5 Wonder Kid Flops – How will Powell get on?
Posted on July 20, 2012 by Sam Cooke
It was revealed last week that Francis Jeffers had begun pre-season training with Tranmere Rovers after being released by Australian side Newcastle Jets in April. A few weeks before, Manchester United secured their first signing of the summer when it was announced that 18-year-old wonder kid Nick Powell had made the move from Crewe Alexandra.
What’s the connection you may ask? At 20 years old Arsenal paid £8 million for the services of the ‘fox in the box’, who in return scored a whopping four Premiership goals. Jeffers is perhaps the epitome of wonder kid flops and United fans will be praying Nick Powell does not go the same way.
Powell is the latest player to move on from a youth academy at Crewe which has produced a host of stars including Danny Murphy, Dean Ashton and, more recently, Nicky Maynard and Luke Varney. The attacking midfielder scored 16 goals in League 2 last season, including this one, but as ever there are no guarantees that he’ll be able to make the step up and fulfil his obvious potential.
Let’s explore the infamous band of would be wonder kids who have not met early expectations:
Samba had a bright future ahead of him as a young striker at Millwall. Having scored 132 goals in 32 games at just 13 years old the hype surrounding him was perhaps warranted, but despite interest from Liverpool, not to mention a personal phone call from Michael Owen, the move never materialised.
Millwall guaranteed the 14 year old a two-year contract when he turned 17, but it seemed to be a case of too much too young – Millwall released him on a free as soon as that contract expired. Samba himself admits that after the Liverpool deal fell through his ‘football went out the window’.
After being released he went to Cadiz in Spain, gave Finland a shot but has never really managed to establish himself in any side, let alone live up to his early promise. The striker who represented England at every level up to the under-20 team now plays in the Norwegian second flight for FK Tonsberg.
Freddy Adu first burst onto the scene ten years ago at the tender age of just 13. It is questionable whether any player could justify the amount of hype surrounding the player in his teenage years. Nike chairman Phil Knight once said of Adu; “Soccer in the United States isn’t really part of the culture. What it needs, I think, is a superhero, and he clearly could be it. Now, that’s putting a lot of pressure on him, but the kid’s got all the potential to do that.”
Many seemed to agree; Nike gave him a $1 million contract and at 14 years old he became the highest paid player in the MLS amongst an apparent host of offers from the world’s top clubs, not to mention how anyone worth their salt made him their first signing on Football Manager that season.
Yet despite all this his career did not take off, as Adu scored just 11 goals in his first three seasons combined. A stint in Europe (including one spell in the Turkish Second Division – (Adu’s fourth loan away from Benfica)) was to no avail and he’s now back in the MLS plying his trade for the Philadelphia Union. At least he’ll always have this memory of his glory days – an advert with Pele no less!
Precious few will have heard of Sonny Pike, but in the 1990s there were many in the world of football who believed he was destined to be the saviour of English football. At the age of seven Pike was invited to the internationally renowned Ajax Academy of Excellence where he thrived before eventually returning to England. He was a part of a BBC series on child prodigies called Touched with Fire and was frequently mentioned in football magazines and papers across the country.
So did the player hailed as the next Maradona join Manchester United or Arsenal, or any other top flight team? Not quite. In Pike’s own words; “I couldn’t take it, I got really ill and I screwed up”, unable to hack the pressure he ended up playing non-league football for the likes of Stevenage amongst others before he quit football altogether.
He went on to study Psychology at the University of Dundee but still plays a bit of Sunday League football; if you ever get a chance to go see the Dryburgh Saints then do it, don’t bother asking if Sonny’s playing however; he also reverted to his birth name Luke after his brush with fame.
It seems strange to include in this list a player who’s made 124 appearances for Chelsea and even captained the club for a short time, but Morris was never a first team regular and since leaving Chelsea his career has featured few high points. After turning down a 5-year contract at Chelsea (who does that?) he moved to Leeds before eventually winding up at Millwall, where he achieved moderate success before injury hampered his performances.
He recently made the move from St.Johnstone to Bristol City, and at 33 years old this has to be Morris’ last chance to make a name for himself. In football that is and not court where he’s made an uncomfortable amount of appearances over the years.
In 1991 a 17-year-old Ghanaian by the name of Nil Lamptey attained the player of the tournament award as his country won the Under-17 Fifa World Cup. This was a tournament that featured the likes of Veron, Guardiola and Del Piero; it was clear that Lamptey had the world at his feet, even Pele himself called him his ‘natural successor’.
At 16, after fleeing an abusive past in Ghana (to escape he illegally crossed 3 borders and used a fake passport to gain entry to Belgium), he signed for Anderlecht and became the youngest ever player to play in the Belgian league. After two very impressive seasons he moved onto PSV Eindhoven where he dazzled fans and won yet more accolades finishing as top scorer in his sole season in Holland.
Sadly, it is at this point his development ceased. A victim of all that’s wrong with football Lamptey trusted an agent who was far from having his best interests at heart; on his agent’s advice he signed for Aston Villa, a club with less prestige than PSV at the time, and his football declined. Then Villa manager Ron Atkinson moved to Coventry and Lamptey followed suit but suffered much the same fate, unable to realise his blatant potential.
His career then took him on a globetrotting tour of the world in which he played for clubs in Argentina, China, Spain, Germany, South Africa, Ghana and even Saudi Arabia. The tragic deaths of two of his children saw him lose his appetite for the game and Lamptey was unable to ever attain the footballing heights that his natural ability warranted. He’s now back in his native Ghana and has set up a school with links to a local football academy to give kids the opportunities he never had.
It’s interesting to remember that Lamptey is only 37 years old today and had his career taken a different turn he could very well still be playing professionally. He is involved in football once again, however, as the assistant coach of Ghanaian side Sekondi Wise Fighters. A tale of tragedy, unmatched expectation and a clear warning if there ever was one to avoid heaping pressure on talented players at such a young age.
So will Nick Powell prove to be an astute piece of business by Sir Alex – he certainly has the talent but then a move to Manchester United at 18 years old is a daunting prospect for anyone. The next two seasons should tell whether he’s destined to become another United great or whether he’ll wind up as another Liam Miller or Kleberson (currently playing for Perth Glory and Brazilian club Bahia respectively).