A little over a year ago, Renato Sanches was one of the hottest young commodities in European football. In 2016 he won the Portuguese Primeira Liga with Benfica and helped Portugal win the European Championship. On Wednesday, a Renato Sanches pass was so bad it nearly brought his coach to tears.
AC Milan’s Gianluigi Donnarumma, Toulouse’s Alban Lafont, Benfica’s Mile Svilar and Glenavon’s Conner Byrne: while all are teenage goalkeepers playing senior football in Europe, only one stands alongside Freddy Adu as having made their professional debut at age 14 (and perhaps as also having an insatiable thirst for Sierra Mist, but that’s totally unfounded at this point).
Five-year-old Thiago Messi is obviously too young to understand that there’s nothing more serious than a football awards gala. That’s why FIFA and UEFA spend hours patting themselves on the back while dragging out an exercise that should really only take roughly 10-15 minutes. It’s a place for old men in expensive suits to enjoy upper, upper class high society, not general mirth.
Here at The18, I’m in charge of the children. I keep tabs on all the babies, I have baby skills — why can’t you understand that? What the hell is wrong with you people?!
Scoring a hat-trick in Europe’s premier club competition is no mean feat, especially so as an adolescent teenager between the ages of 13 and 19. The list of players to have accomplished the goalscoring achievement reads like a who’s who of the world’s greatest talent since the tournament’s adoption in 1992.
In fact, only 18 players have multiple Champions League hat-tricks to their name, with both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo having accomplished the task a staggering seven times. Nobody else has recorded more than three.
For those who watched any of this fall’s 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, you might’ve noticed one distinct trait which unified the entire playing field. Whether the teenagers on show played for India, Mali, Honduras or New Caledonia, they all tried their best to look like Neymar.
With socks worn above the knees, a right wrist covered in orthopedic tape, hair shorn on the sides and left to do whatever up top, you could tell the youths were focused on the task at hand but also in a revery over what their tattoo sleeves would look like come their 18th birthday.
As far as debuts go, it doesn’t get any better than this. 19-year-old Texan Weston McKennie, fresh off breaking into Schalke’s first team in the Bundesliga and earning his first cap for the USMNT, put his country ahead against the world’s third-ranked side, Portugal.
It’s just not going well for Borussia Dortmund at the moment. BVB look almost certainties for an early Champions League exit at the hands of Tottenham and Real Madrid, and the Bundesliga gap to Bayern Munich stands at six points following a 3-1 Der Klassiker defeat on November 4.
Alex Collado, born in the city of Sabadell in Catalonia (the birthplace of Sergio Busquets), joined La Masia back in 2011 as a 12-year-old. The central midfielder has since risen through the club’s youth ranks, appearing for Barca’s Juvenil A (the premier U-19 side and the final stage of progression at La Masia) throughout the 2016-17 season as a 17-year-old.
Collado played a vital role in Barca’s run to the semifinals of last year's UEFA Youth League, which culminated in a 2-1 defeat to eventual champions Red Bull Salzburg.