Teen sensations who soon faded
There's nothing that gets supporters' pulses racing quite like a talented teenager breaking into the first team and making an immediate impact. Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney and Nicolas Anelka are among those who have debuted young and gone on to enjoy excellent careers, but not every gifted prospect is able to maintain an upward trajectory.
In this slideshow, we pick out 20 Premier League teen sensations who quickly faded into obscurity...
Giuseppe Rossi (Manchester United)
Described by Alex Ferguson as the most natural finisher to come out of the Manchester United youth system since Paul Scholes, Rossi was expected to become a first-team regular at Old Trafford. He got off to a brilliant start by scoring against Sunderland on his Premier League debut, but the Italian was soon loaned out to Newcastle and Parma, before being sold to Villarreal in 2007.
Ferguson ensured United had a buy-back option on the striker, but Rossi never returned to Old Trafford. His career has been consistently disrupted by serious knee injuries, with the luckless forward forced to spend virtually the entirety of 2012/13 and 2014/15 on the sidelines. Fortunately, he has just avoided a doping ban following his positive test for the banned substance dorzolamide.
Jose Baxter (Everton)
Baxter joined Everton at the age of six and consistently impressed coaches as he rose through the academy. Given that the forward had broken a number of the club’s youth records previously held by Wayne Rooney, Ian Rush and Michael Owen, there was significant excitement when he broke into the first team as the Toffees’ youngest ever player in 2008.
Further opportunities weren’t forthcoming, though, so Baxter rejected a new contract in 2012 and set his sights on a move to Crystal Palace – a deal which fell through and forced the Bootle-born attacker to sign for League One Oldham instead. Baxter later joined Sheffield United but was banned from football in 2015 after failing a drugs test, which the man himself blamed on a spiked drink.
Michael Bridges (Sunderland)
Bridges’ breakthrough at Sunderland in 1996/97 represented a rare bright spot in a disappointing season which saw the Black Cats demoted in 18th place. The striker only scored three times but impressed with the maturity of his displays, before helping the northeast club back into the top flight.
Leeds’ search for a successor to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who had joined Atletico Madrid, led them to Bridges, who scored 19 league goals in his debut season at Elland Road. Unfortunately for both player and club he never hit those heights again, leaving Leeds in 2004 and spending the next five years moving between lower-league sides.
Matthew Briggs (Fulham)
After catching the eye of first-team boss Lawrie Sanchez with his displays for Fulham’s reserve side, Briggs was handed his senior debut as a 16-year-old towards the end of 2006/07 – and is still the Premier League's youngest ever player. The left-back failed to make a single appearance for the Cottagers in the three subsequent seasons, however, and he was then sent out on four separate loan spells between 2010 and 2014.
Briggs then joined 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.
Michael Branch (Everton)
Born and brought up just a few miles from Goodison Park, Branch took no time at all to adjust to the demands of Premier League football, scoring three goals and producing several more impressive performances in his breakout campaign of 1996/97.
The forward failed to kick on as expected, though, and was sent out on loan to Manchester City, Birmingham and Wolves before joining the latter on a permanent basis in 2000. Branch made a similarly fast start at Molineux but dropped down the pecking order when Dave Jones took charge a year later, with the striker going on to turn out for Bradford and Chester in the Football League.
Malcolm Christie (Derby)
The original Jamie Vardy, 18-year-old Christie was working part-time in a supermarket and playing for non-league Nuneaton Borough before being snapped up by Derby. He soon went from stacking shelves to scoring goals in the Premier League, making the net bulge on 12 occasions in 2000/01 – more than any other Rams player.
Christie was unable to maintain his upward trajectory, though, and his form tailed off as Derby were relegated to the First Division. He was sold to Middlesbrough in 2003 and scored on his first start against neighbours Sunderland, but injuries restricted him to just 43 league outings in four years. Forced to retire in 2009 because of a back problem, Christie later found work as a car salesman.
Carl Cort (Wimbledon)
A towering centre-forward who stood at 6ft 4in, Cort was the perfect fit for Joe Kinnear’s long-ball game at Wimbledon. The targetman broke into the first team in 1997/98 and instantly hit the ground running, scoring in the first minute as the Dons beat Newcastle 3-1.
