The curse of irresponsible expectation

AT THE risk of upsetting some in this dubious trade it is proposed that all sports reporters, including those who broadcast by television and radio, undertake the revolutionary experiment of discreet appraisal.

To be sure, this might startle and confuse the clientele, yet 1999 would be a better and brighter year if we could get through it without being imprudently advised that genius is upon us.

If we could start by setting promise in perspective, there might come a day when emerging talent is not put at risk by descriptions that twitch and quiver with irresponsible expectation.

While it is idle to suppose that any teenager who is quickly successful in sport can avoid the sort of attention given to Michael Owen in last summer's World Cup finals and Justin Rose in the Open golf championship, it can lead to difficulties in development that some have found insurmountable.

Recently, on Match of the Day, the BBC pundit and former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson stated that Owen, at 19 years old, is already a phenomenon of football.

There is some truth in that, but unfortunately it may lead the public to consider Owen complete in football education when, in fact, he still has things to master.

As for Rose, it was not so much that the roof caved in on him after outscoring many of the world's best golfers at Birkdale as that he did not live up to quite ridiculous media anticipation. Comparisons between Rose and a true phenomenon of golf, Tiger Woods, were as daft as some made between Owen and Pele, who was only 17 when he appeared for Brazil against Sweden in the 1958 World Cup final.

A great deal of attention was given last week to Jermaine Pennant, the 15-year-old prodigy who is registered with Arsenal after being brought up in the game by Notts County.

There are some important side issues involved here - Notts County's agreement with Arsenal cannot conceal their disappointment - but there is risk in Arsenal's investment.

Nobody can ever be sure whether young players will live up to their potential. I do not know exactly what the figures are, but the majority of apprentices in English football fail to make it as fully fledged professionals.

Only people who look upon an interest in football as evidence of retarded development will be oblivious to the notion that a huge future in the game is being predicted for West Ham's 17-year-old midfielder Joe Cole, who made his first-team debut as a substitute in the third round of the FA Cup against Swansea City.

Cole is just one of an emerging generation who promise much for the future of English football. Improved coaching gives them a better chance than the many who fell by the wayside after representing England at youth international level.

The trouble is that media attention may be detrimental to their progress. Few will be blessed with Owen's temperament and the solid family background from which he benefits. Some will disappear from view, either because of injury or failed personality.

I was mentioning this the other day to someone who gave up football management when the pressure to achieve became too great for him. "I think the worst thing about the job was telling youngsters that they weren't going to make it," he said. "Most of them took it well but the parents were a different matter. I remember mothers in my office pleading for their sons to be kept on."

In their eagerness to publicise the announcement of sporting youth, some people descend into a twilight of reason and language.

Gustav Sebes, who put together the great Hungarian side of the 1950s, once spoke about his belief that a 15-year-old Ferenc Puskas would rise above others in his generation and become one of the great figures in football history.

The interesting thing about this was that others were considered ahead of Puskas in natural ability. "But none of them had his nerve," Sebes said. "On the worst day in his life he would never drop below a high standard. At that age Puskas's consistency was remarkable and, of course, he lived up to all the hopes that were held out for him."

We shall have to wait and see whether something similar will be said about those who are presently causing a great deal of excitement in English football. It would help if people who report their efforts do so with more circumspection than is at present evident.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power