The hype over Baggio

Douglas Baggio has been in the news this week. Real Madrid wants him, apparently. And so does Chelsea. The big boys are going to have to fight it out for this new Brazilian wonderkid.

Douglas Baggio has been in the news this week. Real Madrid wants him, apparently. And so does Chelsea. The big boys are going to have to fight it out for this new Brazilian wonderkid.

Douglas who? You may well ask. The kid is not yet a household name in his own home. He has just had a good tournament with his club, Flamengo of Rio, at under-17 level.

He gave an interview the other day when he speculated on how nice it would be to get an opportunity with Flamengo’s first team before too long. And this is the kid that is causing all the international fuss!

There is an easy way to describe this - X factor football.

Douglas Baggio may indeed be a magnificent prospect. But he has done nothing to justify such hype and headlines. He is at an age when he needs to be learning his trade, building his career, making progress in physical, technical and tactical terms. Far better that he do it in quiet anonymity.

But along comes the hype machine with its instant solutions, its short cut to celebrity that so often leads straight down a blind alley.

The media circus of premature hype has produced more victims than I care to remember. It is symptomatic of the times, I suppose, the immediate gratification of the 24/7 world.

There are plenty of forces at work pushing the talented South American youngster into the spotlight and hurrying him over the Atlantic before he is physically and especially mentally prepared for European football.

In part there is the anxiety of the young player. Born into the instant age, they are unaccustomed to waiting. Nowadays they have grown up with the idea of playing for a major European club, and so often in their minds it is a case of 'the sooner, the better.’

Then there is the family. There are cases in South America of entire families giving up work and serving as a support structure to a 15-year-old son who shows promise on the football field, and who then has to carry the collective hopes of economic advancement. So if the money is being offered now, take it!

Agents may have a vested interest in the same course of action, as may the player’s club if it needs an injection of cash to pay last month’s wage bill.

And so the player becomes transformed into a commodity, and any sense of what might be best for his development is lost.

As a general rule, it is far better to go step by step, consolidating a career by getting into the first team at a lower level and then moving on up.

There is often a price to pay for skipping a flight of stairs - you are forced to slide back down them, with all the loss of momentum this entails, something that can be disastrous in a short career such as that of a footballer.

Some will doubtless be thinking that the story of Lionel Messi makes a mockery of all the above. After all, moving to Barcelona as a callow youth hardly seems to have done him any harm.

Indeed. These are human beings we are talking about. No one size fits all. But there is a difference in the case of Messi that goes beyond the glorious genius of the young Argentine.

Messi made the trip at the age of 13, which is not the same thing at all as moving across the Atlantic four or five years later. When he traded Rosario for Barcelona, Messi was a child, only on the cusp of the age of change.

He went through adolescence in Catalonia. It is where he developed as a person, and to a significant extent as a footballer. In the superb description of Jorge Valdano, Messi is a perfect synthesis of informal Argentine street football and the Barcelona academy.

Those that go over at the age of 17 or 18 are in an entirely different situation. They make a dramatic change of environment at a time when they themselves are going through dramatic changes. It is commonly noted that in emotional terms footballers have a delayed process of adolescence.

At the time their contemporaries are enjoying youthful escapades they are concentrating on their game. The first big contract gives them the financial freedom to attempt to catch up with their old friends - at the very moment when their focus on their football needs to be greater than ever.

It is little wonder that many potential talents go astray at this time and having to go through the process while getting used to a strange culture makes it all the more difficult.

Last year I did a TV programme in Brazil with someone who works on the local version of Big Brother, a ratings sensation now into its 12th year. I asked him how he felt towards the contestants.

He shook his head, talked about the way in which they expect the show to change their lives forever, about how they are not prepared for this instant celebrity that eats them up today but, in the vast majority of cases, spits them out tomorrow.

He thought for a while and concluded that the principal emotion he felt towards them is pity.

When I read this week’s headlines I felt something similar for Douglas Baggio. Here’s hoping that he has the skill and the mental strength to cope with the hype machine.