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Teenage talents making the running

Published: Monday 24 October 2005, 18.30CET
Wayne Rooney turns 20 today, leaving open the question: just who is the leading teenager in European football right now? has some suggestions.
by Paul Saffer features

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Published: Monday 24 October 2005, 18.30CET

Teenage talents making the running

Wayne Rooney turns 20 today, leaving open the question: just who is the leading teenager in European football right now? has some suggestions.
Wayne Rooney was once described as the "best teenager since Pelé" by England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson. However, with the Manchester United FC forward's 20th birthday today, the question is now left open - just who is the best teenaged player on the planet?

Messi attention
The man that has attracted most attention is not a European, but one very much at home in Spain. Argentinian striker Lionel Messi, born in July 1987, has been at FC Barcelona since he was 13, and last season made his UEFA Champions League debut and struck his first Primera División goal.

'Already crucial'
But that was just warming up. This summer in the Netherlands he led Argentina to the FIFA World Youth Championship title, ending the tournament as top scorer and being named best player. Barcelona have since extended his contract until 2014, and now the holder of a Spanish passport, he is counted as an EU-registered player to the relief of coach Frank Rijkaard. "He is still very young but is already crucial to the team," the Dutchman said.

Babel feats
AFC Ajax could say the same about another star of the World Youth Championship, forward Ryan Babel. By the time he scored twice to help the hosts reach the last eight in that competition, he was already an Ajax regular, and he began this term with goals in the Dutch Super Cup and both legs of their UEFA Champions League third qualifying round win against Brøndby IF.

Nuri record
A player who has made a great impression at an even younger age is Turkish playmaker Nuri Sahin, the star of Turkey's successful campaign at the 2005 UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Italy and voted third-best player at the subsequent FIFA U-17 World Championship in Peru. Nuri also made history this year, becoming the youngest-ever Bundesliga player as he made his BV Borussia Dortmund debut as a 16-year-old.

French prospects
Two talents from the previous year's European U17 champions, France, have also continued to shine. Striker Jérémy Menez and midfielder Samir Nasri swiftly broke into the FC Sochaux-Montbéliard and Olympique de Marseille teams respectively, Menez even claiming a 12-minute hat-trick against FC Girondins de Bordeaux that was, at the time, a Ligue 1 record. Both are still only 18.

Automatic choice
On the losing side in the 2004 European U17 final was Spain's Cesc Fabragas, but earlier that season he had become the youngest first-team player and goalscorer for Arsenal FC. By the 2004/05 campaign he was a constant presence in the London club's midfield, and aged 18, he remains an automatic choice.

Rooney successor?
But his success in the Premiership leaves another question - who is the teenaged English successor to Rooney? Again, two players who featured at the 2005 U17 Championship can be singled out. First, the player who holds the youngest Premiership goalscorer record once held by Rooney - forward James Vaughan, another Everton FC product, who has been injured this season but impressed towards the end of 2004/05 with some fine performances.

Walcott speed
Second, 16-year-old Theo Walcott. Probably the fastest player in Tuscany last May, in the last week he has found the target twice to become Southampton FC's youngest scorer. A Rooney-style big-money move to one of England's biggest clubs looks a distinct possibility.

Last updated: 25/10/05 9.22CET

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