Cort would join the Magpies following the capital club’s relegation in 2000, but a series of injuries and a failure to settle off the pitch meant he was never able to recapture his form on Tyneside. Cort later shone at Wolves, but subsequent spells at Leicester, Marbella, Norwich, Brentford and the Tampa Bay Rodwies were less successful.
Fabio da Silva (Manchester United)
The Da Silva twins, Fabio and Rafael, crossed the Atlantic to join Manchester United from Fluminense in 2007. The latter was the bigger success at Old Trafford, making 169 appearances compared to his brother’s 56, but there was little to choose between them when they first rocked up in the northwest of England.
In fact, it was Fabio who impressed most in the siblings’ first pre-season, but a shoulder injury delayed his competitive bow. The left-back finally made it into the first team in 2009/10 and went on to start the 2011 Champions League Final against Barcelona, but despite his lofty reputation as a teenager the Brazilian was only ever a bit-part player at United.
Mikael Forssell (Chelsea)
Signed from HJK in his native Finland at the tender age of 17, Forssell scored twice on his Chelsea debut against Oxford in the League Cup, before notching another goal in a Premier League clash with Nottingham Forest soon after. It looked as if the Blues had unearthed a real gem, but the arrival of Chris Sutton led to Forssell being shipped out for the first of five loan moves in 2000.
The striker did well at Borussia Monchengladbach and in two spells each at Crystal Palace and Birmingham, but he remained way down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge. The Finn opted to sign permanently for Birmingham in 2005, before going on to represent Hannover, Leeds, Bochum, HIFK and first club HJK.
Danny Cadamarteri (Everton)
Cadamarteri was tipped for greatness when he scored four Premier League goals in the first three months of 1997/98, including a memorable strike against local rivals Liverpool. An 18-year-old who was emerging at around the same time as Reds hotshot Michael Owen, the Toffees academy product was quickly tied down to a long-term deal at Goodison Park.
Yet while the goals continued to flow for Owen, Cadamarteri went a whole year without making the net rippled. His Everton career then hit a nadir when he was convicted of assault in 2001, an episode which paved the way for his departure to Braford the following year. Cadamarteri later played for eight more clubs, including Sheffield United, Huddersfield and Carlisle.
Ritchie Humphreys (Sheffield Wednesday)
Humphreys was thrust into the first-team picture at Sheffield Wednesday in 1996 when injuries to David Hirst and Mark Bright saw him join the Owls’ pre-season tour of the Netherlands. After the striker scored three goals in two games, expectations went through the roof when an impressed onlooker by the name of Johan Cruyff unhelpfully compared him to Dutch legend Marco van Basten.
Humphreys transferred his pre-season form to the big stage when he netted three times in his first four Premier League games, including a superb chip against Leicester which brought him the Goal of the Month award for September. He wasn’t able to sustain his form, however, and Humphreys ended up spending most of his career in Leagues One and Two.
Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United)
Januzaj helped Belgium to a third-place finish at the World Cup in Russia and is currently strutting his stuff for Real Sociedad in La Liga, so it would be erroneous to claim he’s faded into obscurity. It is, however, fair to say that the winger hasn’t yet lived up to the hype which surrounded his first season at Old Trafford.
The 18-year-old was perhaps the only positive to come out of David Moyes’s stint as Manchester United manager, with Januzaj one of the team’s standout performers in the first half of the campaign. Things soon went downhill for the Belgian, who struggled on loan at Borussia Dortmund and Sunderland, but he now looks to be getting his career back on track in the Basque Country.
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 1999/00 and seven the following campaign, despite being limited to just 14 appearances due to injury problems.
The striker turned down a new deal at on Merseyside in 2001 and instead moved to Arsenal for £8m, with Arsene Wenger describing him as someone who was “obsessed with scoring goals”. Yet Jeffers scored only eight goals for the Gunners before moving to Charlton, where he also struggled. The one-time England international later played for eight clubs in England, Scotland, Australia and Malta.
Collins John (Fulham)
Not to be confused with former Fulham midfielder John Collins, the Dutch striker was an instant hit after joining the Cottagers from Twente in January 2004. The teenager bagged four goals in his first three games for the west Londoners, a terrific start which made his £600,000 transfer fee look like a bargain.
