Big Boots To Fill: The New Maradona, Riquelme, Messi and Beyond by David Michael Nolan – Book Review
By Karl Hornsey
It seems in football that any young talent coming through can’t be left to their own devices and appreciated for who they are – they have to be the new Pele, new George Best and, of course, the new Maradona. The latter is the subject of this book that looks at those who have followed in his footsteps, with varying degrees of success, right the way up to the man who has pretty much ended the comparisons, simply by having the comparisons become about himself instead – a certain Lionel Messi.
Between Maradona and Messi, from the 1980s to the present day, author Nolan selects 24 Argentine players who have been described as or expected in some way to be the ‘new’ Maradona. Which in itself reveals how desperate the nation has been to replace their beloved hero and, of course, just how difficult it is to follow such an incredibly talented footballer. There’ll now likely follow another 40 or 50 years of supporters trying to find the ‘new Messi’ and the ‘new Ronaldo’, and so the cycle begins again, but there’s also the fact that Maradona was known for so much more than simply his on-field exploits, given how remarkable his life away from the pitch was as well.
Big Boots To Fill is probably at its most interesting when Maradona is the subject and his back story is fascinating, but several of the other players featured also have stories worth telling, which makes this a book well worth reading. Even as a keen fan of football over the last 40 years or so, there are some here that I’d never heard of, but that doesn’t make their own stories any less interesting.
The likes of Carlos Tevez, Juan Roman Riquelme and Ariel Ortega are well-known enough and enjoyed successful careers, but those of former Middlesbrough forward Carlos Marinelli, and journeymen Cristian Calusso and Walter Montillo are just as engaging, and Nolan has done them justice with his research.
What is slightly more surprising is the amount of space devoted to Messi – 74 pages – as the modern superstar’s life and career has been covered many times before. It’s illuminating to compare him to Maradona and see how and where he succeeded where so many others failed, but he’s the bookend to an era of Argentine football that now moves on to another phase. What’s perhaps most interesting about Messi is how his path crossed with Maradona’s when the latter was manager of the national team. As players, they may have had plenty in common, but as characters they are chalk and cheese.
Nolan also touches on the importance of the ‘number 10’ to Argentina and other nations, and some of the players featured here didn’t even play in that position, such was the desperation to replace the country’s idol. All in all, this is an intriguing look into the lives of so many young hopefuls and a salutary tale of how many of them fail to live up to the huge expectations on their shoulders.
‘Big Boots To Fill -The New Maradona, Riquelme, Messi and Beyond’ by David Michael Nolan is available from Pitch Publishing. RRP £18.99