Following in famous footsteps
© AFP

oWhat's in a name? Not so long ago, everything, that one small badge of family lineage binding you and yours to a certain rung on the social ladder for generations on end. Even today, a name is like a stamp of identity, carrying genuine weight that can often make it heavy to bear. Some manage to cope while others do not, but in cinema, music, politics, sport and the media, these sons and daughters of famous figures are legion.

Football has its own fair share of ambitious offspring, boys brought up feeling the same passion for the sport as their fathers. The phenomenon is easy to understand, with the natural inclination to want to follow in a father's footsteps magnified by hearing his name chanted in reverential tones by stadium crowds.

"If you look at life in general, most children don't do the same jobs as their dads - far from it," Alain Giresse told FIFA.com. "Football is no exception and I'd even go as far as saying that, unlike for artists, there's zero predisposition." Giresse's own son, Thibault, might disagree with that analysis. The 28-year-old has now spent nine years plying his trade in the first and second divisions in France, but toiling in the shadow of the former France international - a member of Les Bleus' 'magic square' midfield at the 1982 and 1986 FIFA World Cups™ - has undoubtedly been a constant struggle. The same goes for Jordi Cruyff, perpetually compared to his iconic father.

My father sent me a message on my telephone to congratulate me when I played my first match in the first division. It was an honour.
Thibault Giresse, son of Alain

"The pressure from the media can be exhausting when the name keeps getting brought up," added Giresse senior, currently engaged as coach of Gabon. "After a while, it gets to be too much. And then, clearly in the case of Thibault, his name has put him in situations that his friends haven't had to face. The way he's been treated hasn't been the same and, under false pretexts, people haven't always been honest with him because he's my son. I'm very proud of him, of who he is as a person, but he could have had an even better career if his name hadn't been Giresse."

"In a sense, it's lucky that I never had him as a coach because he's even more demanding with me," explained Johan Gerets, son of former Belgium international and now successful trainer Eric. "He always thought I wasn't good enough to play in the first division and he kept telling me that. It's not easy to hear that when you're young." When father does end up coaching son, as happened to the Gourcuffs at Rennes or the Maldinis with the Italian national side, paternal expectations can sometimes sweep aside normal coaching objectivity. "Either way, I've already been told I'm too hard on him," noted Jean-Michel Cavalli, coach of son Johan at Nimes.

"That's also what the people who talk to me about it say," added the player himself. "Maybe others say something else behind my back, but that's human nature. I'm sure of one thing: if I'm in competition with another player with the same abilities, he's the one who gets to play." For Paolo Maldini, Yoann Gourcuff and Youri Djorkaeff, the burden of playing for their fathers did not prove too cumbersome, but every family is different and in many cases even the desire to play at all disintegrated quickly. "I spoke about it to my colleagues in the France team at the time and for their children who played football, just seeing their dads killed off any desire to play at a very young age. It was too much to take. They were turned off by everything going on around the game itself."

I've never taken the place of his coaches - I'm his father, not his guru.
Alain Giresse

"It would be presumptuous of me to believe that I was good enough to pursue a professional career," remarked Laurent Platini, now a legal advisor working in football, following short spells with the youth teams at Nancy and Boulogne-Billancourt. "My parents always gave me the freedom to make my own choices and I chose a profession that allows you to have a career beyond the age of 35."
 
For those who persist with the sport, in contrast, what role should a celebrated father adopt when careers take a turn for the worse? "In every area he can, Yoann is always listening to advice, from me and from others, but he, and he alone, makes the decisions," explained Christian Gourcuff. "We talk to each other and I've always tried to inform him or warn him, but I've never taken the place of his coaches - I'm his father, not his guru," added Alain Giresse. "My father sent me a message on my telephone to congratulate me when I played my first match in the first division. It was an honour," recalled Johan Gerets, filled more with pride than any sense of vindication. After all, famous name, former footballing legend or not, we all have only one father.