For all of us Football Manager fanatics out there, the rise of players like Szoboszlai and Gvardiol may give a sense of deja vu. The reason FM has gotten it right so many times is because they hire scouts as a professional team does. In fact, those teams have used the Football Manager database to find players. Think of it this way. The scouts are finding talented players and then they are run through an extensive simulation programme which tens of thousands of people help with. Though, not all wonderkids end up playing for Liverpool or Manchester City in real life. Let’s have a look at some of the most famous FM wonderkids over the years, and see where they are now. We’re going to start with FM 2020 and move backwards two years each time.
Football Manager Wonderkids: Where Are They Now
Mbappe and Haaland four years ago
The first two players everyone will be thinking about are the current two best in the world. Erling Braut Haaland and Kylian Mbappe. Four years ago they were already ballers. Playing for FC Salzburg at the time, Haaland was an 18-year-old with seven stats already over 15. His potential before their mid-season update was still 175. For those unaware of how the potential numbers work. 200 is the max, 180-200 potential is GOAT territory and 160-180 is baller territory. Mbappe was instantly a class player from 19, and FM agreed to have him start with 181 current ability, 196 potential.
There’s still time but the signs for these players are not good
The highest potential was players like Havertz, Sancho, and Richarlison. But, we all know what has happened with these guys. One of the most notable wonderkids missing from real life right now is Luka Jovic. At 21 he had his dream move to Real Madrid for 52m, and his potential in FM was 170. Three years later he was let go on a free to Fiorentina. Only scoring three goals in his three years at Real Madrid. Although it could be argued his limited starts make his stats look worse than they are. Jovic only started 10 of his 51 appearances. He did comment on this by saying injuries and pressure are what led to an “unhappy experience”. His first season at Fiorentina saw him net six goals in 31 apps (16 starts). It now looks like he’s being shopped around as Galatasaray has declared their interest.
For those of us who need to find cheaper wonderkids because we don’t take over rich clubs, Pietro Pellegri was the man. AS Monaco youth player that started at 114 CA with had a huge 178 PA ceiling. Absolutely none of that potential has been realized in the last four years. Monaco gave him a chance in the first team, and then loaned him to AC Milan and eventually sold to Torino. In his 65 apps so far, he scored 8 goals. Though it could be argued he hasn’t been given an extended run in any team due to injuries, with almost all of his appearances being subs. 1478 minutes is equal to around 16 starts, so 8 goals from 16 is not too bad. He’s only 22 and none of his injuries are big like an ACL. So, there is time for him to make a comeback.
No Messi or Ronaldo level wonderkids in 2018
In FM 2018, no young players had a PA higher than 188. And it wasn’t Mbappe with that potential, it was Gabriel Jesus. This was also when Alli was one of the best players in the EPL at 21, and it’s sad to see where he is now. Newly signed from Fiorentina in 2018, Bernadeschi has one of the highest potentials in the game at 172. He stayed at Juventus for five years before ending up at Toronto FC in 2022. Over his five years at Juve there were glimmers of his potential (Athletico vs Juve 2019). Though by the end of it he only had 12 goals and 20 assists in 183 appearances. The fact he managed to stay there for so long and get caps for Italy shows he wasn’t terrible by any means. Just that he never reached his potential. Bernadeschi spoke about his time in Turin.
This next name should have every FM player saying “Ah I remember this guy”. From Serbia with love, playing at Benfica, and starts the game off wanted by PSG, Bayern, and Monaco. It’s “Serbian Messi”, Andrija Zivkovic! In every FM save, this guy would reach his potential and be a worldie within’ five years. In real life, not so much. His first few years at Benfica were good enough to get teams like Manchester United and Arsenal interested. Though, injuries and inconsistent performances had him leaving in 2020 with only PAOK and teams from Saudi offering him contracts. Since accepting PAOK he has been a good player for them, but he never became the player he was touted to be.
Football Manager wonderkids that flopped hard
This is an FM that managed to mostly get it right. Though, there are a few who didn’t get close to their potential. Lincoln the 16-year-old Brazilian was a mainstay in that year’s game. His potential was as high as 170, but in real life he had four poor years for Gremio, followed by another two for Santa Clara in Portugal. He did get a move to Fenerbache after a good third year at Santa Clara bagging 11 g&a. This next player left Schalke fans feeling resentment after naming him one of the best young prospects in football at the time, just for him to leave on a free. No, not Goretzka, Maximillian Meyer. Those EPL fans that didn’t watch Bundesliga would have been so confused when Meyer played for Palace. Released by Palace he did go back to Germany but that also didn’t pan out as Koln let him go as well. Next Fenerbache took him in, and now he turns out for Luzern. Surprisingly, last year he popped off and scored more goals in one season than the previous nine combined. At 27, there is still time for him to get a move to a big team.
A name known in England as a talent for the future back in 2016, James Wilson. Now, plays for Port Vale in League One with 43 goals in 218 apps. Zakaria Bakkali was a popular player in FM14-15-16, with 16 being the last one where he was a wonderkid. Touted as “the next Eden Hazard”, he clearly was rated highly by teams as Valencia snapped him up at 18. He played for them for two years before moving to Deportivo, then Anderlecht, Beerschot, and now RKC Waalwijk. Next we’re going to make the three year jump back to 2013.
The Brazilian duo that were must-buy in 2013
Two players I signed a lot back then, Leandro Damiao, and Ganso. In 2013 Tottenham and Napoli wanted to sign Damiao, but his move to Naples fell through and they went with Higuain instead. After this he did have a dip in form which left him to be passed around the Brazilian league, playing for Internacional, Santos, Cruzeiro, and Flamengo. He did have a small loan to Real Betis but was only given three appearances. In 2019 he signed for Kawasaki Frontale and banged 66 goals in 160 apps for them. Maybe Napoli was lucky they ended up with Higuain instead.
Ganso is another player that spent most of his career in Brazil. Though, he was a good player for most of it and did have a run in Europe with Sevilla. Even now at 33 Ganso is still playing good football with Fluminense and in fact was one of the best players in the title winning 2022 team. Fernando Diniz is currently cultivating what could be the next big transformation in football tactics with Ganso being a key player in making it work. Carlos Fierro is likely the most famous FM wonderkid that never made it irl and everyone was signing him on these games for a good few years.
Yes these players were wonderkids at some point
There’s been a lot of talks of the famous FM wonderkid flops over the years like Freddy Adu, Carlos Fierro, and Kerlon. Though, some players like Henri Saivet might surprise you. Yes, he was a wonderkid back in 2010. Making his debut as a 17-year-old winger at Bordeaux, FM had him with six stats over 15. In a few years, he would typically develop into one of the best wingers in the world. This is the opposite of real life when he turned up in Newcastle as a cam, and definitely not one of the best in the world. Eight appearances over four years sums up his time on Tyneside, with his inevitable release, he now plays for Pau FC in French Ligue 2.
A player known to La Liga fans, winning two awards in the 2009 Toulon Tournament, Diego Buonanotte. You could always sign him for a good price and nothing could stop him from destroying teams with his 18 dribbling and 20 flair. Funnily enough, he fell off right after the tournament and didn’t ever make a comeback. FM curse I suppose. He did play for four years in La Liga but never reached his Toulon heights. He then moved to AEK before ending up at Universidad Catolica in Chile. In another ten years, there will be a few more unrealized wonderkids from FM in the 2020s, and maybe I’ll do this again!
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