Where Are They Now? #12 – World Soccer’s Most Exciting Teen Footballers 2007 (#26-50)

In 2007, World Soccer magazine released their list of the top 50 most exciting young prospects in world football. A lot of these players made it based on performances in the U17 World Cup just a few months earlier. Nearly 7 years on, we look back and see what has happened to them…

Note: list order, positions etc. is taken from here

#26 – Kerlon (Striker, Cruzeiro/Brazil)


Yes, it is the “seal dribble” guy. Kerlon was the second Cruzeiro player on the list and the one who grabbed all the headlines. Having made his debut in 2006, Kerlon proceeded to use the dribble during games and was very often taken out (rather brutally here) but he never really showed much past that. Still, Inter Milan were impressed enough to sign him in a confusing transfer that saw him join Chievo instead so Inter didn’t use up their non-EU quota space. Sadly, his time in Italy was a huge failure, mostly down to persistent injuries. He never played for Inter and 4 different loan spells only produced 5 appearances. He was released by Inter in 2012 and joined Fujieda MYFC in the Japanese third tier. Kerlon recently left Fujieda and is currently without a club.

#27 – Toni Kroos (Attacking Midfielder, Bayern Munich/Germany)


Officially the best player at the U17 World Cup, Kroos also made his Bayern debut in 2007 becoming their youngest player ever in the process (since been beaten by David Alaba). He finished the 2007/08 season with 20 appearances in all competitions but found game time hard to come by the following season. He was sent on an 18 month loan to Bayer Leverkusen in January 2009 where Kroos began to really show fans what he could do. His performances in Leverkusen earned him international recognition in 2010 and a place at the World Cup. Kroos returned to Bayern that summer and has been a regular in the side ever since, helping the Bavarian giants to a league title, Champions League and numerous other honours. Kroos has won 41 caps for Germany to date, scoring 5 goals.

#28 – Juan Mata (Attacking Midfielder, Valencia/Spain)

Mata 2

Allowed to leave Real Madrid in the summer of 2007, Mata instantly became a regular at new club Valencia helping them to the Copa del Rey in 2008. His performances continued to improve despite star players like David Villa and David Silva leaving the Mestalla and eventually Mata was the star man. He too left, though, for Chelsea in the summer of 2011. His move was a great success with Mata named Chelsea’s Player of the Year in his first two seasons and helping the team to FA Cup, Champions League and Europa League success. However, the arrival of manager Jose Mourinho in 2013 saw Mata’s playing time decrease and he was recently allowed to join rivals Manchester United in a big money move. Mata made his Spain debut in 2009 and has won 32 caps, scoring 9 goals and winning the World Cup and European Championships.

#29 – Lulinha (Attacking Midfielder, Corinthians/Brazil)


An attacking midfielder with a goalscoring touch, Lulinha scored an incredible 15 goals in just 10 games for the Brazilian U17 side and was one of the standouts at the World Cup. He made his debut for Corinthians in 2007 and helped them to a Serie B title, the Sao Paulo State title and a Copa do Brasil. He was allowed to leave on loan in 2009 to get more game time and he ended up on loan with three different clubs – Estoril and Olhanense in Portugal and Bahia in Brazil. After three seasons away on loan, Lulinha was allowed to leave Corinthians in 2013 for Ceara where he helped his new side to the state championship. Lulinha only recently joined current club Criciuma.

#30 – Sapol Mani (Midfielder, Maranatha/Togo)


Playmaker Mani impressed at the U17 World Cup for Togo and was soon courted by clubs such as PSG and Monaco in France. However, he opted to leave first club Maranatha for Al-Ittihad of Libya. Mani was a hit in Libya, winning the league title and scoring the winner in the derby against Al-Ahli Tripoli. However, his progress was stunted somewhat as he was involved in a serious car accident in 2009. Fortunately, he recovered and in 2012 he left Libya for current club CA Batna in Algeria. Mani made his international debut for Togo in 2008 and has won three caps to date, scoring once.

