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A Tale of Two Strikers

This is Simeon Jackson, hero of Gillingham and seemingly the latest member of newly-promoted Norwich City in what I will have to get used to calling the Npower Championship.

As strikers go, Jackson is little, and unlike most small men he's not actually all that fast. He is, however, an assassin in front of goal and that allowed him to record a credible fifteen goals in League One last season in spite of ending the year on a five-game scoreless drought while fighting through an injury. He is a legitimate professional talent, even if his strike rate for Canada of one goal in ten appearances is Rob Friend territory and he's never played a second of his life higher than the English third division.

There's some enthusiasm about Jackson joining Norwich, which in spite of being recently promoted is expected to hang around the Championship and avoid relegation without difficulty. There's also some cynicism, but most of it is along the lines of "well, now he's hurt his chances of playing in the Premier League". He is only twenty-three, after all. At age twenty-three, Tomasz Radzinski was playing for a bad Belgian team. Rob Friend was just coming out of Moss FK in the Norwegian second division. Twenty-three is young. Barring injury there's no doubt Jackson has untapped potential and one hopes Norwich will help him realize it.

But it is just potential. An Englishman by the name of Billy Sharp is another 5'9" striker in his early twenties and he was actually the leading scorer in all of League One two seasons running, yet he has completely failed to accomplish anything at a higher level. League One proves nothing, and in limited experience against better opposition Jackson has one poacher's goal against Cyprus, one glorious moment against Aston Villa, and over a dozen games of nothing much. Nobody, least of all me, is writing Jackson off, but let's be realistic. If Jackson can win a starting spot with Norwich that will be a tremendous victory for a young player. If he actually shows Premier League quality, then he'll get his chance but that's more than an outside shot. But the excitement over Jackson is disproportionate to his actual accomplishments. If one were to list Canada's best players under twenty-five, would Jackson break the top five? Adam Straith, Nana Attakora, Will Johnson, Dejan Jakovic, André Hainault, and that was easy.

Hell, Marcus Haber got on a Championship roster last year. Ask him how much good that's done so far.

Meanwhile, a striker who has actually accomplished something in his career has also found a new team and he's just coming in for mockery. Ali Gerba signed with the Montreal Impact yesterday, and while the North American Soccer League isn't exactly the Npower Championship it has got a better name and at least Canadians might be able to start in it.

Shall we get the jokes out of the way? Very well. O ho ho ho Ali Gerba is so fat he doesn't run around defenders, he runs around defenders. There. Also, he's in the prime of his career and if he retired tomorrow he'd have the best strike rate of anybody in the history of the Canadian men's national team among players with over ten caps. He's had competitive strike rates in the then-Coca-Cola Championship, in Germany, all over North America, in fact just about everywhere except Toronto FC where he saw spot duty and was cut by a manager who said "no, I'd rather have Fuad Ibrahim, thanks." But Toronto is very nearby, and its soccer media is very loud these days, and so Ali is the fat over the hill guy who can score like mad against banana republics but never against Mexico except for that one time when he did, and Simeon Jackson is the bright young pup who hasn't actually proven anything against international-quality players yet but is neither fat nor prone to giving The Score personalities embarrassing interviews about how awful the Toronto FC dressing room is.

Of course, at age twenty-three Ali Gerba was named "Ngon" and was playing in something called the "A-League". One never knows.

Simeon Jackson is developing well, if not brilliantly. But Ali Gerba is there, now, and is clearly our only capable scoring striker. One is the butt of jokes, the other is the subject of hagiography. It's entirely possible that come the 2011 Gold Cup or even the 2014 World Cup qualifying run, the fat man will score more goals than the prodigy. In fact, if Gerba sticks with a club for the next couple seasons I'd be willing to bet on it. Potential is lovely but never wager against actual, genuine, and proven ability.