Just 18 months ago Zele Ismail was tipped to become the world’s first £100 million footballer. The Wolverhampton Wanderers winger was back then reportedly attracting the interest of Chelsea and Manchester City with both clubs said to be prepared to pay in excess of £2.5 million for the then 15-year-old, what would have been a record fee for someone so young.
The youngster arrived in England at the age of just two, along with his Serbian-born parents. He was spotted by Wolves while he was playing for his school side eight years later. Even at that age it was clear that he had frightening potential.
The West Midlands club kept Ismail under wraps until he produced some stunning performances in the 2008 Milk Cup, picking up the player of the tournament award. This was the same stage that David Beckham and Joe Cole first came to prominence.
Chris Evans, the former Wolves academy director, who helped nurture Ismail’s talents while in the Black Country, and who also over saw the emergence of players such as Robbie Keane, Joleon Lescott, Lee Naylor and Wayne Hennessey told the News of the World in September of last year:
“It was clear very early on that Zele was a special player with talent way beyond his years. Straight away he was playing in age groups two years above his own.
“He was smaller than the rest but his technical ability and football brain helped him overcome any physical problems. His ability made it impossible for him to be ignored. He could score four, five or six goals in a game.”
But he also stressed the importance of Zele staying settled in Wolverhampton:
“The last thing Zele needs now is any upheaval in his life. He had enough trauma in his early years when he had to come to a new country and learn a new language and culture.
“There is no limit to what he can achieve. He is easily the best player in the country for his age.
“If he continues his progress up to the age of 21 he will become priceless. People are talking about there being a £100m player one day. That’s understandable because the game is now in the hands, not just of millionaires, but billionaires.
“I wouldn’t want to put any pressure on the lad, but in years to come I can see enormous money being spent on Zele.”
If Ismail keeps progressing over the next few years Wolves could have one hell of a player on their books.