Freddy Adu made his MLS debut at 14
The worldwide interest in football 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 young men who can often be crushed under the incredible weight of expectation put upon them.
Here are seven wonderkids who unfortunately failed to live up to their expectations:
7. Michael Johnson
A product of the Manchester City academy, Michael Johnson 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 overweight, and certainly in no shape to play football. He was released in 2012, at the age of 24, and retired from the game.
6. Federico Macheda
Federico Macheda scores on his Manchester United debut vs Aston Villa
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 on his debut for Manchester United In 2009, still only 17, Macheda was given his first team debut. Introduced when United were 2-1 down against Aston Villa, Macheda would score a spectacular winner. 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 now plays for Novara in Italy's second tier.
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 at 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, but has never been the same since. Now 29, Buonanotte is playing his club football in Chile.
Brazilian Kerlon raises his U-17 South American Championship top scorer trophy in 2005
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 heir to 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. Also now aged, Kerlon is currently a free agent, having most recently played in Slovakia.
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 £15 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 and Olympiacos, 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. He retired in 2016 after difficult spells with Verona and River.
2. Nii Lamptey
Nii Lamptey playing for Aston Villa against Wigan Athletic at Villa Park, Birmingham, 27/09/1994
The tragic tale of Nii Lamptey is a myriad of difficulties and struggles. Abused by his father, Lamptey regularly slept rough, but broke out of the cycle when his extraordinary footballing 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 agent, who seemingly had more interest making money than furthering the youngster’s career. Sporadic spells all over the globe followed, including 10 games on-loan at Aston Villa, 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. More than a decade on, he’s played for 12 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. Adu was monumentally over-hyped as a youngster, but the fact remains that he should have amounted to more than he has today and carved out at least a respectable career for himself. Currently 28-years-old, Adu has been without a club since leaving the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2016.