Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Arsenal youngster scored 10 against Liverpool – but teenage stardom is a dangerous beast

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There is good reason to believe that Obi will avoid that fate. He has already trained with Mikel Arterta’s first team, a level never reached by poor Sonny Pike whose football career rose and fell with a trial Ajax at the age of 13. Obi is not yet featured on Football Manager, being below its minimum age of 16, so cannot be invested with the hopes of a million wannabe Artetas, as Samba once was. And he has played youth football for Denmark (as well as being eligible for Nigeria and England). As such, he does not carry the weight of a nation looking for its Pele, like Adu.

There is another category of hyped footballing teen who have stellar careers. Scott Parker, star of a McDonalds advert at 13, played for 20 years and won FWA Footballer of the Year in 2011. Joe Cole, singled out for glory at West Ham at about the same age as Obi, won the Premier League three times with Chelsea and both domestic cups. Even a player like Jermaine Pennant, who Arsenal signed at 15 for a then-record £2 million from Notts County, eventually reached Liverpool, Zaragoza and a Champions League final.

These are careers most young footballers, let alone most people, would kill for. And yet even with someone as garlanded as Cole, anyone who can remember his teenage hype might feel shortchanged. This is because potential is exponential in the imagination. It is assumed any player who looks oceans apart from their opponents at youth level will continue on that path. Easy to forget that once they reach senior football most of their peers were once also unplayable teenage geniuses.

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