#31 – Cristian Nazarit (Striker, America de Cali/Colombia)


Another striker that banged in the goals at the U17 World Cup was Colombian Cristian Nazarit. Having come through the youth ranks at America, he was allowed to leave in 2008 for Independiente Santa Fe. In Santa Fe, Nazarit became a key player and was linked with a number of moves abroad. He didn’t make the move until 2011 when he joined MLS side Chicago Fire. His time in the States was not an overwhelming success as he managed just two goals and returned to Colombia in 2012 with Deportivo Cali. His time at Deportivo was short and he left for a short spell with Itagui in 2013 before joining current club Deportes Concepcion in Chile. Nazarit made his international debut in 2009 and has earned nine caps, scoring once.

#32 – Ransford Osei (Striker, Kesseben (now Medeama)/Ghana)


Another striker that exploded at the World Cup was Ghanaian Osei. He attracted attention after the World Cup and Israeli side Maccabi Haifa won the race to sign him. His time in Israel saw very few games played and he spent time on loan at Berekum Chelsea (Ghana), FC Twente (Holland) and Granada (Spain) to try and get some game time. Osei was allowed to leave Maccabi in 2012 for South African side Bloemfontein Celtic. However, a lack of game time saw him move on again, this time to current club Asante Kotoko in Ghana. Osei made his Ghana debut in 2007 and has won two caps to date.

#33 – Aaron Niguez (Striker, Valencia/Spain)


Another highly rated prospect in Spain was Valencia striker Niguez. Valencia sent him on many loan spells to try and get him some game time. He ended up in Spain with Xerez, Celta Vigo and Recreativo Huelva; in Scotland with Rangers and in Greece with Iraklis. Eventually, Niguez was allowed to leave permanently in 2011 for Almeria where he made around 50 appearances in 18 months before joining current club Elche in January 2013. He has yet to play for the full Spanish national team.

#34 – Daniel Opare (Right Back, Ashanti Gold/Ghana)


Another of the highly touted prospects at the U17 World Cup was full back Opare whose performances earned him a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid via Tunisian side CS Sfaxien. He appeared sporadically for the Castilla side (reserves) and eventually left in 2010 for current club Standard Liege in Belgium. In Liege he has developed into an important player for the club and helped them to a Belgian Cup triumph. Opare made his Ghana debut at 17 in 2007 and has won 10 caps to date.

#35 – Fran Merida (Midfielder, Arsenal/Spain)


A key component of the Spain side at the U17 World Cup, Merida was highly thought of at Arsenal making his debut in a League Cup tie in 2007. A loan spell at Real Sociedad gave him some much needed first team experience in 2008 but he never really progressed to a level where he got regular first team action at Arsenal. Indeed, his high point at the Emirates was scoring a memorable goal in a League Cup tie against Liverpool. He left Arsenal for Atletico Madrid in 2010 but again found games hard to come by and, after a very unsuccessful loan spell at Portuguese side Braga, he was allowed to join Hercules in 2012. Another disappointing spell followed as he struggled to make an impression and in February 2013, he joined current club Atletico Paranaense of Brazil. He has yet to play for the Spanish national team.

#36 – Nikolay Mihaylov (Goalkeeper, FC Twente (on loan from Liverpool)/Bulgaria)


Coming from a family of highly successful goalkeepers was tough enough for young Nikolay but he was very highly rated by many and was the only goalkeeper on the list. His big move to Liverpool was a problem issue immediately due to work permit issues and he spent all his time on loan at Dutch side FC Twente. It was here where Mihaylov began to get game time and he impressed enough in his time there to secure a permanent move in 2010. He established himself as first choice and was linked with a big move to other clubs throughout his time at Twente. He did eventually leave in 2013 for current club Verona in Italy. Mihaylov made his Bulgaria debut in 2006 and has won 28 caps to date.

