Child Soldiers: The Casualities in Football
Once a person is labeled as a prodigy, the future, or the next (whatever), that person, no matter his age, origin or race, is already destined to carry a great load of responsibility.
Not everyone can handle that kind of pressure, some may fail because the load of expectation is too big for them, injuries also might get into the way, wrong decisions made by parents, agent or ultimately the player himself or just sheer luck that did not turn to their way.
Fortunately, players like Fernando Torres, Joe Cole, Andrea Pirlo, Lionel Messi and almost all the players we know now have already went through that difficult period of time and have now succeeded to become one of the best football players on the planet.
That’s all we know now right, the players who have succeeded in their live and now have turned into millionaires.
But, what about the players who did not make it, players who were also labeled the next best thing to come out, but never showed up?
What went wrong with these players? Why they never made it? How come they have been forgotten? Was over-confident a factor for their failures? I did some research and found out that there are so many factors that can affect a player’s future.
So, I decided to write an article to honor these forgotten former child soldiers, who, unfortunately, have become the causalities in the war of football.
So this is the list of players (countdown style) who I think could have made it big time with our current stars if situations have allowed it.
5) Johnnier Montaño –Colombia, attacking midfielder
Born in 14 January 1983, this midfield player already looked like a world beater at the tender age of 15.
He first started his career at America de Cali as a youngster and after playing 6 games for them he was quickly snapped up by Argentinean club Quilmes Athelico Club.
He showed great form for them at the young age of 14 years and 8 months.
He did so well for them, that at the age of 15 he was selected to represent his country at the 1999 Copa America. He even scored a goal for them against Argentina, in a game that Martin Palermo famously missed three penalty kicks. Colombia eventually won that game 3-0.
With all the hype surrounding him at the tournament, Parma, a once upon a time giant club in Italy, manage to get his signature after fighting for it with other elite clubs around Europe.
That’s when hell broke loose (for Montano, at least). He never managed to break in to the already strong looking Parma side and was repeatedly loaned out to other clubs.
Coincidently, both the clubs he was loaned out to was relegated out of the division while he was playing there. I say coincidently because he did not manage to play much for them, either.
After that, he was terminated of his contract and he went on to have a nomadic life, changing clubs often, and venturing into unknown parts of the world.
A great player he would have turned to be but now at the age of 26, he is already forgotten, even in Colombia.
4) Owen Price- England, winger
Owen Price, a former England school boy player was highly regarded to be the next David Beckham at the young age of 14.
Tottenham had so much trust on this youngster, that they splashed half a million to Charlton Athletic to take him away from them.
There was so much hype around him that he made into the back pages of newspapers more often than any other Tottenham stars at the time.
He never managed a single game for Tottenham and is now playing for non league Northwich Victoria.
Half a million paid for a 14-year-old, expectations from all over England to be the next David Beckham, scouts, media, manager, coach, fans from all over England breathing down his neck?
I don’t need to tell you what I think was his failure.
According to some pundits now, they are telling that Owen Price was never a big talent anyway. He was just over hyped by local media to sell stories.
This was also backed up by Peter Suddaby, his head coach at Tottenham, who told that he definitely had a lot of talent but by no means was he going to make the grade.
Anyway, now at the age of 23 he still can be proud of the achievement he did nine years ago; he pushed Rooney out of the England school boy team. Yeah, look where Rooney is now.
3) Sonny Pike- England, position unknown.
The only reason Sonny Pike is higher than Owen Price in this list is because Sonny had more hype around him than of Owen Price.
Also, Owen Price became famous at the age of 14 only, where else Sonny Pike made the headlines when he was 7 years old. I’ll repeat that, 7 years old.
I don’t even know the position he played because he was so young when the media dubbed him as the next Maradona. So, I guess he was an attacking minded, 7 year old kid.
Not 17, but 7.
Ajax, who has one of the best youth system, school, coaches, organization and record, offered to take Sonny Pike to their stride and give him a chance to train with them.
The only reason Ajax took all this effort to bring him there is because of only at the age of 7, yes, only at the age of 7 he was already so famous in England. I’ll repeat that again, all of this happened when he was 7 years old.
To me, personally, this is all some kind of sick joke. Take Lionel Messi for an example, he was touted to be a great prospect at a very early age but had health problems. His former club Newells Old Boys could not afford the treatment which is about $ 900 per month.
Barcelona saw great things in that 11 year old kid and offered to pay his medical bill if he is to join them. He agreed and Barcelona knew that great things were to come from that kid but Barcelona, like always, shut their mouth about it.
No hype, no media so, no expectations. He, of course, like well know now, turned out to be the real Maradona’s successor.
Anyway, Sonny Pike did not do to well for the Ajax youth team and was slowly forgotten by the media too.
Slowly he left football and started pursuing his studies at Dundee University and is also currently trying to get his coaching badges.
Sonny says that he's much happier away from professional football. He is open that playing professional football was his childhood dream, but the pressure placed on him by his club, agents, sponsors and, to a lesser extent, the media made him suffer a nervous breakdown in October 2000, whilst still part of the Ajax youth squad.
I feel sorry for that guy.
