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Why young footballers must create their own identities

In recent seasons, it seems that any, remotely talented or promising young player is instantly tagged as the ‘new Maradona’ or ‘new Pele .’

Some of these comparisons make perfect sense, such as Anderlecht’s 17 year old star striker Romelu Lukaku being dubbed the ‘new Drogba.’ Lukaku’s playing style is identical to Drogba’s; using strength and pace to charge through defences. He has also publicly stated that he ‘idolises’ Drogba and it seems he has based his entire game around him.

However, some comparisons are becoming just ridiculous. There has now been so many ‘new Maradona’s’ that the list even has its own Wikipedia page dedicated to it. Some players on the list, such as Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero have indeed turned out to be great players. However, others such as Franco Di Santo, who currently plays at Wigan Athletic have not lived up to their promise. It cannot be easy for a young teenager, to be suddenly compared to one of the greatest players ever and if they feel they are expected to perform to that standard and achieve the same success as Maradona, it is not surprising that their performance may suffer.

It seems nowadays, that players can no longer create their own name and identity in the football world. They are now instantly compared to another and should they not manage to achieve the same success as their predecessor, the youngster is regarded as a failure. In the case of Di Santo, many people, including myself, view him as a flop, someone who didn’t play to their potential and is destined for a career scoring the odd goal in a bottom half team.

Whereas if he was never labelled as the next Maradona and didn’t feel that he had such giant boots to fill, we, as fans and spectators would think that a young South American has done well for himself by making it to the Premier League and more importantly, he may feel he is doing well in his career as opposed to feeling that he is underperforming.

However, ‘new Maradonas’ aside, I recently saw the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen whilst reading an article on the Telegraph website. According to the article, Blackburn Rovers boss, Steve Kean has labelled young centre half Myles Anderson , who recently joined from Aberdeen as ‘the new Chris Smalling .’ Now to me, this seems stupid on so many levels. For a start, Smalling himself has only just started his career, how can there be a ‘new Chris Smalling ,’ when the original still plays for England under-21’s? He also has no distinctive features regarding his appearance or playing style, therefore I struggle to see why the young United defender was chosen, seemingly at random to be used in comparison to another youngster. What’s more, Smalling himself has been labelled ‘the next Rio Ferdinand ,’ by his United boss Sir Alex Ferguson.

So could this mean there are just chains of players, each labelled as the ‘next’ version of the player before him? If so, will there eventually be up and coming youngsters labelled as ‘the new Robert Huth,’ or droves of talent wasted as they were pressured into becoming the ‘next Messi’ for example.

Lost seem the days when players were allowed to carve their own identity and style into the game, or burst onto the scene, unknown to the world’s major clubs as now. It would seem that should someone such as Aaron Lennon , who rose from unknown teenager from the lower leagues to possible England international during his debut season for Spurs, would not have had the same impact on the Premierships full backs had he been labelled ‘the next Walcott.’

Sure, some comparisons such as Lukaku and Drogba make perfect sense and who doesn’t love to predict future talents but these have to be kept in check, or else we lose the element of surprise regarding future talents and the players themselves lose the opportunity to become an individual and a great in their own right.

Read more of Richard Baker’s articles at This is Futbol

Article title: Why young footballers must create their own identities

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