Because less players equal more space to pass and move


Wonderkids. What is so wonderful about these kids if they are, as we are led to believe, constantly breaking through every year. Are these youngsters who are putting in eye-catching displays on an occasional basis the real deal or simply the by-product of an over-zealous media and an equally demanding audience to turn any average talent into tomorrow’s superstar?

Every year we learn of the latest player who will push England, Scotland or whoever to world domination. Yet of this cluttered bunch, how many possess true genius, that once-in-a-generation gift from God. James Milner has just gatecrashed the England World Cup squad after picking up the Young Player of the Year Award yet he is 23! Wayne Rooney has put in a couple of fantastic seasons at Manchester United that has seen him reach genuine World Class level, yet when he was a teen he was up and down as all teenage talents tend to be. Explosion and raw ability mixed with inexperience and immaturity; not quite the finished article. Would I have classed these two as wonderkids a couple of years ago, much like Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal and Wales or even John Fleck of Rangers are classed now? No.

But if I’m discarding great youth talents that became future international lynchpins (the Maradon’s, Zidanes et al) then who would I include in my strict version of this prestigious club of genuine world class wonderkids?

Naturally, Pele would lead the way and would easily fit into the society. A World Cup winner at 17 and scoring 5 goals in the Semis and Final, this was an alarming debut on the world stage by a player whom no-one believed was so young until he burst into tears at the final whistle.

Although a lack of modern footage exists one would have to take the word of footballing knights like Sirs Bobby Charlton and Robson when discussing tragic Duncan Edwards. Indeed another Sir, Matt Busby, considered him “incomparable” and once stated “if ever there was a player that could be called a one-man team, that man was Duncan Edwards”. Astonishing when one recalls that Edwards died aged 21 in the infamous Munich air disaster in 1958. Superstar and regular for club and country before he was out of his teens, Edwards earned his way into the greatest players in the world by the day he passed away, an incredible achievement.

Many others on my exclusive list of genuine world-class teenagers seem to be forwards. It appears as though it is easier to make an instant impact on the world stage when the main priority is to place the ball into the back of the net. Arguably the greatest finisher in English history, Jimmy Greaves, had scored 132 goals in only 169 games by the time he left Chelsea at only 21, an astonishing return that has yet to be replicated at the top level since.

Other explosive strikers blowing their way onto the world stage in dramatic and instant fashion include double European Cup winner Eusebio, whom had conquered the continent by 20, and his fellow young gun-turned-assassin George Best, whom lived up to his prophetic surname with resplendent performances in front of the applauding masses. In the modern English era, the only talent who achieved consistent world -class seasons in succession was Michael Owen, of course punctuated by his dazzling goal against Argentina in the infamous World Cup tie aged only 18 at France ’98. His first full three seasons brought 18 goals each, a phenomenal return in an era where goals are not as easy to come by as past ones, and an achievement that eventually saw him claim the Ballon D’or at 22.

Who was the greatest wonderkid the “beautiful game” has produced however? Undisputed in my opinion it would have to be the man christened Ronaldo Luis Nazario De Lima. His roll of honour during a period of his career where he should have been learning his craft included an astonishing 88 league goals in 97 games across two continents and three countries, a world cup winning squad member at the age of 17, two record transfers in successive seasons, World Footballer of the Year at 20 and earning the moniker of “I’ll Fenomino” for his startling 47-goal season for Barca in 1997 where Bobby Robson rated him better than Pele. Of course Ronaldo went onto become the World Cup’s greatest ever scorer and one of the best ever, yet it is still his sudden explosion onto the world scene like a tidal wave which made him an icon. Will we ever see a young man make such an impact again? We’ll be blessed if we do.