Occasionally, a team unveils a young player – a really young player – and all eyes are drawn to him. Is he going to be a teenage sensation beyond his years and develop into something special? Or is he going to be a waste of money and just end up warming the bench for a brief time before being sent packing and on his way out of the Premier League to earn his corn elsewhere?
The PL – arguably the best league in world football – is tough for any player, let alone a teenager. The standard of football is so high and the teams consist of some of the best players in the game. For a teenager to make a mark in the PL, he has to be something special and have the confidence to showcase his abilities. He also has to have a good support network -- team management that’s willing to spend time on the youngster, nurture him, and mold him into a player fit to play in the PL week in and week out.
Being introduced to the PL at such a young age can be a baptism by fire for any footballer starting his career. Some rise to the challenge, blossom and excel in the PL, but for others – for those on this list – it was perhaps a case of too much, too soon.
These are 15 teenage players who ended up being PL flops – the 15 worst teenage players to have ever been capped in the PL.
15 Wayne Harrison
Wayne Harrison began his career with Oldham Athletic way back in 1984 at the tender age of 16. He played as a striker and actually showed some promise playing in the Football League. In the same year, he caught the Liverpool manager’s attention after putting in an impressive display in the FA Youth Cup against his Liverpool side. The following year, the deal was done, and Harrison was on his way to Anfield. At the time, this transfer made headlines around the world as the £250,000 transfer deal made Harrison the richest 17-year-old footballer. After a lot of hype and those in Liverpool touting Harrison to be a special player, the signing turned out to be a major disappointment. He had a ton of injuries – some unfortunate and some his own doing – which prevented him from taking to the pitch for Liverpool’s first team.
During the few times he was actually able to walk, Liverpool loaned Harrison out a couple of times, but his career stats make for pretty embarrassing reading; 10 appearances and two goals in a four-year professional career. No wonder Harrison retired from the game in 1988. His ranking as one of the worst teenage signings by any club is certainly justified.
14 Jack Robinson
After progressing through the ranks of Liverpool’s youth system, Robinson had already spent eight years with the club before making the grade and joining the first team. He made his senior debut in 2010 as a baby-faced youngster – he was just 16 years old when he took to the pitch for the first time in the PL. Much was expected of Robinson because he was young, playing for Liverpool, and an Englishman, so there were lots of people on his side wanting him to impress. But impress he didn’t. He made just three appearances for Liverpool over the next four years. They loaned him out to Wolves and Blackpool, but his time out on loan wasn’t much better.
In 2014, he joined then PL side QPR, but only made a couple of appearances for the club. He’s currently out of the game, recovering from a long-term injury. Let’s see if he comes back stronger because so far, he’s been a bit of a flop.
13 Mark Kennedy
Kennedy’s currently an academy coach at Manchester City; his playing days are over so let’s hope Pep Guardiola can instill some magic into his coaching abilities so that at least he can say he was successful in the PL in some aspect of his footballing career.
The problem is that Kennedy burst onto the scene as a 16-year-old for Milwall. He scored an impressive goal that eliminated The Gunners from the FA Cup in 1995, but that’s just about his only moment of magic in the PL. Liverpool signed him up for a fee of £1.5m, at the time making Kennedy the richest teenager in PL history. However, three years later, he had only managed 16 appearances for the club – Liverpool definitely didn’t get value for money. He had further stints in the PL with Man City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, but there was nothing remarkable to note. Kennedy’s biggest accomplishment was undoubtedly gaining 34 caps for his national team – The Republic of Ireland – but in the PL, he was a major disappointment.
12 Matthew Briggs
Briggs is still young at 25, so has plenty of time to pull up his socks and make the most of his professional playing career, but if his decade-long senior career is any indication, it doesn’t look like we should be expecting anything special.
After progressing through the youth ranks with Fulham, Briggs was called up to the senior team in 2006. He made his debut at the age of 16, which at the time made him the PL's youngest ever player. But his youth and inexperience showed and he was quickly found out – strikers soon began running rings around him. He spent eight years with the club, but only made 13 appearances – that says it all. Briggs spent much of this time out on loan – he was loaned out to four different clubs, but couldn’t find a regular place in any starting line-up.
