In case you have not read the news, England U-17s were crowned FIFA World Champions after a pulsating Final against Spain over the weekend. Golden Ball winner, Manchester City’s Phil Foden and Golden Boot winner, Liverpool’s Rhian Brewster, were both on the score sheet as the Three Lions (cubs?) came back from behind to win 5-2 in Kolkata, India.
A lot has already been written about the future of England, especially given the year their youth teams have enjoyed. The U-20s also world the FIFA World Cup while the U-19s were European Champions. However, history has told us that not all youth superstars turn out to be world-beaters – although some certainly do. We take a trip down memory lane to look at three top players to have emerged from the U17 World Cup and three flops.
- Landon Donovan (USA, Golden Ball 1999)
In 1999, Donovan led an unfancied United States team all to way to fourth place, scoring three goals in the process. That team contain future internationals like DeMarcus Beasley and Oguchi Onyewu, but it was Donovan who enjoyed the most endearing career. In club football, he was a legend at LA Galaxy, playing over 300 games. He also enjoyed somewhat successful (but short) spells at both Bayern Munich and Everton. At the international level, Donovan became an absolute legend for Team USA. He won 157 caps for his country (a current national record) and played in three World Cups, only to be controversially dropped for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. His 57 goals is also a national record. He is often recognised as the nation’s greatest player ever.
- Cesc Fabregas (Spain, Golden Ball AND Golden Boot 2003)
In 2003, Fabregas led the Spanish team to second place in the U17 World Cup and walked away with BOTH the Golden Ball and the Golden Shoe. To the Premier League fans, Fabregas needs no introduction – the midfielder already has nearly 600 games to his name, including 300 for his first club, Arsenal. He returned to Barcelona with much fanfare in 2011 before returning to the Premier League as a Chelsea player in 2014. At club level he has won every trophy there is to be won, except for the Champions League. At international level, he has won two European Champions and a World Cup – he is still an active member now with 106 caps to his name.
- Toni Kroos (Germany, Golden Ball 2007)
Toni Kroos was an unknown Bayern Munich reserve in 2007 when he led Germany to a third place finish in 2007. He broke into the Bayern first team that very year and spent two fruitful seasons on loan at Bayer Leverkusen before earning over 300 appearances in the Bundesliga. In 2014, he moved to Real Madrid for €30 million and became an integral member of the Real squad. He is only 27 and has won literally every top honour to be won at European club level, including THREE Champions League titles. With Germany, he was a World Cup winner and has nearly 80 caps.
- Ishmael Addo (Ghana, Golden Shoe 1999)
In 1999, a unknown player youth player from Ghanaian side Heart of Oaks scored 7 goals as Ghana stormed to third place. That was, unfortunately, the most famous achievement for Addo. His exploits in the U17 World Cup did earn him a move to Europe in 2002 with French side Bastia, but it ever did work out as he spent almost a decade in Europe with minor club sides in Israel and Cyprus. He never did replicate his form and returned home in 2011. He is currently in the books of Ghanaian side Emmanuel Stars F.C. He only ever earned one cap for his senior national side, way back in 2002.
- Florent Sinama Pongolle (France, Golden Ball AND Golden Boot 2001)
To fair, to label Pongolle a flop is a tad harsh. He was sensational in the 2001 tournament and was signed by Liverpool, where he spent 5 seasons. He never established himself in the Premier League but did earn a move to Recreativo in La Liga, where his career was rejuvenated somewhat. He scored 22 goals over two years in Spain before earning a big move to Atletico Madrid, where he struggled again and wandered thru several minor European teams. He is currently plying his trade in the Thai second division with Chainat Hornbill. For the senior French side, he has a single cap, back in 2008.
- Sani Emmanuel (Nigeria, Golden Ball 2009)
Emmanuel was the nation’s pride and joy in 2009, where he finished with the Golden Boot in a tournament hosted by Nigeria themselves. Nigeria finished second and Emmanuel’s exploits then look set to propel him into a career in Europe. He had trials at top European sides before eventually signing for Lazio. He did not make a single appearance for the Lazio senior side and was shipped out to the Swiss League, where he struggled again. Today, at age 24, Emmanuel is listed a free agent with less than 20 club appearances all in all.
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