Esteban Granero: "The mental aspect is a little bit forgotten in football"
Esteban Granero walks through the lawn of the Universidad Camilo José Cela without any of his groupmates, sitting under the pine trees, turning to look at him. The beard of a bored samurai, jeans, t-shirt, tennis shoes, beatnik sunglasses and dishevelled hair. He enters the library of the Psychology Faculty and looks on his books with concentration. There are four other students too busy to be distracted. He opens a textbook of Applied Psychology and turns the pages with delight. Except for his exceptionally wide shoulders, he could go unnoticed as a library rat. Madrilenian, 22 years old last July, he's on his third year of psychology. However, it is easier seeing him on the grass at the Bernabéu. This evening, against Almería, he will play as Real Madrid's offensive midfielder.
"I used to study in the Complutense, but it was very hard for the teachers to understand my situation and allow me to miss some of the classes", he says. You can hear many top level sportsmen fighting to combine their studies with proffesional sports in Spain complaining about this. The system conspires against them. Few universities value their efforts by giving them opportunities. But there are exceptions: "Here all the teachers help me. I meet them one by one. We fix a date for the exam and I stay in touch via e-mail".
Granero warns that he has no more privileges than counting on generous classmates to share their notes with him. He has trainings in the morning. "I photocopy them all at once. Then, I study the same as everyone else and I have the same exam. The only benefit I have is setting a special date for the exam if it is necessary. As for the rest, I just come to the library and swallow the subject whole. I'm one of those who leaves everything for the end, a little bit disorganized."
Listening to him speak about his scientific vocation would likely make you think that you're talking to doctor Frankenstein of football. He is excited about entering the unexplored territories of mental training. "I like everything related to cerebral biology, the physiology of emotions and else", he explains; "also the subject of learning, conductism and conditioning or conditioned reflexes. Lots of experiments have been made on animals and it works similarly in humans"
The founder of the Center of High Efficiency, Walter di Salvo, installed at the complex where Real Madrid trains a machine that intends to excersise the mind through special programs developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Granero thoroughly examined the device. "It hasn't been used yet, but I think it is very interesting. Its aim is to make the player able, through the viewing of certain images, to condition his mind to relaxation or excitation. Depending on the velocity and the sequence of the images that you're shown, your brain and nervous system can become more active or, vice versa, relaxes. I've seen it, but we still haven't tried it out. The field of psychology can still evolve a lot. There are many innovations on the physical, tactic and technical aspects of trainings. The psycological aspect however, is for me as important as the rest, even though is a little bit forgotten now".
"Every day, in every competition, it is becoming more evident that the psychological aspect of the game can be as vital as the rest", he goes on; "it's been seen hundreds of times how teams physically and technically inferior manage to defeat better teams just because they believe more in themselves. It's also said that a striker can go through good and bad moments. Each moment depends on his own confidence. If you could train players to never go out to the pitch sleeping, to be always in a good moment... If you could train your mind in that aspect. Imagine a striker perpetually in good state. It would be fantastic".
"Everything that is strange is difficult to accept", he ponders, "but I'm convinced that if he players do this kind of thing and see that is giving positive results we will end up asking for it. It has the advantage of not requiring too much effort and you can get benefits in every other aspect: physical, technical and tactical. Mind feeds everything".
Granero grew up in Madrid's lower ranks. In 2007 the club sold him to Getafe for three million euros and this summer he was rebought for four. Florentino Pérez was keen on the signing. The president thinks that he fits perfectly the ideal model of canterano. He believes he is the successor to Casillas.
His coaches at the dirt fields of la Castellana used to say that, as a young kid, he had an unbreakable faith- He, however, doesn't see it that clear. "Sincerely, I would like to have more confidence on myself. It would help me a lot. What I have had is lots of ambition. I've always wanted to be the best, the one who gives the most... I've seen myself on the need of feeling like that and if I didn't have it and I had to train double I just did it. But I'm a little introverted and I'd need to believe more".
"Sometimes, us players don't have the courage to do the things we have to do on the pitch. You don't trust what might happen when, supposedly, you should know how to do them. You realize that at the end. You say: 'I should have tried harder'. Maybe you've gotten everything right, but you should have dared to get some things wrong. Knowing how to weigh the risks and how you have to assume them is something on which you can train. That is on your head, not on your feet or your lungs. That is seen on the pitch. Brave players are those who get it wrong and try again. If you're not a robot, failing is mandatory. What is important is your reaction to a failure".
Granero is not as addicted to PlayStation as he is to the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami or to music. At his home he usually picks up his guitar and plays it with the same fluidity with which he talks linking his ideas. "Usually, footballers are people with a lot of confidence on themselves. Many of them even think that they are more than what they really are but that ends up benefiting them. If they didn't have a superdeveloped ego, they couldn't play on first division. They would dare to do less things and they would go downhill".
When asked for Cristiano Ronaldo's ego it doesn't take him a second to respond. "If I were him, I'd also be convinced I was the number one. He has incredible characteristics and he does well believing it. If not, he'd not be taking advantage of his resources. The good thing is that, on top of being ambitious and self-demanding, he is humble. There is a condescending humility that is useless. It's those that say: 'The thing is I'm not very good'. Then there's a genuine humility that consists on questioning yourself and becoming aware of your mistakes. Cristiano has that".
Sooner or later, Granero, The Pirate, will be Doctor Granero. For the time being, while he helps to balance Real Madrid's midfield, he's on a crash course of a subject that none of his classmates will dream with learning.
-Perfect disheveled hair, good looks.
-He is a nerd.
-Plays the fucking guitar. Hot.
-Isn't afraid to talk about his feelings :')
-He can be a little idealistic but it's cute. Studying the same as him I can identify.
Oh and I think that what Iker said made him cry himself to sleep several nights:
Do you do any psychological work?
"No, we don’t. I know they can be very useful in other sports, but we don’t have any psychologists. We had one once on the Spanish national team and we were eliminated in the first round."
i think we need a granero tag?