The worldwide interest in soccer is immense, and as a result, when a youngster breaks onto the scene and performs to a high level, it can often whip supporters and the media up into a frenzy. The worry is that the press tends to forget that these players are mere mortals, and a young men who can often be crushed under the incredible weight of expectation put upon them.
Some players who seem destined for greatness go on to do just that. In recent years, the likes of Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi and Neymar all gave exhilarating performances as teenagers and had the hopes, sometimes of entire nations, placed upon them. The aforementioned three dealt with such pressures, but many cannot. Having been hailed as 'wonderkids', often whilst still schoolboys, many burn out spectacularly or simply fade away.
In some cases, the pressure put upon these young players is cited as the very reason for their downfall. Other explanations include horrible injuries, poor attitude and some claim the vast riches given to youngsters before they have really achieved anything, can quell their hunger to go on to genuine greatness. It perhaps serves as a lesson to all of us, and the media, that we shouldn't be in a rush to crown someone as the next phenom in football. Not everybody is wired to handle the enormous expectations that are placed upon them at such a young age. Do any of us remember how tough being a teenager was at times? Imagine if similar expectations were placed on our shoulders. Would we all take it in stride, or would the pressure get to us too?
Here are 10 men who were labelled as the 'next Pele/Maradona/Messi' but never lived up to the hype.
Some will argue that Robinho's name doesn't belong on this list. His career has seen him play for Santos, Real Madrid, Manchester City and AC Milan, he has won titles in Spain, Italy and Brazil and has amassed almost 100 caps for Brazil. However, I've taken all that into account and the fact remains that Robinho has still been very underwhelming in comparison to the quite incredible potential he showed as a youngster. So good was the young Robinho that Pele himself, not the media on this occasion, labelled him as his heir apparent at the age of just 15. A regular for Santos at 18, Real Madrid met his release clause and handed him Luis Figo's famous no.10 shirt. He showed flashes of brilliance for Real before becoming a British record transfer fee for Manchester City, where his career began to dwindle. Aged 31, Robinho is now back at Santos, on-loan from AC Milan.
9 James Vaughan
At the age of 16 years and 271 days, James Vaughan eclipsed Wayne Rooney's record as the youngest Premier League goalscorer, a record he still holds. From that day, Vaughan was touted for greatness. His electric pace and devastating finish earned him many plaudits, but a serious knee ligament injury struck just months later. Vaughan was loaned out to Derby, Leicester and Crystal Palace, but continued to have his progress halted by injuries. He left Everton for Norwich in 2011 to try and reignite his career, but failed to do so. A successful loan spell with Huddersfield Town saw him make that move permanent. Vaughan has become a solid Championship player but nowhere near the superstar striker that many thought he would become as a teenager.
Bojan may be even higher up this list if it wasn't for a very impressive first half season with Stoke this season. He broke Lionel Messi's record as Barcelona's youngest first-team player, and many comparisons were made between Bojan and the four-time Ballon d'Or winner. However, despite showing great promise, he never quite nailed down a spot in the Barca team, despite playing over 150 games for the club, scoring 41 goals. He moved to Roma in 2011 but failed to impress, and was similarly uninspiring during loans with AC Milan and Ajax. Last summer, Bojan seemed to be one of the games great flops having gone from the shining star of Barca's youth system to Stoke City within three years, but in his first half season at the Britannia, Bojan impressed, before sustaining a nasty injury.
7 Michael Johnson
Robinho and Bojan's flops seem rather mundane in comparison to that of Michael Johnson's. A product of the Manchester City academy, the youngster was touted as a future club captain, but persistent injuries plagued his progress. The likes of Dietmar Hamann, Sven Goran-Eriksson and Roberto Mancini all sang his praises, Hamann even likened him to the great Michael Ballack, but Johnson's career was to be a tragedy worthy of an Athenian stage. Pictures were released of Johnson looking well overweight, and certainly in no shape to play foobtall. He was released in 2012, at the age of 24, and retired from the game. Following his retirement, Johnson was involved in a drunk driving incident and revealed his struggles with mental health issues.
