Before we start, I must give a thanks to Jesus (no, not the son of Christ, Jesus Jese) who suggested this video idea on Twitter, and I think I may have seen it elsewhere in the comments too, so if you suggested this on as well, thank you very much to you also.
The reason that I liked the sound of this idea is because it wasn’t long ago that I did my own video on the 7 best teenagers in world football, and while the likes of Jadon Sancho and Matthijs De Ligt seem like sure-fire things to go on and have brilliant careers in the game, we know it doesn’t always work out that way.
To get to the seven players we feature today, I went back and looked at three or four publications from 2012 on the best teenagers and young players in the world. Obviously 2012 isn’t that long ago, I’m sure you all remember the London Olympics and Chelsea winning the Champions League, but I wanted to make sure the video was an accurate portrayal of people’s views at the time with regards to who would be the ‘next big thing’.
To feature, the player has to have been a teenager 7 years ago to this day, so in other words, they’d have to be 26 or younger right now.
Here are our 7 best teenagers 7 years ago: Where are they now?
7. Iker Muniain – Athletic Bilbao
To make things clear, we’re going in order the least to the most highly-rated in 2012, and seeing off the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Mbaye Niang and Raphael Varane to get us started in seventh place is Athletic Bilbao star Iker Muniain. Having made his Athletic Bilbao debut in 2009 at the age of 16, becoming the club’s youngest debutant in over 90 years, Muniain already had three seasons of regular first team football under his belt seven years ago at the age of 19.
It was in 2012 as a 19-year-old that Muniain won his first cap for the Spanish national team, just before the country won their third consecutive major international trophy at Euro 2012. Shortlisted for the Golden Boy award three times, Muniain was nicknamed the ‘Spanish Messi’ for his flair, close control and low centre of gravity.
Seven years on, Muniain certainly hasn’t been Spain’s Lionel Messi, but he hasn’t vanished into thin air either. He’s stuck around at Athletic Bilbao, never quite doing enough to convince one of Europe’s giants to come in for him, but never doing so little that he’s been dropped by his boyhood club. He recently won only his second cap for Spain seven years on from winning his first back in 2012.
6. Philippe Coutinho – Barcelona
Philippe Coutinho has eventually reached the top as a player, but it hasn’t been quite as smooth of a ride as many expected. He won his first cap for Brazil and was snapped up by Inter Milan at the age of 18, and the world seemed to be at his feet. Inter seemingly lost faith in the young Brazilian though, and in 2013 they let him join Liverpool for £8.5 million.
That proved to be a pretty sound piece of business by the Reds, and Coutinho’s influence at Anfield grew season upon season. In January 2018, he pushed for a move to Barcelona, but Liverpool managed to get an enormous £105 million fee, which they subsequently used to bring in Virgil van Dijk.
Coutinho has had a good but not spectacular first 18 months at Barcelona. A brilliant little footballer with quick feet, an eye for a pass and a tremendous long shot, he has played through the middle and out wide at the Camp Nou, and seems to prefer playing on the left of a front three. An excellent footballer and among the best playmakers or wingers in the world, Coutinho has largely lived up to his teenage billing.
5. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – Liverpool
England international Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be hoping he can enjoy a similar career renaissance to Philippe Coutinho at Liverpool. Indeed, it seemed like that could be the case when the Ox first left Arsenal and linked up with Jurgen Klopp, but his progress in the first team was put on hold for a long time through injury.
Considered a really gifted fleet footed young wide man back in 2012, Oxlade-Chamberlain now seems to be more at home playing in central midfield. That was one of the major reasons why he left Arsenal in 2017, and Jurgen Klopp likes his midfield three to be full of running and energy, and Oxlade-Chamberlain certainly fits that bill.
It would probably be fair to say the 26-year-old former Southampton trainee hasn’t yet lived up to the expectations many had of him as a teenager, but there’s no reason why he can’t over the next couple seasons. The signs were there for Oxlade-Chamberlain at Anfield, he just needs to get back to full fitness and become a regular starter again now.
4. Julian Draxler – PSG
Whilst I think of everyone else in this seven as being grown-up, senior players now aged 25 or 26, for some reason, when I think of Julian Draxler, I still think of him as a young player with lots of potential. He is 25 now though, and coming towards the end of his third season in Paris since joining PSG in a deal worth a reported £40 million from Wolfsburg.
A really two-footed, versatile and technical footballer, Draxler has won a mightily impressive 49 caps for Germany at the age of 25, and he played about 15 minutes of football when Germany became world champions at the 2014 World Cup. Although quite obviously very talented, Draxler hasn’t quite taken off in the way I think a lot of people hoped he would, and he’s probably now been surpassed by the likes of Leroy Sane and Julian Brandt in the German national team.
Nevertheless, it’s hardly been a disaster of a career for the PSG man, and he’s still got plenty of football ahead of him at the age of 25.
3. Stephan El Shaarawy – Roma
Cast your minds back to 2012, and the only thing bigger than Stephan El Shaarawy’s future in the game was the spike on the top of his head. He still has the shaved sides, but the spike has got considerably smaller now aged 26, and that’s probably an accurate metaphor for the Italians career prospects.
