Live long enough and watch enough football, and invariably you’ll recognise similarities in players across the generations.
It was about 1983 when I first came across the burgeoning talent of an 11-year-old Shaun Bartlett. We played at our township club, Factreton United – he was under-12, I was a little older and just starting to break into the first team.
But by then, the club was already aware of the prodigious ability of the precocious Bartlett.
A few years later, I would move to Santos in the Federation Professional League (FPL) – but I always kept track of Bartlett’s career, knowing that he had the potential for great success.
From Factreton, he went on to play for Norway Parks and Vasco da Gama before his break in the professional ranks arrived at Cape Town Spurs.
From there it was onwards and upwards – Bafana Bafana stardom, Colorado Rapids and MetroStars in the United States, FC Zurich in Switzerland and Charlton Athletic in England.
On his return to South Africa, he joined Kaizer Chiefs – and ironically, it’s his similarity to emerging Amakhosi star Ryan Moon that had me journeying down memory lane.
Moon has been in sensational form for the Soweto club – five goals in six games – but it’s his uncanny likeness to Bartlett that has caught my eye.
They aren’t footballers who will dominate a 90 minutes. They will, at times, go missing in games, but when the opportunity presents itself, make no mistake, they’ll be there to finish.
Moon was conspicuous by his absence in the opening 45 minutes against Cape Town City at the FNB Stadium on Saturday night, but when the chance came early in the second half, he reacted quickest and got the winning goal that keeps Chiefs in the title race.
Because that is what players like Moon and Bartlett can do – they’re match-winners, and the opposition dare not drop their guard for one moment.
In tracing the similarities between the two, from my memories of a young Bartlett, they both have lean frames and supreme athleticism; the aerial ability that frightens the daylights out of defenders; they have a natural poacher’s instinct and an acute awareness for an opening in the penalty area; they seem languid in movement, but their perception of space makes them lethal in execution.
It’s important not to get carried away by Moon, though. He’s not the finished article yet, he’s still learning his trade. But the signs are positive.
If he keeps working at it, and keeps his feet on the ground, the football world’s his oyster.
Bartlett’s career took a while to take off, with much disappointment and hardships along the way.
But he never stopped believing in his ability, and he had the character and the fortitude to forge the career he craved.
There’s a lesson in that for Moon at this early stage of his professional career: in football, you get out what you put in.
While most football watchers crave the spectacular, like a long-range volleyed goal, such moments of magic are usually few and far between.
It’s more often than not the mundane, the tap-in, that wins the game.
For this, a football team needs a poacher, a striker with positional sense, superb anticipation and whose reaction is always quicker than the defenders around him.
Bartlett did it all those years ago, and City coach Benni McCarthy would have had fond memories of his former Bafana teammate when he witnessed Moon do the very same to his team on Saturday.