By 90Min
October 22, 2018

Around two weeks ago, Odell Beckham Jr made headlines by publicly calling out the New York Giants' two time Super Bowl winning quarterback Eli Manning for his [clearly] waning talents. Speaking to ESPN, OBJ proclaimed: "I feel like he's not going to get out the pocket.

"He's not - we know Eli's not running it. But is it a matter of time issue? Can he still throw it, yeah, but it's been pretty safe and it's been, you know...cool catching shallow [routes] and trying to take it to the house. But I'm, you know, I want to go over the top of somebody."

Now, for the non-NFL fan, that basically translates to - 'Manning's not mobile enough (at 37 years old, fair point), and, while catching short throws is sort of fun, I want to be making spectacular catches off spectacular deep throws - and he can't do that for me.'

Soccrates Images/GettyImages

Just a couple of weeks before, Paul Pogba disparaged Jose Mourinho's defensive style in a similar, if not quite as frank, fashion. He ended the appraisal with the words: "I’m not the manager, I cannot, like, say that but…obviously we should show more option of playing but I cannot say that because I’m a player."

On both occasions the players were widely condemned. And back to back, it's easy to see why - they come across as passive aggressive and undermining, with undertones of an unruly ego. But even if it over-steps the mark, they're both speaking a truth that others may not, admittedly to the benefit of themselves, but also to the long-term future of their teams.

Just within that small prism, it is easy to see the similarities that exist between two of Football's biggest stars, albeit on opposing sides of the Atlantic. They are both generational talents, playing for prestigious and microcosmic institutions of their respective games.

They are two of the most popular celebrities in the world - ranking 8th (OBJ) and 1st (PP) in the SportsPro Marketability Rankings, with 40.9m Instagram followers between them. 

Accordingly, they are also two very, very rich men. Having signed a new extension with the Giants ahead of the 2018/19 season, the wide receiver is set to earn $95m over the next five years, $65m of which is guaranteed. Should he remain on his current contract, the French midfielder will earn £75.4m in the same period.

They are also two black men. And, though it's not necessarily my place to weigh into this issue too heavily, I'm sure Raheem Sterling could tell you a thing or two about this combination, and what it can provoke in certain people.

In any case, in their position as new-wave media magnates, the pair also perfectly exhibit the promise and/or pitfalls of modern sport.

There is a tendency, especially among the more traditional (*OLD*) supporters to dismiss such activities as fanciful and irrelevant. "YoU CAn'T gEt YOuR HaIR cUT riGHt BeForE A GaME!!?!?!" or, "STOP CHANGING YOUR HAIR WHEN YOU'RE LOSING?@?@!>?>!" are common critiques within such circles.

The fact that a sportsman could be equally famous for their hairstyles and dance moves as their technique and talent is unacceptable to some. You can express yourself on the pitch, just don't have dye in your hair while you do it. And you better bloody win.

OBJ Catch - Getty Images

Such a viewpoint can appear naive, and seems to stem from a strange place of jealousy-imbued denial for sports stars to derive any extra-curricular fun out of their craft. In essence, to be anything other than a straight-edged footballer.

Yet there is a reason for the proliferation of this perception. Because it would be fair to say neither Pogba nor Beckham have totally fulfilled their spectacular promise. Of course, at 25 years old, there is still plenty of time, but that can feel besides the point when you perceive such unique talents to be concentrating more on their off-pitch image than their week to week performances.


Their unrelenting presence in the zeitgeist, whether it be chilling with Drake, dancing to Migos in Instagram posts or appearing in music videos, can seem disingenuous when they're not delivering on the pitch.

It doesn't help either that the duo's rise has coincided with a wider shift in how fans experience their respective games. In some corners, the cult-like support of a team has been replaced by a fervent following of specific players - a crime against the very nature of sport, in the eyes of the dissenters.

In turn, the last five to ten years has seen a dramatic increase in player-power, amplifying the voice and choice of the player in a field where they have usually been disregarded, particularly in the US. Evidently, this fact is not lost on either of these athletes.

BSC Young Boys v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Group H

Of course, Pogba won eight trophies with Juventus, but for many people across the world he is simply the man who lost a Champions League final, and then returned to Manchester for a world record fee, where he's failed to deliver.

The Frenchman would argue he put that all to bed when he won the World Cup in Russia this summer. And it did, for a time, until he returned to England and became the same intermittently frustrating/frustrated figure that he has been for the majority of his Manchester United career.

Similarly, though Beckham has broken no less than 20 statistical NFL records, he has reached the play-offs just once in in his career, losing 38-13 in the first round to the Green Bay Packers - a loss which was largely attributed to a boat party Beckham and a few teammates had attended in the lead up to the game.

When faced with these critiques, both would undoubtedly cite the fact that they are just one cog in a much larger machine. A machine that occasionally inhibits them and is occasionally inhibited by them. And herein lies the paradox that exists at the heart of these men. 

Because their individual brands burn so brightly, and because they can be seen as positioning themselves as bigger than the teams they represent, they are duly blamed for the inefficiencies of their teams - regardless if it is within their control or not. 

The fact that sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't necessarily relevant - they have fallen victim to their own off-field success, and are suffering the consequences on it.

As of yet, it is unknown if future successes in their respective cities will assuage these critics (my inkling would be probably not) but one thing's for sure - everyone will be watching.

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