20 Premier League teen sensations who quickly faded into obscurity
Michael Branch (Everton)
Seven of the Premier League’s 20 youngest scorers were plying their trade for Everton when they found the net for the first time. Branch was another Toffee who failed to deliver on his early promise, with the Liverpool-born striker’s three league goals for the club all coming in his breakout season of 1996/97.
The forward failed to progress, though, and was duly loaned out to Manchester City, Birmingham and Wolves before joining the latter on a permanent basis in 2000. Branch again started well at Molineux but fell out of favour when Dave Jones took charge a year later. He then dropped down the divisions to turn out for Bradford, Chester and Halifax, before being jailed in 2012 for drug offences. Didn't see that one coming, did you?
Freddie Sears (West Ham)
Scoring a hat-trick against Millwall at any level is sure to endear a player to West Ham supporters, and so it was that Sears’ treble for the Hammers' under-18s in 2007 brought him to the attention of those on the Upton Park terraces. After scoring the winner against Blackburn on his Premier League debut the following year, the homegrown striker was tipped for big things in east London.
Sears scored just once more in his next 45 league outings for West Ham, however, and was equally shot-shy during loan spells at Crystal Palace, Coventry and Scunthorpe (no goals in a combined 38 matches). Now 28, he currently plies his trade with Ipswich in the Championship.
Francis Jeffers (Everton)
Jeffers made his professional debut at Old Trafford, a stage befitting his precocious talent. The teenager scored six goals in all competitions for Everton in 1999/2000 and seven the following campaign, despite making only 14 appearances due to injuries.
The striker rejected a new contract at Goodison Park and instead joined Arsenal for £8m in 2001, with Arsene Wenger describing him as a “fox in the box” and someone who was “obsessed with scoring goals”. Yet Jeffers found the net just eight times for the Gunners before moving to Charlton in 2004, where he also struggled.
The one-time England international later represented Rangers, Blackburn, Ipswich, Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle Jets, Motherwell, Accrington Stanley and Maltese outfit Floriana.
Matthew Briggs (Fulham)
An England international at every level of youth football, Briggs made his debut for Fulham aged 16, two months and four days in May 2007 – making him the Premier League's youngest ever player. The left-back was a bit-part player in the Cottagers’ run to the Europa League final three years later, but was never able to nail down a regular place in the starting XI, and made just 29 appearances in seven years at the club.
Briggs was released in 2014 and moved across the capital to join Millwall, for whom his eventful debut featured the winning goal and a red card. The defender played only 11 more games for the Lions before moving to Colchester, which preceded spells at Chesterfield, Barnet and Essex non-league outfit Maldon & Tiptree.
Mark Kennedy (Liverpool)
An 18-year-old Kennedy burst onto the scene by scoring Millwall’s winner against Arsenal in a 1995 FA Cup clash. That strike, and the youngster’s impressive development at The Den since his debut two seasons earlier, persuaded Liverpool to hand over £1.5m for his signature in March of that year.
That fee made him the most expensive teenager in British football history, but it proved to be a poor investment; the Irishman played just 18 games in three years and was farmed out on loan to QPR in order for him to get some first-team minutes. Spells with Wimbledon, Manchester City, Wolves, Crystal Palace, Cardiff and Ipswich followed, but Kennedy never managed to live up to his early billing as the next big thing.
Jose Baxter (Everton)
An Everton player from the age of six, Baxter broke a number of the club’s youth records previously held by Wayne Rooney, Ian Rush and Michael Owen. There was thus understandable excitement surrounding the forward even before he became the Toffees’ youngest ever player in a meeting with Blackburn, but Baxter rejected a new contract in 2012 as he sought more regular first-team football.
A proposed switch to Crystal Palace fell through, though, and Baxter instead found himself in League One with Oldham. He later moved to Sheffield United but was banned from the game in 2015 after failing a drugs test, which the Bootle-born midfielder claimed was the result of a spiked drink.
Fabio da Silva (Manchester United)
Fabio and twin brother Rafael joined United from Fluminense in 2007, but the former never quite kept pace with his sibling at Old Trafford. Fabio impressed in his first pre-season but a shoulder injury delayed his competitive bow; when he finally made it into the first team in 2009/10, the left-back was sent off on his second appearance against Wolves in the League Cup.
Fabio did start the 2011 Champions League Final against Barcelona, which was undoubtedly the highlight of his time at the club. But despite his lofty reputation as a teenager, the Brazilian was only ever a bit-part player at United.
He's done perfectly fine for himself since, though: after spending Premier League campaigns on loan at QPR and Cardiff, Fabio joined the latter permanently in January 2014. Middlesbrough snapped him up for their Premier League return in August 2016, and he stayed at the Riverside for two seasons before Ligue 1 Nantes came calling this summer.