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Wonderkids

How can we better predict the future success of a wonderkid?

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13 May 2022

13 May 2022

Wonderkids come through the ranks every year. Some live up to the most outrageous of expectations, while others flame out into obscurity. The common denominator amongst all of them is the hot start to their careers.

Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi are great examples of wonderkids that grew to surpass expectations. Renato Sanches and Anthony Martial didn’t quite reach superstardom but ended up becoming decent squad players that are special on their days. Saido Berahino and Alen Halilovic, on the other hand, fizzled out.

Nobody knows whether their team’s wonderkid will become sensational or peter out in two years. In our efforts to qualitatively map out the trajectory of a current wonderkid, zujuGP retrospectively looked at former wonderkids to determine key areas that could determine future outcomes in the development of a wonderkid.

The result is five key categories which are then averaged to a single score to help discern the true potential of your club’s wonderkids. The scores range from 1 to 5, with 5 as the highest score. The closer the average score is to 5, the higher the chance of their superstardom.

These are the criteria with Mbappe, Sanches and Berahino as references.

Mentality

A football player’s mentality is as strong as his talent. It keeps them grounded, focused, and passionate about the game. It is a big factor in how they handle adversity, how they take feedback, and how much they keep themselves in check. Veteran players often have the right mentality that is forged through experience. This is not the case for wonderkids. Many of them are regarded as the great hope for middle table football clubs and are immediately thrusted into the deep end and deemed as saviors. Some take on this new responsibility and thrive under the expectations, while others bask in the glory of being depended on.

Kylian Mbappe has taken on the tag of the next big football star since he burst onto the scene, as Micah Richards would put it. He’s handled the pressure well and remains mentally strong in pursuit of excellence for both club and country. He has already won the World Cup at a young age and studies tapes of his hero Cristiano Ronaldo. He always seems to find the drive to improve himself further. His mentality is a 5 out of 5.

Renato Sanches was a hot commodity a few years ago. He had commanded the midfield at SL Benfica and was an integral part of the Portuguese national team that won the Euros in 2016. There was a lot of hype around him, and Bayern capitalized by signing the midfielder. Unfortunately, this is where things went wrong. He had a bad stretch of games for Bayern and never quite lived up to his expectations. He did not fare well in the new Bavarian pressure system and did not have the mental fortitude to push through and live up to his billing. This resulted in a loan spell to Swansea and then an eventual sale to Lille. Frequent spectators of Renato Sanches would deem him a decent player with occasional flashes of brilliance. However, his mentality isn’t cut out for the top clubs in the world. His mentality is a 3.5 out of 5.

Saido Berahino burst out into the spotlight while playing for West Brom Albion. He was a speedy and skilled forward with a lethal strike on him. He was dazzling and had great performances that dazzled and wowed many. It even looked like he was on the radar of bigger English clubs with Arsenal a key suitor. Playing for West Brom at the time came with minimal pressure, which allowed him to thrive. He helped them stave off relegation and many had him pegged for an even bigger season. However, the moment expectations were placed on him, he came up short. He couldn’t pick himself up and was sold to Stoke City, a relegated club. This dealt another blow to his confidence and he sank further. He now plays for Sheffield Wednesday and is decent for them. His once dazzling potential is all but gone. His mentality score is 2 out of 5.

Consistency

Football is a result-oriented sport. You always get the chance to update your resume and consistency is one of the greatest predictors of excellence when it comes to wonderkids. This has a trickle-down effect on other factors that can work in favor of the player or sadly against them. Great consistent performances lead to more game time, more responsibilities, and more trust from the manager and teammates. The flipside of this is less game time and less trust from the manager and teammates. This vastly affects the rate of development of these wonderkids.

Kylian Mbappe has been in the spotlight since he made his debut for AS Monaco. He had great consistent performances for them that led PSG to snap him up on loan with an option to buy. His consistent performances continued and so did his responsibilities for the team. His mettle is undoubted and this has led to his continued opportunity to thrive. It is hard to find any instance where he underperforms. His consistency was 4.8 out of 5.

