The Premier League Wonderkids that didn’t make the Grade
One of the most exciting parts of football is hearing about a young player at your club who’s destined for great things and then seeing him become the world beater you could only dream of. Unfortunately this is something of a rarity and for every Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen, there’s a Cherno Samba and a Sonny Pike. We’ve taken a look at a host of Premier League wonderkids from down the years that were seemingly destined for greatness, but instead found their dreams of lighting up the beautiful game in tatters, all for varying reasons.
Anthony Le Tallec
Liverpool fans will remember the name, tipped to be the ‘next’ Zinedine Zidane after his sparkling performances at the Under-17 World Cup in 2001, the young Frenchman and his equally talented cousin Florent Sinama Pongolle were snapped up by then Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier. Much was expected both in his homeland and by the reds hierarchy, however in his seven year stay on Merseyside he managed just 17 first team appearances with no goals to his name. Unsuccessful loan spells at Sunderland and Sochaux failed to ignite his career before Liverpool sold him to Le Mans. Journeyman status followed with stints at Atromitos and Astra Giurgiu and all this for a man who was rated higher than a certain Cristiano Ronaldo back in the day. The epitome of a Premier League wonderkid that fell by the wayside.
Football fans can be forgiven for forgetting the man who became Crystal Palace’s youngest ever player at the tender age of 15 years and 287 days before making the move across London to join Spurs in a deal worth £700,000. Joining the youth ranks where he could call Harry Kane and Andros Townsend teammates, big things were expected from Bostock, however the expectation and hype possibly proved to great a burden. He never started a Premier League game at White Hart Lane, however an appearance against Dinamo Zagreb in the UEFA Cup saw him become Spurs youngest ever player also. January just gone saw Bostock sign for Turkish outfit Bursaspor, having had spells at OH Leuven, Royal Antwerp and Lens and at 26 years of age he still has what should be his peak years ahead of him, however it appears unlikely he’ll ever grace the Premier League again and fulfil the promise that saw him as one of the most talked about players of his generation.
The most exciting talent in a Manchester United youth team that featured Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingaard, Ravel Morrison was being touted as the best prospect since George Best. Then manager Alex Ferguson believed that in Morrison, United had a player with more natural ability than at any time previous, and an expectation quickly formed that Morrison would go on to become the defining player of his generation. However off the field problems and attitude issues were so prevalent that United decided it was time to move him on, despite his unquestionable potential. There were sparks of genius at West Ham, however his tag as a troublesome personality stuck with him. He even ventured to Italy and Lazio, the club where another maverick talent in Paul Gascoigne enjoyed so much success and a player who Morrison was expected to emulate, unfortunately he’s done so for the wrong reasons. Still young and active, he’s recently announced that he’ll represent Jamaica, but time is running out for Morrison to achieve anything near that what was expected of him.
Once considered the natural successor to compatriot Thierry Henry, something that like the Zidane comparison almost certainly preempts failure, David Bellion was a striker with blistering pace, but perhaps that’s where the likeness ends. Having moved to Sunderland as a teenager he made 20 appearances scoring one goal, before swapping Wearside for Manchester and the lofty heights of Old Trafford, and well that’s almost where the story closes. Only four goals in twenty odd appearances was unspectacular and a after a brief loan spell at West Ham Utd, Bellion returned to his homeland to play out an unremarkable career. Like many young French players emerging at the time, Bellion was met by the weight of expectation on a French team that had dominated international football with a superstar lineup, the desire to find the next big thing to replace the old guard hindered more than helped.
In the world of Premier League wonderkids, signing an 18-year-old Brazilian playmaker is about as cliched as it comes. Big things were expected of the young South American, however having been thrown in at the deep end almost immediately in a League Cup game against Middlesbrough, he was on the receiving end of a crunching tackle from opposition captain Emmanuel Pogatetz that while not as serious as it first appeared, undoubtedly derailed his progression. Three Premier League appearances followed before the heightened expectations were well and truly quashed as Possebon sealed a loan move to Braga, before sliding into footballing no man’s land in his native Brazil, turning out for eight different clubs in the lower reaches of the league. Last seen in Vietnam with Hochiminh City FC, Possebon’s career is certainly in the unfulfilled bracket.
Former Manchester City starlet Michael Johnson was destined for greatness when he burst onto the Premier League scene back in 2006. Heralded as the ‘next’ Steven Gerrard, Johnson had a natural understanding of the game with superb vision and an eye for goal, becoming a key figure for City when Sven Goran Ericksson took over the reigns from Stuart Pearce. So good were his early performances it was taken for granted that he would go on and become a key figure for England at international level. Liverpool were reported to have offered £12 million for his services before a catalogue of serious injuries saw Johnson become a permanent feature in the treatment room. The expectation on his shoulders also began to take its toll, as Johnson was arrested for drink driving on more than one occasion before bravely going public with his mental health issues. Man City released him and a brief foray for Leicester followed before Johnson turned his back on the game and asked, “if I could now be left alone to live the rest of my life.”
Everton’s answer to Michael Owen, the blue half of Merseyside was right to be excited about the pacy young upstart from their Academy. Announcing himself to the Premier League with a scintillating performance in a 2-0 derby victory, it appeared Everton had unearthed a gem. However the journey since has been down a well trodden path. He found himself on the wrong side of the law with a conviction for assault, before taking the classic journeyman route of turning out for any and every club that would give him one last chance at the big time, including stints at Bradford, Leeds, Sheffield Utd, Leicester, Huddersfield and Dundee United among others. And having smashed four goals in the opening few months of that breakthrough season in 1997, he would only score 32 more times before his retirement in 2014 while turning out for Carlisle United. The Goodison Park faithful will always remember that mesmerising goal at the tender age of 18, unfortunately for Cadamarteri, that was as good as it got.
Back in 2005 Arsene Wenger’s reputation was unblemished, including his knack for spotting prodigious young talent, enter Quincy Owusu-Abeyie. During that year in the Under-20 World Cup, there were two players that everyone was talking about, Lionel Messi (whatever happened to him) and Owusu-Abeyie, who with his blistering pace and direct approach was causing a serious stir at the tournament. Having started life at the famed Ajax youth academy, he signed a long term contract with Arsenal as a teenager, but found opportunities hard to come by especially off the back of their invincible unbeaten season. On reflection Owusu-Abeyie’s biggest career decision probably came with a lucrative contract on the table from Spartak Moscow, he chased the riches over continuing his development in North London. It was a defining decision as his career since then is made up largely of a series of loan moves that included stints at Birmingham, Cardiff and Portsmouth. Most recently he was plying his trade at NEC Nijmegen before a fallout with the coach saw his contract terminated. Unspectacular, unfulfilled or overrated?
Once labelled the next Marco Van Basten by none other than Johan Cruff himself, the now Hartlepool legend Humphreys was destined for big things. It was the opening day of the Premier League season in the summer of 1996, an audacious goal from the halfway line by David Beckham against Wimbledon had everyone talking, however over in Yorkshire a young bright prospect scored in the opening four games of the season to see Sheffield Wednesday sat at the top of the table. His most memorable moment in the top flight came in a Monday night game against Leicester City, when picking the ball up on the halfway line, he surged forward before executing an audacious chip that heralded the birth of a major talent. It would be hugely unfair to label Humphreys career as unfulfilled, he was a rock solid performer in the lower leagues for many years, however his early promise, confidence and natural talent suggested something far greater.