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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Around Europe: Jordan Larsson, Justin Kluivert and the sons of former stars making their own way in football

Ian Hawkey looks at the players hoping to emerge from their fathers' shadows in professional football.
Jordan Larsson, the son of Henrik Larsson, is plying his trade for NEC in the Dutch Eredevisie. Getty Images
Jordan Larsson, the son of Henrik Larsson, is plying his trade for NEC in the Dutch Eredevisie. Getty Images

Jordan Larsson was five years old when his father learnt, with a heavy heart, just how complicated a man’s success can seem through the eyes of a young son.

Henrik Larsson, adored at Celtic, admired at Barcelona, and highly valued at Feyenoord and Manchester United, was at the 2002 World Cup playing for Sweden, when he called home from Japan.

His country had just sealed a place in the tournament’s knockout rounds. His family had watched on television the draw against Argentina that put Sweden through.

“Jordan,” recalled his father, “burst into tears when we scored. He said: ‘That means Dad’s not coming home’.”

Henrik Larsson retold the story one day, a little over three years later, as he watched his son kicking a ball around at Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium. Eight-year-old Jordan was showing some adept skills by then, recognising that football was something to make time for, whatever the sacrifices.

Last weekend, the same Jordan Larsson made his debut for NEC of Nijmegen in the same Dutch top division where Henrik first played for Feyenoord at the age of 22.

Like dad, Jordan had moved to the Netherlands from Swedish club Helsingborgs. He has a few years’ head start. Jordan is 19.

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The Dutch Eredivise has returned to action after the winter break full of flashbacks. Ajax introduced a substitute, making a league debut for the first-team, into the first half of their win over Zwolle last Sunday, one Justin Kluivert.

The striker will only turn 18 in May, so his precociousness seems genetic. Just like that of Patrick, his father, who in the mid-1990s won a European Cup with Ajax aged 19, and was later, like Henrik Larsson, a centre-forward for Barcelona.

The Kluiverts are a three-generation dynasty of footballers. Kenneth, Patrick’s father played for Surinam, the Caribbean country once colonised by the Dutch; Patrick, born in Amsterdam after his parents settled in the Netherlands, scored 40 goals from 79 caps for the country.

Justin already has caps for the Dutch under 18s and has apparently developed a nice line in irony. “My father was a true striker,” he told reporters with a smile. “I’m a bit more skilful.”

It is a way of handling the inevitable comparisons, the pressures that carrying a celebrated surname can bring.

Patrick Kluivert, who currently has an executive position at Paris Saint-Germain, would remember seeing up close how his former international teammate Jordi Cruyff dealt with being the talented son of the more brilliantly gifted all-time idol of Dutch football, Johan.

The Cruyffs were for a time player and coach at the same club. So were the Larssons. After an extended playing career had ended, Henrik was appointed head coach at Helsingborg.

Jordan was already there, an up-and-coming striker with finishing instincts that many Swedes found reminiscent of … well, you can guess who.

“There will be no favouritism,” Henrik Larsson declared when he became the man in charge of selecting, or not selecting, his son.

There were tough decisions. Henrik Larsson kept his son at the club when Sweden wanted to take Jordan, an under-21 international, to the Olympic Games in Rio last summer.

Helsingborg needed him, insisted Henrik. And when Helsingborg were relegated from the Swedish top flight in November, a small number of the club’s fans attacked both Larssons. Jordan moved on; Henrik left the job.

The young Kluivert and Larsson are the latest offspring of former stars to make a career breakthrough in this, a season of notable heirs.

In Italy, Giovanni Simeone, 21-year-old son of Diego — now coach of Atletico Madrid and former midfield totem of Inter Milan Lazio and Argentina — has registered his first Serie A goals for Genoa.

Federico Chiesa, 19, is making an impression as a striker for Fiorentina, one of several clubs his father, Enrico, scored goals for.

Last month, Enzo Zidane scored his first goal for the Real Madrid first team, introduced as a substitute by the head coach, who he also knows as dad.

Player of the week: Maxime Lopez (Marseille)

Marseille are braced for revolution under a new owner, the American Frank McCourt who promises bigger budgets and with that, a return to former glories. But as the French club chase the likes of former Marseille player Dmitri Payet, a potential star is also emerging from their youth ranks, 19-year-old Maxime Lopez.

Pure Marseille

The surname gives a clue to the branch of the family tree that stretches into Spain, on his father’s side. His mother, meanwhile, is of Algerian origin. But fans of Marseille recognise him as one of their own. He was born in France’s second city, and is a product of the club’s academy, where he enrolled at the age of 14.

Breakthrough campaign

Lopez was voted Ligue 1’s Player of the Month for December, having contributed two assists and a goal to what was a promising run for Marseille. Only two months earlier, he was struggling for minutes on the pitch. With the arrival of Rudi Garcia as manager, Lopez was given the opportunity to show his readiness for first-team football, and has seized it.

Eye for a pass

At just 1.67m tall, Lopez relies on technique rather than physique. His technical gifts are plenty; neat ball skills, a deft turn and the sort of delivery, with a moving ball or a dead one, that might make Marseille have second thoughts about automatically giving Payet the automatic first go at striking attacking free-kicks should the France international — as Payet intends — leave West Ham United to return to the Mediterranean coast.

Nasri’s heir

At Marseille, Lopez is likened to Samir Nasri, now of Sevilla, on loan from Manchester City, and a former Marseille prodigy who had the same comfort on the ball as Lopez shows and the same precocity as a teenager. He has been called up for France’s under-20s, the French Federation enthusiastic about his potential and aware that other countries — Spain or Algeria — might want to explore his eligibility.

Impulsive

France’s under-20 manager, Ludovic Batelli, told Le Parisien newspaper: “We had followed his progress for some time and coming into the first-team at Marseille has given him a peace of my mind. He could be a bit impulsive as younger player. He seems calmer.”

Barcelona link

Inevitably, Lopez’s form has drawn interest from abroad. Liverpool and Arsenal of the Premier League have been monitoring him for a long period. In the last two weeks, reports in Spain highlighted Barcelona’s covetous glances. Marseille, who hope to show their heavyweight credentials in Saturday’s meeting with Lyon, may now have the resources to resist big offers. But they also need to persuade

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