From the new Maradona and Zidane to the new Zlatan: Football's obsession with identifying the next in line

When a new player emerges, in some cases they are directly compared to a successful figure from the past

BY Raf Diallo 16:20 Monday 23 January 2017, 16:20 23 Jan 2017

Liverpool's manager Gerard Houllier (l) shakes hands with winning goalscorer Bruno Cheyrou Picture by Mike Egerton EMPICS Sport

As the January transfer window approached, there was talk of some big clubs being linked with the "new Zlatan".

Alexander Isak, to give him his real name, is Swedish just like the star player he is being compared to.

He has already shown promise, having scored for his country at the tender age of 17 and found the net regularly in the Swedish league.

He is also a lanky figure at 1m90 and that latter feature draws comparisons with the similarly tall and prolific Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

All speculation has come to an end though as the "new Zlatan" AKA Alexander Isak has joined Borussia Dortmund from AIK Solna.

We're all guilty of it. It's part of human nature to try and understand the future by drawing on an example from the past.

And it's no different with the "new Zlatan" tag. It adds a certain degree of pressure for the player but in one way loosely predicts (often inaccurately) what to expect from a player.

But the tradition of trying to find a "new [Insert Star Name]" has a long history in football...

The New Maradona

You could probably fill up a full starting XI with players who have, at one time or another, been dubbed the new Maradona.

It's an obsession in Argentina with the likes Ariel Ortega, Pablo Aimar, Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi all having been highlighted as potential successors to the legendary Argentine No 10.

Physically all those aforementioned players are on the short side, like Maradona, and also showed promise as youngsters capable of playing as No 10s or second strikers.

For Messi who - depending on your perspective - may well be the only one to have either matched or surpassed Maradona, the constant comparisons to his footballing forebearer have been difficult.

Speaking to after Messi's brief retirement from international duty, Argentina-based football writer Daniel Edwards said: "The Argentine press, and as a result a lot of the fans, have this insidious need to find a new Maradona. Messi tried his best and he gave absolutely everything to the national team. But he's not Maradona and it's pointless to even make this comparison. It's sort of a collusion between the press and Maradona himself, who lives off what he did for Argentina." 

Messi, in particular, differed drastically from Maradona as a personality which didn't help his case as the Barcelona star is more introverted and reserved. A distance was also created due to the fact that he grew up in Catalonia from his teenage years onwards rather than developing in his homeland.  

Argentina's coach Diego Maradona, center, looks on as players Lionel Messi, right, and Pablo Aimar practice during a training session in Buenos Aires, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009. Argentina will face Peru in a 2010 World Cup qualifying soccer game in Buenos Aires on Oct. 10. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

The new Maradona tag is not confined to Argentina. Take Romania for example. Their star of the 1994 World Cup, Gheorgi Hagi was dubbed the Maradona of the Carpathians, while Manchester City cult hero Georgi Kinkladze was occasionally referred to as the Maradona of the Caucuses.

 The Next Pele

In comparison to Maradona, Pele's traditional status as the greatest footballer of all time (again that's up for debate, depending on your perspective) means any player who is poised to take the world by storm as a potential world's best can be dubbed the new Pele.

Brazil's current star Neymar is in that tradition but the "The Next Pele" specifically referred to Freddy Adu.

Expected to be the first true star of US soccer, Adu has now become a cautionary tale for hyping a player too soon.

But there were high hopes for the Ghanaian born player when he first emerged in his early teens.

Wayne Rooney meanwhile was said to have been "hailed as the 'White Pele' by Alex Ferguson when that's not quite what the former Manchester United manager was saying back in 2011.  

 The New Zidane

Silky skills were the France legend's penchant as an elegant No 10 and given how he helped his country claim a first World Cup in 1998, Zizou became iconic in France.

Unsurprisingly, future players with vague similarities or backgrounds would fall under the "new Zidane" category.

One would be Sevill's Samir Nasri, who didn't like being referred to as the "new Zidane".

He shared Algerian heritage, a Marseille childhood and playmaking ability with the current Real Madrid manager, but for Nasri, he was clear: "I don't think it's fair to have that sort of pressure on a young player. There's only one Zidane, just as there was only one Platini."

Remember Bruno Cheyrou? Some Liverpool fans may have airbrushed him from history but at one time, ex-Reds manager Gerard Houllier had high hopes for the French midfielder.

While there is sparse evidence that Houllier actually used the term "New Zidane" about the three times France cap as history has recorded it, he did say this: "I don't make comparisons with Zidane lightly and I believe he can become an important player for Liverpool. Bruno has the same kind of touch and style that Zidane has. There's a lot of similarities between the two when they're on the ball."

As a No 10, Yoann Gourcouff was also compared to Zidane before failing to live up to expectations.

 The New Vieira

Unfortunately for Arsenal, they never found out if Abou Diaby was ever going to become the "New Vieira".

The French midfielder's constant injuries put paid to that notion but when he first emerged, the tall and powerful player was viewed as a successor to the long time Arsenal captain.

Diaby isn't the only player to have been described in such terms. Often footballers of West African origin, who were tall and powerful presences in midfield were compared to Vieira.

Ex-Liverpool midfielder Momo Sissoko idolised the World Cup winner and his then manager Rafa Benitez drew comparisons between the two players's styles.

Others who have drawn comparisons to Vieira in the expectations stakes are Tottenham's Moussa Sissoko, Dutch youngster Riechedly Bazoer, and Manchester United's Paul Pogba.

Former France midfielder Alou Diarra, who briefly spent a period at Gerard Houllier's Liverpool, was another that also got landed with the new Vieira tag

 The New Ronaldo

At the moment, Man United are being linked with Benfica's Goncalo Guedes. The 20 year old Portuguese player is a winger, hence an unsurprising comparison is being made.

Google his name and left, right and centre, he is being dubbed the "new Ronaldo" in inverted commas after ex-United winger Cristiano Ronaldo.

Tweet on any players you'd like to add to @newstalksport or @raftastico.


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