It has been reported in the news today that Mario Balotelli’s proposed move from Inter Milan to Manchester City has hit the rocks over his astronomical wage demands. Rumour has it that young Balotelli, despite being deemed surplus to requirements for Italy at the World Cup and struggling to hold down a regular starting place at Inter, believes that he is worth a staggering £180,000 a week.
Balotelli has bags of potential, but are City right to be apprehensive? Here we take a look at some other stars who have promised the world as youngsters and failed to deliver…
When Jeffers broke into the Everton team just before his 17th birthday, he was hailed as a natural ‘fox in the box’ who would be an international star of the future and his reputation was further enhanced when he became the England under-21 joint record goalscorer, sharing the record with a certain Alan Shearer. A record at club level of almost a goal in every two games prompted Arsenal to pay over £8 million for the then 20-year-old in 2001 and Arsene Wenger described him ‘obsessed with scoring goals’.
Jeffers’ Arsenal career was nothing short of a disaster, and after less than 30 appearances in three years at the Gunners and a disastrous loan spell back at Everton, he was shown the door. The bright young thing had faded to the point of invisibility. After a series of unsuccessful transfers and loan spells Jeffers, still just 29, recently had a trial at newly-promoted Blackpool after being released by Sheffield Wednesday, where he scored just 5 goals in 3 years, this summer. He has only scored 12 senior goals since 2004.
By the time Jermaine Pennant was 14, he was already a member of the Notts County under-18 team and was attracting admiring glances from teams across Britain. It was no real surprise, then, that in 1999, when Pennant was 15, he was signed by Arsenal. The fee was £2 million, then a record for a trainee. Pennant became Arsenal’s youngest ever player and was soon impressing the fans with his performances in the League Cup, where he demonstrated his pace and trickery. At 16, he was already a huge name in the world of British football and was seen as a certainty for future international honours.
Pennant became homesick upon joining Arsenal, and his development waned as a result. Despite scoring a hattrick on his league debut for the Gunners in 2002, Pennant was unable to secure a regular place. He moved to Birmingham, where his career hit controversy as he was forced to play with an electronic tag due to a drink driving conviction. After an inconsistent spell at Liverpool, Pennant turned down a move to Real Madrid and instead joined Portsmouth, causing many to question his ambition. In 2009 he did move to Spain, with Real Zaragoza. Now 27, Pennant has become one of English football’s forgotten men. Despite seeming keen on a move back to England, he is yet to find a suitor, and a full international cap still eludes him.
At the turn of the millennium, Gambia-born Cherno Samba was once seen as the next big thing in English football. His father was a Gambian international, and when the Samba family moved to London, Cherno took the local football scene by storm. He scored 132 goals in 32 games in his under-14 season, and it was Millwall who elected to take a chance on the pacy frontman, signing him for their academy. Samba’s phenomenal goalscoring exploits continued, and before long the Premier League’s big boys became interested, with Liverpool having a £2 million bid turned down for the teenager before he had even made a first team appearance. He also represented England at every level from under-15s to under-20s. The world, it seemed, was at Samba’ prolific little feet. Millwall offered him a three year contract which he signed in 2002, on his 17th birthday.
For some reason, Samba never made the grade at Millwall. He saw out his contract at the club, but never made an appearance for the first team. A move to Spain followed, and journeyman Samba has now played for seven clubs despite still being just 25. His goalscoring exploits haven’t continued however, and Malaga remains the only team that he has ever scored ten goals for at senior level. A potential move to Portsmouth in 2009 was hampered by the club’s transfer embargo, and he recently signed for Panetolikos in the Greek second tier.
There was only one name on everyone’s lips before the 2004 MLS SuperDraft: Freddy Adu. The 14-year-old was drafted as the first pick by DC United, and became the youngest US athlete in 100 years to sign a professional contract. His development continued, and in 2005 he was nominated for the FIFPRO World Young Player of the Year award. Adu had a two week trial with Manchester United in 2006, and became the youngest ever USA international when he came on as a substitute against Canada in the same year. Suddenly, the whole world knew about the Ghanaian-born forward, and it seemed only a matter of time before he made the step into a top European league. In 2007, he agreed a move to Benfica for $2 million.
Adu never really settled into the Portuguese game, and after failing to hold down a first team place at Benfica, was twice sent on loan, to Monaco and Belenenses, where he also failed to make an impact. A third loan spell in Greece has proved more successful, but at 21 Adu has lost his place in the USA squad and appears to be some way off achieving the brilliance that his early potential suggested. Question marks over his real age have only added to Adu’s turmoil.
When you’re described as the next Pelé, you’re good. When the praise comes from the great man himself, you’re very special. In 1991, midfielder Nii Lamptey inspired Ghana to victory in the FIFA Under 17 World Cup, claiming the Golden Ball in a competition that included Juan Veron and Alessandro Del Piero. Lamptey was hardly an unknown before the tournament. When he signed for Anderlecht as a 15-year-old, Belgian age-limit rules were changed to allow him to appear in the first team at 16 and it wasn’t long before he earned a glamorous move to PSV Eindhoven. Again he was the star performer, leaving fans and pundits awestruck, despite the fact that he was just 19 years old.
Lamptey seemed happy at PSV, but in the summer of 1994 his agent forced through a move to Ron Atkinson’s Aston Villa, seemingly ignoring what was good for Lamptey’s career but making himself a small fortune. Expectation was high but Lamptey disappointed in England. He followed Atkinson to Coventry after one season but his career nosedived and never fully recovered. He left for Italy after one season, but the death of his child, as well as a racism-plagued spell in Germany, left Lamptey psychologically damaged, and he fell short of the potential he had as a youngster. Currently assistant manager of Sekondi Eleven Wise in the Ghanaian top flight.
What do you guys think? Is Balotelli the next Cristiano Ronaldo or will he fail to shine like his countryman Nii Lamptey?
Written By Gareth Roberts