The Problem with Proclamations

It’s not uncommon for the media and managers to label young, emerging talent as the ‘Next Maradona’ or the ‘Next Zidane’, but something I’ve noticed is it’s almost like a kiss of death for a number of players and it’s shockingly common that these players who were once compared to some of the greatest stars in the sport’s history actually never fulfill their potential and are even rarely if ever heard of again. Here are some examples of more recent years.

Eric Djemba-Djemba

We start with former Man United midfielder Eric Djemba-Djemba, a young man who had been impressing with French side Nantes and broke into the Cameroon team in  2002.

Now anyone will tell you, Alex Ferguson didn’t exactly shine in the Transfer Market in the early to mid noughties, with a number of notable flops such as David Bellion, Massimo Taibi and Kleberson to name a few, and Eric was certainly no different.

His form for Nantes was enough to persuade Fergie to splash out £3.5 million for the midfielder in 2003.  Djemba-Djemba was brought in as the first potential successor to captain Roy Keane who was in his final years at Old Trafford, and many United fans had hoped that much like Bolton’s Jay-Jay Okocha, he was named twice because he was so good. They were to be sadly mistaken.

Eric failed to show enough form or quality to be a successor to the Irishman, and he didn’t help his cause with his tendency to go in with hard tackles and this was evident in his debut when he left a lasting impression on Sol Cambpell in the 2003 Community Shield with a tackle which Arsene Wenger simply described as “obscene”.

Ferguson somehow managed to persuade Aston Villa to cough up £1.5 million for the failure of a midfielder. He was signed by David O’ Leary, but new manager Martin O’Neill had no interest in the Eric, sending him out on loan before eventually getting rid of him. He has since gone onto play in Qatar and Danish side Odense, who he is currently with.

Bruno Cheyrou

Liverpool fans in particular, I can assure you, this will not be the only Houllier signing mentioned.  Bruno was signed by Gerard Houllier from Lille in 2002 for £4.5 million and upon his arrival, the manager dubbed him as “The New Zidane”.

Houllier hyped the midfielder as much as possible, which is one of the main reasons why he turned out to be a such a big disappointment. In his time Liverpool, Cheyrou showed little or no comparisons in his style of play or quality in general to that of the then Real Madrid and France star.

With 4 goals in 5 games during the Christmas period of the 2003/04 season it looked like Cheyrou might finally be proving his worth but it was that 4th goal that marked the end of his run of form.

Bruno failed to rediscover that form and still being held in high regard in France, Rafa Benitez loaned him to Marseille and Bordeaux in his first two seasons as Liverpool manager before finally to Rennes in 2006. He is currently with FC Nantes.

So, one of Gerard Houllier’s biggest proclamations turned out to be arguably the worst and most embarrassing of his tenure at Liverpool, as it didn’t take long to become clear that comparing this man to Zinedine Zidane was pretty much an insult to Legendary France captain.

Freddy Adu

Freddy Adu is probably the epitome of what this article is about.

Since his early teens Freddy hasn’t exactly been a hidden gem, signing for DC United at the age of just 14. He was the youngest American athlete to sign a professional contract in over 100 years.

It was during his years with DC United that Freddy Adu was being likened to Brazilian legend Pele, and even received a massive surprise when he had to opportunity to have a bit of a kick about with Pele which was to be part of an advertisement on television (not an ad for viagra as far as I’m aware). Man United also showed big interest in Adu during this time and went to Old Trafford for two weeks in 2006 but due to difficulties in obtaining a work permit, a move never fully materialised.

Since then, Adu has fallen out of the spotlight and has never really fulfilled the massive potential he had and 20 goals in 7 years isn’t exactly the kind of form you’d consider to be ‘Pele-esque’.

His continuing fall from grace hit an all time low this year when he was loaned out to Caykur Rizespor by Benfica, a 2nd division Turkish club.  The idea of Adu in European football was once exciting, but he’s barely made great strides since joining Benfica in 2007, scoring 2 goals in 11 appearances. Since 2008, he has been loaned every season, playing for Monaco, Belenenses, Aris and Caykur Rizespor. In his 4 loan spells he has only scored 5 goals.

Some believe Adu may have sparked a bit of a revival in form, having played a big part in the knockout Rounds of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Setting up the winning goal in the Semi-Final victory over Panama and also being part of both goals in USA’s 4-2 loss to Mexico in the Final.

