Remember him? Three young guns fading fast
Background Image: Giovanni Batista Rodriguez, CC by-SA 2.0
Every year, prodigiously talented youngsters tease us with their promise. A good number never quite fulfil their potential, leaving us to wonder whatever happened to so-and-so if we even wonder at all.
Nothing thrills more than seeing a young player thrive in the first team. If he is an academy graduate, it’s that much sweeter. Ask Manchester United fans enthused by Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard or Chelsea supporters pining to see more of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ethan Ampadu.
The greats all show promise from the start. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo weren't late bloomers. But for every Messi and Ronaldo, there's a Lui Nani, a Ricardo Quaresma and several Alexandre Patos. For players like Giuseppe Rossi, injury takes its toll. For most, the pressure proves too great.
Let’s look at three young talents whose star is already fading.
Manchester United endured a disastrous 2013/2014 season. Sir Alex Ferguson’s handpicked successor, David Moyes failed woefully. It was as though the curtain had been pulled back to reveal the great and powerful wizard was just a bloke hitting switches and pulling levers at random.
Every cloud has a silver lining, though. Moyes’ was Adnan Januzaj. At the Stadium of Light, the Belgian announced himself, scoring two goals to hand United a flattering win. He made 27 league appearances that campaign.
Electric, tricky, confident on the ball, with a deft left foot, Januzaj drew comparisons to Ryan Giggs. He even claimed the No.11 shirt when the Welshman retired. The future was a blank page. Then came Louis van Gaal with his pen and notebook.
The Dutchman shook things up. When he did, Januzaj fell out of the lineup. He moved to Borussia Dortmund on loan searching for game time. There was little to be found. Proving that the football gods love a bit of irony, his next loan sent him to Sunderland. When the Black Cats went down, he was at a crossroads. Should he warm the bench at United or heed Moyes’ advice to join Real Sociedad. He chose the latter.
In the Basque country, Januzaj enjoyed a decent debut season, scoring five times and registering eight assists in 37 appearances. His work earned him a place in Roberto Martinez's World Cup roster. He hasn't built on that success this term, losing his place in the starting XI. Januzaj clearly has bags of talent but could use a box or two of consistency. He needs another manager like Moyes, willing to put an arm around him and offer encouragement.
At 24, there is ample time to rescue his career but it's difficult to see him do more than Nani and Quaresma, who continue to wander the fringes of the game trading on their younger days.
Portugal’s Euro 2016 triumph stunned the world. Naturally, Ronaldo received the most acclaim but Renato Sanches stood out as well.
Anything but a free-flowing side, the Selecao sacked the tournament courtesy their rugged backline and tenacious midfield. Having only made his professional debut for Benfica the season before, Sanches came into the Euros a relative unknown. He left a wanted man.
Capable of spraying passes across the pitch, tackling and marauding up the pitch, the young bull appeared to be the perfect box-to-box midfielder. After his heroics in France, Bayern Munich came knocking. Sanches waved Benfica bye-bye.
The lesson too many young stars learn too late is that moving for big money doesn’t guarantee game time. Sanches shuffled in and out of the first team under Carlo Ancelotti then moved to Swansea on loan for the latter half of his second season. To be kind, his time there was ordinary.
Niko Kovac's admiration for Sanches flowed in the summer but ran dry during the season. Four starts in 12 Bundesliga appearances tell the story. Worse, the 21-year-old makes it easy for Kovac to keep him on the bench.
Bigger things were expected of Sanches after the Euros. Like Florian Thauvin at Newcastle, the switch to a big club came too early. For their part, Bayern can't be pleased with the return on their €35 million investment.
Monaco fell apart to start the season. The principality outfit went from Ligue 1 champions to relegation-threatened in the space of two years. Losing your best players does that.
In their defence, Monaco tried to replace the raft of young stars they sent out into the world. None of the newcomers proved a match for any of the departed. Youri Tielemans, for example.
The Belgian arrived in the enclave of the rich and famous on the promise of quickly reaching that status himself. He crafted a gilded reputation pulling the strings for Royal Anderlecht. Indispensable to the 2016/17 Jupiler League champions, he was also named Belgian Footballer of the Year.
Fans fall in love with midfielders who make runs into the box, chipping in more than their share of goals. Tielemans did that while also striking from long range, the second coming of Frank Lampard. In Belgium, he was a level above the rest.
At Monaco, he was below par. The next step in his career led to a brick wall. Under Leonardo Jardim then Thierry Henry, Les Monagasques fell freely. Tielemans couldn’t pull them out of it.
It’s both difficult and easy to blame him. On the one hand, he arrived just as all the stars were leaving. Injuries hampered the few who remained. The other big signing, Alex Golovin also went directly to the treatment table. On the other hand, he captained Anderlecht but failed to show leadership at a new club starved for it.
It doesn’t help Tieleman’s reputation that Leonardo Jardim didn’t fight for him to stay when he returned to the club or that the Venezuelan-born Portuguese is lifting the club out of danger without him.
The 21-year-old is now on loan at Leicester City. After arriving, he missed the match against Manchester United but played the full 90 against Tottenham, making the stat sheet by drawing a yellow card.
While there’s no argument Spurs was a baptism under fire, the Belgian requires a few more opportunities before it can be said the Premier League isn’t for him. The King Power Stadium sits at the crossroads for Youri Tielemans. Will he take the road leading to a memorable or forgettable career?