Last week Football Manager fans all simultaneously lost their mind when Youssoufa Moukoko finally made his professional debut for Borussia Dortmund. Moukoko has been on the lips of many football fans for years as his increasingly phenomenal stats slowly emerged, 141 goals in 88 youth matches was more than enough to send his reputation into hyperdrive. And clearly this is no fluke, Dortmund are so confident in his ability already that they selected him into the first team squad at the start of the season when he was only 15 and managed to convince the GFL (German Football League) to actually lower the minimum age from 17 to 16. So, when he turned 16 on the 20th of November the hype for the ‘Wunderkind’ ignited as fans across the world realised that his debut was imminent. They did not have to wait long on the 21st of November at 16 years and 1-day Moukoko became the youngest person to ever play professional football in Germany, adding to the ridiculous amount of young talent in Dortmund’s roster.
But how will Moukoko do? At such a young age he has many trails ahead in the mad roller-coaster that is football, so to get an idea of what is to come for the ‘Wunderkind’ lets take a look at some other players who made the headlines because of their age.
Probably the most famous and yet most unsuccessful footballer on the planet. Freddy Adu is a phycologist dream, being labelled ‘the next Pele’ before you even turn 14 did a number on poor Freddy as a career that started in such a glistening fashion has ended in chasing a team who is willing to play him.
At only 14 years old Adu became the youngest player to ever sign a professional contract in US Sport and then in the same year became the youngest player to play and the score in the MLS! In his first season in which he started as a 14-year-old Freddy played 30 games for DC United, scoring 5 goals and assisting 3.
Many complained that he could not possibly be ready and need time to develop in youth football, he also briefly had a trail at Man United in 2006.
But Adu’s making was also his downfall. After impressing at the U-20 World Cup as the captain of the US team Benfica moved in and bought Adu for Two Million Dollars. He did get to play in the Champions League for Benfica but only went on to play 11 games for the club. After four years in Portugal and four loans Freddy decided to move back to the US with the Philadelphia Union where he stayed for two years before he began to hop from one country to the next; Brazil, Serbia, Finland back to America in the USL Championship and now today where he plays for Swedish team Osterlen FF at the ripe age of 31.
An example that Moukoko would best avoid.
What’s that? You are sure you know that name, but you don’t know why? Well there may be two reasons. One you recognise him as one of the most promising young players in the world playing for Barcelona back in 2014 or you have heard the news of his Transfer to Birmingham City last week.
At 16 years 101 days Alen Halilovic came on for Dinamo Zagreb against Eternal derby rivals Hajduk Split, becoming the youngest player to ever play for the club, 11 days later he also became the youngest scorer in the leagues history when he scored against Slaven Belupo. The young Croatian went on to play 44 games in two seasons for Zagreb scoring seven goals and becoming the 2nd youngest player to ever play in the Champions League.
This caught the attention of Spanish monoliths Barcelona who bought Halilovic for 2.2 Million Euros on a five-year contract. But five years was just not meant to be, he made one appearance in the cup and for the rest of his time in Catalonia played for Barcelona B. He spent his second year at Barca on loan at Sporting Gijon where he played 36 games scoring 3 goals.
Yet despite having not made any meaningful impact at 20 years of age Hamburger SV of the Bundesliga decided to sign Halilovic for 5.5 Million? In two years at the club he played seven times scoring once. He did however spend most of his time on loan again at Las Palmas where he played 38 times.
Somehow Alen then managed to get a free transfer to AC Milan in 2018, he again made no league appearances and spent his time in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Fast forward to today and Halilovic has joined his fifth permanent club Birmingham City. At 24 years old who knows how this could turn out?
Well looks like another sob story where a young 16-year-old starts out promising and ends up at bottom of the Championship Derby County in their 30’s. Not really much else to read into here…
Apart from the 559 Man United appearances, record goalscoring tally for Man United and England. 5 Premier League titles, Champions League winner and FA Cup winner. Wayne Rooney is the perfect example of a player who made his debut at 16 and was nurtured perfectly. On his debut for Manchester United he scored a hat-trick in the Champions League. And yet the fame did not go to his head, Sir Alex kept him grounded and moulded him into one of the best players that England has ever seen.
If Moukoko follows his path, he could be one of the best players in the world.
In the same period where Alen Halilovic was beginning his rise Martin Odegaard was also starting his. After becoming the youngest ever player and goal scorer for Stromsgodset back in 2014 at only 15 years old, Odegaard quickly attracted the attention of Europe’s biggest and in 2015 be made the move to Real Madrid. At Madrid he also became the youngest debutant in the club’s history at 16 years and 157 days. However, it took 679 days for Odegaard to make his first start.
Up until now Odegaard’s career has been mixed. After spending two years in the B side people thought the potential was gone but in the last few years things have started to look up. He has been on loan at Heerenveen, Vitesse and most recently Real Sociedad and his performances have been good. Almost as if, as the attention has gone his performances have improved… he hasn’t been making waves and putting in world class performances but he has been playing well and he has steady the ship, and at only 21 he still has the potential to go far, even as a Real Madrid player!
In short, the picks I have made here show a spread in what could happen when a 16-year-old starts their professional career. Haaland, Mbappe, Bellingham are also players who even now are just begging to make strides into the world. Haaland as one of the best strikers in the world and Bellingham starting life in a Dortmund team that has proven it’s ability to grow the best talent. Celtic have one too in the form of Karamoko Dembele, a player who almost mirrors Moukoko. At only 17 years old he played for Celtic four times including this season and continues to impress in games despite the age of those that he is coming up against.
Both Moukoko and Karamoko have the potential to become the next Wayne Rooney and in the next few years could be getting looked at as the next Haaland and Mbappe. But one thing is certain, they will need someone to guide them, keep them level and only implement them when they are ready. Because if like Adu or Halilovic they decided they want to take control and play more games before they have the right, then they too could end up at Birmingham City.