The character traits necessary for international football players has long been the subject of study and debate. Whilst football players aren’t typically renowned for their intellectual and articulate mannerisms, there’s no doubt that a strong mind set is required if one is to handle years of strenuous training, media spotlight, football politics and the pressure of pleasing an enormous fan base. Confidence, concentration, commitment; unless high-profile players can demonstrate a high degree of emotional stability, they’ll see their career come to a quick end as they cripple under the heavy demands placed upon them by the world of football. For some, it would seem that poker has become something of an escape from the pressure of playing team sports

If you look at today’s biggest football stars, you’ll find the one thing they have in common is their desire to be high-achievers in every aspect of their lives. Whilst you might think that being a world-famous footballer would be sufficient fuel with which to kindle your ego, footballers are typically also concerned with their image as fathers, fashion icons and business men.

You don’t get to play the World Cup without first having endured years of hard work – the footballers who reach ‘the top’ exhibit the highest level of ambition. It’s not surprising that this competitive mentality and ability to deal with stress extends into other parts of footballers’ lives, where they continue to challenge themselves in the pursuit of self-improvement. These are men who settle for nothing but the best; who push themselves to be well-rounded achievers in everything and anything.

The psychological insight into the minds of footballers offers some explanation as to why legends such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Jr, Teddy Sheringham, Christian Vieri, Tomas Brolin, Jan Van Soreson, Tony Cascarino and Gerard Piqué have developed a love for poker. Unlike in football, poker allows these athletes to focus on themselves and their personal intuition. Playing professional football is an extreme physical challenge, whilst live tournament poker sits on the other end of the spectrum as an extreme mental challenge. To master both is to be the most well-rounded achiever of all. It’s subsequently no wonder that an increasing number of footballers are trying their hand at poker. Earlier this week, PokerListings.com took a closer look into the similarities and differences between football and poker…

OPPONENTS

Differences: The football pitch can be a vicious place. The threat of a red card doesn’t do much to prevent spitting, swearing, punching and even biting. When tensions run high, football players have been known to verbally assault or physically attack their opponents. Fortunately, the intimidation that takes place at the card table is a subtler, quieter type that arises from a slower-paced and more contiguous setting. Though fights have been known to break out at casinos, a typical poker tournament won’t usually end in blood (unless you’re Mads Mikkelsen in Casino Royale.)

There’s only one person you can rely on in poker – yourself. This private and individualistic aspect of the game no doubt appeals to team athletes who are used to placing all their trust in others, and having others rely wholeheartedly on them.

Similarities: Though differing in form, intimidation works well in both poker and football as both require the player to wear out their opponent. At the end of the day, both games are fiercely competitive.

STRATEGY

Differences: An analysis of the way players move helps footballers develop a strategic insight into how to best go about out-manoeuvring their opponents. Strategies are discussed amongst team players and manoeuvres are practiced months before a match. At the card table, in contrast, your opponent’s playing style must be mulled over in silence. Poker players don’t display emotion and cards remain secret – identifying strategy is therefore much harder in poker than in football.

Similarities: Both require psychological insight into your opponent’s mind, as well as knowledge of the different strategic approaches that are possible to employ. To develop an understanding of both poker and football strategy requires serious study and plenty of experience, though there’s no such thing as a reliable prediction of outcome in either case.

STRESS

Differences: Mess up in football, and the dismayed boos of loyal fans that have travelled across the world to see you play is enough to send you on a guilt trip. Add to that the disappointment of your coach, annoyance of your team members and anger of your manager – probably you won’t be feeling too good about yourself. The pressure experienced by football players to perform well on the pitch should not be underestimated. The atmosphere is fast-paced, loud and physically demanding. Though poker can be a stressful game, a footballer’s blood probably doesn’t pump as fast placing bets on money they can easily afford to lose, as it does when they enter a stadium knowing that literally millions of people are counting on them.

The incredible earnings made by football players also allows them to spend considerable sums of money on poker without suffering too severely from the consequences of losing. Understandably, poker is more attractive for those to whom it poses a lesser risk. That’s not to say footballers are immune to the dangers of irresponsible gambling. Premier League player Matthew Etherington eventually had to seek help for his gambling addiction, after years of spending all his wages on horses and iGaming.

Similarities: The necessity to stay clear-headed and perform consistently well is an emotional challenge faced in both poker and football. The embarrassment of losing badly is painful in both games, though at least in football you have your team members to shift the blame upon.

EXERTION

Differences: Poker games don’t end with the players drenched in sweat and suffering from knee injuries. In fact, many ex-footballers-turned-poker-players retired as athletes exactly because of the injuries suffered from playing sports. Poker allows footballers to experience a competitive thrill without having to run seven miles each game or spending months on a strict diet.

Similarities: Though you can play poker even when extremely unfit, being healthy definitely helps with staying alert at the card table. With tournaments sometimes lasting for days, healthier poker players benefit from being able to remain seated for longer periods, go a greater length of time without sustenance and stay clear-headed even while exhausted.

WINNING

Differences: Though winning at either game is great cause for celebration, it would be weird to rip your shirt off, run around in circles and engage in a group hug after winning a poker tournament.

Similarities: Earning the title of ‘Last Man Standing’ must nonetheless be a feeling of great relief and gratification. When it comes down to it, stars like Ronaldo and Neymar Jr play poker for the same reason they play football – for status, money, admiration, and more importantly, for the personal feeling of accomplishment that comes with winning. Though the games of football and poker differ widely, there’s clearly a similar satisfaction to be felt when succeeding at either.

Ronaldo is a world-wide icon with the largest social media following of any other athlete, and subsequently a great choice for Brand Ambassador to PokerStars. As an industry struggling to overcome anti-gambling laws and a history of negative connotations, it’s no wonder major poker sites are using footballers’ love for poker to their advantage and turning it into an opportunity for good press. It sends a simple message – if a hard-working and respected family-man footballer enjoys playing poker, then it’s good enough for the rest of us.

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