The FIFA U-17 World Cup is a tournament that provides the football world with the first glimpse of its future superstars. It's a competition that puts the scouts of the biggest football clubs on alert as the best budding talent in the world vie to showcase their abilities.
Over the years, the tournament has provided a platform for some of the biggest stars of the game to kickstart their careers. From Luis Figo in 1989 to Neymar in 2009, the U-17 World Cup has seen the start of several dreams. The likes of Cesc Fabregas, Toni Kroos, Ronaldinho, Gianluigi Buffon, all made a telling impression in the competition and never really looked back. From being the child prodigies, these names have now achieved legendary status in the game.
However, they weren't the only ones who made a big impact in the U-17 World Cup. Several other youngsters have set this competition on fire and even guided their sides to great heights only to fade away in their careers later on.
With the 2017 U-17 World Cup less than 100 days away, let's take a look at the players who couldn't make it big despite having a U-17 World Cup to remember.
Anderson Luís de Abreu Oliveira fondly known as Anderson grabbed the attention of the football world when he impressed for Brazil in the 2005 U-17 World Championships where they lost out to Mexico in the final. Despite the defeat, Anderson's efforts didn't go unrecognised as he was awarded the Golden Ball award for being the best player of the tournament. He scored two goals in the competition including a crucial one in a thrilling 3-4 win over Turkey in the semi-final. It was, however, his constant tenacity in midfield that set him apart from the rest.
FC Porto signed Anderson six months later, but his big move came when Manchester United snapped him up for an undisclosed fee in the summer of 2007. The Brazilian's time at Old Trafford started on a promising note with the youngster putting in several impressive performances, the most notable of which coming in a 1-0 win over Liverpool at Anfield where he managed to keep an in-form Steven Gerrard relatively quiet. However, lack of goals and deteriorating displays meant he dropped down the pecking order. In 2014 he was loaned out to Fiorentina where he played only seven times, forcing him to return to United who sold him to Brazilian side Internacional. After scoring just once in 50 appearances at Internacional he was loaned to another Brazilian club Coritiba. Despite being a Golden Ball winner at the junior level, Anderson featured just eight times for Brazil. The Brazilian who was once seen a prodigious talent at United is now fighting for relevance at the top level of football.
Bojan Krkic starred for Spain in the 2007 U-17 FIFA World Cup helping his team reach the final where they were beaten by Nigeria. He entered the competition already having a contract with Barcelona and his participation in the event became a matter of debate after the Catalan club were keen on the youngster joining the team for their Asian tour. Bojan eventually played the World Cup and ended up the tournament's third-highest scorer scooping the Bronze Ball and Bronze Shoe awards.
The nimble-footed Spaniard was expected to be Barcelona's next homegrown superstar but after a good start to his career at the Camp Nou, he was sold to AS Roma in 2011 with an option for Barcelona to buy him back two years later. After scoring just seven times in 33 matches, the youngster returned to Barcelona only to be loaned to Ajax Amsterdam. After spending one season at the Dutch club, Barcelona decided to sell the forward.. He signed a four-year deal with Premier League club Stoke City seeking more playing time. His time in England failed to resurrect his faltering career as he was loaned to German club Mainz in 2017 after three unimpressive seasons. During the decade after his exploits in the U-17 World Cup, Bojan featured just once for the senior national team. This Barcelona prodigy who was expected to light up the Camp Nou for years to come has certainly failed to live up to the expectation.
African talents have dominated the U-17 World Cup over the years and Souleymane Coulibaly of Ivory Coast further extended that trend. In the 2011 U-17 World Cup, playing for the Ivory Coast, Coulibaly scored nine goals in just four matches as the Ivory Coast bowed out of the competition at the Round of 16 stage. However, his stellar effort didn't go unnoticed when Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur signed him from Serie A club Siena's youth team. The Ivorian though never really got a chance to shine in north London as he left the club without making any appearance for the senior team in 2014 to return to Italy with Bari.
Bari though decided to loan him to Serie C side US Pistoiese 1921 where he scored six times in 25 appearances. His career has failed to take off since and top flight action in the best of European leagues continues to evade him. He is currently having a good run at Egyptian side Al Ahly where he has scored six times in eight matches, but certainly there was better expected of Coulibaly who once jointly held the record for scoring most number of goals in a single edition of a U-17 World Cup.
Nuri Sahin was among the shining stars of 2005 U-17 World Championships where Turkey finished in the 4th place. He won the Silver Boot award for being the tournament's second-highest scorer with four goals, while also winning the Bronze Ball prize. After the World Cup, he became the youngest player to play in the Bundesliga when he made his debut for Borussia Dortmund at the age of 16. After a loan spell at Feyenoord, Sahin returned to Dortmund to play a key role in their back-to-back Bundesliga title triumphs. His fine displays earned him a dream move to Real Madrid in the summer of 2011.
