For every Lionel Messi, we see thousands of Leon Knights.
There are vast amounts of young hopeful football players applying their trade for their local team or even in Sunday league football, but if you don’t have the correct attitude and a huge determination, you will end up on the scrap heap and sacrifice your status as a professional footballer.
Along with an impeccable mental state, you also need a hint of fortune, as injuries are a player’s worst nightmare. A long term set-back could see you lose your chance to make your name in the game, and before you know it you’ll be dropping down the leagues quicker than Luton Town.
Here are just 5 players that seemed to have the world at their feet at such a young age, but have failed to live up to their expectancy...Yet.
At the tender age of 14, Adu was one of the hottest prospects in world football after he signed a contract with MLS club D.C. United, earning an estimated $500,000 per year. In the same year, the teenager signed a $1m advertising contract with Nike, which would provide financial security for his family, who had just moved to the United States from Ghana after winning the Green Card Lottery.Adu slotted into the team easily, thanks to possessing the capabilities of someone 10 years his senior, and he soon smashed the record for Youngest Ever MLS scorer while he was still only 14 years old.
A predominantly attacking player that could occupy any position in the forward line of the team, Freddy Adu caught the eye of several European giants during his first season in the MLS, after netting 5 times and creating 3 goals for his team mates.
Following a successful 2 years at D.C. United, Freddy was shipped out in an exchange of players and found himself playing for Real Salt Lake. However, interest in Europe was rife and after only a year at Salt Lake, the club accepted a $2m offer from Portuguese mammoths Benfica, and he was more than happy to travel to Europe; something that he had expressed his desire to in the early stages of his career.
After such an illustrious move, Adu’s career began to diminish and he found himself being hauled all over the continent. He went on loan to French side Monaco, who rejected the chance to sign the prospect on a permanent deal after he appeared in just 9 games for them.
He was then loaned to fellow Portuguese team Belenenses but only managed a measly 3 games before picking up an injury and returning to Benfica.
Next up was Aris, a Greek club who he represented 9 times and managed to bag a goal against Ergotelis before, again, returning to Portugal.
His fifth club in only 4 years came in the shape of Turkish second division outfit Caykur Rizespor, where he managed a respectable 4 goals in 11 games.
Where had the talented teenager from Ghana gone? Adu once held the talent to get him a trial at Manchester United, and although a work permit was denied to the African-born USA international, Sir Alex Ferguson was said to be keen on snapping the nippy forward up for his squad at Old Trafford.
In 2011 (aged 22), Adu abandoned his European dream and returned to the MLS with Philadelphia Union, where he has managed to score 5 times in 31 league games to date.
It’s hard to tell what is in store for Freddy Adu over the next few years of his career, but as the old saying goes, ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’. Perhaps he was rushed into professional football too quickly and this has staggered his development, or perhaps the money and fame got to his head and he squandered the gift that he was born with. Either way, Adu has failed miserably in trying to live up to his potential as a 14 year old, and is now just a memory for the clubs that were once interested in his services.
£6m was the fee paid by Premier League Aston Villa to Leeds United for the employment of England under-21 international Fabian Delph; a large chunk of money for a 20 year old that had only 46 professional league games to his name.
Delph arrived on the scene in 2006 with local side Leeds United, and he was immediately the stand out player in the reserve team.
His performances deservedly earned him an appearance for the first team against Derby County on the last day of the 2006/07 season, a game which would kick start his footballing career. He would go onto play over 50 games for Leeds, scoring 6 goals, one of which was of real Premier League quality, against Brighton. Delph picked the ball up inside his own half; beat a number of players with a tricky run and then bent it over the keepers shoulder, with the ball licking the post on it's way in. The goal went on to win ‘League One Goal of the Season’ at the Football League Awards where he would also pick up ‘Young Player of the Season’ due to his excellent form over the campaign.
After Leeds failed to climb out of League One, Villa came waving a stack of cash for the youngster, which was enough to tempt Delph to Villa Park and he would go into the team almost immediately. Delph had a good number of games for the Midlands side before his knee packed in and left him on the sidelines for almost a year, which caused huge problems to his confidence as well as his physical well-being.
It seemed Delph was out of luck and also out of favour, as in January 2012 he was sent back to Elland Road to complete a short loan deal, but after 5 games the Bradford-born mid fielder injured his ankle and would again miss the rest of the season.
