The term ‘wonderkid’ is used frequently in the modern game to describe youngsters who have the potential to become one of the best in the world one day. Players such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s talent was recognised at an early age and both players have gone on to fulfil their high expectations whilst players such as Marcus Rashford are expected to follow the same path.
However, things do not always work out as clubs would like and many players fail to make the grade when they eventually step up to the plate. We take a look at ten players who were tipped to be footballing greats but never lived up to their hype…
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Brazilian midfielder, Denilson de Oliveira, was tipped for great things after establishing himself as one of Brazil’s brightest talents whilst playing for Sao Paulo. He was able to impress Real Betis who splashed out a world-record transfer fee of £21.5m to bring him to Spain.
Things did not go to plan and Betis were relegated in Denilson’s first season with the club. The midfielder was loaned back to Flamengo before returning to the club but found appearances restricted. He was eventually sold to Bordeaux after seven years at the club where he failed to build on his high expectations.
Where is he now? – Retired. Worked as a sports commentator in Brazil.
FEDERICO MACHEDAEmbed from Getty Images
At Manchester United, Rashford is making headlines every week thanks to his impressive performances when given the chance in the first-team. However, the story of Federico Macheda should help keep the youngster’s feet on the ground and ensure he doesn’t rest on his laurels. The young Italian forward burst onto the scene as an 18-year-old for Manchester United after coming off the bench to score the winning goal in spectacular fashion against Aston Villa in the 93rd minute.
Another substitute goal against Sunderland which arguably won United the Premier League title saw Macheda’s name shoot into the headlines. However, he was unable to stake a claim in United first-team and was loaned to seven different clubs before he was released.
Where is he now? – Joined Cardiff on a free transfer. Now on loan at Nottingham Forest.
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Although Francis Jeffers enjoyed a reasonably successful career, he never lived up to the huge future that was predicted for him. Jeffers made his debut for Everton at the age of 16 and embarked for greatness which prompted Arsene Wenger to spend £8m to bring him to North London. Wenger described him as the ‘fox in the box’ but Jeffers was unable to perform for the Gunners.
His scoring record for Arsenal cost Wenger £1m a goal as he netted just eight times in two seasons. He was loaned back to Everton before joining a host of other clubs around the world. For Jeffers, every cloud has a silver lining as he can boast a 100% scoring record for his country.
Where is he now? – Retired. Working at Everton’s youth academy on a voluntary basis.
Brazilian youngster, Kerlon, attracted the attention of European scouts after inventing a new skill that world had never seen. Although its effectiveness was questionable, the ‘seal’ dribble, which can be found on a number of YouTube videos, usually ended with Kerlon receiving an elbow or boot to the face. He made 26 appearances for Cruzeiro before being picked up by Inter Milan.
However, he failed to make a single appearance for the side and was loaned to four different clubs where his impact was minimal. He was soon offloaded by Inter and moved to America to try and kick-start his career again. Things didn’t quite work out in the States and Kerlon will always be remembered for his useless skill move rather than his footballing accomplishments.
Where is he now? – Currently playing Villa Nova in the Brazilian Second Division.
ALEXANDRE PATOEmbed from Getty Images
Back in 2007, European champions AC Milan completed the signing of Alexandre Pato from Internacional. After making his debut for the Brazilian side at the age of 16, Pato was touted as one of the most promising youngsters in world football, prompting Milan to swoop for his signature. The Brazilian forward made a blistering start to life in Italy alongside the likes of Kaka and also was named European Golden Boy.
Unfortunately, muscular problems disrupted his progress at the San Siro and Pato failed to recapture his best form after he was linked with a big money move to PSG. His poor form continued and Milan decided to cut their losses and sell Pato to Corinthians for just £12m. Following loan spells with Sao Paulo and Chelsea, Pato is now playing for Villarreal where he is looking to get his career back on track.
Where is he now? – Currently playing for Villarreal where he scored on his debut against Monaco.
