It was 10:35am on March 9, 2012. Luke Wileman and I stood in the corridor outside of the Vancouver Whitecaps dressing room at BC Place in Vancouver. We'd been there for a few minutes already. We were early (as we usually are) for the Whitecaps' practice, which was scheduled to begin at 11am. There wasn't a soul to be seen outside the dressing room, as all of the players and coaches were already inside preparing for training.
The time is etched in my memory because it was then, at 10:35am, that Darren Mattocks came strolling down the hallway. Big headphones blaring, he didn't look like he had a care in the world. He certainly didn't look like a rookie who was late for the last practice before his first game as a professional soccer player. He bowled on by and walked into the dressing room - the last player to arrive by a wide margin.
I turned to Luke, completely bewildered by what I had just witnessed, and asked him, "Is he having a laugh?" (I'm paraphrasing - my choice of words were far more industrial than that.)
"That would NEVER happen in Europe. No chance. The senior players would crucify him for that. And the manager would have him banished to train with the youth team."
I couldn't believe what I'd seen. In 18 years as a professional player in Canada and the UK, I'd never seen a young player show such blatant disrespect for the rules and hierarchy of a football club. 'First to arrive, last to leave' is a principle that all rookies (apart from Mattocks, clearly) adhere to religiously. They do so because they know that they not only have to impress their manager, but more importantly, they have to impress their teammates. They have to earn the respect of the senior players if they are ever going to be considered one of them.
You see, experienced players can suss out a fraud in less than one training session, and it doesn't take long for them to figure out if a young player comes with an ego. Those egos don't last very long though, because the senior players simply don't tolerate them. They chip away at the arrogance of youth, exposing flaws until the young player sees the light; that they aren't the finished article and that they have to work hard if they are ever going to fulfill their potential. It is a humbling that involves brutal honesty, but it teaches young players humility and mental resiliency - two vital ingredients in having a lengthy professional career.
That humbling clearly hasn't happened for Darren Mattocks. He has been allowed to live in the bubble that he has created for himself - one in which he thinks he's already the finished article.
Mattocks spoke on a Jamaican football program this week, where he revealed that he "carried Vancouver to the playoffs last year" and that "every team in MLS wants me". On former head coach Martin Rennie, Mattocks said this, "If me can do successful [sic] with my first season, and in my second season, you will try to jeopardize my career, I'm not naive and I'm not gonna stay (in Vancouver)." His responses were as brazen and as arrogant as I've ever seen.
You could write Mattocks' attitude off to his youth, but he is 23-years old. It's not like he is a baby in the world of football. He's a grown man, at an age where his European counterparts will have already amassed 150+ first team games. You could also argue that someone has been filling his head with ideas of grandeur, leading him to believe that he really is the world-class striker that he imagines himself to be.
But these arguments are nothing more than excuses. They won't help Darren Mattocks. What he needs is some tough love. What he needs is for someone to hold a mirror in front of his game, so that he can see himself for the player that he really is.
So here goes.
Darren, you have exceptional athletic ability, and you are arguably one of the finest athletes in Major League Soccer. But you were voted the top prospect in MLS under the age of 24 last year because of your potential, not because you are the finished article.
You are a 23-year old man, but you have the football intelligence of a 15-year-old boy. You are reactive, rather than proactive, and you use your pace and athleticism to make up for the fact that you are often in the wrong position to begin with. The timing of your runs is poor, your finishing is poor, and you do not retain possession of the ball nearly well enough to be considered amongst the league's best.
You did not play a starring role this season because you simply didn't earn the right to do so. You are judged on everything you do - in training, in games, in your demeanour on and off the field - not just on your statistics. Unless you realize this, you will never be in a position to fulfill your undoubted potential. Unless you realize this, you will become just another player who failed to live up to his potential.
The choice is yours, Darren. You can carry on believing that it was Martin Rennie's fault that you had a poor season. But you'd be wrong. You are the only reason you struggled this year.
If anything, Martin tried to protect you from the things I've just told you, because I'm not alone in my assessment of your game. Many of the senior players in your dressing room think the exact same things. And I suspect that now that Martin is gone, you'll be hearing it from them very soon.
For your sake, I hope you listen to them.