports stars who have then gone onto other things.
Think of Big Frank doing Aladdin at the Christmas panto, or those that have become actors (Duane ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Jason Statham), or acting and politics (Arnold ‘The Governator’ Shwarzenegger, if we are counting bodybuilding as a sport), but it is more interesting to know what sports stars thought they might have been if not for sport.

Boxers bordering on the criminal or horticultural aside, Sam Allardyce has said he wanted to be a chef, Steven Gerrard said he would have ended up in “some trade or other”, Rio Ferdinand said he would have worked for the council in youth clubs, and Frank Lampard wanted to be a lawyer because, “I loved watching LA Law, remember that on TV?”
Lampard is well known for being one of the best educated footballers after passing 11 GCSEs so it isn’t such a stretch to imagine Lampard taking a law degree as it might be for say, Phil Neville.

It is an odd quirk of life that you don’t choose your sport, your sport chooses you. Like musical instruments or the theatre, some lucky few find themselves in exactly the thing they should be doing and body and mind are perfectly suited to the demands of that sport.
Unless you are Dame Sarah Storey, who won Olympic medals in swimming and then cycling, you fall into your sport and no matter how much you wanted to be a tennis player or footballer, you end up swimming two lengths breaststroke, or throwing a javelin.

All kids will have dreams of what they want to do or be and the vast majority will never do or be any of those things. I grew up around kids that were far better than me at sport; some kid played rugby for the south west of England, another was tipped for great things in athletics, but none of them reached above the regional level.

I dreamt of being a goalkeeper. I always played in goal and didn’t want to play anywhere else. But when the P.E. teacher in our primary school chose another boy to be in goal, that was the end of that. He and I both went for trials as 11 year olds at one of the town teams and because he was the school goalkeeper, he played with the ‘good’ kids and that was the end of that. The high point of my goalkeeping career was making a final with my Cubs team. That same summer I won the Gloucester county 11 and under 100m breaststroke. So I dreamt of swimming in the Olympics instead.

Just as goalies can’t play in any other position, breaststrokers aren’t good at any other strokes and Michael Phelps would never win a breaststroke race. Bowlers can’t bat. Throwers can’t jump. You sprint or you go long distance. School teams are full of athletes that can do it all. National teams aren’t.

The important point about being talented at something is that when you train, you improve more quickly than everyone else. It is never enough just to be good at the thing you are good at, you still have to train very, very hard.

There is a saying among coaches that goes, ‘It is not enough to want to be the best, you have to want to do the training required to be the best’.

No rower, ice skater or swimmer actually wants to get up at 5.15am and go training, but they know that’s the only way.

Man United players were surprised when Eric Cantona spent longer than everyone else on the training ground, but his ability to put the ball exactly where he wanted it couldn’t be left to talent alone.

So youngsters can dream all they like but ultimately it won’t be up to them. The sport will decide.