Yoann Gourcuff: The Big Thing Flourishing Away From the Big Team

Alex StampCorrespondent IJanuary 13, 2009

Ask a regular observer to Ligue 1 about Yoann Gourcuff, and a rush of platitudes will be forthcoming. Gourcuff has been the undoubted star in the French league this season, and he has lived up to the heady name-tag hung around his neck, “petit Zizou”, a sign that many in France consider him to be the natural heir to Zidane.


This season alone, Gourcuff has scored four goals in the league, two of which, against Toulouse and this weekend against Paris St Germain are candidates for goals of the season.


In addition Gourcuff made his French debut this year, and scored with a wonderful long range strike against Romania, to cap what has thus far been a remarkable season for the young man.


Ask a regular observer of Serie A and they will paint a very different picture of Gourcuff, for here was a young man who simply wasn't ready. Signed by AC Milan as a 20-year-old, Gourcuff spent much of last season on the bench, and in his time at Milan never established as a first team regular. He impressed so much that he was rewarded with a loan spell to Bordeaux.


Gourcuff was seen as a failure, and one must wonder with the signings of Ronaldinho and now Beckham if Serie A will ever see Gourcuff as a regular player for the Rossoneri.


What a contrast. Gourcuff is not the first talented young player to struggle to cope with the rigours of Serie A, great players such as Dennis Bergkamp, Nwankwo Kanu and Patrick Kluivert have struggled in the past.


But the transformation has been remarkable, now many feel that Gourcuff genuinely has the quality to be a capable successor for Zidane for Les Bleus.


What Gourcuff's story illustrates is the inherent dangers for young players in moving to a big team at such a tender age. While Gourcuff, at 20 was relatively old compared with some of the young players you see moving to these clubs, he still struggled to adapt.


Indeed, Gourcuff's tale should be a cautionary one to any of these young players who move to the bigger clubs.


Take the cases of Tom Taiwo and Michael Woods. Taiwo and Woods were signed by Chelsea from Leeds United as 16-year-olds, on the basis of their performances for England's U-17s team for the princely sum of around £5 million.


This fee, and the controversial nature of their move to Stamford Bridge, meant that these two became the focus of much attention at the time.


Fast forward two years and the careers of these two young prospects appears to be in limbo. While Woods has appeared once for Chelsea, he has yet to force his way into their first team plans.


Taiwo on the otherhand has got nowhere near the Chelsea first team, and was sent on loan to Port Vale for a month, a deal Vale themselves chose not to extend.


These two players simply highlight the inherent dangers of moving to a bigger club, if your progress as a player stalls then you can end up going nowhere.


Indeed, have you ever heard of David Grondin, Carl Medjani, Rincon, or Rati Aleksidze—just for example?


These were players who have been signed as youngsters over the years by last season's top four, but were never heard of, and never came close to becoming first team regulars.


Indeed none them ever reached frankly an even respective level, showing just how young players can fail to reach their potential even if they join these big teams.


While moves to big teams at young ages can work for players such as Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Alexandre Pato and Theo Walcott, these players are exceptional talents who were signed as first team prospects and thus were guaranteed to be involved in the team on a week by week basis.


Yoann Gourcuff's resurgence this season shows how first team football can be as beneficial as anything to the development of a young players career. But by moving to these bigger teams, these younger players are depriving themselves of first team football and decreasing their chances of gaining it further by joining teams with more competitive and challenging squads that make it harder to feature.


For when you see a footballer as talented as Gourcuff, and realise that he was unable to force his way into a big team then you just realise how stifling and fierce the competition at these clubs is, and how these conditions are hardly beneficial to aiding a young player's development and career.


Fortunately for Gourcuff, Bordeaux and Les Bleus, he has got his chance and is proving himself away from AC Milan and showing that he really is a star for the future.


So keep an eye out for Yoann Gourcuff, the "petit Zizou" and an example for young players around the world that sometimes moving out of a big club can be better for your career than moving there in the first place.