Biggest ‘wonderkid’ flops in recent years:
We wanted to write something that was easy to read and engaging (or controversial) to start, before we start to delve into deeper topics within the world of sport. So, we arrived at the decision to pick 4 football players each who we feel have been the greatest ‘flops’ of our lifetime. For every Messi, there are numerous labelled ‘wonderkids’ who do not make it to these stratospheric heights. This can be down to pressure, lack of dedication or injuries. Our criteria is that a player had to be under 23 years of age when they hit the headlines, as this is the same age bracket for Young Player of the Year. Let’s see if you agree…
Luke (in order):
1) Ganso – Some of you may not know his name, others may remember him vaguely from Fifa 11 and 12, but this boy was supposed to become a crucial component of the Brazilian midfield for years to come. Ganso, literally meaning “goose” in Portuguese, rose through the ranks at Santos alongside another ‘wonderkid’, who goes by the name Neymar. Ganso hit his stride straight away for Santos, and by 2010, he won the Copa do Brasil, whilst also being named the competitions best player. In 2011, Santos then won the Copa Libertadores, the biggest honour in South American football, and by the end of the 2011 season, Ganso, at 23 years-old, already had 8 caps for Brazil.
This all seems pretty impressive, right? So, what happened? Well, having Neymar as a fellow wonderkid teammate definitely did not help, as it was near impossible not to be in his shadow. However, I feel that the decision to move to Sao Paulo was detrimental to his career development. It was a sideways move, rather than one that would challenge him, and a move to Europe should have been pursued at this critical juncture. Whilst Ganso did move to Sevilla in 2016, it did not prove to be fruitful, and such a promising start to a career was wasted.
2) Mateja Kezman – Few came with a bigger reputation than Kezman when he joined Chelsea in 2004. However, few flopped harder than this once clinical striker, who scored just 4 goals in 24 league games. Few remember that Kezman was lethal during his time with PSV in the Eredevise, winning Dutch Footballer of the Year in 2003. In that season, he scored 35 goals in 33 matches for PSV, which is a truly remarkable achievement for a 23-year-old. Yet, he was never able to replicate that form in the bigger leagues, also failing at Atletico Madrid the season after his brief stint at Chelsea.
Kezman is a perfect example of a player who could not make the step up from the Eredivesie. Whilst the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Luis Suarez transitioned seamlessly, one should look at Davy Klaasen and Memphis Depay, stars of the Dutch League, to realise the step-up is challenging. The Premier League’s intensity is not for everyone, hence why those who make it in this league gain the ultimate respect.
3) Micah Richards – I am a Manchester City fan and we have had a number of flops during the Premier League era. Most notably are Jo, Roque Santa Cruz and Robinho; however, I think Micah Richards goes under the radar as a major flop at City and he was by all means a ‘wonderkid’. Micah was touted to become a City regular after emerging from the Academy and made his full England debut after his first season in the first-team. Yes, Micah did make 245 appearances for City and yes he won a Premier League, but for a man with so much potential, his career was an anti-climax. I remember the myth that spread around that he ate 6 chickens a day and he seemed to be the fearsome centre-half/right-back City were crying out for. Yet, he never became a regular starter and his career was abruptly ended this July at the age of just 31, after several serious knee injuries. A real shame.
4) Elaqium Mangala– As mentioned above, City have had some major flops during the Premier League era. However, most of those players were older and successful elsewhere, also demonstrated by the likes of Wilifried Bony, and thus cannot be branded ‘wonderkids’. I was going to put Stefan Jovetic in this position, costing the club £22 million and scoring 8 goals over 2 season. However, Mangala simply must be here, more due to his price tag than anything else.
When he joined City, for a reported £32 million, in 2014, I remember being seriously hyped. At the age of just 23, Mangala was a French international and a (supposed) rock-at-the-back for Porto – an integral part of their undefeated season in 2013. You could argue this is too old for a ‘wonderkid’, but centre-halves often burst on to the scene when slightly older, so personally, I would place him in this category. City splashed the cash and his debut was nothing short of spectacular, keeping a rampant Diego Costa relatively quiet. That was quite simply the pinnacle of his City career. He was loaned out twice to Valencia and Everton before being frozen out by Guardiola during his tenure. He was allowed to re-join Valencia on a free this year, which, if reports are to be believed, cost City the best part of £40 million, after his transfer cost spiralled. He made approximately 60 appearances for City over 5 years with the club and was a figure of jest amongst fans. So much hope, to be harshly snuffed out.
Charles (in order):
1) Alexandre Pato – Pato joined AC Milan in August 2007 for a fee of about €24 million, and was regarded as one of the most talented football players at the time. He made his debut for Brazil at the age of 19, netting in a friendly game against England.
