Life as a young footballer can be tough. The expectation, the pressure, the uncertainty over the future.
Those trying to make it often heap enough pressure on themselves so, suffice to say, it doesn’t help when they’re asked to wear the dubious moniker of ‘wonderkid’.
Football’s relationship with the word ‘wonderkid’ is complicated. Every once in a while, a footballer lives up to, or even surpasses, the hype. More often than not, though, the immense expectations can prove too heavy a burden.
It’s particularly bad for Brazilians. Fans and tabloid writers are constantly looking for the ‘next Ronaldinho’, ‘next Kaká’ or ‘next Neymar’.
It can be suffocating for a player who is yet to exit his teenage years. Here, we look at seven.
Like Nani, the central midfielder was one of the most sought-after talents in Europe when he arrived at Old Trafford. However, while Nani largely fulfilled his promise (United’s 2010/11 Player of the Year), Anderson’s time in the Premier League was less successful.
Having come through the ranks at Grêmio, Anderson was named the player of the tournament award at the FIFA U17 world championship in 2005. However, having shone at Porto, Anderson struggled with the English game and was often criticised for his inconsistency and lack of fitness.
He had the odd decent game for United – memorably partnering Owen Hargreaves in a 1-0 win over Liverpool at Anfield in December 2007 – but wasn’t fancied by Louis van Gaal, who sent him on loan to Fiorentina in 2014. He then spent three years back in Brazil with Internacional. Now 30, he’s currently with Adana Demirspor in the Turkish second tier.
Pato has always been a gifted player, of that there is no doubt. Perhaps the most unanswerable demonstration of his talent came at the Camp Nou in September 2011.
Then with AC Milan, the forward single-handedly tore the defence that would go on to win that season’s Champions League to pieces, scoring one of the competition’s great goals inside 24 seconds while Barcelona‘s players were still adjusting their shinpads.
Unfortunately, Pato’s brilliance was often delivered in snapshots, often either side of a niggling injury.
Having debuted with Internacional aged just 16, his Brazilian wonderkid status earned him a move to Milan, where he spent six injury-ravaged years before returning to Brazil with Corinthians in 2013.
His nomadic career since has taken in forgettable spells with Chelsea and Villarreal and he is now scoring goals for fun in the Chinese Super League with Tianjin Quanjin. He’s still only 29 but the last of his 27 caps for Brazil came back in 2013.
Some players become synonymous with a certain move. From Ricardo Quaresma’s trivela to Ronaldinho’s elastico, they’re showstopping signature moves and the closest footballers get to delivering their version of a finisher you’d see from a WWE wrestler.
Kerlon’s audacious and unmistakable ‘seal dribble’ earned him widespread recognition, his emergence coinciding with the rising popularity of YouTube.
He had an end product, too, scoring eight times in seven games to clinch the Golden Boot ands Best Player awards at the 2005 South American U17 Football Championship in Venezuela.
A big move to European was inevitable and, indeed, much was expected of Kerlon and his forehead when he joined Inter in 2008. From there, he began a lamentable slide into obscurity, failing to make a senior appearance for the Nerazzurri and failing to stand out during loan stints at Chievo Verona and Ajax.
After leaving Inter in 2012, the attacking midfielder popped up at clubs in Japan, the United States, Malta and Slovakia before announcing his retirement at the age of 29 in 2017.
Widely regarded as one of Barcelona’s worst signings, Keirrison is another Brazilian wonderkid currently without a club.
And it all started so brightly. Top scorer of the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A in 2008 with 21 goals, Keirrison moved from Coritiba to Palmeiras and quickly onto Barcelona in the space of six months.
Five years and as many loan deals later, he was back at Coritiba, having failed to make a single appearance at the Camp Nou. Unconvinced by his temporary spells, particularly at Benfica and Fiorentina, he was shipped back to Brazil, where he mostly stayed until leaving second-tier side Londrina in 2018.
Barça didn’t master the transfer market in the summer of ’09, also bringing in notorious flop Dmytro Chygrynskiy.
With two La Liga titles and a Serie A to his name, not to mention a century of caps for the seleção, Robinho is undoubtedly the most distinguished and decorated member on this list.
And, considering what he achieved, his inclusion may seem dubious to some. However, it’s difficult to overestimate the hype that surrounded the tricky winger before he joined Real Madrid in 2005.
A star at Santos, Robinho was likened to the club’s most famous son, Pelé. The legend himself did little to temper expectations around the youngster: “We have to thank God that another Pelé has landed at Santos.”
His big-money move to the Spanish capital was followed by a string of starring displays as Robinho proved crucial in Los Blancos’ title win in 2007.
Ironically, hitting peak superstardom with a stunning deadline day transfer to Manchester City in 2008 was as good as it got. He started brightly in England, ending his first season with 15 goals. His sophomore year in the Premier League bore little fruit, though, and he was sent back to Santos on loan in 2010.
Despite contributing to Milan’s Serie A success in 2011, Robinho has been a largely peripheral figure in recent years but was in the headlines for the wrong reasons in November 2017 when an Italian court sentenced him in absentia to nine years in prison after convicting him of participating in a gang rape of an Albanian woman in a Milanese nightclub in 2013.
Despite that conviction, he has since signed for two Turkish clubs: Sivasspor and İstanbul Başakşehir.
If you were to guess at the most expensive player in world football in 1998, you’d probably come up with Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos or Rivaldo.
In fact, it was a less-heralded Brazilian. Yes, Denílson, having risen to prominence with São Paulo, cost Real Betis £21.5million ahead of the 1998/99 season.
However, 18 months after his debut, the Andulasians were relegated and the midfielder was sent on loan to Flamengo. Although he returned and eventually won the Copa del Rey with Betis, that proved to be his last stand in Spain.
Sold to Bordeaux, he spent one year in France and played for six other clubs in five different countries before hanging up his boots in 2010.
Denílson earned 61 caps for Brazil and was part of the squad that won the 2002 World Cup – although his five appearances all came off the bench – but, having broken the transfer record, he never quite lived up to the billing.
As ludicrous as it seems now, if you were to ask a Santos fan ten years ago who was going to make it between Ganso and Neymar, they probably would have chosen the former.
The pair exploded onto the scene at Santos, starring in their Copa do Brasil and Copa Libertadores triumphs in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
However, while Neymar has since established himself as one of the world’s finest players, Ganso has become Brazil’s forgotten man.
The playmaker’s move to Europe came much later than Neymar’s – and the destination wasn’t quite as glamorous. But, after joining Sevilla from São Paulo in 2016, Ganso struggled, his misery compounded when he was left out of their Champions League squad last season.
After a brief loan stint at French side Amiens, he joined Fluminense on a five-year deal at the end of January. As Neymar plots European domination with Paris Saint-Germain, his former teammate is simply looking to resuscitate his career much closer to home.