Are AC Milan making a mistake by handing 15-year-old Mastour his debut?
Eighth in the League with one game to go, with a squad that isn’t getting any younger, it is fair to say that AC Milan have had a disastrous season. But, one bright spark at the end of the season might be the debut of 15-year-old wonder kid Hachim Mastour, who looks set to become the youngest ever Milanista to make his Serie A debut.
Mastour, who was born in Italy to Moroccan parents was signed by Milan from Reggiana, for a reported €500,000 (£408,000) in 2012. His skills had already garnered the attention of several top European clubs including Barcelona, Real Madrid and, Manchester United. And he had signed for one of the biggest clubs in the world at the age of just 14. Ask any teenage wannabe footballer if they would like to swap with Mastour and all of them would answer in the affirmative in a heartbeat.
But, is that really right? To sign a promising young player is one thing, but to play him in the first-team in front of thousands of fans even before he turns 16 is quite another. While it is fair to assume that the debut of one of the hottest young prospects in the world of football would bring a positive end to Milan’s season, the question they should be asking themselves is, at what cost?
Just so you can cap off a disastrous season on a positive note, is it okay for the club to thrust a 15-year-old onto the limelight. If he plays well, then it might be okay But, assuming he doesn’t what will happen to him? Won’t the kid be emotionally scarred for life, if he is bullied by footballers who are twice his age on his debut appearance for one of Europe’s most successful clubs?
I am, not for one moment blaming AC Milan alone, but the footballing world at large. Much like how there is an “underdog” culture in films, there seems to be a “wonder kid” culture in football. Do you know a talented young kid with some good football skills, all you have to do is compile a DVD of his skills, or better yet just upload them on YouTube and soon scouts from all over the world will come clamoring for his signature.
Way back in 2008, Manchester United signed a nine-year-old Australian kid by the name of Rhain Davis after United scouts saw a DVD of the kid. What did that mean? It meant that a kid, who is only just starting to enjoy his school was forced to relocate to a different country along with his parents, because one of the biggest football clubs in the world liked him and thought he might be worth a shot.
Where is he now, you ask? Reports are that he is still in the U16 but no one knows for sure. Take a moment to think about what you just read. One of the wealthiest clubs in the world, signed a nine-year-old kid from Australia after watching a DVD, is that really right? While Rhain Davis might eventually come good and go onto bigger and better things, Bebe, another player they signed without watching live, wasn’t so lucky.
Then, there is the best example of them all, Freddy Adu. Born in Ghana, Adu was exposed to football from a very young age and at the age of just 14, he was branded as the “next Pelé”. In 2003, he became a US citizen and the very next year, he became the youngest ever American to sign a professional contract, when he signed for D.C. United in 2004. He was also the youngest ever goal scorer in the he history of Major League Soccer, when he scored at the tender age of 15.
Great things were expected of the attacking midfielder, who like Hachim Mastour was thrust into the limelight at a very young age. There were those who claimed that he was the future of American football (pun not intended). What is doing right now? Well, he is searching for his 10th professional club at the ripe old age of 24, after playing in USA, Portugal, France, Greece, Turkey, Brazil and England. So what happened to the “next Pelé”? Well whatever happened, no one is speaking about him anymore.
Whilst it is true that young players who are given a break might go onto become successful like Wayne Rooney or Lionel Messi, who were both teenage prodigies, the chances are that they are likely to fall by the wayside before too long. And that might well be through no fault of their own.
For football is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. And whilst these young kids, might be able to adapt to the physicality of the game, they will certainly take time to adapt to the mental aspect. Because, let’s face it, they are still kids, not adults. As talented as they maybe, there is always a time and place for everything.
So, perhaps AC Milan should wait before they make Mastour the fifth youngest debutant in the history of Serie A. Will they? In a week where Manchester United are looking to make 18-year-old Luke Shaw the highest-paid teenager in domestic football history by offering him a £100,000 a-week salary over five years, the chances are they won’t. Just like everything else in modern football, if there is an easy shortcut to success, or to appease the fans, the clubs might just take it, irrespective of whether it is good for the player or not.