O’Boyle: Younger stars alter landscape
Daniel O'Boyle | Tuesday, March 1, 2016
On Sunday, Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford scored twice in a Premier League game against Arsenal. This came just days after scoring twice in a Europa League game against FC Midtjylland.
This made me unhappy. Not because I hate Man United and he helped them to a victory (I do, but I dislike Arsenal as well. I have a lot of hate for a lot of soccer teams), but because Rashford is two years and three months younger than me. It gave me a bit of a midlife crisis.
Like most boys growing up in Northern Ireland, I wanted to be a professional soccer player when I grew up. I wanted to be like George Best, the exciting Belfast-born winger of the 1960s with a famously extravagant lifestyle. Best had played over 150 games by my age. Gradually, I’m having to accept that my chances of making it in professional soccer are getting less and less likely. My support of an admittedly not very good team in Reading FC allowed me to keep my hopes of playing with my heroes alive just a little bit longer, but with virtually no athleticism and nowhere near enough skill to make up for it, I may have to now accept that my chances of a professional sports career appear to be virtually zero. I sometimes keep a faint glimmer of hope — my reputation is apparently great enough for me to be selected for the Alumni Hall “B” soccer team without even showing up to tryouts (although I believe everyone who signed up made the squad) — but it appears my chances are gone.
But that’s something I’ve had plenty of time to come to terms with. Gradually, more and more of my sporting heroes are close to my age: It’s hard to imagine being in their world when you’re getting up early to watch a low-quality stream of them playing.
It goes far beyond soccer, too. We’re right in the middle of draft-anticipation season. At the end of April in Chicago, someone will be drafted and become the first-ever NFL player younger than me. I never really believed in my chances of making it in the NFL, but I can’t shake how strange it’ll be that there could be players in the next game I watch who will be younger than I am. ESPN might not announce that stat, but it’ll be on my mind. The 2015 NBA Draft brought in plenty of players younger than me, and the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns have been having great seasons.
It’s even more apparent in college football or basketball. Sometimes it’s easy to forget these guys are my age, maybe even younger. But every player is in their teens or early 20s (with the possible exception of Kansas forward Perry Ellis, who I maintain is definitely old enough to be my dad. Look at him.). Even if you’re watching students you’ve shared a class with, it can be easy to forget that they’re no longer grown-ups like you once saw them. They’re basically kids.
Even more terrifying, a player’s entire career could flame out by my age. Federico Macheda made a name for himself as an 18-year-old Manchester United forward, too, and disappeared from view in the soccer world just as quickly. Someone in the 2016 NFL Draft will be a major bust and find their best years behind them in their early 20s.
Usually, this column makes a bit more of a point about something in the sports world. There’s definitely something you can take from this fact: Maybe that we should remember so many athletes are essentially kids and understand their lack of maturity, but right now, I’m just a little freaked out by it all.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.