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The next Kewell? How about the first Tombides

by Paddy Higgs on Jul 05, 2011

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It was the 36th minute when commentator Dan O’Hagan said it.

For the first time in Joeys’ Round of 16 clash with Uzbekistan in Mexico on Wednesday, Dylan Tombides had been found in space, and duly obliged by proving a nuisance to his opponents’ defence.

A stepover to fool one player and then a dink over the Uzbek’s slack-jawed team-mate a few seconds later was all it took: “(Tombides) carries that mantle of being the next great hope – the next Harry Kewell,” O’Hagan offered soon after.

Just over 20 minutes of play later, Tombides was back in the dressing room after being shown a straight red card for a high boot.

The challenge was reckless but hardly vindictive. Players have been sent off for more and for less.

Unsurprisingly, another comparison to Kewell was not forthcoming as Tombides trudged off the pitch in Torreon.

Perhaps the sight of the teenage forward’s bowed head had served as a reminder of his youth and still-developing maturing as a player.

Certainly, it summed up the Joeys’ 4-0 loss to their AFC rivals, exiting the Under-17 World Cup on a resolutely disappointing note.

The buzz on Tombides had been big in the lead-up to the tournament, though few had seen him play.

Joeys coach Jan Versleijen singled him out shortly before the tournament, and it did not take long for his quality to emerge in the opening game against the Ivory Coast.

Tombides seems to possess both talent and work rate, and he fully deserved his composed goal in the Joeys' 2-1 win over the African nation.

He was not able to find the scoresheet again for the tournament, and cut an increasingly frustrated figure as he was dragged further out of position by the Joeys' inability to match possession in subsequent matches with Brazil, Denmark and then Uzbekistan.

Picking through the rubble of the Joeys' disappointing campaign, the performance of goalkeeper Paul Izzo against Denmark, the goals of Jesse Makarounas and Luke Remington, the work rate of Corey Brown and the confidence of defenders Connor Chapman and Tom King were the green shoots of hope.

The potential of Tombides was another.

The parameters of analysis are far different for squads and players of the Joeys' age.
Caution must be exercised when delivering criticism, just as it must when it comes to praise.

Tombides needs no introduction to the concept of pressure. Worthy of a spot among the substitutes for West Ham's last English Premier League game of the 2010/11 season, Tombides will return to east London knowing the landscape at the newly relegated club is much-changed.

With a new manager in Sam Allardyce and a new division in the Championship, one thing at least remains the same for Tombides: Every one of his club-mates will be desperate for one of the Hammers' 10 first-team outfield positions.

It is the challenge that looms for Tombides, who only turned 17 in March. He needs no extra pressure, which is why Australian football needs temper to its expectations of the striker.

Let the youngster develop at West Ham, a club that has produced the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and Jermaine Defoe in recent times.

Comparisons to Kewell - aged 19 when handed his Premier League debut by Leeds - are unfair and unnecessary. After all, how many 'next' Diego Maradonas have gone on to become exactly that for Argentina?

Tombides is not the next Kewell. He is the first Dylan Tombides. Let him become that without the hopes of a footballing nation hung like a millstone around his neck.