The motivated player
This week, Arjen Robben retired from international football. With the Netherlands having failed to qualify for the World Cup, Robben will finish on 96 caps and will therefore not become the 9th Dutchman to reach a century of national appearances.
History tells us that this is unusual: of 52 now-retired players to have reached 90 caps for leading European countries, just 13 have not reached 100, with more finishing just above this milestone than just below. Logic, and the trend of players below, dictates that the inverse should be true, but clearly most players would rather not end their career just short of this nice, round number.
This suggests that footballers – like the rest of us – are clearly motivated by personal achievement, even when no financial reward is directly at stake. In some cases, this might even come at the detriment of the team (there is evidence of this in cricket, for example), but smart clubs can exploit this behaviour to their advantage.
Do we know, for example, what personal motivations our players have? Perhaps a player wants to become the team’s regular free kick taker. Maybe he wants to grow his personal brand, or he wants to develop his own way of thinking about the game so that he can debate with and challenge his coaches.
There is no need to provide financial incentives around these achievements – the players have the innate motivation to pursue them. Instead, we can try to understand how we can help them achieve their goals, thereby creating motivated players who enjoy and want to play for our club.