Will Bobby Duncan sink or swim at Fiorentina?
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He’s been compared to Paul Pogba, Wayne Rooney and Robbie Fowler, attracted interest from Manchester United and Lazio and caused a media storm. Now Bobby Duncan leaves Anfield, joining Fiorentina after weeks of speculation and renewed analysis into how top clubs handle their youngsters. But will the move overseas be the right one for his development?
The British invasion
It’s becoming a trend for British youngsters to sign for foreign clubs. The likes of Rabbi Matondo, James Lawrence, Oliver Burke and Jonathan Panzo are all flourishing abroad whilst remaining in contention for their respective national teams. It’s a welcome change for the Home Nations, which have suffered from stagnation for too long while most British players appeared more willing to chop off their own foot than attempt a career on the continent. For the right player, a move abroad can be a chance to shine, learn a different playing style, develop under world-class coaching and, like Jadon Sancho, finally stand out from the crowd.
But not every young star who moves abroad can light the world on fire. The pressure can take its toll on a young player, especially one like Duncan who is the subject of so much controversy and media attention. Just look at Sonny Pike, the fuzzy-haired superstar who joined Ajax in the 90s before ending up on football’s scrapheap while still in his teens.
More recently, the case of Tranmere Rovers winger Dale Jennings springs to mind. Plucked from relative obscurity and taken to Bayern Munich, he was touted as a future England star. But Jennings never adapted to his surroundings. He failed to learn German or make a serious impact on the first team, leaving him embittered by the experience. After returning to England, he dropped out of the game before signing for ninth tier semi-professional outfit Runcorn Town.
To avoid following in Pike or Jennings' footsteps, Duncan needs to settle down and work his socks off. While he’s a player of undoubted ability, he’s yet to match up to Sancho or Matondo. He must accept that most of the action he’ll see for the time being will be with the reserves. The teenager is a good player and a decent prospect but he won't be running rings around Serie A defenders any time soon.
Scoring for fun in development leagues is all well and good. Top European Leagues are another matter. There’s a good reason Duncan wasn’t a regular first-teamer on Merseyside and he shouldn’t expect a move to the continent will drastically change his fortunes overnight.
It’s easy for any footballer to get ahead of themselves when six-figure sums are being thrown around in exchange for their signature. There could be an added danger for the young striker who, with his noted family connections, may feel the need to live up to the legacy set by his famed cousin. Former coaches described the hotshot as a player full of confidence in his own abilities but it’s worth remembering that the English lower leagues are littered with players who were destined for greatness.
Living up to the hype
That said, if Duncan can adapt to Italian football and learn from the coaching staff at Fiorentina, he could develop differently from his peers. This isn’t just about football. Duncan must learn the language, embrace the culture and avoid the media spotlight if he wants to succeed. If he can settle in, he can benefit from the coaching offered by Vincenzo Montella and the rest of the Fiorentina staff. The coaching and experience he’ll gain will give a flowing, Italian edge to his game, which could put him on the national team’s radar in a season or two. But that can only happen if he’s stable enough to get his head down, work hard and wait patiently for his chance.