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Football talents from ten years ago – did they fulfil their potential?

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It was an interesting time ten years ago. Cristiano Ronaldo had just won his first Ballon d'Or, Barcelona had only two Champions League trophies and no one even knew who Neymar was. But did you know that in 2007 one of the biggest headlines in football was Freddy Adu, called the next Pele, finally arriving in Europe? In England all eyes were on Theo Walcott who started his Arsenal career, meanwhile Brazilian people looked positively in their football future, seeing two highly rated talents Anderson and Breno Borges making moves to big clubs. 

Freddy Adu: from a 14-year-old professional in the USA to a failure in Europe

In 2003 the football world was stunned when a 14-year-old boy from the USA scored a hattrick in World Cup U-17. Talented forward named Freddy Adu quickly became one of the most hyped young footballers the USA has ever seen. He was even called ''the next Pele''. Adu continued his burst to stardom when he made his professional debut for D.C. United in MLS the next year. Only two weeks later the starlet got his first goal. Adu was still only 14 years old.

In Washington the Ghana-born footballer became a starter and was a two-time All-star. It was just a matter of time till he got a call from Europe's top clubs. And that happened – Adu went on a trial at Manchester United in 2006 but unfortunately the young American couldn't get a work permit so he played only with a few academy players. As good as the fame and praise felt, it eventually got into Adu's head and it seemed like he stopped working as hard as he maybe should've.

However, Adu had a great 2007 World Cup U-20, captaining the side to a 7th place finish. The potential was still there and Portuguese giants Benfica saw that. Just turned 18 years old Adu finally moved to Europe. While he had a good start overseas, even getting a goal in his second and fourth Portuguese league match, promising American couldn't prove his worth to the Lisbon side. After the first season he went on an unsuccessful loan to Monaco, after which he had even worse spells in Portugal, Greece and Turkey.

Adu understood that he had failed in Europe and he returned to the USA in 2011. But even in his homeland Freddy couldn't reach the highs he had as a teenager. Today Adu plays in a newly founded club in Las Vegas, that participates in USA's 2nd best league USL.

Theo Walcott: a gifted player with injuries holding him back

While Adu was taking people's breath away in the USA, England had their own prodigy in Theo Walcott. The young winger had a rapid rise to fame in 2005 when he became a regular for Southampton in Championship at only 16 years of age. Possibly every club in the country got interested in Walcott and Arsenal was one of them. Arsene Wenger didn't want to wait and signed the teenager in January for 10 million £, a record fee for a 16-year-old that was held for 12 years.

Walcott made his Premier League debut the following season. He quickly developed into a valuable player for the team, showing a glimpse of a future superstar. Even though Walcott had a great start, his story isn't a happy one.

The forward suffered an injury in November of 2008, his first major one. Because of it Walcott missed three months of football in possibly the busiest time of the season. In the next four years everything just got worst as Walcott went through seven more injuries. Fortunately, the winger had a healthy 2013 and he showed how good he can be. Walcott finished that season with 21 goals and 16 assists in all competitions.

The Englishman continued his great form the following season but he had to end it in January because of an injury he got in a match against Arsenal's arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Walcott hasn't reached his best ever since but he is still playing regularly in the Premier League, now for Everton.

Alexander Pato: once a teenage leader in Milan destroyed by injuries

Another extremely talented player troubled with injuries throughout his career is Alexander Pato. 17 years old at the time he helped his club Internacional win the 2006 FIFA World Club Cup, beating the famous Barcelona in the final. The following summer AC Milan splashed the cash on Pato, making him the most expansive under-age player to this day. And the Brazilian didn't disappoint, getting into the starting line up right after he was eligible.


No matter the young age, Pato became a superstar and was Milan's first choice striker, scoring more than 40 goals in less than 100 games till 2010. But after then everything went downhill. Pato suffered serious hamstring injuries through the second half of the 2009/10 season and had problems in Achilles tendon and muscles the years after.

As it didn't get better Pato and Milan agreed to part ways in 2013. The striker went back to Brazil. Three years later, still only 26, Pato returned to Europe but he couldn't prove himself at Chelsea and had an unsuccessful spell the season after at Villarreal. Now the Brazilian plays in China Super League.

Anderson: a failure with a trophy cabinet legends would die for

Another big name in the land of failed talents is Anderson. In 2005 he was named the best player in the World Cup U-17 and a year later, three months before his 18th birthday, the Brazilian moved to Europe and joined ''Porto''. The next season Anderson broke in the starting line up. He showed skilful and intelligent football attracting the biggest sides in Europe. Midway the season he broke a leg but he returned as good as before.

Chelsea and Real Madrid showed interest in Anderson but Manchester United were the ones to sign the young midfielder in the summer of 2007. Even before he stepped on the pitch, Anderson was labelled as the long-term replacement for club legend Paul Scholes. As big as the pressure was, it didn't get into the starlets head. Anderson regularly played for United in the first two season, even appearing in both Champions League finals. He was named the best young player of the year in 2008.

The start of his Manchester United career was amazing, no doubt about that. But it was so till 2010. In January without the manager's Sir Alex Ferguson's permission Anderson flew to Brazil. He was fined and got left out of the first team for a month. To make the matters even worse, after Anderson returned on the pitch, he got injured and missed the rest of the season.

The injuries became more frequent and Anderson's form and fitness suffered. After quite a few underwhelming seasons he left Manchester United in 2015 and returned to Brazil. Anderson now plays in Turkish second league.

Breno Borges: how an exciting talent was sentenced to prison

Possibly the most unusual story about fall from grace in this article is Breno Borges. After being named the best defender in the Brazilian league at the age of only 18, Breno was one of the brightest talents in the market in 2008. He eventually signed for Germany's giants Bayern Munich. Interesting that Real Madrid wanted Borges as well but after they requested a bone analysis to prove his young age, the Brazilian rejected them.

As many in this article, Borges also suffered injuries. Because of them he couldn't find his form and play regularly in Munich. Borges missed the entirety of 2011/12 season and that affected him psychologically, possibly, even ruined his whole career. His mansion was set on fire and investigations lead to believe Breno himself was the one guilty. He received a prison sentence and his football career seemed over.

But Borges didn't give up and in 2015 he emotionally returned to football and still plays in Brazilian first league.

Not every hyped talent failed

While 2007 Golden Boy Sergio Aguero is another player with a career full of injuries, unlike others he was always able to return to his best. For the past years Aguero is known as one of the best strikers in the world.

Toni Kroos was the best player in both 2006 European Championship U-17 and 2007 World Cup U-17. He was able to continue to dominate in professional football and undoubtedly reach his potential.

Croatian star Ivan Rakitič was one of the most hyped young players in 2007 after amazing season with Basel. He didn't stop improving and step by step he reached the highest level. Now Rakitič is one of the top midfielders in football.

One of the biggest talents in Football Manager 2007 and 2008 was Udinesian forward Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean few years later joined Barcelona and became one of the most dangerous wingers in the world.

Manchester United v Arsenal - UEFA Champions League
Manchester United v Arsenal - UEFA Champions League

So not every hyped player is bound to fail. Even though it's difficult to predict which starlets will be able to reach their potential, it is without a doubt something exciting to follow.

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