Generational talents choose unique occasions to announce their arrival. The greatest ever football player, Edson Arantes dos Nascimento, also known as Pele, chose the biggest platform of them all – the 1958 World Cup, to demonstrate his soccer wizardry. Pele was just 17 years old when he illuminated the football world with six goals on the way to guiding Brazil to the first of a trilogy of World Cup successes.
His heir apparent, Lionel Messi, had already been identified by 2006 Ballon D’Or winner Ronaldo de Assis Moreira aka Ronaldinho Gaucho, as the special talent to take Barcelona to the next level when he destroyed the then respectable career of Chelsea’s Spanish left back Asier del Horno in a Champions League group game on February 21, 2006. Soon to be named a Ballon D’Or winner for the eighth time, Argentina’s World Cup winning captain was just 18 when he guided Barca to victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, a rarity in Jose Mourinho’s first spell.
Messi’s principal rival in greatest of all time stakes, Cristiano Ronaldo, was 18 when he mesmerised Sir Alex Ferguson and his touring Manchester United entourage in a preseason friendly, forcing the club’s legendary manager to sanction his recruitment from Sporting Lisbon. CR7 did of course develop into the most devastating forward in world football and became only the club’s third ever Ballon D’Or winner after Bobby Charlton and George Best when he picked up the accolade after helping the Red Devils to a Premier League and Champions League double in 2008.
They’ve been a dozen or so childhood prodigies that didn’t live up to their high teenage billing. Anyone remembers Ghanaian Ni Lamptey who top scored on the road to helping his country to U-17 World Cup success only to be washed out by 24? What about the American Freddy Adu who at 15 was compared to the great Pele but turned out to be an inconsequential journeyman? Well, there are players living up to their billing. Last season’s European Golden Shoe winner Erling Braut Haaland and Qatar 2022 top scorer Kylian Mbappe Lottin are their way to inheriting the crown of world’s best football player.
Of the new crop of teenagers emerging from football academies across Europe, few can match Paris Saint Germain wonderkid Warren Zaire Emery. The 17-year-old on Sunday opened the scoring as Paris Saint Germain overcame stubborn Stade Brest 3-2 to climb into second position in Ligue One. Midweek, the same youngster had destroyed AC Milan in a Champions League group game with two assists as PSG run out comfortable 3-0 winners.
Barcelona has hordes of youngsters who are making waves before their 21st birthday. Marc Guiu, 17, Pablo Martin Gavira, 19, Pedro Gonzalez ‘Pedri’,21, Fermin Lopez, 20, Alejandro Balde, 19, and Lamine Yamal, 17, are the latest crop of youngster to keep the La Masia Academy candle burning brightly. Real Madrid’s £103m Jude Bellingham, 20, may have won El Clasico with two smash and grab strikes but Barcelona controlled large spells of the game thanks to it’s latest breed of La Masia products.