10 Players Better Than Neymar Who Didn't Receive Nearly the Hype

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistApril 3, 2013

10 Players Better Than Neymar Who Didn't Receive Nearly the Hype

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    Plenty of people know all that there is to know about Brazilian prodigy Neymar, but many of them will never have seen him play a full domestic league game.

    Instead they rely on a huge array of YouTube clips and social media shares to get their info on the 21-year-old, who is undoubtedly capable of the spectacular but now seemingly faces a career of attempting to live up to the huge hype that seems to follow him around.

    Is it better to come through the ranks at a football club fully aware that you are being regarded as the next Pele? Or is it more preferable to shun the limelight as a young player and instead explode onto the scene later in life?

    Everyone was aware of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi when they were 18, whilst the promise of the likes of Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen was already being talked about well before they’d played a first-team game, but what about those who passed under the radar when they were teenagers but have since gone on to star on the world stage?

    Well for these 10 players, the fact that acclaim came later in their careers hasn’t hindered them at all.

Didier Drogba

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    Staggeringly, Didier Drogba didn’t sign his first professional contract until he was 21, and it wasn’t until his £3.3 million move to Olympique Marseille in 2003―when he was 25―that he was really seen on the world stage.

    His one season there yielded 32 goals as OM reached the UEFA Cup final, and it proved enough to catch the eye of Chelsea, who made a £24 million move for him that summer.

    His 157 goals for the club now see him sit fourth in their all-time goalscorers’ chart.

Gareth Bale

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    It is easy to forget now given his frequently electrifying displays for Tottenham, but for two years Gareth Bale was Spurs’ unlucky charm.

    The Welshman―then just a promising left-back―went a Premier League record 24 games without being on the winning side following his transfer from Southampton as a 17-year-old in 2007.

    The £7 million fee showed that plenty were aware of Bale’s potential, but no one saw this level of quality coming, and he has firmly established himself as one of the most exciting players around today.

Luis Suarez

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    Were it not for young love then Luis Suarez may never have come to Europe.

    The Uruguayan was 19 when scouts from the Dutch club Groningen noticed him when they were over in South America to watch another player, and Suarez was thrilled to help engineer the move from his first club, Nacional, as he wanted to be closer to his girlfriend and future wife, who had moved to Barcelona (read the story according to the Daily Mail here).

    One year at Groningen brought 15 goals and was enough to earn a move to Ajax, where Suarez scored 111 goals in three-and-a-half years before his £22.8 million move to Liverpool in January 2011.

    He’s since proved that he’d have been cheap at twice the price.

Robin van Persie

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    Attitude problems were Robin van Persie’s main issue during his formative years at Feyenoord, and frequent rows with manager Bert van Marwijk blighted his years there until a £2.75 million move to Arsenal in 2004 when he was 20.

    An early red card against Southampton suggested that his attitude would fail him at the Gunners too, but the Dutchman gradually began to play a more and more important role in Arsene Wenger’s plans when his fitness allowed him to.

    His final two years at Arsenal saw him reach prolific goalscoring levels, and persuaded Manchester United to part with £24 million to bring him to Old Trafford last summer, when they knew they were buying a finished article who could help fire them to Premier League glory.

Thierry Henry

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    In January 1999, and fresh from being a squad player in France’s World Cup success on home soil, a 21-year-old winger called Thierry Henry got his big move when he left Monaco and joined Juventus.

    He lasted just 16 matches in Italy, and soon moved to England with Arsenal, where no one could have expected the impact he was going to make.

    In eight years in North London, Henry smashed the club’s all-time goalscoring record as he ended on 228 strikes in helping the Gunners to two league titles and three FA Cups. He moved to Barcelona in 2007 and helped the club to the treble of La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League.

    Not bad for just a France ’98 squad player.

Radamel Falcao

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    Astonishingly, Radamel Falcao was just 13 years old when he made his professional debut for Lanceros in Colombia’s second tier.

    He scored his only goal for the club as a 14-year-old before a move to Argentina and River Plate in 2005, and despite injury problems he still managed 45 strikes in 105 appearances over four years.

    A move to Europe beckoned, and he joined Porto in 2009, where he would go on to score an amazing 72 times in 85 games, including a record-breaking 18 as the Portuguese side won the Europa League in 2011.

    Now Atletico Madrid’s record signing, perhaps another move awaits the 27-year-old in the summer?

Paul Scholes

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    Paul Scholes was too young to play in the famed Manchester United youth team of 1992 which featured David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, but he turned professional a year later and made his United debut in September 1994, shortly before he turned 20.

    Two goals against Port Vale on that debut signalled out the local product as one to watch, and Scholes went on to gradually establish himself in Sir Alex Ferguson’s team―initially as a forward player before moving further back.

    His glittering club career has only ever been played at United, and the softly spoken Scholes was already firmly established as an Old Trafford legend before he announced his retirement in May 2011, only to reverse the decision the following January.  

Andres Iniesta

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    Midfielder Andres Iniesta made his Barcelona debut aged 18, but it wasn’t until two years later that he began to play a more regular role in the Barca side, and even then that was often in a bit-part capacity.

    As Barca evolved towards the all-conquering behemoth they are today, Iniesta evolved with them, and today he is rightly regarded as one of the finest midfielders in the world and has struck up a remarkable relationship with one of his teammates…


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    After being in and out of the side initially, it took an injury to Pep Guardiola for Xavi to firmly establish himself in the Barcelona team in the 1999/2000 season, during which he turned 20.

    Years of sustained quality followed, and we have now reached the point where the 33-year-old is one of the most revered and most decorated players in world football.

    Who saw that coming at the back end of the last century?

Andrea Pirlo

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    Inter Milan have been kicking themselves for years.

    After signing Andrea Pirlo as a 19-year-old from Brescia in 1998, Inter didn’t see sufficient quality in him to make him a firm part of their first-team plans and loaned him out first to Reggina and then back to Brescia.

    AC Milan then took a punt on Pirlo in 2001 and were subsequently rewarded with 10 years of excellence before a move to Juventus in 2011.