Wonderkids or Blunderkids?

Everyone loves a wonderkid.

The footballing world spends much of its time on its hands and knees, digging around in the dirt of lower league youth football, desperately looking for the next ‘new’ Peles, Maradonas, Ronaldos and Messis. But what of the old ‘new’ Peles, Maradonas, Ronaldos and Messis? The ones which were pulled from the soil as orchids and blossomed into weeds? The ones whose names cause you to instinctively go “Oh yeah! Him!” and head to Google to find out if they’ve died? What happened to them?…

Giovani dos Santos

Where is he now? Club América, Mexico

There was a time when dos Santos was making such big waves in Barcelona’s La Masia academy that he was virtually drowning out the hype of one Leo Messi. He broke into a Barca first team containing Ronaldinho, Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry at just 18, but strangely decided to move to a pre-title contender Tottenham at the end of the season.

Once there, he failed to break into a side containing Adel Taarabt and Tom Huddlestone. After spending a season on loan at Ipswich, he then electrified World Cup 2010 with a star turn in the Mexico squad, but a return to La Liga saw him feature for mid-table sides Mallorca and Villarreal before he switched over to the MLS to try and be the next star at LA Galaxy. 3 years and a decent enough return of 26 goals in 77 goals, Galaxy decided not to take up the option of a further year, he went back to Mexico to be a big fish in a little pond with Club América.

Gael Kakuta Where is he now? RC Lens, (on loan from Amiens, France

Gael Kakuta was a talent so good Chelsea essentially got themselves banned from signing anyone else just to nab him. The legal wranglings around his acrimonious move from Lens to the Blues eventually saw Chelsea’s transfer ban repealed, but a double ankle fracture meant Kakuta never lived up to his billing as a player worth committing crime for, like a footballing femme fatale. The winger fell foul to the Chelsea loan army and was loaned around Europe before leaving the continent completely for a fresh start in the cash-rich Chinese Super League,

12 years and 13 clubs since signing for Chelsea, he’s back at Lens where it first started and showed so much promise. At 29, he can probably consider his career to have been a bit flat.

Francis Jeffers

Where is he now? Retired

If you’re an Arsenal fan, then you probably spend every transfer window sat refreshing various sites, watching every other club in the league make big money signings while yours remains entirely inactive, like the only chaste rabbit in mating season. The reason you’ve had to content yourself with Wenger and all following managers declaring the squad has ‘lots of potential’ for over a decade instead of buying players is Francis Jeffers.

Having been a ‘fox in the box’ boy wonder at Everton, Arsene Wenger was persuaded to part with £8mil in 2001 (if you adjust that to todays fees its around £35m) for a player he thought would almost certainly be the next Alan Shearer, if Alan Shearer was fused with Ian Wright and then spliced with Michael Owen’s precociousness.

It was a massive financial gamble, but he’d assessed it and decided Jeffers was the deal of the century. He wasn’t. Four goals in three years later, and was shipped off to Everton, and then Charlton, and then Blackburn, and on and on until he found himself turning out for Accrington Stanley with 41 goals to show for a 14 year career. Francis Jeffers is basically the young player that started Wengers obsession with the wonderkids. This one never worked out but he did manage to find a few gems in Fabregas, and Van Persie and maybe the one that got away in Nicolas Anelka.

Sonny Pike

Where is he now? In the East a taxi driver

In 1996, at the tender age of 14, Sonny Pike – the most vaunted child in England – was doing adverts for Coca-Cola and McDonald’s with legs which were insured for £1million - without even having a played a single game. He was essentially David Beckham before David Beckham, if Goldenballs had reached his peak in Year 9. Part of the prestigious Ajax youth set-up from the age of seven, Pike opted for the unusual career move of signing for Leyton Orient. Tragically, the intense media interest caused a teenage Pike to have a mental breakdown and leave the game altogether aged 17.

Cherno Samba

Where is he now? Retired

The original Football Manager legend. Samba, the virtual boy wonder with near perfect finishing, speed and dribbling stats, could never reach the heights of his digital avatar in our cruel physical world, but that’s not to say he didn’t show glimpses. He smashed in 132 goals in just 32 games for the St Joseph’s Academy, Blackheath side as a 13-year-old, a tally that – even if you were playing a video game – would pretty much necessitate you cheat.

He was snapped up by Millwall, who turned down a – then very substantial – £2m bid for a 17-year-old Samba in 2002. His career took a detour, and he ended up being turned down a contract at Conference sides Forest Green Rovers, Alfreton Town and Mansfield Town after trialling at all three in the same summer. He retired due to injury, aged just 29.

Freddy Adu

Where is he now? Österlen FF, 3rd tier of Swedish Football

The name that will come up first in every discussion of prodigal flops, Freddy Adu’s promise evaporated faster than a Mini Milk in a sauna. Bursting onto the scene in 2004 as a cherubic-faced 14-year-old, dubbed ‘the next Pele’, darting about the MLS as a pint-sized professional, signing massive multi-million dollar deals with Nike, having trials with Manchester United, signing for Benfica for £2m in 2007, then subsequently signing for pretty much every club whose name shows up as a broken red link on Wikipedia.

His lowest ebb probably came at the hands of Blackpool, who offered him a trial, made him appear in a promotional video for their social media pages talking about his failed promise, then decided against actually offering him a contract.

Another one that was surpassed by his digital-self, he had unbelievable stats on both Football Manager and Fifa, a virtually unplayable forward, never quite lived up to the standards that Digital Freddy set.


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