What Does a Great Player Look Like Now?

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All of a sudden, it feels as if the longer term is at hand.

Kylian Mbappé has changed Neymar because the centerpiece of Paris St.-Germain’s bid to beat world soccer. Frenkie de Jong is ensconced in Barcelona’s midfield. Matthijs de Ligt is the cornerstone of Juventus’s protection. Kai Havertz has been recognized as the answer to the entire German nationwide staff’s many and diverse issues.

And, in Madrid, Diego Simeone has reshaped his Atlético Madrid staff round a slight teenager from Viseu, Portugal, with just one season of senior soccer beneath his belt — if that, actually — named João Félix.

In some ways, Félix’s story is similar as all of the others. The particulars would possibly range a little, however the sample is acquainted. His expertise at all times shone brightly. He needed to overcome some hardship or problem. He has the energy of character to cope with the strain being heaped on his younger shoulders.

What stands out about his story, although, is its velocity. A yr in the past, Félix was solely on the cusp of Benfica’s first staff. It was not, actually, till January that he broke by, carrying the staff to the Portuguese championship and incomes himself, within the course of, not simply a $138 million switch to Madrid, however a place in that cadre of gamers who now appear to be the era that may substitute Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo because the world’s finest gamers.

Others have beforehand worn that tag, after all. Neymar, for a very long time, appeared to be the participant in ready. Some might need made a case for Eden Hazard at varied factors throughout his profession at Chelsea, or probably even Paul Pogba, earlier than he contracted Manchester Uniteditis.

In actuality, although, their timing was flawed. Ronaldo has endured as an elite performer for longer than many, maybe, anticipated; on the Champions League attract Monaco a few weeks in the past, he (form of) joked that he has a few extra years left in him at this degree.

Messi is simply 32, and if something he has been getting higher during the last couple of years. He will decline sooner or later, after all, his affect waning and his brilliance dulling, however Neymar and Hazard will probably be nearing 30 by the point he vacates his perch. Their probability might properly have gone.

Félix and Mbappé and the remainder, although, will probably be coming into their prime then. History teaches us that a couple of them might have been diverted from what appears, now, to be their future, hampered both by damage or a poorly-chosen switch. It is from this group, although, that the inheritor to Messi and Ronaldo will come.

It is, you sense, one thing of a poisoned chalice. It will solely turn out to be clear in time fairly how Messi and Ronaldo have contorted our expectations for the world’s finest gamers. They have modified, essentially, what greatness appears like.

No matter how good Félix or Havertz or de Jong proves to be, it’s unlikely anybody will rating as many targets as recurrently as Messi or Ronaldo. It is nearly inconceivable to count on anybody to make the superhuman appear so attainable as usually as they’ve. Nobody had completed it earlier than. It is probably going that no one will do it once more.

The fear is that has a unfavourable impact on whoever comes after: that we don’t admire them for what they’re, the expertise they’ve, as a result of we focus so intently on what they don’t seem to be, on what they might by no means be. One of them would be the finest participant on the planet, a generational expertise. It is a part of the legacy of Messi and Ronaldo that even that, maybe, might not appear sufficient.

This week introduced the annual uproar that greets the discharge of the participant scores on the FIFA online game.

You might or might not know the drill: Electronic Arts, the sport’s creator, publicizes what number of marks out of a hundred it has given every participant on its database (so Lionel Messi, the highest-ranked, will get 94, Cristiano Ronaldo 93, Neymar 92 and so forth), and varied folks (together with, usually, the gamers themselves) get indignant as a result of they disagree with sure assessments.

And yet I wonder if there is more to it than simply not knowing what we had until it was gone. Scholes was not admired enough while he played. He is feted just a little too much now that he doesn’t. I have a feeling that the disconnect is rooted less in a desire to right a historical wrong and more in the changing values of English soccer. It has more room for, and appreciation of, a player like Scholes now than it did for him at his peak, and it wants to show it.

◾️ I wrote last week that women’s soccer would be taking center stage in Europe, for one weekend only, and it more than lived up to expectations. Manchester City hosted Manchester United in front of more than 30,000 fans, and Chelsea managed to draw just shy of 25,000 to Stamford Bridge for its game against Tottenham. There has, clearly, been a post-World Cup boost. The challenge now — in England and elsewhere — is to sustain it.

◾️ I’ve been getting increasingly worried by Arsène Wenger: he keeps saying he’s got job offers, and then not taking any. I can rest easy, though, because he’s about to be back in gainful employment. With FIFA.

After both the homophobic incidents in France and Romelu Lukaku’s being subjected to racism in Italy, Craig Collar writes that the problem is not restricted to Europe. “It is the same justification that Mexican fans have used for their ‘puto’ chants for opposition goal kicks,” he said. “It’s abhorrent, and until there are points deducted, games played behind closed doors, or games terminated and forfeited, it is going to continue.” Craig argues governing bodies have to “lead here on racism and homophobia, or it’s just another sign of their lack of moral fiber.” [U.S. Soccer made an effort on that front before and during last Friday’s friendly against Mexico.]

And a good idea from George Hebert: to prevent players feigning injury, institute a rule that if you leave the field with an injury, you are not allowed back on for five minutes. “The time could vary, but it must be long enough to discourage diving and fake injuries,” he wrote.

Thanks, as ever, for reading. We return to domestic action this weekend: I’m at Manchester United against Leicester, but the most appetizing game is probably Juventus’s visit to Fiorentina: Juve is not exactly popular in Florence. As ever, I’m on Twitter, keep the suggestions, questions and reviews coming to askrory@nytimes.com, and remember to tell all of your friends to sign up. It’s much appreciated.


Source link Nytimes.com

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