What does Nuri Sahin have in common with Law Students

Posted on May 13, 2011

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This week, thousands of undergraduates across the country will be sitting end of year exams. Think of them. And try to make it at least a little bit charitable.

Law students in particular have never had it so tough. This year we’re seeing a combination of legal aid cuts, a sharp increase in competition for training positions and the introduction of new business models that could dramatically shrink the market for trained legal professionals. For would-be solicitors, there are roughly 15,000 places to study on the Legal Practice Course training system, compared to less than 5,000 new jobs in the sector (source: the Law Society Gazette). Things are apparently even worse for aspiring barristers. And these courses cost in the area of £10,000, which is on top of already significant student loans.

“So what” you might cry? Isn’t it a good thing that there will be fewer lawyers pestering us about any accidents we might have had in the last 3 years, or whether we’ve been mis-sold PPI? What’s this got to do with football?

All valid points, to be sure. And I’m not making any value judgements about any decrease in the number of solicitors. But, having come from a legal background and having seen many examples of people striving to be part of that successful minority. It gives me an insight into people like Nuri Sahin.

On Monday, 22 year old Dortmund playmaker Sahin was announced to be heading to Real Madrid. He will join a midfield that contains Kaka, Ozil, Diarra, Leon, Canales, Alonso, Khedira, Gago and Granero. Even allowing for some attrition, that’s one seriously stuffed centre. For the relatively minimal price of 16M€ (roughly £14 million pounds or 30% of a Fernando Torres) Sahin has left the Bundesliga champions and many guaranteed starts when Dortmund are in the Champions League next season. In return, he will spend a lot of time on the bench and may disappear down the pecking order through no fault of his own. In fact, especially given the uncertainty regarding Jose Mourinho’s future at Real, it’s possible a new manager might not even bother with him.

So why in God’s name do players like Sahin turn their back on adulation at their clubs (and Borussia Dortmund aren’t exactly Barnsley, this was no small team that he’s leaving) for the chance to be one of 10 similarly talented players at a club like Real. To go back to the analogy, why choose to study law, other than in ignorance of the statistics (a pretty bad starting point for any aspiring lawyer), instead of engineering, or medicine, or golf management?

The reason, it turns out, is fairly simple. These are people who’ve grown up being better than those around them. When the classmates of future litigators were trying to read sentences on a blackboard, they were the ones correcting the usage of commas. When players like Sahin were practicing Cruyff turns, their team-mates were still figuring out kick and run. If you grow up being told you can do great things, you tend to aim high. Bright students go on to study law, not because they want to be Atticus Finch, but because they think it’s what smart people are supposed to do. Top players go to big clubs because that’s where they’re told they belong. To them, the idea of not succeeding is an alien concept.

It’s only when they get to the big pond, with the other special people, that they really find out how good they actually are. Some thrive on the competition, rising above it. Others, finally presented with proof that they aren’t actually the Mozart for their respective field, retreat into themselves. Whether it’s law school or the the Bernabeu, there are always far more entrants than can be successful, and you can never really know how you’ll measure up unless you try it.

It’s worth saying that regardless of how you do in the big leagues, people will always prefer the guy who was happy to be a big fish in a small pond. It’s why it was nice when Del Piero and Buffon stayed with Juventus when they were relegated. It’s also why players like Scott Parker, loyal to a mediocre club will be preferred to mercenaries like Gareth Barry (although it helps that Parker could run rings around Barry whilst doing a sudoku and eating a sausage roll).

So I could say that it’s simpler to be a hero to a team not comprised of superstars, or do a more practical university subject than law. I could note that in either case, the odds of success are hampered by the many other talented people trying to beat you to the same objective (regular starting position/legal job). Or that football doesn’t benefit from all the top players belonging to a dozen clubs, and that law doesn’t have a monopoly on the intelligent.

But of course, the people who should listen, won’t. Because they’re special. Forget the odds, they’re the ones that will make it. Definitely.

P.S. anyone considering studying law would do well to read this. If that doesn’t sway you, you can’t say you weren’t warned.

Banner heading courtesy of ccarlstead from Flickr.
Image 2 via umjanedoan from Flickr and devrimderki.blogspot.com
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Posted in: Real Madrid