Renato Sanches had brilliant performances at SL Benfica. His play mirrored a beautiful symbiotic mix of Xavi with Vieira. He had the opposition team at the mercy of his play and this led to so many great performances and results for SL Benfica. He was not able to consistently pull out great performances while at Bayern Munich. This led to less playtime especially since clubs the stature of Bayern have deep squads with talent at every position. He was relegated to fringe minutes and subsequently was loaned out to Swansea. His consistency was a 3.5 out of 5.

Saido Berahino had one season at the top of his game. He was not consistent enough the following season and had the pressure get to him. His performances were subpar despite the consistent game time he received. This led to him getting less game time eventually which affected his potential and saw him fade out of the limelight. Consistency is important, and he did not have any. 2 out of 5.

Injury Avoidance

Fitness is a big predictor of a player’s ceiling. Availability is the best ability. Players that are consistently injured see their game time and the opportunity to keep on improving go by the wayside. This stunts their overall abilities and results in them failing to meet expectations.

Kylian Mbappe has been a prototypical iron man. He has been fairly healthy for the long duration of his career and has been a great asset for France and PSG. His availability and reliability are some of the intangibles that do not have testing metric but is well covered in the modern game. Mbappe is consistently available for PSG which always dramatically raises their chances to win their matches. This is one of the most valuable aspects for a manager and his score is a 5 out of 5.

Renato Sanches was fairly durable during his spell at SL Benfica and his first season at Bayern Munich. His second season saw small knocks here and there that interrupted his consistent run on the team. This together with the lack of consistently good performances led to him getting benched regularly and featuring in fringe minutes. He was given a second chance at Swansea and used it to catapult his career back on track at Lille. He has remained healthy at Lille and has been consistent with them. His score is 3.8 out of 5.

Saido Berahino has faced his fair share of injuries that sidelined him for a significant duration of time. This coupled with the small knocks that would sideline him for two or three games also affected how well he could play and show off his talents. He has since been relatively healthy for Sheffield Wednesday in League One but is well past his prime. His score is 2.5 out of 5.

Positional Versatility

A player’s versatility is a hugely underrated aspect of their greatness. Players that can be placed in a myriad of positions on the pitch and do a job for their team and managers are invaluable. Such players are a rare commodity and show the vast depths of their talents. Versatility brings to light some aspects of their abilities that are normally secondary to their primary objectives but are a great advantage when available. These aspects are weak foot ability, tackling, crossing, or even playmaking. These are all position-dependent, but invaluable if present.

Kylian Mbappe is very versatile. He started his career at AS Monaco playing on the left wing. His consistent blistering pace, strength, and finishing made him an excellent player at the position. At PSG he was moved to the right-wing to accommodate teammate Neymar who thrived on the left. He still performed excellently in the right-wing position and showed his secondary skills with an incredible weak foot, crossing, and playmaking. With the addition of Lionel Messi to the team, he was moved to the striker position to accommodate him. He has since thrived at the striker role, with an incredible goal-scoring pedigree and dominance thanks to the acquisition of secondary skills that help propel him further in the position. His versatility is 5 out of 5.

While Renato Sanches showed some versatility in his game, his was not as diverse as Mbappe’s but was invaluable for Benfica and Swansea. A natural box-to-box midfielder, his dribbling, inter-passing, and tackling were evident from the get-go. He thrived in this role for Benfica and Portugal. He was asked to be more versatile for Bayern Munich under the management of Pep Guardiola. This led to his use as a central defensive midfielder and at times an attacking midfielder. He did not thrive as much in the attacking midfield position and was only average as a defensive midfielder. This was not good enough as the competition for the box-to-box midfielder was tight as well. He has since become a better defensive midfielder at Swansea and Lille which has improved his versatility. This has made him a much better player for Lille and has since continued to thrive. His versatility score is 3.8 out of 5.

