Predicting performance potential at an early age is a difficult process, since the determinants for success in top level football are non-linear and multidimensional. However, frequently some of the most world talented football players were born in specific countries like Brazil, Argentina, Spain or Portugal (e.g., Eusébio, Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo). One of the most talented generations of players in Portugal (so called Gold Generation) won two under-20 world championships: 1989 (Riyadh) and 1991 (Lisbon). Under the leadership of coach Carlos Queiroz, players like Figo, Rui Costa, Paulo Sousa and Fernando Couto became world champions. The purpose of this study was to compare training and practice, and psychosocial constraints of biographical histories of these two groups of athletes that had similar success during youth, but contrasting levels of success in adulthood. The participants were 31 (of 34) football world champions and 2 coaches (Carlos Queiroz and Nelo Vingada). Semi-structured interviews (Creswell, 2006) were carried out and data were analysed through the technique of content analysis. The software QSR NVivo 10 was used in coding the transcripts of the interviews. Mann-Whitney U tests and Friedman test were used to compare elite (players that represent the main national team at adult age) and sub-elite (players that never represent the main national team at adult age) groups. Similar pattern were found concerning the: 1) psychosocial influences: parental support and pressure, sibling influence, coach support, sport and school peers influence) and training/competition patterns (number of internationalizations, minutes played in international competitions, goals scored, yellow and red card, number of hours of specific practice) between the two groups (elite vs Sub-elite) until the age of under-20. Qualitative analysis reveals some important differences between the two groups at the adult age, concerning the:
transition from junior to senior;
relationship with coaches;
opportunities (or lack of);
career decisions; and
These differences discriminate the level of performance achieved by each of these athletes.
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