Arsenal are not chasing the next Messi, Liverpool are not swooping for the new Ibrahimovic and Wilfried Zaha is not the next Cristiano Ronaldo!
I must add a disclaimer, to begin with, as I have indeed been guilty of the very behaviour I am here to denounce but I am planning to reform, rehabilitate and desist in this terrible affliction on sports journalism: ‘the next…’ tag.
You will find it all over this site on a weekly basis, you will find it on Goal.com, you will find it on headlines for the Independent, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the BBC website, it’s infiltrated our taglines and by-lines and all I want to know is why?!
Why must we refer to some 17-year-old winger on loan at Preston as the next David Beckham? He is not the next David Beckham. We’re only getting the lad’s hopes up. 14-year-old bla-di-bla at Southampton U18s may well hope to be the next Gareth Bale and so he should, aim high I say, but the press must refrain from using lazy and generic means of describing young players.
Arsenal make a £2 million offer for ‘the Iranian Messi’ – well if he’s Iranian and he plays as a striker for Rubin Kazan, he’s bloody well not Lionel Messi, is he? Liverpool are ready to swoop for ‘the new Ibrahimovic’ otherwise known as 17-year-old Sweden U19 striker Valmir Berisha – he has scored one goal in five appearances in the Italian third tier and he’s five foot shorter, for crying out loud.
Even the manager’s are at it. Cardiff boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes Wilfried Zaha can be the next Cristiano Ronaldo – well maybe he can but he’s going to have to score at least one goal for Manchester United before he does. That would be a good place to start, in my humble opinion, and he’d better hurry up as well – Ronaldo had already scored 27 goals for the Red Devils by the time he was Zaha’s age. He might also consider inventing a time machine and going back to his teenage years so he can train with Sporting Club de Portugal like Nani who, by the way, was the previous ‘next Cristiano Ronaldo’. Look how that turned out.
I know it makes it easier for journalists to convey talent to their readership but, please, we must refrain from hyping up these teenagers because, for now, that’s all they are – they have yet to demonstrate the work ethic, the perseverance, the commitment, the focus, the physical development and the technical quality of the stars they are being compared to.
Hundreds of players at the La Masia academy in Barcelona have shown exceptional natural ability but few ever reach the first team – there are thousands of South American pre-pubescents who can do a Messi-esque trick in front of six scouts and a goat but how many could do it in front of 98,000 people at the Camp Nou twice a week?
The reason the best players in the world are the best is because it takes a lot more than just natural skill, balance, passion, creativity, physical superiority and intelligence to get to that level – it takes years upon years of development, trial and error, failure, learned experience, determination, conditioning, focus and sacrifice to become even a very very good player. It takes luck to work with a world-class coach like Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho or Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger and it takes professional integrity to work harder on the training ground than their peers.
Meanwhile, the press and blogosphere must work harder to find better language and more imaginative terminology to describe young players because all we’re doing is misleading readership and showing a complete lack of insight into the game. Sports journalists might swallow a spoonful of their own medicine, perhaps, and aspire to be the next Amy Lawrence or the new Martin Samuel or the Iranian John Cross before they become the Andy Carroll of sports journalism.