It must be very irritating to be constantly compared to somebody else. Your every move as a professional footballer is scrutinised and assessed in terms of an extremely talented and successful former player. There is already enough pressure to succeed as a professional player at a big football club without the incessant comparisons to another person.
For any promising talent coming out of Argentina, there is always the comparison to Diego Maradona, and you merely have to tick the following items on the “new Maradona” checklist:
- Be Argentinian
- Play in an attacking role
- Be a promising young player with great potential
- Be vertically challenged
Pablo Aimar, Juan Roman Riquelme, Ariel Ortega, Javier Saviola, Sergio Aguero and naturally Lionel Messi know all about being labelled as the “new Maradona” during most of their careers. Riquelme, specifically, was not an attacking midfielder/striker in the mould of Maradona and had a completely different playing style, but that did not matter as his talent and vision meant that he was compared to the Argentine former captain and World Cup winner.
If you are French and black, you only have to check the following items on the “new Vieira” checklist:
- Be French
- Be of African origin
- Play as a central midfielder, preferably a box-to-box one
- Be tall and physically imposing
Injury-prone Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby and Juventus’s young French star Paul Pogba have been tagged as the “new Patrick Vieira” constantly since they signed professional contracts. Unsurprisingly, Diaby himself was quick to try and disabuse observers of this similarity:
“I think maybe I am more attack-minded, a more technical player” and “Vieira is much more aggressive. He makes more of a physical impact in a game, in midfield. He is amazing. I don’t think I have this quality yet. I think I can develop in that way but he is much stronger”
Romelu Manama Lukaku, the Chelsea player currently on loan to Everton for the 2013-14 season, has been tagged as the “new Didier Drogba” and has a lot in common with the former Chelsea front man. Lukaku is of African descent – tick, plays as a striker – tick, “powerful” – tick, “strong” – tick and has a similar playing style – tick. Lukaku indicated that growing up Drogba was a big idol of his “Drogba was my big idol and so was my father, who also played in Belgium”. However, Lukaku has often stated that he does not want to be compared to the former Chelsea striker and Mourinho also counselled against comparing any other player with Drogba:
And we have to respect Lukaku and the best way to respect Lukaku is not to compare him with a legend of Chelsea Football Club.
Lukaku was signed from Belgian side Anderlecht in August 2011 having scored 33 goals in 73 appearances. His move to a big team did not start out well as he made eight appearances in his debut season, seven of those coming off the bench and providing only one assist. By his own admission, Lukaku was unhappy with his contribution to the season and refused to hold the Champion’s League trophy following Chelsea’s win as he felt “his team won it and he did not earn it”
During the 2012/13 season, Lukaku was loaned out to West Bromwich Albion and scored an impressive 17 goals in 20 appearances for his team which also resulted in him out scoring all of his Chelsea team mates as he finished sixth-highest goalscorer in the English Premier League. Lukaku looked like he would form part of Chelsea’s plans for the 2013-14 season, but was loaned out again on the last day of the transfer deadline to Everton FC. There are rumours and suggestions that Jose Mourinho has cunningly decided to take points off his rival teams by loaning the Belgian striker to a Premiership team, which to my mind give Mourinho a lot of credit he doesn’t deserve. I believe Mourinho made an assessment that he felt Lukaku was either not quite ready, or did not fit into his first team plans. It just so coincidentally happens that it is working to Chelsea’s benefit as Everton and Lukaku are playing extremely well and taking points off Chelsea’s rivals.
At any rate, Chelsea’s loss is Lukaku’s gain as the Belgian has scored 7 goals and provided one assist in 10 appearances for the Toffees in the Premier League to date, including a brace in the recent Merseyside derby which the player described as his “best experience in football“. The most amazing statistic is that Lukaku is only 20 years of age and is still improving. The future is certainly bright for this young man, and the only thing he needs to continue progressing is regular playing time as a starter.
It is always a challenge for a young player to ensure that the right career choices are made and the prime development years are wasted. One only needs to look at Shaun Wright-Phillips or the early years of Daniel Sturridge’s career to see how easily one can get derailed and lost in the big club hype.
Romelu Lukaku has the potential to be a great footballer and hopefully he will realise this potential without being referred to as the “new Player X”, but only as himself.