21 Nov 2013

When things get Messi: the fate of football’s child stars

Argentinian eight-year-old Claudio Gabriel Nancufil is the latest infant grabbing headlines for his amazing football skills. We wish him very well, but urge his mum to check this page.

Football fans around the world are going wild for this little chap’s silky skills with YouTube montages (set soundtrack to: epic) whizzing round the internet faster than videos of Rob Ford.

Little Claudio Gabriel Nancufil is only eight (oddly enough he looks even younger) but his ability on the pitch makes the England team look like Dad’s Army. Despite his tiny proportions “Snow Messi” is making a big impact, with footballing giants Manchester United and Chelsea among the clubs taking a keen interest.

And if you find his nickname a bit baffling we’re not ashamed to admit we had to Google it too. Messi because he plays a bit like Barcelona and Argentina hero Lionel Messi, who apparently looked just like Claudio as a kid. And Snow? Nothing to do with our own in-house sporting legend. It’s because he comes from Bariloche in the foothills of the Andes mountains. Where it snows. Brilliant, eh?

Reports of child prodigies in football are of course nothing new. Sadly, it remains a game of two halves. And the second half doesn’t always go to plan.

Channel 4 News rifles through YouTube for the ones who fulfilled their promise – and the cautionary tales of the ones that got away.

Charlie Edwards. Charlie caught the eye of football scouts at the age of three back in 2007, delighting the Macclesfield Express among others. But where is he now? In fairness, he’s probably playing Moshi Monsters, his career yet to flourish. That’s because he’s nine (yes, we can add six to three).

Erik Lamela. Like mini Messi, an Argentinian, Lamela appeared on Transworld Sport as a 12-year-old (below). Nine years on he’s changed his hairdo. Oh yes and he plays for Spurs.

Rhain Davis. Rhain left his sunny homeland in Brisbane, Australia, for rhainy Manchester back in 2008 after United scouts saw a DVD of the then nine-year-old in action. Now 15 he is eligible to sign a professional contract, so could it still be glory, glory Man United? Or why does it always Rhain on me? Tweet us @Channel4News if you know anything of his progress (and sorry for the terrible puns).

Freddy Adu. What did he do? Born in Ghana, at 14 he was branded the “next Pelé”. He became a US citizen in 2003, the youngest goalscorer in the history of Major League Soccer in 2004, then became a regular in the USA team. But, at an elderly 24, the midfielder today finds himself looking to join his tenth club. And no-one speaks of Pele anymore. Ever.

Kerlon Moura Souza. Known simply as “Kerlon” he found fame through his dribble. More accurately the “seal dribble” – that’s seal as in the whiskered mammal with the mournful eyes. Why? Because of his talent for balancing/bouncing the ball on his head whilst running. The Brazilian was supposed to be the next big star of world football. He now performs hourly at the Sea Life Centre in Weymouth. Only joking, he plays for little known Japanese team Fujieda MYFC.

Sonny Pike. Luke “Sonny” Pike was spotted, aged seven, playing for Leyton Orient’s youth team. He was quickly snapped up by Dutch giants Ajax. After his time in Holland, he made appearances for Stevenage, Barnet, Enfield, Waltham Forest and Dryburgh Saints. But he never lived up to the George Best comparisons and suffered a breakdown in 2000. He later attended Dundee University but not much is known about his life since. Here he is on Fantasy Football League back in the 1990s, successfully tackling Frank Skinner and David Baddiel.

Jon Snow*. Good at cycling. Not quite so great at spinning a football on his finger. *Not enormously young but any excuse to roll out this clip on Vine.

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