Football: Fame is all in the name

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The Independent Online
I BELIEVE David Beckham, in reference to his baby son Brookie, was recently heard to ask, "so what's in a name, huh?" And it's easy to see why, too. After all, a name itself is nothing really. Merely a convenient means of identification. Take it away and the person still exists. Even one named after a Channel 4 soap.

You doubt me? Then let's take a little peek back in time, shall we? Alexander the Great. Remember him?

Now, let's say, for argument's sake, he'd been called "Zorba the Crazy Elephant."Do you honestly think such a paltry name-change would have made the slightest difference to the achievements of Alexander and his compat-riots? Olympiakos's 200-year domination of European football? Archimedes's invention of the flat back four? Alex's own historic treble in 333 BC? Get real. Of course it wouldn't.

Okay, admitted, Zorba himself might have encountered the odd sarcastic jibe as he strutted imperiously around Athens in all his bangles and finery. So what, though? Sticks and stones and all that? Besides, what else would you expect when you go round impersonating Ron Atkinson?

In stark contrast, modern day football reveals the presence of altogether different characteristics. Today, names are the be all and end all.

Take just a few of the recent greats: Dixie Dean, Stanley Matthews, Alfredo Di Stefano, Pele, Luis Del Sol, Tommy Smith, Georgie Best, Kenny Dalglish, David Ginola.

What do they all have in common? Sublime footballing skills? Yes. What else, though? What links them all, yet, at the same time, sets them apart from the rest of us minions? Think about it. It's obvious.

Their names. They've all got truly memorable names. Each one literally screams out: "Look at me. Isn't my name amazing? One day I'll be a world- class player."

True, it may not have happened quite so easily as that. Perhaps a modicum of skill and effort was needed, too. Really, though, they did have it on a plate, didn't they? How could they have failed with names like those?

Apply it to your own experience. You're in school. The teacher is about to select the school team and there's one forward spot up for grabs. You're desperate for it. Your name is Jack Smith and you're not a bad player. Neither, too, is the lad in the next desk. Trouble is, his name is Jean- Claude Ginola. Unless the French national coach somehow manages to stick his oar in, it's the sub's bench for you.

You could of course, always change schools. Or try moving back to midfield. Even then there are no guarantees. Who's to say you wouldn't be up against another big name. Perhaps one with two wooden legs. Again, it'd be no contest.

No, your only hope is a name change. Persuade your mother to file for divorce and marry a Frenchman. Preferably one called Cantona. Now Jacques Cantona could well swing it for you. It's got quite a ring to it. Now it's Jean-Claude's turn to sweat.

Don't be too complacent, though. Evidently there's a lad in Form 2C called Joey Anelka. A bit of a speed merchant, they say. Like shit off a stick. Knows where the net is, too. Just shows you, doesn't it? Even these days a big name is no guarantee of selection.

Alan Edge