Mark Elliott1 Comment


Mark Elliott1 Comment

When Jimmy Ormond walked out to bat at the Oval in the fifth ashes test in 2001, the Australian fielder Mark Waugh thought he’d try to put him off.  “Mate, what are you doing out here, there's no way you're good enough to play for England,“ he said.

Ormond replied with a legendary piece of sledging. He hit Waugh, the brother of the Australia captain where it really hurt with a simple yet devastating riposte: "Maybe not, but at least I'm the best player in my family".

You see, that’s the problem for famous sporting families. One member is almost always better than the other and when they’re active at the same time, comparisons are inevitable and rarely flatter both parties.

From Jordi Cruyff to Brian Laudrup, countless footballers have suffered in the shadow of a world class relative. No matter how much they won (and Cruyff and Laudrup won plenty), it still wasn’t enough. Famously, the young Jordi even refused to wear his surname on the back of his shirt such was the burden placed upon him by his father’s legacy.

Nobody currently playing the game professionally can identify more with the problems Jordi Cruyff encountered than Maxi Biancucchi. He’s a decent pro playing for a good team in a respectable league. He also happens to be Lionel Messi’s cousin.

Biancucchi is 27 and plays for Olimpia in Paraguay. He joined the club from Cruz Azul and spent time at Flamengo too. Last month, he scored as Olimpia beat Lanus in the Copa Libertadores and he’s won three league titles, including one in Brazil during his career.

Biancucchi is a good player in his own right but guess what his nickname is? Yep, that’s right, he’s commonly known as El primo de Messi.

Hours after the world’s greatest player picked up another medal at the Club World Cup in December Maxi secured the Paraguayan clausura with Olimpia. He scored as his club (the most successful in the league in terms of trophies) beat Rubio Nu 2-1. It was an excellent goal too, a brilliantly taken scissor kick that fizzed into the bottom corner.

The goal came at the end of a productive second half of the season for the diminutive winger. It was his fourth in 16 games after he broke into the team with a good performance in a tight win over Cerro Porteno in the Paraguayan Superclasico.

During that game he’d set up the winner but in the post match interviews, a local reporter still felt the need to ask if Messi had been watching. “He watched the clasico on the internet and he was very pleased. He said he liked the game and how I played,” Biancucchi replied. 

Like Dudley Dursley, he could be forgiven for harbouring some feelings of resentment towards his magical cousin. Perhaps, in his darker moments he wishes Messi had been locked away in the cupboard under his stairs.

As he sat on the bench at Flamengo and then struggled to cement a regular starting place at Cruz Azul, the inevitable insults and accusations of impropriety undoubtedly got to him. Earlier this month he told

“Occasionally, after I’ve had a bad game, people have said that I’m only at a club because I’m Messi’s cousin.

“That feels like a punch in the stomach. I don’t let it get to me if people say I’ve played badly, but it hurts when they question your ability.”

Now, in Asuncion, he’s found a home where he feels valued as a player and a person in his own right.

“Over here at Olimpia they don’t just see me as Messi’s cousin.”

Biancucchi has certainly shown remarkable persistence during his career. He was released by San Lorenzo in his native Argentina after coming through the youth system there. After a series of injuries stifled his progress he passed through the books of five Colombian clubs before getting his chance in Rio de Janeiro in 2007.

At Flamengo things started well. He scored the winner in the derby against Fluminense that year but injuries stifled his progress again. The form of Renato Augusto kept him out of the side after he returned to fitness and he left the club after three seasons and 69 appearances.

He was equally inconsistent during his time in Mexico with El Azul and Biancucchi returned to Paraguay to join Olimpia in an effort to revive his career.

Initially, he found it tough there too and started only three of the first 15 league games for which he was available. Injuries and the emergence of promising young forward Luis Caballero kept him out of the side and Marcelo Recanate, the club’s president publically questioned his attitude.

Then came the derby and a timely run of success. Now Biancucchi is making a name for himself, motivated by the critics who accused him of using his cousin’s reputation to steal a living.

Maxi knows he’ll never be as good as Leo. He just wants to rid himself of the expectations and preconceptions that come with sharing such wonderful genes.

“Leo is a phenomenal player and an even better person, but I just want to be judged on what I do out on the pitch, he says.

One thing Maxi can do is relay the lessons he’s learnt to his brothers. Emanuel is four years younger than Maxi and came through the same Newell’s Old Boys academy Messi represented before he moved to Barcelona. Since then he’s played for 1860 Munich and Girona in Spain before joining his brother in Paraguay with a move to Independiente.

Then there’s Bruno who might well be the best of the three. His grandfather Antonio Cuccitini certainly thinks so, telling “You have to see him play. He plays like Lionel”.

Fortunately for little Bruno, Maxi moved quickly to dampen expectations. “Brunito plays very well and can go far,” he said “but I don’t know if he’ll reach the level of Leo.”

Nobody plays like Leo, a fact Maxi knows all too well.

You can follow Mark on Twitter @MarkLeeElliott