Watch Martin Braithwaite play and you’ll notice a few things about him. He’s very very fast. He’s got a lot of energy. He’s strong. He’s tall. In many ways, the first things you notice are physical traits. But there’s one thing the new FC Barcelona forward credits more than anything for his success - his mind.
“My main characteristic is that I like to study the play,” Braithwaite told ESPN.
Most people were shocked by Braithwaite’s move from relegation scrappers Leganés to Barcelona, who are now top of the table after they defeated Eibar 5-0 in the Dane’s debut. But landing at a European superclub has been his target all along.
One of his secrets was meeting with a mental conditioning coach, Kim Boye.
“I told him I didn’t need to be lifted because I was mentally on top,” Braithwaite told Danish media. “I wasn’t in crisis and feeling in the best shape ever, but I needed someone to spar with.”
Around the same time, Boye had a meeting with an agent, Hasan Cetinkaya.
“[Boye] said his biggest dream was to help bring the next Dane after Michael Laudrup to FC Barcelona. I replied, ‘you will do so soon,’” Cetinkaya said.
Neither Boye nor Cetinkaya had a name in mind, only a dream. But soon enough, Boye called up the agent to tell him who he thought would be the right man for their mission: Braithwaite. The three had a meeting, and the forward agreed to take Cetinkaya as his agent.
With Boye and Centikaya, Braithwaite had a common goal: to help a Dane join one of the biggest clubs in La Liga.
“[Centikaya] doesn’t see anything impossible. He believes that anything is possible. He had the same belief in my quality as I did: that I could play in one of the best clubs in the world,” Braithwaite said.
According to Danish media, several offers came in for Braithwaite from bigger clubs than Leganés during the winter transfer window. But his agent was hoping to get a call from Barcelona. They reportedly spoke with the club, but no agreement ever came through. The transfer window shut, and Braithwaite didn’t move for either Braithwaite or anyone.
But things changed when Ousmane Dembélé suffered an injury relapse. This allowed Barcelona to sign an emergency replacement, and Barcelona finally made their move.
According to ESPN, Braithwaite was taught by Gus Poyet at Bordeaux how to identify his passers and learn their characteristics. He improved dramatically when he started studying videos of how his teammates preferred to play the ball and how to time his runs to suit his passers. He was also advised to build personal trust with the men who would be feeding him scoring chances.
Now, he brings that attitude to every team.
“I try to study the people who cross the ball, what kind of cross. Rather than them adapt to me, I try to adapt to their crosses,” he said.
He studied Leganés for months before joining them to be able to play well with his teammates there, too.
“I try to look at my own game and see what I can improve, but it was really looking at the team: what kind of chances do they create? The people who are supposed to feed the strikers: what kind of passes are they giving? What kind of crosses are coming in? I tried to get down to the small details and think: how can I exploit the box? Where can I see the possibilities to get scoring chances? I looked at [Guido] Carrillo and [Youssef] En-Nesyri. Carrillo wins a lot of duels in the box and the ball falls down around him. [There are] a lot of chances you can get by staying near him,” he said.
Since he got news he would be joining Barcelona, Braithwaite has been studying the way Barcelona play.
“The best football in the world,” he calls it.