On his day, Delph can cause most teams a problem with his can-do attitude and his no-fear philosophy. However he lacks a key ingredient for a central midfield player and that is strength. Delph has the physique of a noodle and can be easily jostled off the ball, which opponents often take advantage of to keep him out of the game.
I’m not sure a move to the Premier League has helped Fabian Delph, maybe in terms of his bank balance yes, but his progression as a player has seemed to have halted because of a mix of limited first team opportunities and a number of unfortunate injuries.
On a brighter note, with Aston Villa having such a weak midfield this season, Delph may find himself playing more games than he is used to, and if he stays fit *touch wood* this could be the season Delph could rescue his tarnished reputation.
Although Johnson was born in Manchester, he would start his youth football down the M62 at Everton.
The young Leeds United fan had a real abundance of natural ability and was even compared with Liverpool maestro Steven Gerrard, because of his elegance and strength on the ball, along with the capability to strike a ball.
He would return to Manchester (the blue half) at the age of 16 and would make a regular contribution in the middle of the pitch for the club’s youth team. In 2006 he helped City reach the FA Youth Cup final where they eventually lost out to Liverpool but his fine form earned the 18 year old a call up to the first team, from then manager Stuart Pearce.
Johnson’s first team career started brightly, as he showed himself to be a player who was composed on the ball and willing to take responsibility, something rare for someone so young.
Things would suddenly spiral downwards after he picked up a number of injuries, including a hamstring strain and an abdominal injury which would re-occur and haunt him to this day. He did, however, manage to score a memorable goal for City against Derby County in the league back in 2007; a goal which many City supporters still discuss to this day.
Just as Johnson was getting over the worst of his injuries, a training ground incident left him with a serious knee problem, which would again shatter his hopes of gaining a place in the first team.
Life was looking bleak for the former England under-21 star, so he took up an offer from previous manager Sven Goran-Eriksson and joined him at Leicester for a season-long loan to try and regain his fitness, and attempt to reignite the standard of play he showcased at the City of Manchester Stadium.
Life at the Foxes was just as frustrating of that at Manchester City. After just 7 league appearances, Johnson’s time at the King Power Stadium had to be cut short, and he returned to his home City with less luck than he had left with.
Just like Delph and Adu, Johnson’s early career hasn’t lived up to the promise shown at such an early age. However, unlike the other two, it has been a long list of injuries and physical setbacks rather than simply trying to earn as much money as you can, as quickly as you can.
Johnson has kept his head up and maintained a never-say-die attitude to try and fulfil his dream of being a regular in a Premier League midfield, but if that fails there will be no hesitation to drop down a league and try to work his way back up, rather than rot in the reserves and collect his ample amount of wages at the end of the month.
Born and raised in London, Bostock was one of the most exciting hopefuls in British football. He arrived at Crystal Palace in 1999 as a 7 year old, and quickly displayed his raw pace and enthusiasm to get forward to create several chances for the strikers. This allowed him to have his pick of illustrious clubs across the country, but he stayed and worked hard to fight for a place in the first team, which came in October 2007.
At only 15 years old, Bostock made his first team debut for Palace and continued to show the attacking threat that would stir up interest from Premier League clubs, including fellow Londoners Tottenham Hotspur. He only wore the colours of Palace on 4 occasions before abandoning them for Spurs, in a controversial move that saw Eagle’s chairman at the time, Simon Jordan, pummel Bostock and his father with abuse over their role they had in the transfer.
Bostock followed the money to North-London, and would go onto break the record for the youngest ever Spurs player at 16 years and 295 days in his first competitive first team fixture with the club, coming on as a substitute against Dinamo Zagreb in the Uefa Cup in 2008. He appeared in another 2 cup games that season before he was sent out to gain some experience.
Bostock moved across the capital to League One side Brentford where he would score twice on his debut against Millwall. The loan spell was only lasted a month as the Bees refused to extend the offer after Bostock’s attitude came into question.
Next up was Hull City, as the teenager was set to spend an entire season with the Yorkshire outfit. However, this was not the case and after just a few months with the Tigers, Bostock again returned to parent club Tottenham. A shining light at Hull was his 30-yard screamer which almost punctured the goal as it thumped into the back of the net, but it wasn’t enough to warrant him staying with the club.
He was sent to Sheffield Wednesday in January 2012, but after a pitiful 4 games his frustrations grew and he was recalled by then Spurs manager Harry Redknapp.