6 Federico Macheda
Sir Alex Ferguson went to great lengths in order to prize Federico Macheda from Lazio in 2007. Only 15 at the time, Macheda was already one of most highly-regarded youngsters in Europe and scored in his debut for the Manchester United under-18 team. In 2009, still only 17, Macheda was given his first team debut. Introduced when United were 2-1 down, Macheda would score a spectacular winner, and the media were onto him in a flash. In his second game, he scored again, and soon the football world went into a frenzy regarding United's new star. In the next five years for the club, Macheda would play 31 games and score only three goals. He made five loan moves in this period, only the last could be deemed successful, and joined Cardiff City in the summer. He has scored three in 18 in Wales, not exactly the super-stardom that was hoped of the Italian at the age of 17.
5 Diego Buonanotte
Nicknamed 'El Enano' or 'the dwarf', Diego Buonanotte was being likened to his namesake Diego Maradona when he first broke onto the scene with River Plate. Playing with a similarly incredible flair and dynamism to the Argentine legend, Buonanotte had become a regular at one of the biggest clubs in the country at just 17. In 2008, he won a gold medal with Argentina at the Olympics and a move to Europe seemed imminent. However, on Boxing Day of 2009, El Enano's life changed forever when he was involved in a devastating car crash. Buonanotte, who had been driving the car, survived, but the other three passengers were not so fortunate. He did still get his move to Europe, joining Malaga in 2011 and Granada in 2013, but has never been the same since. Now 27, Buonanotte is back in Argentina, playing for Quilmes AC.
At the age of 19, Kerlon was playing for major Brazilian side Cruzeiro and videos of his 'seal dribble' had gone viral. Essentially the inventor and only prolific user of the technique, the seal dribble involved Kerlon bouncing the ball continuously on his head, making him very difficult to tackle. Kerlon was touted as the natural replacement for Ronaldinho in the Brazil squad one day, with eight goals in seven games for the Brazil under-17 team only adding to his reputation. He joined Inter Milan in 2008 but once more, injury disrupted the youngsters progress, and he never made a first team appearance for the club. Despite four loans, Kerlon played only five games in four years, unsurprisingly halting his progress. Following a season in Japan, Kerlon moved to the US in 2014 and joined Miami Dade FC in March of this year, where he will play in the fourth tier of soccer in America.
3 Javier Saviola
Despite being only 22 years of age, Javier Saviola was given a place on the FIFA 100, Pele's list of the 125 greatest living players, making him the youngest man on the list. 45 goals in 86 games for River Plate as a youngster had the eyes of the soccer world pointed at Saviola, who moved to Barcelona at the age of 19 for around $30 million. The Argentine began superbly, scoring 17 goals in 36 games in his first season, but failed to build upon that over the next two years, before moving to Real Madrid. At Real, Saviola was even less impressive, scoring 4 goals in 17 games before moving again, this time to Benfica. Saviola had a respectable career with Benfica, Malaga, Olympiacos and now Verona, but never lived up to anywhere near the potential he showed as a youngster, when he became the first teenager to win the Golden Boot in Argentina since Diego Maradona.
2 Nii Lamptey
Nii Lamptey - Aston Villa[/caption]
The tragic tale of Nii Lamptey is a myriad of difficulties and struggle. Abused by his father, Lamptey regularly slept rough, but broke out of the cycle when his extraordinary ability became known. He signed for Anderlecht at the age of 15, where he broke on to the scene before moving to PSV. Still only 19, Lamptey became PSV's star man, scoring 10 goals in just 22 games. However, the 'Ghanian Pele', as he had been labelled, had given far too much power over to his appalling agent who had little interest in furthering the youngster's career, but only in making money. Sporadic spells all over the globe followed, with Lamptey never reaching the levels he should have. His demise is indicated by his international appearances, where he made his debut at 17, had 38 appearances at the age of just 22 but never played again after that age.
1 Freddy Adu
No player is so synonymous with the idea of a wonderkid becoming a flop as Freddy Adu. Having made his MLS debut at the age of just 14, Adu was linked with every major club in Europe, labelled the next Pele and touted as the future of American soccer. Eleven years later, he's played for 10 different clubs in eight different countries and achieved very little. Adu made his debut for the USMNT in 2006, aged 16, yet he hasn't featured for his country since 2011. Since March of this year, Adu has been playing in Finland for KuPS. Adu was monumentally over-hyped as a youngster, but the fact remains that he should have amounted to more than he has today and carver out at least a respectable career for himself. Perhaps a return to the MLS would be in his best interests, as he did briefly with Philadelphia Union in 2011.