He will need a lot more than a couple of assists at the Gold Cup before he will rediscover his old form, and it may be unfair to actually write him off just yet as a wasted talent, as he is still only 22.

Rodrigo Possebon

There have been a few “New Kakás”, but Possebon was probably one of the first.

He joined Man United in 2008 from Brazilian side Internacional, coming with much hype from back in his home country and hopes he could be part of a long term Man United midfield.

Rodrigo did play well for the reserves, I’ll give him that, but I don’t he even actually played in the same position as Kaká, nor did he really have the same qualities as the Madrid midfielder. You’d have to think the title was used out of context, they just proclaimed one of their best players as “The New Kaká” in what was more likely to be a player chosen at random.

Possebon was finding playing time in the United first team particularly hard to come by, making only cup appearances. He was loaned out to Portuguese side Braga, but he had a miserable time there. Failing to break into the starting 11 and playing just one game was enough to convince Braga to send him back to Old Trafford before he was then sold to Brazilian side Santos in August 2010.

Again, like Freddy Adu, Possebon is only 22, but its hard to ever see him play like an in-form Kaká, especially given they are actually very different kinds of players!

Ariel Ortega
There can only ever be one Diego Maradona, but that hasn’t stopped countless prodigies from being compared to the Argentine genius. Ariel Ortega was just one of the them.

Ortega had the world at his feet one time, considered the next big thing to come out of South America and possessed all the great qualities of any great playmaker, but move to Europe in 1997 seemed to be where it went wrong for the midfielder.

He had spells with Valencia, Sampdoria and Parma but it never really worked out for him at any of the clubs, failing to rediscover the form he had at River Plate and certainly didn’t look like any sort of Maradona reincarnation.

He returned to River Plate in 2000 for 2 seasons and showed his form of old, scoring 23 goals in 56 games before returning to Europe in 2002 to play for Fenerbache.

He flopped in Europe again and returned to South America to play for a number of Argentinian clubs, but even failed to rediscover his form there. He had an impressive 87 caps for Argentina and it may suggest he wasn’t that bad a player, but its fair to say he was probably more like the off the field Maradona than the on the field Maradona.

Anthony Le Tallec
I did say you would see another Houllier signing, and its another ‘New Zidane’ as proclaimed by the Gerard himself.

After impressing for both the U-16 and U-17 France sides, Houllier did the not so unpredictable and went into the transfer market to try and sign the newest emerging talent in French football. He was signed from Le Havre along with his cousin Florent Sinama-Pongolle.

Feeling neither may be ready just yet for the Premiership, they were both loaned back to Le Havre for two seasons. Upon returning to Liverpool, both had contrasting times there. Florent was actually decent striker for Liverpool, he was never going to go down as an all-time great, but a good squad player to have, while Le Tallec was just a disaster.

It was evident just how poorly both Houllier and Benitez began to think of the Frenchman when he only spent one full season at Anfield, and spending the other 6 (yes, he was actually under contract at Liverpool for 7 years!) out on loan in France or Sunderland.

Le Tallec was one of Houllier’s worst signings, he just looked out of place with the club and not once looked like he was anything like Zidane.

Matt Phillips and Alex O’ Hanlon

I am going to wrap up this list from taking a look at this from a different angle.

Matt Phillips, an impressive young Blackpool winger and Alex O’ Hanlon, a Liverpool starlet, have both been likened to Spurs Welsh star Gareth Bale.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Matt and Alex are still teenagers and could still be very much like Bale, but my problem with this is the fact they’ve been compared to a young player who is still only in his early 20s and has probably hasn’t even reached his own potential yet.

It just shows how crazy the whole thing of proclaiming a new player as ‘The Next…’ has become these days, you have a young player who finally hits form and stands out for Spurs, suddenly you are comparing teenagers to him like you would to Maradona or Zidane as you’ve seen in this article. At this rate we’ll be comparing 13 year old footballers to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain soon.

There are a lot more players who fall into this category, but I have chosen those few as prime examples of players who are overhyped at a young age, only to never achieve what they can. As always, I’m interested to know what you think of my article, so feel free to use the comment section below.


One Comment on “The Problem with Proclamations”

  1. Sergio says:

    There’s an awful lot of speculation that Adu is much older than his given age. If true, it would explain alot.

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