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Is footballing genius a genetic trait?

World Leagues
ISN'T THIS young, vibrant Ajax Amsterdam side an absolute pleasure to watch? The celebrated Dutch club’s energetic, comprehensive dismantling of French club Lyon in the semi-finals of the Europa League last week was simply a joy to behold. It was attacking football at its very best.

It took me back to the club’s glory years when they dominated European football in the 1970s, with greats like Dutch master Johann Cruyff, Ruud Krol, Johann Neeskens, Gerrie Mühren and Wim Suurbier, to name just a few.

And when 17-year-old Justin Kluivert came on as a substitute in the second half of that tie against Lyon, I was reminded how, famously, the teenager’s father, Patrick Kluivert, came on as a late replacement and scored the goal that won Ajax Amsterdam the European Cup in 1995. I still vividly remember the through-ball from Frank Rijkaard, and the young Patrick Kluivert, a slip of lad then, just a school-kid really, netted the winner with such composed maturity you always knew he was going to be a world star.

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Justin Kluivert  vies for the ball with ADO's Danny Bakker during a recent Dutch Eredivisie match. Photo: EPA/Olaf KraakAndre Ayew fouls brother Jordan Ayew during a Premier League match. Photo: Reuters / Andrew Yates

It got me thinking about footballers and their sons. Is talent inherited? Is it just a case of winning the genetic lottery? It’s certainly a topic worthy of deep and long discussion, and certainly cannot be solved within the confines of a mere football column such as this. While, in my opinion, football success is always about a lot more than talent, ability and inheritance, it is about hours and hours of practice, determined hard work and sacrifice, blinkered perseverance, and an absolute commitment and dedication to craft.

But, in the same breath, I guess a case has to be made for simple genetics. In short, footballers’ sons often have a predisposition to the sport, and an aptitude for what is expected. And that, surely, comes from being raised within that hurly-burly environment of professional football, and then developing a love and an understanding of what is required to succeed at that level.

One of my favourite current songs is John Mayer’s In the Blood. The searing lyrics explore the concept of nature versus nurture. As he sings: “How much of my father am I destined to become? Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood?”

With footballers, more often than not, it tends to be in the blood. The Kluivert tale a case in point, but there are so many others to relate. For me, the best of which is the Maldini dynasty. From the great Cesare Maldini, who inspired Italian giants AC Milan to the European Cup in 1963, to his son Paolo Maldini, who remains one of the greatest defenders to have walked this planet, and now his son, Christian Maldini, who is already being touted as a world star in the making.

Three-time African Footballer of the Year Abedi Pele has two sons playing in the English Premier League - Andre Ayew at West Ham and Jordan Ayew at Swansea. Add to that Kasper Schmeichel, the son of legendary Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel. Kasper has, of course, emulated his dad in winning the English title with Leicester City.

When I watch Daley Blind in action for Manchester United, it takes me back to the days when his dad, Danny Blind, anchored the Ajax Amsterdam defence. Danny, too, was in the Ajax team that won the European Cup in 1995.

In South Africa, it’s no different: Like the Maldinis, here it’s the Sono dynasty. From the great Eric Sono, who captained Orlando Pirates in the early 1960s, to his son Jomo Sono, who needs no introduction, and his sons, Bamuza and Matsilele, who have also shone as professionals.

Les Grobler scored goals for candy for Moroka Swallows in the 1980s and his son, Bradley Grobler, followed suit, with spells at Platinum Stars, Goztepe in Turkey, Ajax Cape Town and now SuperSport United. Stellenbosch FC central defender Junaid Sait is the son of former Santos, Cape Town Spurs and Orlando Pirates star Kamaal Sait.

Junaid Sait tackles Josef Lekata of Magesi FC during a NFD matcch. Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

And keep an eye on the progress of teenager Liam Jordan, now at Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon. He is the son of the late Keryn Jordan, whose many goals inspired Manning Rangers to the PSL title in 1996.

Perhaps, for these kids following in the footsteps of their dads, it’s a bit like the author Paul Asay writes in his book, God on the Streets of Gotham: “Forget Batman, when I really thought about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wanted to be my dad.”

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