Yesterday, the Brazilian national team overcame a 2 goal deficit to defeat the USA squad 3-2 in the final of the Confederations Cup.   The unheralded USA team was a surprise but  teams always are until they achieve big wins over a period of time.    Then it becomes predictable and expected, like Brazil.

But what makes a great footballer?   Being in excellent physical condition undoubtedly helps but few people actually believe that intense physical training alone can turn an average player into Cristiano Ronaldo - who is Portuguese.   Instead, there is something else that must be added.   Scientists from the University of Queensland have decided to study what this "something else" might be.  

Dr. Robbie Wilson believes that this type of research may have applied outcomes for football clubs: "Our analyses suggest that unambiguous metrics of a player's skill components should be used to help in the selection and identification of new talent. Our studies could help to streamline selection criteria and efficiency by providing a rank ordering of individuals based upon competitive one-on-one tasks. In addition, the relative importance of each type of skill component could be tailored to each player's position and the club's immediate and future requirements."

Members of the semi-professional University of Queensland Football Club (UQFC) were recruited as experimental subjects, and they were made to compete against each other in one-on-one "football tennis" games, which require very similar athletic and skill sets to that required for regular football games. In parallel, the same players were evaluated for overall athleticism and skill in sixteen different tasks. "There was no evidence of any correlations between maximal athletic performance and skill", explains Dr. Wilson. "Our studies suggest that skill is just as important, if not more important, than athletic ability in determining performance of complex traits, such as performance on the football field". 

Interestingly, the researchers are hoping that focusing on footballing ability in humans will also provide them with insight into the role that individual skills play in other species, for example during aggression, prey capture or escape from a predator. Dr. Wilson argues that the importance of skill for the evolution of vertebrate physical performance is currently unknown and largely treated by researchers as a difficult 'black box' to understand. "To develop an understanding of the evolution and function of complex performance traits, we need to investigate the role of individual skill".