Briggs is now playing for Colchester in League Two. Perhaps that’s best – gain experience in the lower leagues before attempting to be successful in the PL. If he’d have done that as a 16-year-old, he may have now been a familiar face in the PL.
11 Jermaine Pennant
It may surprise some of you that Pennant makes this list, as he’s quite a well-known name in English football. He’s played for a ton of different sides since making his debut back in 1998, and is currently enjoying easing out of football, playing around the world and just making the most of his opportunities.
Pennant may have enjoyed a reasonable amount of success in the PL with Liverpool and then Portsmouth, but when he first came onto the scene as a teenager with Arsenal, his career began in diabolical fashion. In fact, every minute of his teenage days spent on the field are moments he’d probably love to forget.
Pennant was signed by Arsenal at the age of 15 and made his senior debut a year later, but his time with The Gunners was marred by disciplinary issues, and other issues that affected his time on the pitch.
Being a Nottinghamshire boy, Pennant was homesick living in North London. He then strangely became sick due to not playing. Arsenal boss, Arsene Wenger, also had big problems with Pennant’s attitude and professionalism -- apparently, he was always late to training. He made 12 appearances in a six-year spell as a contracted Arsenal player. Unsurprisingly, he was let go in 2005.
10 Mark Platts
This is a blast from the past. Mark Platts got the attention of plenty of top flight sides due to his performances at schoolboy level. He even represented England as a schoolboy – not the senior international team of course – but began his career in the top flight of English football with Sheffield Wednesday. He was still a trainee, at aged 16, when he made his debut. He became a fully-fledged professional with Wednesday a year later, but this didn’t help his cause. He spent his teenager years with the club – four years in total – and only made a couple of appearances. That was it for his time in the PL.
He left the club in 1999 for the lower division side Torquay United, but decided to hang up his cleats a couple of years later – probably wise. Credit to Platts for walking away instead of wasting time with a football career that was going nowhere.
9 Hugo Viana
After putting together a string of impressive performances for Sporting Clube de Portugal as a 19-year-old, he then moved to the PL – still 19 – where he joined Newcastle for €12 million. He spent three years with the club, much of which he spent loaned out to his old side, but failed to impress and was unable to cement his place in the starting line-up. It was a highly disappointing spell for Viana in the PL, since he arrived at St James' Park after being crowned Young European Footballer of the Year. Newcastle thought they were going to get bang for their buck, but he never showed the form that had made him a teenage sensation in Portugal. Viana’s now 33, in the twilight of his career and is playing in the UAE.
8 Izzy Brown
In a couple of months, Isaiah aka Izzy Brown will no longer be a teenager, but to date, his time playing football as a teen has been anything but spectacular. Izzy began his youth career with Leicester City – bet he wished he stayed with The Foxes – and West Brom. In 2013, after a few years with the youth team, he made his debut in the PL, becoming the second youngest PL player ever in the process. His debut match was to be his only match for West Brom; it was enough for Chelsea to see something in the youngster. They signed him up and he made his debut under Mourinho a year later, but again, he only managed a single appearance for the club in the PL. Brown is still a contracted Chelsea player, but is currently on loan with Championship side Rotherham United.
He seems to be more comfortable playing in the Championship – perhaps he can come back and do something for Chelsea in the PL in the future. He’s still young, but as his teenage years are swiftly coming to an end, there’s been nothing boast-worthy.
7 Fabio da Silva
The da Silva twins are best known for their time in the PL with Man United. His brother, Rafael, enjoyed a better time of it with United as a right-back and gained 109 appearances for the club, but Fabio on the other hand, playing at full-back, was a major flop. He only appeared 22 times for United after being contracted with the club for six years.
Fabio became a registered United player on his 18th birthday, and after making his debut appearance, coming on as a substitute for Patrice Evra, he impressed and much was expected of the young Brazilian. However, he didn’t live up to expectations. Young and undisciplined, Fabio wasn’t the rock-solid full-back United needed. He may have liked to go forward, but often strayed from his defensive duties, putting United in strife at the back. A spell out on loan at QPR wasn’t enough to get him back into the frame, and he soon left to play for Cardiff City.
