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All that glitters

by Quazi Zulquarnain Islam

…is not gold (to finish the thought expressed here). Such is the level of repetition of this thought that it has probably transcended all others to claim the prize for the most oft-repeated cliché (not that we are handing out any prizes).

Before we start though let me just say that inspite of some (very few I may add) queries as to the cause of my absence from these hallowed pages, I shall not take the time out to answer. Why waste column inches when there is fewer and fewer to spare?

Without further ado therefore let us get down to the case in point here. Which is (forgive me) “all that glitters is not gold.” And why is this true?

Just ask Messrs. Juan Roman Riquelme, Pablo Aimar, Diego Placente, Esteban Cambiasso and Walter Samuel.

The human mind being the wonderful miracle it is tries to find order from random variables. So you are at this very moment racking your brains to try to figure out how those players are connected.

Fine. You have your minute.
And no. Its not that they are all Argentine.
Ok. Minute is over.
How these players are connected is that they provide further reinforcement to the belief that all that glitters is not gold. In fact amongst all that glitters, very few actually are gold. And sadly for the scores of people around the world none of the above really will ever be gold that is.

If my figurative allusions leave you befuddled, let me make things clearer. The above mentioned quintet, were prominent members of the so called Argentine “ Golden Generation”, a precociously talented group of players who took the world by storm in 1997 by winning the World Youth Cup.

Playing a firebrand style of football under Jose Pekerman (which led to the name Pekerboys), the Argentina team defeated Brazil and sworn enemies Uruguay to capture the title and send warning bells across the world.

The Golden Generation is coming it said. And you have been warned.
Well warned we were but the wave unfortunately never materialised. In the end it was a story of lost expectations, finally signed and sealed just weeks ago by the retirement of its protagonist, Juan Roman Riquelme, from the Argentina national team.

It matters not that Riquelme was only 28 or that his excuses for quitting were half hearted at best. What is important is the fact that with the departure of Riquelme the international game itself has lost a great artist.

If you have read this column for any length of time, you will realise that yours truly fancies Riquelme a great deal. Its not because I support Argentina (I don't) or Villareal but because Riquelme to me embodies a side of the game that has gone all too missing these days the central playmaker, who calls all the shots, in the classic 1970's mould. Football's recent breakneck pace has sacrificed this art and with Zidane and Riquelme riding off into the sunset, its difficult to see who will take up their mettle. Regeneration may not always hold true. I could go on and on about Riquelme or Zidane but that would go beyond the point that this article is trying to make.

Which is how few of the rough diamonds that enchant the world in the youth Cup actually go on to become the finished article or more specifically how sketchy an impact the Golden Generation of Argentina made.

The 1997 team under Jose Pekerman boasted the talents of, aside Riquelme, Walter Samuel and Diego Placente. While the latter has completely fallen off the radar after his 'Neverkusen' summer of 2002, (when playing left back for Bayer Leverkusen they managed to drop the league, the domestic cup and drop the final of the Champions League in the matter of a week) the former has endured a roller coaster career that has taken him to Rome and Madrid and Milan. At Roma playing a rigid 3 man backline system Samuel flourished and his tough tackling and imperious positional sense in a Roma team that conceded on 13 goals in their Scudetto season saw him earmarked for great things. A move to Madrid ensued and as has happened to a lot of players these days, their lives floundered in sunny Spain. Samuel looked a shadow of the player he had seemed and was offloaded to Inter Milan where despite brief remembrances he is basically content with a spot on the bench.

On now to Esteban Cambiasso. A star in the making since 1997 he signed for Real Madrid early on but continued his career in Argentina. The combative midfielder who can play both as a central and a defensive midfielder is probably still the one player amongst his contemporaries who still commands a regular spot in a top tier team. His being Inter Milan. He has been one of their brightest lights this season and looks set to continue on that vein. But inspite of that he has never really reached the heights that were expected of him.

And what to say of Pablo Aimar, a conundrum if there ever is any. Long regarded as the 'new Maradona' Aimar's career has never really taken off and although injuries have played their part in this, the young man has the infuriating ability to look the worlds best on one occasion and a mediocre player the next. This inconsistency has seen Valencia finally tiring of his services and hence offloading him to Real Zaragoza. There may yet be redemption for Aimar but it is highly unlikely he will be the star he was touted to become.

I could go on an on and tell you of Bernado Romeo who scored four goals in that tournament but then enjoyed a journeyman's career or of Lionel Scaloni who plies his trade now at West Ham or maybe even of Deigo Quintana who has fallen off the radar since scoring in that final. But I fear the point has already been made, gloomy as the prediction is.

And its not just that Argentine dream team. Their next instalment in 2001 also have had largely unfulfilled careers with Javier Saviola, Nicolas Burdisso, Andres D Alessandro and Maximilano Rodriguez all fading away. In between the Spanish side on 1999 now boasts only two players of world class acumen (and that is a high number) Xavi and Iker Casillas.

And the Brazil team that won the Youth Cup in 2003 have only just provided players like Daniel Carvalho and Renato and Nilmar to the national team.

Not since a certain Diego Maradona graced the Youth Cup in 1979 has it produced a player of true greatness. But then again how many Maradona's have their been?

The 1993 Brazil side gave us Emerson and we all know about the Portgual class of 1991 with Luis Figo and Rui Costa leaving their many fans unfulfilled.

But I fear we are drifting further back than necessary. The point has been made. Of all the players who grace the U-20 youth cup few make the step up into being a truly international star. And even fewer still manage to live up to the hype that is expected of them.

Why this happens is beyond the abilities of this author to predict. But what I do know is that as far as international football is concerned the sun has finally set on the Argentina Dream Team of 1997.

(Mail me your views on youths unfulfilled potential or anything in particular. I can be reached at zulquarnain.islam@gmail.com )


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