Comparison to greats of yesteryear has always been dangerous ground. Understandable to an extent, acting as a frame of reference to those unaware of the potential one has, but all too often serving only to raise expectations to a level most simply cannot live up to.
Past examples are endless, each one more ludicrous than the last, yet the trend continues. The most recent victim of this – the latest addition to the French revolution at Newcastle United; former Toulouse midfielder, Moussa Sissoko.
This is not a recent thing for Sissoko. In 2008/09, the first claim of footballing reincarnation was made, and as expected, it turned out to be inaccurate ; not for lack of potential, more so premature sensationalism on the part of the ill-informed.
The comparison at the time – Michael Essien. Granted, his career has declined somewhat in recent seasons, but at the time was regarded as one of the most dominant defensive midfielders in world football; commanding the Chelsea midfield, consistently delivering world class performances.
Expectations, of course, went through the roof and were grossly unfair to a fresh-faced nineteen year old, still very much in development stages of his career ; not to mention the fact that Sissokos style of play showed itself to be far detached from that of Essien.
Far more attack-minded, with explosive pace and most identifiable by his driving runs through the centre of midfield, Sissoko was a different beast, and over time attracted the interest of many clubs on a bigger stage to the league one outfit.
Ever-enhancing reputation and experience, combined with the now obvious initial false comparison, brought with it the next claim of ‘the next’ ; this time none other than one of the best midfielders to ever grace the Premier League, Patrick Vieira.
Unable to merely dismiss it as words of the less-than-wise, I made a concerted effort to watch this future powerhouse of world football for myself on a regular basis. What I found – bags of potential, but too many flaws to be even mentioned in the same bracket as Vieira.
That said, Sissoko did impress me, and although skeptical about his capability to reach the very top, thought he would be a great signing for a club like Newcastle. Low and behold, a couple of years on, the media spawned lovechild of Essien and Vieira has arrived on Tyneside.
In terms of Newcastles’ current standing in the Premier League, and proven lack of strength in depth given their injury problems prior to the New Year, the signing of Sissoko, especially for £1.8 million, is without question a great bit of business, but I am concerned there is too much expected of him.
His height and strength will no doubt be the major plus, given the likes of Ajax graduate Vurnon Anita and the classy paintbrush player that is Yohan Cabaye, do sometimes fall short in terms of physical presence. Sissoko will bring that power to compliment the aforementioned if nothing else.
Another aspect of his game which will be instantly noticeable is his blistering pace and ability to cover a lot of ground. Unlike most continental players, it shouldn’t take long for Sissoko to get up to speed in the Premier League, and should give Newcastle another dimension in midfield.
There are however shortcomings to his game, which show the difference between what is a very good player, and the greats Sissoko has been compared to. These issues have been improved slightly over the last couple of years, but do still remain to an extent, and in fairness, have not shown themselves in his opening two games, which have been impressive to say the least.
Sissoko does have a tendency to lose possession quite cheaply in the final third at times ; more than a top Premier League player can afford to. His driving runs from his own half can scare the daylights out of the opposition on the counter-attack, but can quite often result in a disappointing final ball.
Technique is not the problem, as like most French players, he is technically sound. It is more composure in the final third that lets him down, seeming like he sometimes plays at a pace that is too quick for his mind, even though he is an extremely intelligent player, often shown by his strength of character in interviews.
It may sound like dampening expectations, especially given his explosion on to the Premier League scene over the past week ; or to some who have watched him outside Youtube scouting, not doing him enough justice ; but as promising as Sissoko is, there is still a lot of room for improvement, and his ball retention and final ball could get found out in the Premier League once players get used to him.
One thing he does have on his side however is age. Despite being a name tipped for the top in France since first emerging onto the Ligue 1 scene, he is still only 23, and has notched up over 180 appearances in six years in the Toulouse first team set-up.
For Newcastle, it could well turn out to be a case of buying at the perfect time and reaping the rewards of Sissoko finally fulfilling his potential, and if that is the case, they will have some player on their hands, but it is far from guaranteed and expectations have to be kept in check, which will be tough after him sinking the current ‘Champions of Europe’ last weekend.
Exciting? Promising? Without a shadow of a doubt. But the next Essien or Vieira? Doubtful. Some have made comparisons recently to Yaya Toure. Again, has similarities, but not the same kind of player and probably a class below. Others liken him to Diame. More realistic, but I still see differences.
Personally, I like how the man himself put it… “Obviously, it’s a pleasure to be compared to someone of his ilk, but Vieira is Vieira. I am Sissoko.” The recently adopted Geordie has all the potential in the world, but has to be careful not to get caught up in the media hype, or he could fall victim like so many before him ; branded as ‘the next’ but becoming ‘the never will be’. For now, he seems to be doing everything right.