The never-ending search for the new Best, Rush... and Hunter

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The Independent Online
You read it here: "the next Chris Waddle" is alive and kicking Preston North End back towards glory. The sloping gait, rounded shoulders and trickery on the wing of 19-year-old Kevin Kilbane have already attracted the attention of, among others, Wimbledon - which might seem strange considering the Dons are not exactly renowned for their love of the finer things in football, a category Kilbane certainly falls into.

I saw him illuminate a thrilling encounter between Plymouth and Preston recently (who said football outside the Premiership was dying?) and decided that Gerry Francis must have clocked Kilbane, given the Spurs manager's penchant for trawling the lower divisions for his next big find (his latest target is allegedly a hotshot from, er, Dulwich Hamlet). But, of course, "the next Chris Waddle" is already at White Hart Lane. Darren Anderton's sloping gait, rounded shoulders and trickery on the wing led to comparisons with Waddle early on that the new boy found too heavy a burden. "I want to be the first Darren Anderton, not the next Chris Waddle," he said, predictably.

Considering Anderton was only 20 at the time, Waddle's was a hard act to follow. Then again, Lee Bowyer, at the ripe old age of 19, is being groomed as "the next Gary McAllister". And at Charlton, Kevin Nicholls, a 17-year-old midfielder, has been labelled "the next Lee Bowyer" despite looking as if he should still be eating his mum's packed lunches. Much the same has happened at Liverpool, where "the new Ian Rush", Robbie Fowler, already has a young pretender at Anfield: 16-year-old Michael Owens, ironically born in the same Welsh town as Rushie.

I bet QPR fans thought they would never see another Rodney Marsh until Stan Bowles arrived at Loftus Road and was brave enough to don that No 10 shirt. Since then, only Simon Stainrod (arguably) has come close to doing it justice.

Ajax will probably never unearth "the new Cruyff", although they will keep trying. Dennis Bergkamp was heralded as "the new Marco van Basten" when he arrived on the scene; now Patrick Kluivert is the latest to don Bergkamp's mantle. But the world's best players will always bear comparisons. Diego Maradona was "the new Pele" when he first hit the headlines during the 1982 World Cup, but a succession of young pretenders have since been labelled as "the next Maradona": Claudio Caniggia, Ariel Ortega (who should be called "the next Jurgen Klinsmann" after his dives in the Olympic final against Nigeria), and now Parma's pounds 3m striker, Hernan Crespo.

David Beckham may have evoked memories of Pele when he scored his wonder goal against Wimbledon, but in reality there will never be another Edson Arantes do Nascimento. Romario has tried, but has never lived up to it. Now Ronaldo is being called "the new Romario", which is understandable. Both hail from Rio, both refused to play in the Brazilian Under-20 national side, both were left out of Brazil's USA '94 squad but were reinstated at the 11th hour, both starred for PSV before joining Barca, and both, like Pele, became world champions at 17. I don't know whether Romario hates tomatoes like Ronaldo does, but as comparisons go, it's not a bad list.

Manchester United could have done with Beckham being a little more Pele- like against Juventus. And if only "the new George Best" (Ryan Giggs) and "the next Paul Ince" (Nicky Butt) had lived up to their reputations, United might not have been outclassed by the Italians, for whom "the new Roberto Baggio" played in midfield. At least Alessandro del Piero looked the part, even if he had sideburns that Malcolm Macdonald might have envied rather than a divine ponytail. And remember Del Piero's Italian team-mate, Enrico Chiesa, who was billed as "the next Paolo Rossi" before Euro 96? I suppose he did score one goal in the competition...

In his United heyday, Ince was reckoned to be "the next Bryan Robson", but new Captain Marvels have been few and far between compared to the host of "new George Bests". In particular, there was Willie Morgan, who wore the No 7 shirt, looked like Best and even clashed with manager Tommy Docherty, and the mercurial Gordon "Merlin" Hill. "Champagne Charlie" Nicholas was mooted as being in "the next George Best" mould, too, although that was probably more to do with his off-the-field lifestyle than any prowess on it.

How Rangers could have done with "the next Ally McCoist" against Grasshopper of Switzerland, a country famous for producing great watches and chocolate, but hardly great footballers. The Scottish champions did have the original Ally McCoist in their line-up, but he seemed devoid of the predatory instincts that propelled Rangers to within goal difference of the European Cup semi- finals in 1992. The new Ally McCoist is hot off the Ibrox production line: 17-year-old Darren Fitzgerald has been described as "the best thing to come out of Northern Ireland since Norman Whiteside and [inevitably] George Best".

Defenders rate poorly in the comparison stakes. I mean, ever heard of "the next Tommy Smith" or "the new Norman Hunter"? True, Alan Stubbs has been talked about in hushed tones as "the next Alan Hansen", and I did hear Slaven Bilic mentioned in the same breath as Bobby Moore. But I doubt whether the Croatian will command such respect at West Ham, should he decide to jump ship.