Why calling a young player the “new Messi” or “new Ronaldo” is unfair, unjust and in many ways inhuman.

By Don McMahon

It is pointless to compare our youth and reserve players to known superstars like Messi and Ronaldo. These two men are the exception to the rule, the one-offs who will likely never be repeated again. for example; Alfredo DiStefano or Puskas were such exceptional players for their time, BUT they played in exceptional teams. The Real team of the early 60’s was one of the most gifted teams in the world and the Hungarian team of the early 50’s could probably play and win today as easily as they did back then, they were so exceptional.

My point is that comparing kids today to superstars and established champions like Zidane, Henry, Iniesta etc. is pointless and a cheap, lazy media mechanism to avoid actually highlighting their special talents. I watched Paul Pogba during the Euros and he certainly moves well, is fast and can be a real threat in attack BUT he’s totally different from Zidane or Beckenbauer or for that matter Platini and imho, not close to their level.

I had the privilege of refereeing Pele when he visited Canada, and he didn’t really stand out in the game, played against a semi-pro Toronto team. However, he did play at a consistently high level, that is, consistently high for the opposition he was facing.

I also was an assistant referee for two games when  Beckenbauer  played for NYC, and he DID stand out for a number of reasons, one of which was his in-your face attitude he took to being captain and his attitude towards the referee. He was a true leader, scoring the winning goal in both games AND getting on people’s backs if they weren’t pulling their weight (a common phenomena in the NASL back then).

I also was an assistant when the late George Best played, but he wasn’t in his best form then, got dismissed and tore up the official’s dressing room in retaliation.  I actually refereed a few professional sides playing exhibition games with local teams and saw the spectrum of abilities, talent, discipline and lack of it.  And I came to the conclusion that being a champion requires a very complex and intertwined set of skills and attitudes. This set of skills and attitudes is UNIQUE to each player and the likelihood of finding them replicated exactly or even approximately is extremely unlikely.

Will  Iwobi be the ¨new Henry¨?  Will Ramsey be the ¨new Zidane¨?  Will Coquelin be the ¨new Vieira¨?

This is all nonsense speculation and totally pointless, they will be the player they can develop into or have become, no more or no less.  Here are some reasons why such idle prognostications are counter-productive, unfair and ultimately disappointing;

  • These statements (¨new this or that¨) assume the player will NOT be better than the target model he is supposed to imitate.
  • Setting the bar so high can discourage and distract any young player from the real goal of being the BEST he or she can be, regardless of what others say or compare them to.
  • IF the young player doesn’t reach such heady heights, he can be discouraged, even depressed and lose interest, motivation and drive needed to achieve HIS best.
  • Conversely, young players’ egos can be over-inflated and since they lack maturity, they can do stupid things on and off the pitch that only serve to injure their careers or even lives.
  • This form of commoditizing players is unfair, unjust and in many ways inhuman. Almost every club always looks for the ¨new Messi¨ and in their efforts to find that gem; they have become involved in some shady human abuse with youth players OR actually stockpiled players who need to be managed more humanely and fairly.

I love the Arsenal way (and that of certain other clubs as well); train the kids up, let them have their heads but ensure that they understand what is expected of them and NEVER compare them to an established superstar.

Wenger has the skills to encourage, mentor, discipline, guide and develop young players into who they can be at their best. Some achieve that dream, others never do, BUT it isn’t because they weren’t given the chance or because they were ripped away from their families and friends at an early age and used like commodities to achieve trophies.

So let’s please drop the ¨new___¨  moniker and just let the player prove WHO they are and want to be!

Recent Posts

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16 Replies to “Why calling a young player the “new Messi” or “new Ronaldo” is unfair, unjust and in many ways inhuman.”

  1. Let Iwobi be the… new Iwobi 😉

    You are right Don. No player is an imitation of another player. They all are different

  2. But I do admit I also fall in the same trap from time to time….

  3. One of the most irritating descriptions bandied about these days in professional football is “the New someone or other”.
    Whether it’s an attempt to boost the guy’s transfer fee or increase his wages, I know not.
    Suffice it is to say that this over-use of the phrase only demeans it in the eyes of all but the silly user.

  4. OT: Clattenburg to ref euro 2016 Final.

    Someone on untold predicted this would happen sometimes ago.

    Could it mean that the FA is actually “selling its soul to the devil”?

  5. Excellent article.

    We all fall in this trap as Walter said. I saw Zelalem sending through balls against our preseason opponents like he was playing a video-game and I said: “He is a new Cesc!” When Wilshere played against Real at Emirates Cup, I said: “Here is our Rooney, only prettier!”

    It has to be something about our how our brain works, searching for well-known patterns and trying to file new experiences in already existing folders.

    A bit OT:

    Mr Wenger said before the last night game that France would win with at least two goal margin. He knows some stuff, I guess.

  6. Sometimes , a subtle move or a certain play by an upcoming player may remind us of an earlier and similar move by a star player , which may cause us to say , ” That was exactly what so and so did during this particular game.”
    If it were to come out of a commentator or ‘expert’s’ mouth , the press would repeated that often enough and the player may be compared to his predecessor .
    I remember in the late sixties and seventies , nearly every winger of any promising talent would be termed as the next George Best ! Not one of them ever lived up to expectation .

  7. SPEAK in such a way that others love to listen to you .
    LISTEN in such a way that others love to speak to you .

  8. What do you call an Englishman in the final of the European Championship?

    A PGMOB referee!

  9. The comparison of the former player to the latter one can’t be avoided in football as long as we remember the exceptional skills and the successful exploits of the former player, and watching the latter player showing early promise he may likely equalled or surpassed the skills and exploits of the former player, hence we’ll think, the hail the player; has unearthed again.

  10. There you go Don – you are the new Tony! 😉

    Looking forward to the Euro Final, the British GP, Wimbledon finals & all the horse racing. The sport of Kings being the most exciting with all of Frankel’s progeny (Frankel – top scorer in the GG league -gets paid a fortune each time he scores!).

  11. Menace…..I don’t know whether to take that as a compliment or an insult? Now IF you’d have said the new Walter….well that is truly appropriate seeing as he is now our resident media star!

  12. @ colario – July 8, 2016 at 4:52 pm –

    What do you call an Englishman in the final of the European Championship?

    A. Quit Pro Quo ?

  13. quid pro quo

    noun, plural quid pro quos, quids pro quo for 2.

    1. (italics) Latin. one thing in return for another.

    2. something that is given or taken in return for something else; substitute.

  14. Squid Pro Quo – is supposed to be ten times worse ! Fingering them will be quite the nightmare !

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