Hanging up my professional football boots forever, I realize this is the perfect time to take a step back and write a letter to my younger self. To reflect on a career that at times seemed impossible, from the lows of searching for a professional club, to the highs of playing with players like Didier Drogba, Giuseppi Rossi, and Sean Wright-Phillips. Years of training with no club in sight, ultimately led to living in Iceland perfecting my trade with IF Vestri. Through all of the ups and downs the one thing that never changed was my love and passion for the game. I was the kid playing with the ball from sunup to sundown, simply because I loved the game and it put a smile on my face.
To 12 year old me looking back, there would be a few things I would tell myself, but nothing I would change. As a kid I was always eager to learn. Whether it was watching other kids, playing with older kids, or running around the backyard with my two younger brothers, I was always a student of the game. I was always looking for opportunities to push myself and get out of my comfort zone. The biggest thing I would tell myself is to lock in that mindset and never change. Sticking to my foundations and beliefs from a youngster helped me achieve everything later in life. Just a humble kid with big dreams. Nothing was impossible, nothing was out of reach.
To 24 year old me, I would say your dream is about to come true. Joe Funicello reached out to you on Instagram because of a “Varane Touch” video. You decide to put your trust in SoccerViza and give them a chance, only to later find out it will be your best decision ever. A company from Connecticut is helping you get to the level you have dreamed of for years. Joe is going to give you the chance of a lifetime to play professional football. Looking back, this makes it all worth it. The grind is finally being rewarded. All of the extra training sessions and sprints. The late nights of just football and sometimes weeks of falling off the grid will all be worth it. All of the “no’s” from different coaches were worth hearing for this one “yes” from Joe. There are no accidents in this game. Everything happens for a reason. It's easy to hear no, quit, walk away and make excuses. But if I had walked away after my first no, I would have never achieved what I did. I wouldn’t have learned some of these lessons or met some of the amazing people along the way.
My last lesson was learned late in my career. In Phoenix I played with Drogba and Sean Wright. After three months of being told I was going to be signed the head coach abruptly resigned. This unfortunate turn of events left me without a contract and the club without a coach. I decided to stay in Phoenix and train to better myself, in hopes that the new coach would come in and sign me. The new coach came in with completely new players and I was done. For a couple of hours I was furious. But then I switched my mindset. I took a step back and realized how lucky I was as a footballer. I took advantage of every opportunity so I could learn a little more. I was on a training pitch with Drogba every day. I watched him train and learned so much that would help me take the next step in life. Instead of being upset with what didn’t happen, I became grateful for what I had achieved. This is the biggest lesson I would tell myself at any age. Enjoy it. Enjoy every chance you have to step on the field because every chance to play this beautiful game is a blessing. Smile when you play and play the game as if it was just you and your brothers playing in the backyard. Because at the end of the day, that’s the reason I was playing, I was playing because I loved it.
- Matt Nigro