In 1996 at the FIFA gala dinner in Zürich, the 19-year-old Brazilian football player, Ronaldo Luíz Nazario, received the World's Best Footballer of the Year award as the youngest ever. However, very few of the guests attending FIFA's Player of the Year Gala that evening could in their wildest dreams have imagined the circumstances Ronaldo had found himself just four years earlier. He had been drifting clubless around Brazil looking for someone who believed in his potential and would give him a contract. Flamengo turned 15-year-old Ronaldo away at the door. They were not interested in paying his bus fare (about a dollar for a return ticket) to and from training.
The reason they gave was that he was too small and slight. He was subsequently rejected by several other Brazilian clubs for the same reason until he was allowed in at Cruzeiro in the city of Belo Horizonte, some 500 km from Rio de Janeiro.
As you probably are now, I was astonished when I heard his story for the first time during my research trip to Brazil. How could anyone reject point-blank a player who four years later would be voted the World's Best?
In fact, more or less the same script seems to have driven the story behind a number of the most accomplished individuals of our century. Many of them were considered by experts to have no future. Just to mention a few: Paul Cézanne, Elvis Presley, Michael Jordan, Ray Charles and Charles Darwin were all thought to have little potential in their chosen fields. And in some of these cases it may well have been true that they did not stand out from the crowd early on. That’s the real challenge - to see the potential in something ordinary, and to be able to do that, we have to understand that a person’s current performance does very rarely equal his or her potential.
Spotting performance is easy, but spotting potential and someone’s capacity to develop their skills with effort over time, is the real challenge.