#37 – Mesut Ozil (Attacking Midfielder, Schalke/Germany)


Coming through the ranks at hometown club Schalke, Ozil was tipped as a star of the future for the club but he was allowed to leave for Werder Bremen in January 2008 after falling out with management. It proved to be a good move for Ozil as he became the key man for Bremen, leading them to the UEFA Cup final and third place in the  Bundesliga. His form led to a number of clubs coveting him but he joined Real Madrid in 2010. It was here that Ozil matured, becoming a key member of the Madrid side that won the Copa del Rey and La Liga title. However, he was allowed to leave the club in 2013 for current club Arsenal in a massive transfer that left many Madrid fans and players unhappy. Ozil made his Germany debut in 2009 and has won 52 caps to date, scoring 17 times.

#38 – Andrea Russotto (Attacking Midfielder, Treviso (on loan from Bellinzona)/Italy)


The other Italian on the list, Russotto was in the final season of his three year loan at Treviso. He was loaned out again by Bellinzona, this time to Napoli but a lack of playing time saw him return in the summer of 2009. Russotto finally played for the Swiss side but was on the move in January 2010 with a loan to Crotone. Eventually, Russotto left Switzerland permanently when he joined Livorno in 2011 but he rarely played for his new team. Instead he went on a loan to Carrarese before joining current club U.S. Cantanzaro 1929 in 2012. He has yet to play for the Italian national team.

#39 – Renato Augusto (Attacking Midfielder, Flamengo/Brazil)


Yet another playmaker on the list was the Flamengo star Augusto. He quickly became a key man for Flamengo and helped them to a Copa do Brasil and two state titles before leaving for German side Bayer Leverkusen in 2008. Augusto became one of the star in Leverkusen and despite some injury problems, was loved by fans as well as being the subject of a number of big money bids from around Europe. Augusto did eventually leave Leverkusen in 2013 for current club Corinthians. Augusto mad his Brazil debut in 2011 and has 3 caps to date.

#40 – Henri Saivet (Attacker, Bordeaux/France)


A product of the Bordeaux youth system, Saivet made his debut in 2007 and helped Bordeaux to the Ligue 1 title and Coupe de la Ligue in 2009. He joined Angers on loan in 2011 for some extra game time but has since returned to Bordeaux (where he still plays) where he helped them win the Coupe de France in 2013. Saivet was a French youth international but switched allegiance to his county of birth, Senegal, in 2013. He has won two caps for Senegal to date.

#41 – Micah Richards (Right Back, Manchester City/England)


One of the more experienced players on the list, Richards was already a regular at City and a full England international in 2007. However, he picked up a serious knee injury in 2008 which hampered his progress. He returned as a regular for City but a number of injuries have held him back. He has however been key to Manchester City winning the Premier League and FA Cup in recent years. Richards made his England debut in 2006 and has won 13 caps, scoring once.

#42 – Alexis Sanchez (Winger, River Plate (on loan from Udinese)/Chile)


An exciting winger, Sanchez was on loan at River Plate so that Udinese could allow him to mature and improve with game time. His season in Argentina was a success and he immediately went into the starting line up for Udinese. Here, he would strike up a deadly partnership with Antonio Di Natale and help the club into a Champions League spot. Sanchez left Italy for Barcelona in a big money move in 2011 and, despite some criticism, has helped them win La Liga, the Copa del Rey and Club World Cup. Sanchez made his Chile debut in 2006 and has won 64 caps, scoring 22 goals.

#43 – Sergio Tejera (Attacking Midfielder, Chelsea/Spain)


Another member of the Spanish side at the U17 World Cup, Tejera was another highly touted midfielder. However, he got lost in the shuffle quickly at Chelsea and left for Spain and Mallorca in 2009, firstly on loan then permanently. He spent a good portion of his time in the B team and never really made a huge impression on the first team and he was allowed to leave for current club Espanyol in 2012. He has rarely figured at Espanyol and recently joined Alaves on loan. He has yet to play for the Spanish national team.

#44 – Marek Suchy (Defender, Slavia Prague/Czech Republic)


Slavia’s star man at the back, Suchy helped guide his team to successive league titles in 2008 and 2009 before leaving for current club Spartak Moscow in Russia. The deal was initially a loan but quickly became permanent. He was a regular in the Spartak defence but became known for some calamitous defending, especially in Champions League games. Eventually, he dropped from the starting line up and recently joined Swiss side FC Basel on loan. Suchy made his Czech Republic debut in 2010 and has won 17 caps.