He was named as the best young player in Serie A back in 2012, and rightly so, after bagging 19 goals in 46 games for AC Milan in a season which ended when he was 19. That would be an impressive output for a teenage centre-forward, but it was an exceptional one for El Shaarawy who played predominantly as a left winger.
Sadly, however, seven years on, the Italian international has never had a better season than that. His next two seasons at AC Milan were mired by injuries, before he regained some form at Roma. Quick, skillful and confident on the ball, El Shaarawy is a good player for Roma, but he isn’t among the best players in the planet as many predicted he would be in 2012.
2. Lucas Moura – Tottenham
Lucas Moura looked like the closest thing to a sure-fire thing when he broke through at Sao Paulo. He had lightning pace, quick feet – and most importantly of all – a healthy dose of end product. He was still only 19 when PSG signed him for £38 million, seeing off the competition of Manchester United for his signature, yet he had already played an incredible 128 games for Sao Paulo, as well as winning over 20 caps for the Brazilian national team.
He hasn’t won that many in his twenties in the seven years since, which probably tells you all you need to know about how things went at PSG, and he’s only won 2 caps at all since 2015. That maybe overselling things, since Moura wasn’t a disaster in Paris, he just didn’t look like a £38 million footballer or a future Ballon d’Or winner.
He played a masterstroke in joining Tottenham for £25 million in January 2018 though, and Mauricio Pochettino looks capable of getting a tune out of the 26-year-old. After a quiet debut half-season at White Hart Lane, Moura has played 43 games this season, scoring crucial goals such as his brace against Manchester United in the Premier League and late equaliser against Barcelona in the Champions League. Compared to seven years ago, Moura has been a disappointment, but in comparison to 12 months ago, he’s flying.
0. Honourable Mentions
We mentioned a few at the start of this video, but we’ll try to give a quick run down of some of the other top teenagers that cropped up in those 2012 lists and where they are now. Romelu Lukaku has gone on to be a very prolific centre-forward, who joined Everton for £28 million and later Manchester United for £75 million, although the 25-year-old is currently on course for his worst goal scoring season in five or six years.
Mbaye Niang never managed to establish himself at AC Milan, and is now on-loan at Rennes in France from Serie A outfit Torino, where he’s scored 8 goals in 25 Ligue 1 games this season. Raphael Varane would probably join Philippe Coutinho in the category of having lived up to his potential, as a World Cup and multi-Champions League winner, and one of the most complete centre-backs in the world game.
Elsewhere, Marco Verratti has become a regular fixture at PSG, but still faces accusations of ill-disciple. Mateo Kovacic has gone from Inter Milan to Real Madrid and the 2018 World Cup finalist is currently a rotation option on-loan at Chelsea. Matija Nastasic could never establish himself at Man City, but is now a regular in the Bundesliga with Schalke. Lastly, and sadly, arguably least, Adam Maher really failed to live up to his potential. Having flopped at PSV and FC Twente, he’s now back at AZ Alkmaar, where he certainly isn’t setting the world alight. That’s it for our honourable mentions, here is your top spot… Can you guess who it is? Three, two, one…
1. Mario Gotze – Borussia Dortmund
Almost universally considered the best teenager in world football back in 2012, Mario Gotze looked like a sensational little footballer at Borussia Dortmund. The 2012-13 campaign was, and remains to this day, the finest of Gotze’s career. Following the departure of Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United, Jurgen Klopp handed over the reigns at the centre of Dortmund’s three in their 4-2-3-1 to Gotze.
The youngster revelled in the role. Bright, inventive and brilliant on the ball, he played with an intelligence far beyond his tender years, chipping in with 16 goals in addition to being one of the most creative players in the Bundesliga, as Dortmund reached a Champions League final. They lost the final to Bayern Munich, and that summer Gotze left Dortmund to sign for the Bavarian outfit.
His first two campaigns were good, but not quite as blistering as hoped, and he did of course score the goal to win Germany the 2014 World Cup final against Argentina. Injury troubles were to plague the next few years of Gotze’s career though. In 2016, he returned to Dortmund, but the injuries persisted. He has played 28 games this season, and has looked excellent at times, but we’d be kidding ourselves if we pretended he’d got back to anything like his best.
Gotze has had a brilliant career at the age of 26 with a real wealth of football ahead of him, despite the injuries, but in the sense that most expected him to one day become the best or at least a top three player in the world, he has been unable to reach those enormous heights.
So that’s it for today’s seven. As a bit of fun, we thought we’d have a stab at naming the seven best 25 and 26 year olds in the world right now, and see how they compare to our seven. Here’s what we came up with; Harry Kane, Paulo Dybala, Mohamed Salah, Jan Oblak, Marc Andre ter-Stegen, Philippe Coutinho and then one of Paul Pogba, Alisson Becker, Mauro Icardi or David Alaba. Of those 10, only Coutinho featured in our seven, whilst the likes of Kane and Salah probably weren’t in anyone’s minds as potential Ballon d’Or candidates.
Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed today’s video, it probably serves as a reminder of just how many variables there are in a footballers career, and that no matter how talented a teenager is, it’s no guarantee of future stardom. A mixture of luck, graft and the right mentality is always required. Thanks for watching, give us a like if you enjoyed the video and do feel free to subscribe and turn on notifications for HITC Sevens if you don’t already.