Bostock is currently on loan to League One side Swindon Town after he showed glimpses of quality during a loan spell at the back end of last season.
You cannot help but wonder that if Bostock had stayed at Crystal Palace, a team with a reputation of blooding youngsters and turning them into established players, would he have flourished as an individual and maybe earned himself a spot in the England set up? He did once captain the England under-17 team but with so much potential and so little to hold him back, Bostock let money rule his head and is now struggling to get a game for newly promoted League One contenders Swindon Town. Age is on his side, however as he is still only 20 years old, but I struggle to see him becoming a permanent fixture in the Tottenham set up.
A menacing winger who is often followed by controversy seems a just way to describe Gael Kakuta. He arrived in the Premier League in 2007 after Chelsea were alleged to have ‘tapped up’ the wonder-kid, which resulted in the club being punished with a transfer embargo and Kakuta being banned for 4 months, as well as paying a hefty €780,000 fine for breaking his contract at his club; Lens.
Allegations aside, Kakuta progressed rapidly and astounded spectators whenever he played. He progressed up the ranks at Chelsea and started training with the first team, before he suffered a double ankle fracture during a friendly game.
He returned to make his much anticipated Premier League debut for the Blues in late 2009 at the age of 18 and became a favourite at Stamford Bridge because of his positive nature in which he attacked. He became the youngest player ever to represent Chelsea in the Champions League in a draw against APOEL, a month after his league debut, and has currently 6 first team league appearances for Chelsea.
In 2010, Kakuta signed a money-spinning 5 year contract extension at the club but would soon find himself firmly in the background when it came to first team responsibilities. As opportunities for the young Frenchman grew limited at the Bridge, Kakuta’s frustrations expanded and he expressed his desire to leave in search of some playing time.
In January 2011 he was loaned to local rivals Fulham until the end of the season, but the intricate winger only contributed to 7 games and 1 goal during his time at the Cottagers, and he returned to Chelsea with a bee in his bonnet.
The following season, Kakuta was recruited by Bolton Wanderers until the January transfer window but again he found chances hard to come by, and after a miserable 4 appearances he headed back to the capital.
Kakuta finally got his wish and returned to France to compete down the flanks in the colours of Dijon. A season-loan was completed but after 4 goals in 12 league games, the French outfit decided against making the loan move into something more permanent.
A tough decision needed to be made by Kakuta. Did he return to Chelsea and knuckle down to pledge for a return to the first team? Or did he go abroad and give up on making a name for himself in the Premier League? The choice was made for him when Chelsea accepted a bid for another season-long loan to Europe, this time to Dutch top division side Vitesse.
It is hard to put my finger on the reason that Gael Kakuta hasn’t had an impact in England so far. Perhaps it is because of the age he moved over to the country. Perhaps it is because he moved to Chelsea at a time they were spending fortunes on a huge number of players and therefore he hasn’t been needed. Perhaps his attitude has held him back and his desire to return home to France has hindered his progression.Whatever the reason, the one-time super-star of the Chelsea youth team and France Under-21 representative has thoroughly disappointed in England.
So how do we improve our youngsters in the English leagues?
There are many ideas and discussion points on this subject, but 2 jump out at me.
One idea is to put some sort of wage cap on players under the age of 23 to stop them jumping ship at the first sniff of big money. If a player is left to establish himself as a professional player in the lower leagues before being sent all over Europe in order for them to take part in a handful of games, or worse yet, warming the bench, then maybe the player would fill the potential his name carries. After all, if you’re good enough, you will play at the highest standards anyway.
My second idea may be a slightly more complex one. Compartecipazione is a name given to system of player co-ownership which has been successful in Italy and Portugal, as well as Latin America. In simple terms; two clubs own a percentage of a player. The said player can only be registered to play for one of the teams each season.
How would that help? I hear you ask. Well, If one of the two clubs is smaller than the other, It is far more in their interest to develop that player. Still not clear?
Let’s try an example.
If Wigan Athletic and Manchester United co-owned a bright young player, Wigan would do everything in their power to help the player blossom, as he is partly their player. This is different to simply loaning a player as the club have no long-term future with the player (unless he signs permanently of course).
These may not be the answers but these are two ideas that should be looked into. For me, there is nothing more frustrating than a youngster not reaching his full promise, either because of greed or because of a poor attitude, since we would all give our right arm to have the chances they have, wouldn’t we?