#45 – Ivan Rakitic (Midfielder, Schalke/Croatia)


The Swiss born Croat midfielder Rakitic had only recently joined Schalke but, alongside Ozil, was hailed as a future star. He progressed well at Schalke, playing regularly in the Bundesliga and European competition before leaving in January 2011 for current club Sevilla in Spain. Rakitic quickly became key to Sevilla’s midfield and in the summer of 2013 he was appointed club captain, responding with an incredible run of form which saw him linked with big money moves around Europe. Rakitic is a former Swiss youth international but made his Croatia debut in 2007 and has won 59 caps, scoring nine times.

#46 – Abdou Razack Traore (Winger, Rosenborg/Burkina Faso)


The Ivory Coast born winger Traore was the only representative of the Norwegian league on the list. However, his time at Rosenborg was highlighted by a lack of game time and a training ground incident with teammate Ovyind Storflor and he was allowed to leave at the end of his contract in 2010 despite helping the club win two league titles. Traore moved to Poland with Lechia Gdansk where he was given a chance to shine and he took it. He was Lechia’s star man and hit 25 goals in two and a half seasons before he joined current club Gaziantepspor of Turkey in January 2013. Traore qualifies for Burkina Faso through his parents and made his debut for the country in 2011. He has 16 caps, scoring once.

#47 – Carlos Vela (Striker, Osasuna (on loan from Arsenal)/Mexico)


Perhaps only second to Giovani dos Santos, Vela was a great hope for Mexico. He was in the middle of his second loan spell in Spain with Osasuna which would end in the summer of 2008. He returned to Arsenal but his game time was very limited and his form never convinced Arsenal fans that Vela was a star. Eventually Vela was allowed to leave on loan in 2011, first to West Brom (which was not a success) and then to current club Real Sociedad in the summer. In Sociedad, Vela began to show why he was so highly rated as he became their star man. The move was made permanent in the summer of 2012 and Vela has helped Real reach the Champions League and taken La Liga by storm. Vela played 35 games for Mexico, scoring nine goals between 2007 and 2011 but has refused call ups since his last cap due to his poor relationship with the Mexican federation.

#48 – Theo Walcott (Striker, Arsenal/England)


The great English hope, Walcott had already been to a World Cup and was beginning to star for current club Arsenal in 2007. However, a number of injuries and poor form had many questioning whether Walcott was ever as good as he was hyped up to be. These doubts have been put to rest as Walcott began to become a greater contributor to Arsenal’s season and has developed into one of their key men. Walcott made his England debut in 2006 and has won 36 caps, scoring five goals.

#49 – Gregory van der Wiel (Defender, Ajax/Holland)

van der Wiel

A product of the renowned Ajax youth system, van der Wiel was in the process of making his breakthrough in the Ajax first team. He began to establish himself as the first choice right back and quickly gained experience in the Champions League as well as helping Ajax to two Eredivisie titles. He was linked with a number of moves to big European clubs but didn’t leave until 2012 when he joined current club PSG in France. He has helped the Paris side to the Ligue 1 title in 2013. van der Wiel made his international debut in 2009 and has won 36 caps, as well as playing in the 2010 World Cup final.

#50 – Ever Banega (Midfielder, Boca Juniors/Argentina)


A product of Boca’s youth academy, Banega helped the club to the Copa Libertadores in 2007 before joining Spanish side Valencia in January 2008. His game time was limited to begin with at Valencia and he spent the 2008/09 seasons on loan at Atletico Madrid. This proved to be a good experience for Banega as he returned to Valencia and became a key component of the midfield. However, his good form was ruined by successive injuries which restricted his involvement with Valencia. He recently returned to Argentina with Newell’s Old Boys on loan. Banega made his Argentina debut in 2008 and has won 24 caps, scoring twice.

That completes the list of World Soccer’s Most Exciting Teen Footballers of 2007. Remember to check out The Long Ball for more content and to stay tuned for new content coming soon.



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