For the latest instalment of our Long Game series, James Bagby takes a look at two young footballing talents – just two of many – whose careers are yet to take off.
Football has always had the potential for players failing to live up to hype. There are not many sports that scrutinise players from ages as young as 13, touting them to be world beaters before they have ever played a professional game.
It is regarded as one the most brutal development systems with little to no chance of success. Business Insider reported that only 0.012% of players in organised youth football in England will ever make it to the Premier League.
Yet every year, the Guardian tries to predict the next legends of the game through the release of their “Next Generation” series, a list of the 50 most promising young talents in world football that started in 2014. The list has featured the success stories of Christian Pulisic, Matthijs de Ligt and Ousmane Dembele.
A place on this list is far from a guarantee of success though. 2015 featured AC Milan’s Hachim Mastour, a player who typifies the idea of untapped potential.
Mastour joined the Rossoneri at the age of 14 and shot to stardom through viral videos that included kick-ups with a cherry and a freestyle competition with Neymar. He became the youngest player to play for Morocco and the sky seemed the limit for the tricky attacking midfielder.
But, unable to establish himself within the first team at Milan, he headed out on a two-year loan to Malaga. It was here in Andalucía where warning lights started flashing for his career. He only managed to make a 5-minute appearance in the whole of the 2014/15 season and his loan was terminated a year early.
A LACK OF PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT AND AN EXCESSIVE AMOUNT OF HYPE AROUND A FEW FLICKS AND TRICKS, SHOWN AT AN EARLY AGE, PREVENTED MASTOUR FROM REACHING HIS POTENTIAL.
A subsequent loan move to the Netherlands with PEC Zwolle continued the downward spiral for Mastour. He only made 5 appearances in the Eredivisie and was consistently lambasted by the Dutch press. Upon return to Milan, his manager Gennaro Gattuso threatened to knock his teeth out for continuing to reach fame through videos instead of playing.
To no-one’s surprise, Mastour was released by Milan and is currently awaiting his first appearance for Reggina in Serie C. It is a wide-spread belief that a lack of physical development and an excessive amount of hype around a few flicks and tricks, shown at an early age, prevented Mastour from reaching his potential.
A fellow alumnus from the 2015 list is Felix Passlack, a name that may be familiar to Norwich fans. When the list was published, Passlack was a promising product of Borussia Dortmund’s academy and was fresh from captaining Germany at the Under-17 European Championships.
In a similar style to Mastour, underwhelming loan moves have stunted his development. A 2-year loan spell with Hoffenheim was terminated early after only 2 first-team appearances in the 2017-18 season.
There was hope for Passlack in the form of loan move to Norwich, managed by Daniel Farke – Passlack’s previous manager at Borussia Dortmund under-23s. It seemed like the perfect move to get his development back on track.
But as it turned out, Norwich won the Championship with minimal contribution from Passlack. He was unable to unseat starlet Max Aarons at right-back, making just a single appearance for the Canaries.
Dortmund made Passlack surplus to requirements but were unable to offload the German permanently, settling on a loan move to Fortuna Sittard in the Netherlands.
EVERYONE IS DESPERATE TO PREDICT THE NEXT WORLD BEATER, LEADING TO UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS AND UNNECESSARY PRESSURE ON UP-AND-COMING TALENT
Aged just 21, there is still hope for Passlack. However, with his contract due to expire at Dortmund in 2021 he is still a long way from convincing the world that he is worthy of the comparison to Mario Gotze he received early in his career.
Reading through the rest of the names that have made the Guardian’s list there is undoubtedly some talents that have gone on to take the world by storm. However, it seems that for every success story, there are five or so names that have gone unheard of by the general footballing fan.
While Mastour and Passlack are two famous examples, there are countless others. 2015’s list also featured the likes of Haviv Ohayon, Zehrudin Mehmedovic and Sidiki Maiga, who all seem equally likely to be created from a random name generator as professional footballers.
It is now easier than ever to scout the next big talent in the world of football. So much so that you no longer need to be a professional team with a scouting network. BBC showed the latest under-17 world cup final, allowing anyone to tune in.
Everyone is desperate to predict the next world beater, leading to unrealistic expectations and unnecessary pressure on up-and-coming talent – but maybe it is time to stop the predictions and just let the youngsters focus on football.