Youngsters are the future of football. This is why every team has an academy to groom young talents so they can become future stars. The most remarkable academy success story is Manchester United’s class of ’92. Great footballers such as Beckham, Scholes, and the Neville brothers emerged from the Red Devils’ academy and led United to trophies.
Another platform where youngsters are displayed is the age-grade competitions especially the FIFA U-17 and U-20 World Cups. These two tournaments are played biannually and many young footballers have gotten the chance to shine before the world. However, not all players that have shone brightly on these tournaments have gone on to make a good career for themselves. The career of some has only gone further down since they shined on the big stage. Here are 10 of such players.
#1. Macauley Chrisantus
Chrisantus is one of the many Nigerian youngsters whose career never soared though they shined on the big stage. It is hard to believe that the Nigerian played with Toni Kroos in the same U-17 Toni Kroos at the 2007 U-17 World Cup. While Kroos has gone on to win every major trophy in football, Chrisantus is wallowing in obscurity. He was never signed by any top team and did not grow enough to make the Nigerian national team. Chrisanthus us currently with Hetten in Saudi Arabia
#2. Bojan Krkic
Bojan won the Bronze Ball at the 2007 U-17 World Cup scoring 5 goals as Spain fell to Nigeria in the final. Bojan starred for Barcelona between 2007 and 2011 but soon found his playing time reduced because of senior stars in the squad. He went on to play for Roma, Milan, and Stoke City without making a major impact. Bojan’s journey s a perfect example of what could have been. He currently plays for Montreal Impact in the U.S.
#3. Nuri Sahin
Sahin broke into Borussia Dortmund’s team in 2005 as a 17-year old. He became an exciting part of a crop of youngsters that Jurgen Klopp turned into Bundesliga contenders. One ill-advised moved to Real Madrid in 2011 was the beginning of his decline. The former Turkey midfielder made just four league appearances in three years before he was shipped to Liverpool on loan. He did return to Dortmund on loan in 2014 but he never got back to his best.
#4. Florent Sinama Pongolle
Pongolle led France to the 2001 U-17 World Cup trophy scoring nine goals and winning the best player award. He was immediately signed by Liverpool and as usual great things were expected from the striker. However, he ended up having a lackluster career that saw him fail to perform at the top level. He has only a single cap for France and last played for Saint Pierroise in 2019. One can not but wonder his move to Liverpool two decades ago came too early.
#5. Giovanni Dos Santos
There is no doubt about Dos Santos’ talent but the promise he showed at the 2005 U-17 World Cup suggests that he never really reached the peak. The Mexican won the Silver Ball in the tournament as Mexico stormed to the title. He was already nicknamed ‘Little Ronaldinho’ at Barcelona as he emerged from the famous La Masia. It was not to be though as he could not establish himself as a first-team regular. He kept on changing clubs until he found some stability in the MLS and was never a major hit in Europe.
#6. Stanley Okoro
We could actually have a bucket load of Nigerian youngsters on this list. Okoro was part of the Nigeria U-17 World Cup team that reached the final on home soil in which they fell to Switzerland. Okoro was nicknamed ‘Nigerian Messi’ because of his dribbling ability. He was also left-footed. Okoro’s name died with the end of the tournament as he was seen nowhere near top-level football. To put his case in context, Tottenham’s Son Heung-Min played in that World Cup tournament as well.
#7. James Will
James Will is the only goalkeeper on our list of youngsters that never lived up to the hype. He was part of the Scotland team that reached the final of the 1986 U-16 World Cup back in the day. Will conceded just three goals throughout the tournament which earned him the Golden Ball award. Arsenal were quick to sign him up but only ended up dropping down divisions in search of first-team opportunities. He ended up retiring prematurely to become a policeman.
We wrap up our list with Denilson. You may remember him for his spell with Arsenal in the English Premier League. Denilson captained Brazil at the 2005 U-17 Championships as they finished second behind Mexico. His performance earned him a move to Arsenal. He did have some good showings but never really made the cut and was shipped off to Brazil. The midfielder had the chance to stay in Europe but chose to return home instead. His career never recovered.