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Troy Parrott needs to rediscover the brash confidence of youth

Is it possible for a striker to have an excess of realism and humility?

Troy Parrott reacts to his miss against Scotland.
Troy Parrott reacts to his miss against Scotland.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

EVERYBODY UP TO and including Troy Parrott and his boss knows he should have scored his one-on-one chance against Scotland, but you would hope he’s not being too critical of himself. 

Parrott has the potential to be a prolific striker at a high level of the game, but he’s not there yet. And even those who reached the pinnacle of their sports squandered plenty of chances. Michael Jordan once said: “Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed.” He added that he failed “over and over” and that in the end is what helped him to succeed. 

It must be a lonely spot, being the one given responsibility to put the ball in the net. Parrott will rue his poor technique at the crucial moment on Saturday night. He will quite possibly feel he let his teammates down. Then there’s the added burden of the national humour. He scores, Ireland win and a few hundred thousand moods are buoyed for the weekend. He misses, Scotland win and we’re more subdued.  

It’s an extraordinary amount of pressure over what’s essentially a run-of-the-mill mistake in the workplace. We all make such errors in our jobs, and would unlikely be able to cope mentally if such missteps were public to anything near the extent Parrott’s was. 

Parrott, though, will just have to persevere and hope he gets on the field against Armenia, hope for a similar chance and trust that this time his technique, under even more pressure than before, holds up. 

So many young kids dream of becoming footballers but the older I get, the more I’m thankful for my stark deficiency of aptitude in that direction. 

It’s not just the physical prowess of professionals that’s admirable to me, more their ability to fall short in front of an audience of millions and come back for more, again and again. You could say the money helps, but it’s harder earned than many of us appreciate. 

Parrott has endured more pressure than most. He’s 20 years old, which is remarkable given that he’s been famous for what feels like about half of those years. Rarely has an Irish footballer been burdened with so much expectation so young.

By the time he was 17, there was a clamour for him to be starting for his country and club, on the back of his eye-catching progress with Tottenham and Ireland’s underage sides.  

Loan spells and sporadic progress have followed, as has a growing self awareness on Parrott’s part. He gave an honest, fascinating interview to Charlie Eccleshare of The Athletic in April where he said: “At 16/17, I thought I was good and I didn’t realise how much I had to learn about the game. I thought everything would be plain sailing and I’ve learned the hard way that in football it’s not.”

He spoke about his fitness level and tactical awareness and how he has had to improve substantially on those fronts. His conditioning and workrate now are beyond question. 

Earlier in the year Parrott said: “I just realised that you get one shot at this football game and where I was at the time wasn’t helping me get to where I wanted to get to. I realised I needed to do more.” 

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These are the words of a young man who has had to grow up quickly, and knows now that the chance he has could easily pass him by, like it has done for so many touted young prospects of the past.

Yet, you wonder whether there could be such a thing as an excess of realism and humility for a striker? Looking back at Parrott’s goals for Spurs and Ireland youth teams it’s discernible how nonchalant his celebrations were.  

In latter times, with Ireland and MK Dons last season, there has been more venting of pent up emotion, whereas years before it was as if he was just doing what he expected of himself. Of course, there is a world of difference between a winner at international level and a goal in an underage tournament but, still, there seems to be a marked change in outlook. 

Could it be the case that Parrott, at least in front of goal, could do with more of that arrogance of before? Strikers can’t afford to be too rational about their place in the world, sometimes they just need to “act as if”, as Ben Affleck put it in Boiler Room. “You understand what that means?” he said to his new recruits that needed to sell more junk stocks. “Act as if you are the f***ing President of this firm . . . Act as if.” 

For Parrott to resurrect a bit of the cockiness of youth wouldn’t be such an illogical thing to do. You don’t go from kicking a ball around Buckingham Street as a dreaming kid like any other to getting on the pitch in the Premier League at 17 without something quite different to the norm. He got there via talent and sacrifice, but also a level of confidence that is uncommon. 

He has learned a huge amount about what it takes to be a professional, in preparation and lifestyle and his study of the game. All of this is necessary and admirable. Yet in a crazy, intense position, in an irrational sport, in a chaotic world, you sometimes need to react in kind. That’s the thing that we may yet discover all over again about Parrott when he works his way through this – that he doesn’t need to act as if; he actually is.   

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