However, it turned out to be a nightmare as he never really found his feet in the Spanish capital. After making just four appearances for Los Blancos, Sahin joined Liverpool on loan in 2012, where also he struggled to make a mark. He then returned to Dortmund on loan from Real where he instantly regained his touch making 49 appearances for the side. Sahin made the move permanent a year later, but loss in form and fitness issues meant he slipped down the pecking order at Signal Iduna Park. The Turk remains a peripheral figure at the club but has lost the charm of his early days as a footballer.
Freddy Adu was the youngest ever player to sign a professional contract in USA and also the youngest player to appear and score in the Major League Soccer. The American thus came into the 2003 U-17 World Championship with a big reputation. He did well to live up to the hype by scoring four goals in the tournament, and further do justice to the "Next Pele" tag that was bestowed upon him.
After the U-17 World Cup, his spells with DC United and Real Salt Lake in the MLS, where he scored just 12 goals in 98 matches combined, ended in disappointment. Adu then signed for Benfica in 2007, where he was loaned out to four different clubs. The youngster failed to make an impression at any of those clubs before returning to MLS permanently with the Philadelphia Union. The return to his homeland though couldn't spark a revival as his career took several turns for the worse. Adu, who was the country's most talented young stars at one point, is currently out of contract with just 17 appearances for the senior national team.
Giovani dos Santos
Giovani dos Santos rose to prominence as one of the finest emerging talents in world football when he won the Golden Boot award at the 2005 U-17 FIFA World Championship. His five goals helped Mexico clinch their maiden title and attracted interest from FC Barcelona who signed him for their B team. Within a year he was promoted to the senior team and in his first season he scored four goals for the Catalan giants.
Many Barcelona faithful believed that dos Santos would be the natural heir to Ronaldinho, but the youngster chose to move to Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur in 2008 in search of more playing time. The move backfired and the young Mexican never got going in England. His time in London ended after three loan moves when he returned to Spain with Mallorca in 2012. But just after a year at the club, he moved again, this time to Villareal where he showed signs of the promise he had showcased earlier in the career. In 2015, he moved to LA Galaxy in the MLS and its been two years since he's been plying his trade at the club. Dos Santos still features regularly for the national team and has made 95 appearances, but is far from the talisman he was once predicted to be.
Florent Sinama Pongolle
Florent Sinama Pongolle has the rare honour of being the player to win both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot in a single edition of the U-17 FIFA World Cup. Playing for France in the 2001 edition, Sinama Pongolle scored nine goals to carry his side to their maiden title with a win over Nigeria in the final where he opened the scoring for Le Blues.
Having signed for French club side Le Havre AC after the tournament, he earned his first big move when Liverpool came calling in 2003, Despite making 65 appearances for the Merseyside club, he managed to score just nine goals, forcing the Reds to send him on loan to Blackburn Rovers in 2006. The loan move was the start of a series of transfers to a number of sides that included big sides like Atletico Madrid and Sporting Lisbon. But the French striker never got going at any club, before moving to the MLS in 2014.
Sinama Pongolle now finds himself in Thai side Chainat Hornbill, far below the level he set for himself in the 2001 U-17 World Cup.
James Will is the only goalkeeper that features in this list. Will was a part of the Scotland side that finished runners-up in the 1986 edition (it was an U-16 tournament back then) where he won the Golden Ball award for letting in just three goals in the entire tournament. However, he couldn't produce the heroics in the final when Scotland lost on penalties to Saudi Arabia.
Will's efforts earned him a contract with Arsenal. But he made just 3 appearances for the north-London club before dropping down divisions in search of playing time. The lack of it eventually brought a premature end to his football career as he joined the Grampian area police force in Aberdeen. However in 2007, Peterhead, a second division Scottish club, persuaded him to return to football, but his return accounted for just two games. The goalkeeper made no appearances for the senior national team, but did play thrice for the U-21 team.
Denilson was the captain of the Brazilian side that finished runners-up at 2005 FIFA U-17 Championships. Even though he managed to get on the scoresheet just once, his leadership and presence in their midfield had a big impact on Brazil's march to the final of the tournament. His exploits attracted the interest from Arsenal who signed him for £3.4 million in 2006. However, Denilson never really lived up to the promise in north-London despite getting several chances to prove himself.
After 5 years, he was loaned to Sao Paulo for two seasons, a move he made permanent in 2013. After scoring just once in 93 appearances for the club, he moved to Abu Dhabi-based club Al Wahda. The Brazilian who failed to make any kind of impact even in UAE, was loaned to Brazilian side Cruzerio. Once a captain of its youth teams, Denilson never made it to the senior team of Brazil.
Sergio Santamaria was part of the Spanish national side that finished third in the 1997 FIFA U-17 World Championships and one that included players like Xavi Hernandez and Iker Casillas. What is more noteworthy is the fact that he won the Goldn Ball award ahead of Ronaldinho in that edition and was part of Barcelona's fancied La Masia generation with Xavi and Carles Puyol.
After making his senior team debut for Barcelona in 2000, he could never produce the same level of performances as he had displayed at the 1997 championships. The attacking midfielder was loaned out thrice before being sold by the Catalan Giants. Santamaria's career never recovered and had to be content with playing in lower league clubs.
Updated Date: Sep 28, 2017 14:50 PM