Sunday, April 12, 2009

Youthful Impact

By now, everyone who is a football fan would have heard of the name Federico "Kiko" Macheda, the 17 year-old Italian stallion who has broken Liverpool supporters' hearts twice in the last two weeks.

image from Yahoo! news

17 years old? Yup, he sure doesn't look like 17...his physique looks more like 25 and heck he has more muscles than the scrawny Dimi Berbatov! Yet, we need not be surprised at the impact he has I recall, really great players break into soccer stardom very early on.

For example, Wayne Rooney was 16 years and 360 days when he scored his first Premiership goal against Arsenal, ending the Gunners' unbeaten run. That was the game that truly announced Rooney's arrival onto the English football scene. Wazza made his international debut for England also at 17, and by scoring against Macedonia, he also became the youngest goalscorer for Engand at 17 years old.

Michael Owen scored as a substitute for Liverpool in May 1997 aged 17. Who could forget his slaloming run and goal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup....that goal must have put a few more zeroes onto Owen's value.

Paolo Maldini, AC Milan's evergreen defender, made his debut at 17 against Udinese. Two years later, he was a Scudetto winner. The great Johann Cruyff made his first team debut at 17 years old where he scored for Ajax against Groningen. In subsequent years, Cruyff became the catalyst of a sustained period of Ajax dominance of the Dutch Eredivisie.

Cesc Fabregas staked his claim as the Arsenal midfield general at the tender age of 16 years and 117 days. He has gone on from strength to strength since then, emerging as one of the best midfielders in the world.

Ronaldo, O Fenomeno, was a non-playing member of the 1994 Brazilian World Cup winning team. He was 17 years old then. Even at 17, he had already scored 12 goals in 14 appearances for Cruzeiro and have won the Brazilian Cup. That prompted PSV Eindhoven to bring him to Europe and the rest is history. The closest thing so far to O Fenomeno is Cristiano Ronaldo, but even CR7 would struggle to be as effective as the buck toothed one.

Age therefore is clearly just a number, if you are good enough, then you are old enough. Perhaps the greatest impact that an unknown 17 year old have had on global soccer is to win the World Cup. That was what Pele did in the 1958 World Cup, scoring two goals in the Final as Brazil beat Sweden 5-2. The greatest player of all time burst onto the international soccer scene at 17 years old, winning the World Cup in the process! Who says you can't win anything with kids? If the kids are good enough, anything is possible.

17 years old Kiko Macheda may well have won the Premiership for Manchester United with those two crucial strikes.

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