The Real Poop
"Na man play at the Fute-ball."
If the rumors are true, that's what a 15th century Scottish king had to say to Parliament about a certain social problem developing among the violent, rowdy hooligan classes. Not that it did much to stem the tide of "Fute-ball" (or "soccer," if you're a modern American).
Nowadays, it's hard to imagine any leading, 21st century statesmen declaring a ban on soccer. It would be political suicide because soccer, today, is one of the most popular sports in Europe. And South America. And Asia. And Africa. Basically, everywhere except the U.S. (Come to think of it, Barack Obama could probably outlaw professional soccer, and no one would bat an eye.)
But you are just like the rest of the world and its grandmother: obsessed with soccer.
You're happiest when you're on the soccer field, but for you, soccer doesn't end on the field. Your browser homepage is the Manchester City website. The only video game you'll touch (because, why play video games when you can be out kicking the ball around?) is FIFA. Whenever you get anything remotely ball-shaped in your hands (soccer ball, watermelon, your cousin's newborn baby, it doesn't matter), you have to fight the urge to drop it to the floor, kick it, and send it sailing.
And no one worked harder than you to get here. When you were younger, you worked late into the night in the backyard, trying to perfect your signature fake-out move. You had meaningful, borderline romantic relationships with the little orange cones that stood in as your make-believe defenders. You sacrificed blood, sweat, and tears throughout the years. (Not your own blood, sweat, and tears, thankfully, but certainly your opponents'. Soccer field? More like battlefield.)
In a nutshell, you love soccer, and can't imagine doing anything else with your life. According to your coaches, you're a soccer prodigy. Well, in that case, you might very well be just the sort of person who would thrive as a professional soccer player. But just because you're sure you’d make a kickass (get it? kick-ass?) soccer player doesn’t mean someone's going to just hand you the opportunity on some golden platter.
Becoming a soccer player is incredibly difficult and your chances of making it there are roughly equivalent to the chance that you will one day prove the existence of the Loch Ness monster once and for all. (Hint: not likely.) The really frustrating part? For the most part, becoming a professional soccer player is out of your hands, the function of managerial league politics, a good PR machine, and dumb luck.
That said, there are a few things you can control.
You'll need to be hard working, that's for sure. Practices are long and grueling affairs, and if you're serious about a professional career, you need to give 110% every second. So none of that, "I'll just sit this one out, guys." You have teammates that depend on you. And if you want to keep your job, you can't fall behind, because right behind you are thousands upon thousands of fresh and spritely young boys and girls eager to become professional soccer players and willing to put the work in.
And you better have a high threshold for pain and a masochistic willingness to push your body to the edge of collapse and then still be willing to jump over that edge into an abyss of never-ending aches and soreness. But what can you expect when you make a living off the ability of your body to sprint for 90 minutes plus extra time?
As a professional soccer player, though, you have to be more than brawn. You're gonna need some brains, too. For instance, you need to be smart and savvy enough to put your trust in the right people so you can focus on the field. No soccer player makes it on his or her own. It takes a village—in this case, a bizarrely specialized village populated by PR specialists, publicists, and sports agents. These people are the ones who'll look out for you when you make a really stupid, politically charged comment to a reporter after scoring the tie-breaking goal in the World Cup.
And finally, you have to believe in yourself above all else, even if your coach says you're not good enough or you don't have what it takes.
Just kidding. If one of your coaches ever says that to you, run for the hills. Coaches usually know what they're talking about, and if they don't think you have what it takes to play professionally, then sorry, but you probably don't. And that might be for the best. There's a lot of other, equally rewarding and significantly less risky careers out there for a hard-working, physically fit individual like yourself.
Bottom line: Competition is steep. Of course, the rewards, if you can make it to the professional level (and we'll repeat, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, that you probably can't) are high. There must be something about soccer that got the entire world—against even the advice of kings—not just into playing it, but into talking and reading about it non-stop.