It was a normal game. As always, we had been out the night before. As always, we’d been out much too late, and, as always, I was much too tired to play football at 11 in the morning. Despite all of that, I still played quite well: I scored a goal, got one assist and scored a penalty. But what I didn’t know was that this wasn’t just a normal game after all. It was a game attended by a scout from Vitesse Arnhem, who was eagerly watching from the sidelines.
I was asked whether I wanted to attend a trial at the club. It was the day that everything changed for me – the day an 18-year-old boy who had always dreamed of becoming a professional footballer got the chance to make his dream come true.
I did well at the trial and the youth team coach at the time wanted to sign me for the next season straight away. After long discussions at home, I decided to grab this opportunity with both hands.
Finding balance to succeed
At that time, I was in my final year at high school, meaning I had to skip a few classes to get to training on time. But I was committed. Nothing would stop me from making my dream come true, so the agreement I made with my mother was simple: If my grades ever dipped, I would have to skip training instead of school.
It was an incredibly strenuous year. When I got into a traffic jam on my way home at night, I was glad as it gave me the chance to spread my schoolwork across the steering wheel to prepare for the tests I had to take.
I’ve always been the kind of guy to push things to the limit – or even beyond – to achieve my goals. That year, I had two: to succeed in my exams and to sign for the U23 side at Vitesse. And in 2014, I did both!
I was well aware this didn’t mean I’d reached the finish line. On the contrary, this was just the beginning of a tough journey; one that I have followed without drifting off and one that has elevated me to become a member of the German national football team.
You have to make sacrifices, make mistakes and learn to deal with disappointment along the way if you’re serious about making your dream come true. Even if some people might think so: Nothing is free in life, and success is always the fruit of hard work.
Doubling down to win respect
Yes, I’m a professional footballer now however at the beginning I found it hard to fit in. I didn’t have that feeling of belonging. At training, my teammates smirked at my poor technique and lack of coordination. Sure, off the pitch I was well integrated, but on the field of play, I always had the feeling that others thought I was far worse than them, because I had never been to a youth academy and was lacking the basics to play football properly.
And it was true: When trying to trap the ball, it used to bounce five meters away and quite often I screwed up coordination exercises because I didn’t have my feet under control. In fact, I was only praised for my ability to run a lot and fill the gaps that my teammates opened up when they lost the ball unnecessarily.
This impression accompanied me for a very long time as a professional. But at the same time, it served as motivation to do more than everybody else. It might sound like a cliché, but if you asked my teammates – both past and present – who is always the first to arrive and the last to leave, most of them would reply “Robin Gosens.”
I knew that I could only address my deficits if I worked harder. Every day I would ask one of the coaches whether I could add more technique, fitness or coordination exercises after training was finished. That was the only way I could develop further and earn the respect of my teammates.
I believe we all know the feeling of not being taken seriously. There is nothing that makes me feel worse. It ate me up, but also gave me the motivation when I started to see the results of my efforts. I improved quickly and continuously.
The coach of the first team wanted to take me to the winter training camp during my first U23 season. The news spread quickly in the locker room. I will never forget the look some of the players gave me, even though they wanted to hide it: envy. As the saying goes, ‘pity is a gift, envy must be earned.’ It also proved to me that hard work is always rewarded!
The training camp was the door opener for me to change to FC Dordrecht. In return, Dordrecht paved the way for my transfer to Almelo, where I played for two years. This led to my first full professional contract at Eredivisie (the top-flight football league in the Netherlands), which in turn was rewarded with a transfer to Atalanta in Italy.
It’s all about mindset
My mentality and discipline have always been the skills that have made me stand out. If asked today how I’ve made it this far, I would name these two capabilities. There has always been the discussion about what’s more important – talent or mindset. Of course, you need both if you’re to make your dream come true, but I’m absolutely convinced that mindset makes all the difference in the end.
I have seen so many professionals who were more talented than me but haven’t had the same level of success. Your readiness to go this extra mile will make the difference at the end.
If you tell yourself that you’ve made it, and you consequently rest and don’t continue to put in the same effort, you’ll simply be replaced. The same will happen if you’re not able to deal with disappointment or overcome obstacles, because there are so many boys out there who are ready to do just that, and they are the ones who succeed.
Embrace positivity – especially during the lows
My first year in Bergamo was riddled with disappointment and self-doubt. I’d arrived in a new country, didn’t speak the language and there was no one there to help me. For the team, I was not important, the coach didn’t have confidence in me, and on occasion, suggested that my skills weren’t worthy of a place at Atalanta.
I can’t remember how often I sat in my room at night asking myself if I had screwed my whole career up with this move. I didn’t play. For the team I was invisible, and outside of soccer, I had no family to distract me. It stayed like that for most of the season.
It hurt what the coach said to me, but I knew that I had the quality to play in Serie A.
I tried to do the things the coach asked of me, I continued to put in extra training sessions, I learned from my competitors and slowly but surely adapted to the level required.
I knew that one day the hard work would pay off. I started to get more playing time, got along better in the team and became more and more important for them – month by month and season by season. Now – after four years here in Bergamo – I’ve become a core member of the team, played in the Champions League and become a part of the German national team.
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Destiny and determination
If you’d have asked anyone if they thought any of this was possible, they would probably have said ‘no.’ Of course it takes some luck too. You have to be in the right place at the right time. But just being there won’t automatically bring success.
Nobody ever put great faith in me with regards to playing football. I was never the most talented or the one everybody admired. I’m convinced that one of the main reasons I’ve managed to carve out a career in football is because I’ve always wanted to prove that you can make your dream come true.
If I could share any advice, it would be to never lose your focus, work hard and you can overcome any obstacles you may face. Believe me: It’s worth dreaming!
Interested in reading more about Robin’s journey into the thriving and competitive world of professional football?
Why not check out his recently published autobiography (in German).