It's always better to be cautious about an avalanche of praise, even more so when the compliments are laced with superlatives. History shows it is not necessarily a good thing for a young player to be compared to an established greats too early in his career. Coaches, the media and the public start looking intently at every game played by the potential starlet, and criticising even the smallest errors.
Dylan Tombides, currently hitting the headlines with Australia here at the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2011 in Mexico, finds himself in exactly this position. The 17-year-old is being hailed as the new Harry Kewell, arguably the best player ever to emerge from Down Under. “You always have mixed feelings when you read stuff like that. Harry Kewell was a magnificent player who had a fantastic career. It’s obviously nice to read, but naturally, I'd rather make a name for myself independently. I'm not saying it's a bad thing to be called the new Harry Kewell, but I'd rather be known as Dylan Tombides. If my name makes the papers, it confirms I've done well," the youngster modestly told FIFA.com.
“I actually don't have an idol, because I admire a number of players with very different qualities. But obviously, you do look up to players like Mezut Ozil, Cristiano Ronaldo, Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Lionel Messi. What they can do with the ball is unbelievable."
Former West Ham boss Avram Grant handed Tombides his English Premier League debut last term, although a troubled season for the Hammers was to end in relegation. Grant was asked about the comparison between Kewell and Tombides a few weeks ago. “Harry was a good player and I liked him. I reckon Dylan has the potential to do the same," the ex-Chelsea coach said, although he added a proviso: “Potential is one thing, but exploiting it is another." Tombides’ future at the East London club is currently uncertain, as new boss Sam Allardyce has yet to reveal his plans. “Obviously, I'd like to play for the first team, but we'll have to see what happens. I've had no holiday up to now, so I might be given a week off after I come back, although the U-18 team has a tournament in Estonia."
The talented player has laid down impressive credentials at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico so far. Drawn in a veritable group of death, the junior Socceroos have every chance of making the last 16 after losing to Brazil but beating Côte d'Ivoire. The striker scored the winner in the 2-1 success against the Africans in the opening Group F clash.
“I don't think many people expected us to have three points after two matches, because we were the rank outsiders in the group. We started well, although we then lost 1-0 to Brazil. But we're happy with our displays so far."
Australia's muted hopes
It is crunch time on Sunday in the final group fixture against Denmark, who have lost both matches so far. “It'll be tough because Denmark have to win, whereas we might still get through with just a single point." However, the player nicknamed Ditch is not wasting any thought on the round of 16 just yet. “We're taking each game as it comes. Obviously, it would be unbelievable if we made the semi-finals or something like that. And if we don't make it, it won't be too bad, because no one expected it of us."
Just a few hours after the squad's arrival in Queretaro from their previous base in Guadalajara, FIFA.com spoke to the player on the hotel terrace overlooking the city, keen to learn more about the rising star from Down Under. Appropriately enough, his favourite film is Shooter, but he insists it is a mere coincidence and has nothing to do with his position up front. “It's just a film I like. It's well made and the actors are terrific."
Dylan is a keen golfer, but laughs off the idea that the precision required on the fairways and greens is also beneficial to his football. “I just play for fun. I'm delighted after a good round, but a bad round isn't a disaster either."
In any case, the best feelings come from scoring goals, he says. “Anyone who's ever scored will agree with me. Whether you're technically a goalkeeper, a defender or a striker, it's just unbelievable when you score."
The Australian hopeful would be only too happy to relive those feelings against the Danes, and should his efforts help in sealing a place in the next round, it will only make the day even more memorable.