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At the tender age of 19, Nii Lamptey was compared to arguably the greatest footballer who has ever lived in Pele and had caught the eye of many scouts ahead of other world-class footballers such as Alessandro Del Piero. He became the youngster ever player to play in the Belgium league when he appeared for Anderlecht at the age of 16. He transferred to PSV Eindhoven where he lit up the Dutch league with a prolific goal scoring record.
Unbeknown to Lamptey, his agent, Antonio Caliendo, did not have his best interests at heart and decided to engineer a transfer to Aston Villa as they were offering the most money which he would make the most commission on. As he was unable to read or write in English, Lamptey struggled immensely and scored just three times for the Villains. He was later signed by Coventry where he also found life difficult before a spell with numerous clubs. His career could have been so much more but he was badly let down by his representation.
Where is he now? – Assistant manager at Ghanaian side Sekondi Eleven Wise.
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During his time at Manchester United, Ravel Morrison was considered one of the biggest prospects coming through the Red Devils’ youth system. He was considered the heir to Paul Scholes’ throne and the legendary midfielder himself even admitted that Morrison had ‘remarkable’ talent. From early in his career, Morrison’s off-field antics had dominated the headlines rather than his performances on the pitch.
Sir Alex Ferguson labelled the English playmaker ‘the best talent I’ve ever seen’ but ended his career at Old Trafford after losing patience with the trouble he was causing off the pitch. He was signed by West Ham after Sam Allardyce decided to give the youngster another chance but Morrison once again wasted his opportunity. He was loaned to numerous clubs before he was allowed to leave following the expiration of his contract.
Where is he now? – Currently playing for Lazio in the Serie A but was reportedly close to leaving the club.
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Former Manchester City midfielder, Michael Johnson was a product of the Leeds and Everton youth academy before he joined City and was eventually rewarded with a professional contract with the Citizens following some impressive performances in the youth side. He enjoyed a short spell in the first-team before injuries started to take their toll. Following the takeover of the club in 2008, Johnson struggled to re-establish himself as a first-team player.
He was loaned to Leicester to reunite with Sven Goran-Eriksson but problems off the field hindered his career. Johnson was arrested twice for drunk driving before he was pictured with a fan looking seriously overweight which resulted in his contract being terminated by Manchester City. Many fans and pundits believed Johnson would go on to be a regular England international but his career never reached the heights his talent suggested he could.
Where is he now? – Opened up his own estate agent’s business in his hometown of Urmston.
Not many people may have heard of the name Sonny Pike, but the young English footballer was once labelled the next Diego Maradona. Pike has extraordinary talent at such a young age which prompted Dutch side, Ajax, to sign him at just seven-years-old after turning out for the Leyton Orient youth team.
Pike’s father, Mickey, was keen to promote his son as much as possible which resulted in numerous advertisements with big companies such as McDonald’s. His legs were reportedly insured for up to £1m in case of injury which could hinder his career. Pike’s career suffered under the immense pressure on his shoulders and he revealed that at the age of 17 he became suicidal.
Where is he now? – Studied at the University of Dundee and worked as a taxi driver after his playing career ended.
FREDDY ADUEmbed from Getty Images
The youngster American to ever sign a professional contract, Freddy Adu, is the ultimate ‘wonderkid’ who failed to live up to his hype. He was the number one overall pick in the MLS Draft of 2004 where he was eventually picked up by D.C. United. Adu became the youngster player ever to appear in American professional sports and the youngster ever scorer in MLS history when he came off the bench to score against MetroStars.
His role as a first-team player eventually became reduced to a fringe player as many people believed that the American forward was too young to perform on a professional level. In 2006, Adu had a trial with Manchester United and was inducted in the MLS All-Star team. Adu’s career began to decline with the pressure of $1m Nike sponsorship starting to weigh him down. A move to Europe with Benfica proved to be a poor move and he was loaned out to numerous sides around the globe. He attempted to rekindle his career in the MLS with the Philadelphia Union but again failed to make the grade. His attempts to find a new club included a trial with Blackpool before signing for Serbian club Jagodina.
Where is he now? – Currently playing for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the North American Soccer League.