The term football "wonderkid" has been used to describe countless young footballing prodigies. As the sport's monetary value and lore incessantly rises, so does the quest for the stars of the next generation.
The “wonderkid” tag provides a better likelihood of a prosperous career forecast. However, football's history has proven that the young and ultra-talented don’t always arrive at the pinnacle anticipated for their future.
This list will look at five former football wonderkids who captivated the masses at the youth level but are now nearing the closing of their window of opportunity for stardom.
Wonderkid #5 Takefusa Kubo
Formerly nicknamed the “Japanese Messi”, 21-year-old Takefusa Kubo took the footballing world by storm as a nine-year-old wonderkid. He boasted a strikingly similar stature and playing style to the Argentinian superstar.
Kubo’s skill and talent at a young age earned him a move to Barcelona’s prestigious La Masia academy. He impressed in Barcelona's youth ranks until being forced to return to Japan due to breaches found by FIFA in the Catalans’ acquisition of his services.
After developing in Japan, Kubo was signed by Real Madrid in 2019. However, after his move to Madrid, Kubo’s career trajectory began to slowly derail. The Japanese winger’s inability to break into Los Blancos' senior squad triggered a succession of loan spells at other La Liga teams.
Mallorca, Getafe, and Villarreal are some teams where he failed to make a significant impact before making a permanent move to Real Sociedad in 2022. Despite starting 10 games for Real Sociedad this season, the Japanese forward has only managed two goals and four assists in 14 matches across competitions.
Wonderkid #4 Justin Kluivert
Born the son of former legendary Dutch striker Patrick Kluivert, Justin Kluivert was destined for hefty expectations from a young age. As a youngster, the Dutch wonderkid followed in the footsteps of his father, impressing at Ajax's youth level before breaking out with the senior squad. During the 2017-18 season, Kluivert recorded 15 goal contributions in 30 Eredivisie matches as a 19-year-old.
In the following summer window of 2018, Kluivert completed a transfer to Serie A side AS Roma for an estimated fee of around €17 million. The move to Roma in retrospect proved to be ominously premature. The Dutch youngster was far from the developmental coddling of Ajax’s talent factory, finding it hard to operate under a more rigid Italian side.
Kluivert failed to nail down a consistent starting role at the Olimpico, resulting in season-long loan moves to RB Leipzig and Valencia, where he currently plays. He's featured in 10 La Liga games this season, scoring twice and assisting once.
Wonderkid #3 Houssem Aouar
Following two successful seasons with Olympique Lyonnais from 2018 to 2020, French midfielder Houssem Aouar had elite Premier League clubs hankering for his services at only 20 years old. Gifted with prodigious progressive ball-carrying ability, adept dribbling, and opportune playmaking, the Frenchman seemed next in line to succeed the Premier League’s chest of great foreign midfielders. However, in 2022, Aouar still finds himself at Lyon and his value is now nearly half of what it was perceived to be just two years ago.
After the club failed to materialize Aouar's exit at the peak of his powers, the rest of the assets that contributed to the team's success in those years departed. This included manager Rudi Garcia, who revived the team's competitiveness and contributed equally to Aouar’s development.
Under Garcia’s replacement Peter Bosz, Aouar struggled to find his footing, contributing to just six goals and four assists in 36 Ligue 1 games in the 2021–2022 season. After what appeared to be a fallout with Bosz, the France international's 2022-23 campaign got off to an even poorer start. He barely featuring at the start of the season before the Dutch manager was replaced by Laurent Blanc in October.
Wonderkid #2 Moise Kean
Despite his recent run of hot form, it has been a rocky few years for former Juventus wonderkid Moise Kean.
The Italian-born striker first burst onto the scene with Juventus as a 19-year-old already possessing the physical attributes and skill to be Italy’s next great forward. In the 2018-19 season, Kean bagged six Serie A goals in 13 appearances while starting only five times.
In search of greater opportunities to develop, the Italian national left Turin for a move to Everton for an estimated €27 million in 2019. At Everton, Kean failed to adapt to the demands and pressures of English football, scoring only four times in 39 matches. The Italian was also embroiled in controversies surrounding his displeasure at Goodison Park, culminating in doubts about his discipline towards the sport.
The 2020-21 season would see Kean revive his career on loan at PSG, where he seemed much more in his element, scoring 13 goals in 26 Ligue 1 appearances.
Kean is still under contract with Everton but has returned to Juventus on loan. He’s recently been one of the Bianconeri’s few bright spots in a tumultuous season on and off the pitch with four goals in 13 Serie A appearances.
Wonderkid #1 Calum Hudson-Odoi
As a youngster at Chelsea’s storied youth academy, Callum Hudson-Odoi made a name for himself as a talented winger with blistering pace, finishing, and a prodigious ability to easily glide past defenders.
During Chelsea's 2018-19 Europa League campaign, the then-19-year-old wonderkid made a huge impression, scoring four goals and assisting twice in nine games.
At the end of the 2019 season, Hudson-Odoi's future at the club still looked bright. However, injuries and an inability to consistently break into the starting lineup would drastically reduce the youngster's playing time.
As the club thrived under new manager Thomas Tuchel in 2021, Hudson-Odoi’s role would remain identical, often deployed as a super sub with the occasional start now and then. Hudson-Odoi’s position also became more unclear, often operating as a wingback when featured in the German tactician’s favored 3-4-3 formation.
The uncertainty surrounding his role at Chelsea led to a loan move to Bayer Leverkusen in August of 2022. Despite only scoring once since his arrival in Germany, Hudson-Odoi seems to be adapting to his newfound role for Leverkusen manager Xabi Alonso.