Stories

What happened to the youngest teenager of every World Cup from 1958 to 2014?

Christian Eriksen youngest player 2010

They arrived at these major events with twinkles in their eyes and spring in their steps – but how did things turn out thereafter? Gary Parkinson traces the teens...

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1958: Pele, Brazil (23/10/40)

Pele 1958

Pele did absolutely nothing in Brazil’s first two games at Sweden '58: he was still out with an injury. When he recovered, his team-mates demanded the kid start the next game – and so he did, aged 17 years and 235 days, creating Vava’s second goal as Brazil coasted into the knockouts.

He scored the quarter-final winner against Wales; a second-half semi-final hat-trick against France; and two goals in the final against the hosts, the first by outrageously flicking the ball over a defender before volleying into the corner of the net. At the final whistle he collapsed, and when he came round he promptly burst into tears.

1962: Gianni Rivera, Italy (18/08/43)

Gianni Rivera 1962

Most golden boys lose their lustre along the way, but Rivera remained Il Golden Boy for decades. It helps that he represented Milan more than 650 times, won 60 caps, was part of the team that triumphed at Euro ‘68 and scored the winner in the 1970 semi-final. These things keep the shine on.

Even in 1962, the 18-year-old had a big name: he’d helped Italy to the Olympic semis in 1960 and Milan to the 1962 Serie A title. The following summer, he’d set up both goals in Milan’s European Cup final win. At Chile '62 he was restricted to one appearance – but bigger moments awaited.

1966: Edu, Brazil (06/08/49)

Edu 1966

Brazil’s taste for taking young strikers to World Cups isn’t just about Pele '58 and Ronaldo '94. Aged 16 years and 339 days when the first whistle blew in 1966, Jonas Eduardo Americo became and remains the youngest ever World Cup squad member.

A mate of Pele’s, the left-winger had impressed enough on his early showings for Santos to be taken to England. He didn’t get any time on-pitch as the double champions were dumped from the competition, but he did play at Mexico '70 and West Germany '74. Like his pal Pele, he spent most of his career at Santos but had a later spell further north – in his case, six years at Mexican outfit Tigres.

1970: Julio Losada, Uruguay (16/06/50)

One of eight Peñarol players in a squad which also contained eight Nacional men, Losada started two group games against Israel and Sweden… and never appeared for the Celeste again. Coach Juan Hohberg left straight after the World Cup, and successive replacements didn’t feel the need to call upon Losada again.

Diminutive but ferocious, Losada took the counterintuitive step of switching to Olympiakos in 1972. He became something of a club legend there, winning four league titles during his eight-year spell. Among non-Greeks, only Predrag Dordevic has made more appearances for the Piraeus club.

1974: Vladimir Petrovic, Yugoslavia (01/07/55)

Vladimir Petrovic 1974

Although Argentina '78 hero Mario Kempes took teenage tiptoes into World Cup action in West Germany, the even younger Petrovic was almost an old hand. He’d made his Red Star Belgrade debut at 16, and had already been in the national side for a year before a World Cup in which he played twice.

Affectionately known as the Pigeon, the slight ball-player won five league titles with Red Star before finally being allowed to leave on New Year’s Day 1983. He became Arsenal’s first big foreign signing and showed flashes of brilliance, but was soon kicked over the Channel to Belgium and later played in France too. A wandering managerial career started at Red Star and has included Greece, Belarus, China, Romania, Iraq and Yemen.