Saido Berahino had difficulties in being versatile for West Brom Albion. He was a great striker for them in the first season and thrived in the role. He was then overshadowed in the second season by Dwight Gayle and was given a role on the left wing. He was subpar at this position indicating his lack of versatility. He ended up receiving less playtime and was eventually sold to Stoke City. He was only decent for Stoke and was then subsequently sold to Sheffield Wednesday. He has shown a distinct inability to adapt to a change in position and as such a versatility score of 1.5 out of 5.

System Fit

A player’s ability to thrive within any system is a crucial part of their excellence. Some players thrive in systems built around them while some thrive in systems built for the success of the team. Managers implement systems with the team’s success in mind. A player that can adapt to any system the manager implements is valuable. Great performances that result from such players are a great indicator of their footballing IQ and talent.

Kylian Mbappe is a great player that is highly adaptable to the system implemented by the manager. He has played under three managers at PSG with all three of them implementing different systems. He has been very excellent for them and has given them great shifts and stand-out performances. He is very valuable to the club and a true superstar. His system fit is 5 out of 5.

Renato Sanches has been a good system player. He is however more a specialist in a system rather than a plug and play player in a myriad of systems. He has excelled in a system tailored for his talents at Benfica Swansea and Lille. He gives a good performance more often than not and still does his best in systems that do not entirely favor his skillset. His system fit score is 4 out of 5.

Saido Berahino is a player that thrives in a specific role with a system tailored for it. He has failed to thrive in systems that have benefited the team overall and as such fell out of favor with the manager. This has resulted in his continued fading into the background and is now a forgotten past potential great. His system fit score is 2 out of 5.

Tallying up the scores

The wonderkid score rates the probability of the young football star reaching superstardom, becoming a good to great squad player, or fading away from the spotlight. A score of 5 denotes superstardom with 4 denoting an excellent player. 3 is a good squad player while 2 is an average player at best. A score of 1 is the lowest and denotes a player that will be out of play in a few years, or is massively overrated.

Kylian Mbappe has an average score of 4.96. This is only 0.04 points off a perfect score. This denotes his ascent is trending towards superstardom. Lionel Messi for comparison has a score of 4.97 using this criterion while Cristiano Ronaldo has a score of 4.96 similar to Kylian Mbappe. Both Messi and Ronaldo are the greatest players of our generation and it seems Mbappe is on the fast track to becoming the heir apparent for this title.

Renato Sanches has an average score of 3.72. He is only 0.18 points off a score of 4. This denotes that his ceiling is an excellent player while comfortably being a good squad player. For comparison, Anthony Martial has an average score of 3.86 while Matthis de Ligt has an average score of 3.92. These are still very good scores. Not everyone can reach the levels of a Ronaldo, Messi, or Mbappe. However, it only seems underwhelming due to the hopes and expectations placed on them.

Saido Berahino has an average score of 1.6. This is 0.4 points off a score of 2. This denotes that his ceiling is an average player at best while being good enough to stave off football obscurity. For comparison, Alen Halilovic has an average score of 1.92 while Jack Wilshere had a score of 2.32. From these computations, a variety of factors have to go right for a player to have the highest chance of success.

Players like Kingsley Coman (3.88 at Bayern, 4.32 at Juventus), Ousmane Dembele (4.46 at Dortmund, 3.78 at Barcelona), and Marcus Rashford (4.10 at the start of his career, 3.76 currently) are constantly battling injuries while some like Mason Mount, Bukayo Saka, and Gabriel Martinelli do not have enough data to accurately judge. Martin Odegaard has a variety of scores. He ranks 3.62 while at Real Madrid, 3.84 while at Real Sociedad, and 4.22 as an Arsenal player.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and it’s easier to rank wonderkids retrospectively. But by using these criteria, perhaps we can start placing more realistic expectations on the promising young talents of our favourite squads instead of placing the world of expectations on their shoulders. 

 

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