John’s steady progress continued until 2005/06, when he scored 11 Premier League goals and helped the Netherlands triumph at the European Under-21 Championship. But the sharp-shooter soon misplaced his shooting boots and duly lost his place in the Fulham team under Lawrie Sanchez – a setback from which he never really recovered. Still only 32, the Liberia-born forward was last spotted playing for USL side Pittsburgh Riverhounds in 2014.
Michael Johnson (Manchester City)
Manchester City may have finished ninth in the Premier League in 2007/08, but it was a campaign to forget for the club’s fans. Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side brought the curtain down on the season with a dismal 8-1 defeat by Middlesbrough, while owner Thaksin Shinawatra was never far away from the headlines off the field.
The emergence of Johnson was a clear plus point, though, with the midfielder likened to England internationals Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard by former Three Lions boss Eriksson. Yet Johnson was unable to stay on the straight and narrow, as a combination of injuries and off-field misdemeanours saw his career unravel. The two-time England Under-21 international hasn’t played professionally since being released by City in 2012, and was last seen working as an estate agent in Urmston.
Mark Kennedy (Liverpool)
After catching the eye of scouts aplenty with his early displays for Millwall in the early to mid-1990s, Kennedy earned a dream £1.5m move to Liverpool. That fee made him the most expensive teenager in British football history, but it proved to be a poor investment by the Reds.
Indeed, the Irishman played just 16 Premier League matches in three years on Merseyside as it quickly became clear that his youthful promise was not reflective of his overall ability. Spells with Wimbledon, Manchester City, Wolves, Crystal Palace, Cardiff and Ipswich followed his Anfield exit, but Kennedy was never able to live up to his early billing.
Federico Macheda (Manchester United)
Macheda had the debut every youngster dreams of, scoring the winner against Aston Villa in second-half stoppage time to keep Manchester United in pole position in the 2008/09 Premier League title race. The Italian striker then added another goal to his tally against Sunderland a week later, but he soon fell out of favour after Alex Ferguson refused to grant his wish of a loan move to Serie A.
Released by United in 2014, Macheda embarked on fruitless spells with Cardiff, Nottingham Forest and Novara, scoring just 16 league goals in four seasons. Still only 27, the former Red Devil is now attempting to rebuild his reputation in Greece with Panathinaikos.
Fran Merida (Arsenal)
Milan and Real Madrid were both keen on Barcelona prospect Merida in 2005, but Arsenal won the race for the 16-year-old’s signature. Two years later he made his debut as a substitute against Newcastle in the League Cup – the first of three appearances the youngster made in the competition that campaign.
A loan switch to Real Sociedad in December 2007 gave Merida a platform to showcase his skills and helped convince Arsene Wenger to hand the Spaniard a new contract in 2008, but he wasn’t able to make the final step up into the Gunners first team. Merida joined Atletico Madrid in 2010 but failed to make much of an impact; he can now be found playing for Osasuna in the second tier.
Freddie Sears (West Ham)
Notching a hat-trick against Millwall at any level is a guaranteed way to endear yourself to West Ham fans, with Sears’ treble for the club’s under-18s in 2007 bringing him to the attention of those on the Upton Park terraces. The homegrown striker was expected to become a first-team fixture in east London, particularly after he grabbed the winner against Blackburn in his maiden Premier League appearance.
Sears scored just once more in his next 45 league outings for West Ham, though, and was equally goal-shy during loan spells at Crystal Palace, Coventry and Scunthorpe (no strikes in 38 games).
James Vaughan (Everton)
Vaughan surpassed Wayne Rooney when he struck against Crystal Palace on his Everton debut at the age of 16 years and 271 days, becoming the youngster scorer in Premier League history. Comparisons with the then-Manchester United marksman were inevitable thereafter, but injuries checked Vaughan’s progress as he made just eight starts for the Toffees before joining Norwich in 2011.
Playing time was similarly hard to come by in East Anglia, with Vaughan playing just five top-flight matches for the Canaries before dropping down to the Championship with Huddersfield and Birmingham. After a prolific spell with Bury in League One, he’s now back in the second tier with Wigan.