6 Adnan Januzaj
A Belgium international, Januzaj impressed for a brief period with Manchester United, but his teenager years in the PL were generally regarded to be a flop. That’s simply because he showed so much promise – much was expected of the 18-year-old when he arrived at Old Trafford – but failed to live up to expectations.
United management and scouts were impressed with Januzaj after seeing his skills during a youth training session in Anderlecht. He played in the United youth teams before making his debut in 2013. Sir Alex pushed him, gave Januzaj plenty of opportunities, and he actually made a couple of vital contributions, but when David Moyes came along, Januzaj’s career went south. He became a regular on the subs' bench and then dropped out of the squad completely, getting game time only with the B team. During this time, he also gained a bit of a reputation for diving, which didn’t endear him to those fans or those involved in the PL. Who knows what would’ve happened to Januzaj had Ferguson not retired, but it’s remarkable how quickly Januzaj fell away from PL first team football.
5 Jonathan Edwards
There are many Jonathan Edwards around the world. It’s a pretty generic name, but the most famous one is the ex-triple jumper and Olympic athlete, Jonathan Edwards, CBE. Sadly, Jonathan Edwards the footballer doesn’t even come close.
Granted, his career is still in its infancy, but this article is about teenage footballers. Edwards is currently 19 and his teenage years will be coming to an end in a few days’ time. What has Edwards achieved in the PL so far? Zilch.
Edwards began his youth career in Stevenage. He then continued his youth development with Peterborough United before progressing through the ranks and graduating to their first team. Hull City of the PL signed him in May of this year. God knows what they saw in him. Edwards is a striker, but hasn’t yet scored a senior goal, despite making his senior club debut in 2015. He may have had a couple of prolific seasons, but this hasn’t translated to anything in the PL.
4 Nicklas Bendtner
This may sound harsh, but Bendtner was the worst thing to happen to Arsenal in a long time. After spending a year with The Gunners in their youth setup, he started out well in the reserves, scoring goals at will, but this didn’t translate to any success when he was promoted to the first team in 2005. When he first made the move, he struggled to get game time and was sent out on loan to get some experience under his belt. After a loan spell with Birmingham, Bendtner spent the next four years with Arsenal, but didn’t have a great time of it. He was still struggling to establish himself, and when he did, he was having on-pitch altercations with fellow striker, Emmanuel Adebayor. He was also goaded after missing a string of basic chances, and once said that he was the best striker in the world – this youngster has guts, but that’s going way too far.
3 Steve Simonsen
When goalkeeper Steve Simonsen made the move to Everton in 1998, a lot of people raised their eyebrows. Before the move, he had been with Tranmere Rovers as a trainee, gaining experience as a teenager. Earning £3.3m as a 19-year-old in the transfer made him the most expensive teenager at the time and the most expensive goalkeeper. He did nothing to justify that price tag and spent the majority of his six years at Everton warming the bench. As a 19-year-old, he didn’t achieve anything noteworthy on the pitch and it wasn’t until he was into his 20s that he started getting a few more games. However, the entire transfer was a flop, and when David Moyes took over, he became a forgotten entity at the club, eventually moving to Stoke City in 2004.
2 Anderson Oliveira
Brazilian born Anderson arrived at Manchester United as a fresh-faced 19-year-old after spending a season with Porto. The United scouts had obviously been out and about in Portugal, looking to build upon the success of at the time fledgling star Cristiano Ronaldo. They bought Anderson from Porto around the same time they added Portuguese international, Nani, to their squad. Nani tasted some success at United, but the young Anderson had a dreadful time of it. He seemed out of his depth in the PL and even Sir Alex couldn’t seem to get any more out of him. The €30 million transfer fee was laughable – all that money down the drain, spent on a guy who just ended up warming the bench for the majority of his United career.
1 Gary McSheffrey
Born and bred in Coventry, it was only natural for McSheffrey to begin his senior career with the West Midland’s club. He made his debut in the PL at the age of 16, at the time making him the youngest ever player to play in the PL. His overall Coventry career is decent for a left winger – 44 goals in 143 appearances for Coventry isn’t bad at all – but his teenage years were a write off. As a teenager, he made a few appearances for Coventry and was seen here and there, but seemed overwhelmed by the PL and his competitors. It was not until he was in his 20s that he hit his straps and started scoring goals on a regular basis.
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