Following in the footsteps of a revered father is always a huge challenge for younger generations. Succeeding a legend is another daunting task, and justifying comparisons with one of the greats in your particular field is a third weighty demand on a young man. But at the tender age of 20, Colombia's Jhon Cordoba has successfully tackled all three significant hurdles, an even more remarkable achievement when the world he inhabits is football, and the comparisons are about goalscoring ability.
The Colombia U-20 striker learned the basics of ruthless finishing at an extremely early age, potentially before he could even speak or do much more than toddle, because he simply had to watch his dad at work. His father Manuel Acisclo Cordoba finished a distinguished professional playing career with a total of 153 goals, so it is hardly a miracle that young Jhon Andres felt an early calling to the game. The little boy has grown into a 1.86m goal machine. “My father helps me a lot, just like all dads do. But his support goes way beyond any kind of normal level, because he knows precisely what he's talking about and passes on exactly the right advice," said this son of a famous footballing family, who spoke to FIFA.com in the wake of Colombia's victory over the host nation at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013. “He's such a big help to me. Thanks to his support I have great faith in my own abilities and my talent nowadays. My goal is to enjoy a career just as successful as his."
Father Manuel spent the bulk of his playing career with Atletico Nacional, Santa Fe and Independiente Medellin, playing in the Copa Libertadores and winning full international caps. By contrast, his son Jhon is only just starting out, but given his genes and upbringing, he has every opportunity to follow a similar career path. “He's my father and teacher in one," said Cordoba junior, scorer of his side’s equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Australia in their opening Group C fixture. “He often talks to me about my goals and compares them with the ones he scored during his career. When I started out playing in regional championships, his help and suggestions were especially important to me. But since I broke through as a pro, this huge level of support isn't completely necessary any more."
The Colombian Drogba
Especially not when you consider that Colombian football in the 1980s, the period when Cordoba senior was at his most prolific, was a very different beast compared with the modern game played by his son. “When I started out in the game, every team fielded two or three strikers, but my son is accustomed to playing as a lone striker," Manuel said in 2012 when Jhon was with FC Envigado. “But that can be a real advantage for a striker, because he’s forced to develop into a team player and not just a finisher, given he’s frequently out there on his own." There is no doubting that the young centre forward is improving with every match, to such an extent that his father felt obliged to make an interesting confession: “Jhon is much stronger than I ever was, and he’s a better player in the air. He's a genuine penalty box striker."
A nickname is never bad, but I'd rather be known by my own name, and that's Jhon Cordoba.
Quite apart from his powerful build, these are just some of the attributes marking out Cordoba junior as one to watch for the future. He is expert at holding up play, and he boasts a classic striker’s nose for goal. Domestic sports media have already dubbed him “the Colombian Drogba", perhaps a little flattering at this stage, and also a heavy burden on young shoulders. After all, any number of promising juniors have been hailed as “this generation's Zidane", “the new Pele", or “the Maradona of…", only to fade in the face of the hype and fail to live up to the comparison.
But for his part, Cordoba is relishing the challenge. “It's true, my movement and style of play are a bit like Didier Drogba. It's a big honour for me, but it certainly means expectations are high," the 20-year-old told FIFA.com, a flash of embarrassment suddenly crossing his face, a reflex at odds with his burly frame. But he quickly pulled himself together and followed the thought through to the end: “Basically, it really doesn't matter. A nickname is never bad, but I'd rather be known by my own name, and that's Jhon Cordoba. I want to make history under my own name and become a great striker."
Following in Jackson's footsteps
To achieve that, there could be worse routes than following the trail blazed by a third Colombian goal-getter, namely Jackson Martinez. When Jhon moved to Mexico in 2012 with Jaguares, it not only allowed the talented youngster to realise a dream of gaining experience abroad, he was simultaneously signing for a club which had just lost its star striker, senior Colombia international Jackson Martinez, to Portuguese giants Porto, where he made an instant impression. “It's all true. Yet another difficult legacy for me to deal with," grinned Jhon, reflecting on his recurring role as an heir apparent. “It means there are certain expectations, and I hope I can live up to them. I'm proud to be following in Jackson's footsteps."
After one season with Chiapas, Cordoba is moving on loan to Dorados de Sinaola to gain match practice in the new campaign. And perhaps Colombia coach Jose Pekerman might come calling in the not too distant future. If so, Cordoba could yet face a fourth exciting but loaded challenge, that of leading his country’s forward line in Brazil next summer, should Colombia make it to the FIFA World Cup™ finals for the first time since 1998.