By 19, Alexandre Pato had already established himself as AC Milan’s first-choice striker and been capped three times by Brazil Pato’s rise to the top was phenomenal and in 2009, he scored 18 goals in 42 matches in all competitions, earning him both the Golden Boy and Serie A Young Player of the Year awards. Everyone will remember ‘that goal’, weaving through the whole Barcelona team in 2011 to score the Champions League’s fifth fastest champions league goal, just 24 seconds after kick-off.
However, Pato’s progress can not be likened to that of a fine wine. Now, at 30, ‘The Duck’ is Back in Brazil at Sao Paolo. After failed stints at Villareal and Chelsea, Pato rediscovered his goalscoring touch in China at Tianjin Quanjian, netting 30 in 47 games.
2) Bojan Krkic – Potentially the biggest flop on the list in my opinion. Bojan Krkic scored more goals than Lionel Messi in the La Masia youth ranks and broke Messi’s record as the youngest Barcelona player to feature in a La Liga match when he made his debut in 2007. He had the world at his feet, and many thought he could partner Messi to create a formidable strike-force for years to come at the Spanish giants. He was skilful, he had wonderful balance, and he glided across the ground with ease, making the game look so simple. His talents did not stop there though. With a natural instinct for goal, he netted a whopping 850 goals in seven years throughout the youth age groups at the Catalan club. At 15, he was joint top-scorer at the 2006 Under-17 European Championships and went on to score the winning goal for Spain in the final of the same tournament just one year later.
Nonetheless, with great expectations comes great pressure and Krkic could not cope with it. He was called up to the Spain squad but he pulled out with a what was reported to be a panic attack. He was called up for Euro 2008 but once again he pulled out. He was, he said, “physically and emotionally shattered”.
This has been a familiar feature of Bojan’s tainted career, who has since been deemed surplus to requirements by not only Barcelona but also Roma AC Milan, Ajax and even Stoke City following their relegation in 2017. Now plying his trade with Montreal Impact in the MLS, the attacker once considered “a treasure” by Frank Rijkaard has not reached double figures over the course of a single season since that thrilling debut campaign in Catalunya.
3) Ravel Morisson – “This is the best kid you will ever see”. That was the verdict of Sir Alex Ferguson when he reflected on Ravel Morrison at Manchester United,with the legendary manager believing the club had a truly great talent on their hands. His career at United only amounted in three substitute appearances, not only due to the quality that united had at the time, but also Ferguson questioning his attitude.
The 25-year-old signed for West Ham in 2012, with Ferguson telling then-Hammers manager Sam Allardyce “I hope you can sort him out, because if you can he will be a genius,”. Ravel looked like he could fulfil his potential at his new home in east London, notably bossing a London Derby against Tottenham Hotspur in a 3-0 victory with a delicate dink over the keeper.
However, this proved to be the peak of his career, falling out of favour at West Ham due to being ostracised after reacting angrily to repeated pressure to change his agent.
Morisson eventually being moved onto Lazio after loan spells with Birmingham, QPR and Cardiff, with each club struggling to get to grips with his attitude. There was a certain poetry that years after being compared to Gascoigne, the now 22-year-old Morrison would follow in his footsteps to become the first Englishman to join Lazio since his spell in Rome. However, it was not a fairy-tale and he failed to make an impact.
After underwhelming stints at Ostersunds (Sweden) and Atlas (Mexico), Chris Wilder offered Ravel a final last chance saloon opportunity to play on the biggest stage with newly promoted Sheffield United in the Premier League. However, it has been a frustrating season for Morrison thus far after signing for Sheffield United in July. Following a latest setback, being snubbed by the Jamaica national football team, it appears Ravel may have played all his trump cards.
4) Frederico Macheda – Nobody is better placed to warn Marcus Rashford of the perils of having too much, too soon at Old Trafford than Federico Macheda, who looked set for superstardom after swinging the 2008-09 Premier League title race back in Manchester United’s favour with his sensational late winner against Aston Villa – a goal that I still remember as one of my favourite United goals to date. He quickly became a cult hero, scoring the winner against Sunderland in a 2-1 win just a week later.
However, Macheda’s mini purple patch quickly came to a halt. He was accused of complacency at Old Trafford and resultantly his minutes and goals dried up. He was made available for Loan, with Ferguson suggesting he went out on loan to an English club, but the forward rejecting this and insisted on going back to Italy to join Sampdoria, a decision Macheda has since described it as “the worst mistake of my life”.
Macheda then became somewhat of a journeyman, going on loan to QPR, Stuttgart, Doncaster and Birmingham before finally finding a new home at Cardiff City, where he spent two seasons, netting 6 goals. Then followed a brief loan spell at Nottingham Forest. Macheda’s decline is highlighted by the fact that he finally settled in Serie B at Novara, netting a respectable 10 goals in 50 games before joining Greek Giants Panathinaikos where it looks like his goalscoring touch is back with 14 in 34 games.
Honourable mentions: Kleberson, Anderson, Theo Walcott, Sergio Canales, Adnan Januzaj, Jack Wilshere
Too soon to say… Renato Sanches?