2) Leandro Bomfim- Brazil, winger/attacking midfielder
This Brazilian superstar was deemed to be next Ronaldo (the fat one) at a very young age. He was a skillful player who made the headlines during the World Cup U-17 in 2001. He has played at every youth level for the Brazil team.
Leandro became the hottest thing in football after some stellar performances for the Brazil team and suddenly there was a bidding war among some big clubs in Europe to get his dreaded signature.
Leandro insisted that he wanted to join PSV to follow the footstep of his idol; Ronaldo. PSV paid 5.5 million euros to snap the 17 year old away from EC Vitoria, although at that time he did not manage a single game for EC Vitoria yet.
At PSV, he managed to have a great debut season under Guus Hiddink and started to draw comparison with his idol Ronaldo, even though they played in different positions.
His skill, passing, positioning, work rate and even his discipline were highly praised by his coaches and team members.
He was turning out to be the next superstar after some stunning performances for PSV and scouts from all over Europe had their eyes on him already.
Just when everything was going great for him, he suffered a rare abdominal injury that needed him to have a surgery. He missed one whole season because of that injury.
By the time he came back to full fitness, PSV has actually brought in a substitute for him, a player by the name of Arjen Robben.
To make matters worse, PSV changed their tactics that did not suit him. It did not stop there, after a few games for PSV, he suffered another injury, this time it was his ankle.
He also had some lawsuit problem with his contract with PSV and it had to be settled in court.
He slowly lost his place in the PSV squad and even though Arjen Robben was transferred to Chelsea, Guus Hiddink changed his team tactics and Leandro was slowly pushed out of the team.
He was later transferred to Porto but did not manage to show his previous form for the club and was loaned to three different Brazil clubs.
Porto then sold him to CR Vasco Da Gama and after a disappointing season he got transferred again to Fluminense FC.
Leandro Bomfim was truly a talented player and certainly would have tuned out to be a world class player, but injuries and some bad luck went againsts him.
And the unfortunate No. 1 spot goes to...
1) Cherno Samba-England, striker
Was there any doubt that who was going to make the No 1 spot on this article?
Samba was an outstanding player during his junior time. He once scored a devastating 132 goals in just 32 games in a junior league when he was just 13 years old.
This made the headlines in the newspapers and suddenly he became the hot topic in town (England).
Although at that time there were no clubs that was after him, but there was gazillions of agents who wanted to take hold of him. There were many agent who, reportedly, offered his father big sums of money to take their offer.
His father declined all the offers because he thought that it looked like he was selling his son to them.
So, he decided to hire his old friend, a person who knew Cherno from at the age of 9, a person who his father trusted and someone who had some experience in professional football, Harry Gebber.
Harry Gebber is a coach turned agent who most certainly had many connections with a lot of clubs. He decided that the best club Cherno can start with is Millwall FC.
It looked like a good decision because Millwall is a small club so there won’t be a lot of pressure, their youth system has a good record of producing players and at a club like this there won’t be much hype around him.
It turned out to be a great decision by Harry because he did really well there. As a 14 year old he was already playing for the under 17. His phenomenon goal scoring abilities continued at the junior level of Millwall FC and he started to make the headlines again.
Ultimately, like always, this is the time when the ‘bigger’ clubs come in with their big offer. Typical, don’t you think.
Anyway, Millwall reluctantly allowed Harry Gebber and Cherno Samba to talk with other clubs and they decided that Liverpool FC was the best choice. Liverpool wanted him so much that they made Michael Owen to call him on the phone and urge him to join the club.
To materialize the move, Harry Gebber hired sports lawyer Mel Stein to broker the deal. It never happened because Millwall took a long time to name a price and eventually Liverpool pulled out of the deal.
It broke the kid’s heart and he lost the interest to play football any more, and he never recovered from that.
Even though he managed to play for England at every youth level, he did not manage to break into the first team of Millwall.
He ventured to Spain to resurrect his career but he had a torrid time at Cadiz CF and Malaga CF B and he came back to England to play for Plymouth Argyle.
It did not work for him there, either, so they loaned him out to Wrexham again for him to disappoint himself there. These moves did not do anything to improve his confidence.
He then joined FC Haka, because he was a surplus requirement for Ian Holloway’s side at Plymouth. Now he plays his international football for Gambia; the country he was born.
At an interview he once told 'I felt tortured. My football went out of the window. Whether you are 10, 15 or 38, when a move to big club falls through, you get low. I started to question myself and there were times I tried to quit football.
'At 14 I played for the under-17s. I was still playing for the under-17s when I was 17, which means I didn't improve my football. '
That says it all brother, that says it all.
There is a lot we can learn from these players now. Honestly, how long more its going to take before players like Freddy Adu and Rhain Davis to join them? Will we ever learn from our past mistakes?
Is there even a lesson to be learned here? Will these casualities continue? I'll never know for sure but I know one thing for certain, all this things reminds me how beautiful and cruel football is.
P.S.: These players differs from players like Nii Lamptey and the ex Real Betis winger Denilson is because these players failed even before the age of 18, where else Denilson and Nii Lamptey failed when they were at their peak of their career.
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