What’s Next After the Next Messi?
What do these Argentines – Ariel Ortega, Marcello Gallardo, Juan Roman Riquelme, Pablo Aimar, Javier Saviola, Andres D’Alessandro, Carlos Tevez, and Lionel Messi – have in common?
At some points in their respective careers, they’re all dubbed as “the next Maradona.” So great is the image a footballing icon like El Diego, and so predictable are the fans and journalists, associating a current player with legends from the past is a typical knee-jerk reaction.
Since there’s such hype as “the next Maradona,” there has to be its Brazilian equivalent: The next Pele. A star-studded array from Robinho to the international flop of Ghanaian Nii Lamptey, all has been labeled as the reincarnation of the Black Pearl. Even the once international teenage sensation, Freddy Adu, caused a global hype after billed as an heir to Pele.
Tom Cleverley is a Manchester United academy graduate who climbs through the rank to get his place in the first team. His passing skill is said to be the reason behind Sir Alex Ferguson’s reluctance to buy a new central midfielder this season. Needless to say, Cleverley is likened to another United legend due to the similarity of their style.
The 23-year old midfielder is labeled as the next Paul Scholes. It’s a gagging and ridiculous thing to say, not only because Scholes is still playing for United, but also because if Cleverley is as good as Scholes, the latter shouldn’t have to come and changed the run of play in United favor after the former failed to do so in the previous match against Southampton.
I remember when Joe Cole emerged from West Ham United in the early noughties, his extraordinary ball skill made him likened to another Englishman who could do magic tricks with the ball. Cole was labeled as the successor of Paul Gascoigne, arguably the best English player I’ve ever watched playing on TV in my lifetime. However, whether it’s because he constantly played out of position, being continuously injured, or couldn’t handle the pressure, the next Gazza failed to live up to the expectation. He’s now a fringe player in Liverpool after a year-long loan spell in France with Lille.
I can go on with the list of football players who failed to live on their overhyped likeness to past legends: Bruno Cheyrou and Yoann Gourcuff (The Next Zidane), Eric Djemba-Djemba (The Next Roy Keane), David Bentley (The Next Beckham), Jeremy Aliadiere (The Next Thierry Henry), or Salif Diao (The Next Vieira).
Indonesian football might have sunk into the lowest level in history, but in terms of referring its player to an international star, we’re pretty spectacular in exaggerating. Indonesia’s last friendly match against DPR Korea prompted the local media to unashamedly call the midfielder Rasyid Bakrie as the new Xavi. I didn’t remember seeing something similar to the Barcelona midfielder’s metronomic pass play in that game, so clearly the media have seen something we didn’t see.
Referring our player to a global household name is not new. Back in his heyday, goalkeeper Hendro Kartiko was said to be the Indonesian Fabien Barthez, due to the similarity of their bald heads. At some point, Hendro was awarded the best goalkeeper in Asia, justifying his reference to the French World Cup-winning goalkeeper.
However, the most spectacular reference of them all is Andik Vermansyah who’s popularly billed as the Indonesian Messi. This is of course a classic media hyperbole to heighten things up, especially when there’s nothing interesting to report in Indonesian football.
Andik is a good player and not yet a finished product. He’s now on trial with DC United in USA, but do we really need to put unnecessary pressure by likening him to the great Argentine?
Andik himself has said that he finds the reference to Barcelona striker a bit uncomfortable. But of course, we don’t really care. Next time he fails to deliver on the pitch, we will be obliged to swipe him as being not as good as Messi.