Can Football Manager affect the Careers of Wonderkids?


Football Manager, with maybe the exception of FIFA – is the greatest, most in-depth game on the planet. Hundreds of thousands of players are scouted, rated and put onto a database – an incredible feat in itself. Even real life clubs and managers use their databases to do research on potential players! They must have some very talented staff to do such a magnificent job – but the question is can the game itself affect a real-life player?

Since the age of 14, Neymar was expected to be a world sensation – and is one of a few who have followed through on that promise. It’s rare they get one like that wrong – the likes of Bale, Ronaldo, Van Persie, Ibrahimovic, Messi, Suarez and pretty much every player that is now dominating world football were picked up by either Championship Manager or Football Manager before they made the grade. On the other hand, you have the likes of Freddy Adu were expected to join that illustrious list – but fell down, let down by poor decisions and quite possibly chasing the money. Each year there are hundreds of kids picked out as ‘Wonderkids’, but after a while you don’t see their name on the list, so where do the end up? We take a look at the South American region, as it is where most of the real-World Class players come from, but equally where most fail from:

The most difficult region is South America – for every Messi, Tevez, Di Maria or Neymar there is another three or four that don’t cut the mustard. There seem to be two routes which they take:

1. Move to a smaller league (for Brazilians/Colombians etc – Ukraine or Portugal) where it is easier to gain a work permit, and then once they make the grade, move onwards and upwards to bigger clubs. Players to do this are those such as Fernandinho, Willian, Falcao, James Rodriguez.

2. Move to Italy/Spain and make use of the co-ownership/loan system or even B team football, especially in Spain. Recently the likes of Paolo Dybala, Casemiro have made good use of this, and used smaller teams like Palermo to make a name for themselves over a small period of time and then make the big move, to Juventus for him). Dani Alves spent 6 seasons at Sevilla before Barcelona picked him up – so there are a fair few who adapt at a smaller side and then get the big move later on. Felipe Anderson is another good example, taking time to adapt and playing a little here and there, now coming on very nicely!

A 3rd option is to move to a big team, and develop through the youth systems. Leo Messi is a prime example, while this season a young man called Luciano Vietto moved from Racing to Villarreal and scored 20 goals in his first season at just 21, which is unheard of! Then you have people like Marcelo, who came in at Real Madrid in 2007 and hit the ground running, as did Neymar at Barcelona – which is rare.

Those are just some of the many who have come to Europe and impressed. How about the other side of it, the ones who drastically failed – and where are they now?

1. Keirrison (Coritiba to Barcelona, 2009-14)

This young lad still hasn’t made a single appearance for the Brazil setup, after scoring 32 goals in 50 games for Coritiba and Palmeiras back in 2005-08/09 seasons. He looked set to become the next superstar, with the finishing ability of a young Ronaldo, as well as the pace and power to go with it. With the right development, he could have now been like Neymar. However, despite not being quite ready Barcelona plucked him away from Palmeiras for just £10m, and subsequently loaned him out to somewhere he would get plenty of game time (Benfica) – this did not happen, and he was returned, and sent back out to Fiorentina this time. After a few months, and 12 games/2 goals he was returned again. It was becoming apparent he was not going to cut it, so Joan Laporta (then president of Barcelona) decided to get him back to Brazil to regain some form, and hopefully most of the £10m paid. Loans to Cruzeiro, Santos and first-club Coritiba did not work out, and by 2014 he was released, now back with Coritiba and a shadow of who he once was.

2. Kerlon (Cruzeiro to Inter, 2008-12)

Kerlon was considered by many as the next Ronaldinho – he had the pace, vision, trickery, creativity and free kick taking ability, as well as the move he became famous for – the seal dribble, where he balanced the ball on his head and continued to run at defenders. Unlike Keirrison he had made 7 apps for the under 17’s at international level, scoring 8 goals – and was in the Cruzeiro first team. 10 years on however, he has barely played. After being sold to Inter, he was loaned to Chievo – and made 4 appearances. Injuries halted his progress, and he was then sent to Ajax to try and rebuild a little – but more injuries flew his way. A few loans back to South America were not fruitful – and he was released and signed up by a fan-led club, such as Ebbsfleat – in Japan. He is now playing for Miami Dade in America, a 27 year old journeyman who never lived up to the potential he had.

3. Federico Laurito (Udinese, 2008-13)

Laurito, on the Football Manager game at least – was among the highest rated players. He was snapped up from Newells’ Old Boys (same as Lionel Messi) at the ripe age of 18 and put into the youth setup, ala Messi. That’s where the parallels stop. He had a couple of loans, and did not succeed. Three loans within Italy – to Livorno, Empoli and Venezia  as well as two back to South America did not do anything – so in 2013 he was released and picked up by Ecuadorian side Universidad Catolica, where he has rebuilt his career a little with 28 goals in 48 games to date, as well as a loan spell to another side where he did well.

4. Diego Buonanotte (River to Malaga, 2011-13)

This guy was the little pocket-rocket at 5ft 2 inches that everyone thought could become an Argentine legend, being likened to Diego Maradona. 5 years at River led to 25 goals in 105 games as an attacking midfielder, with good ability from set pieces. He got his move to Malaga in 2011, when they had all the money in the world – for £4m. Before the move he had a car crash, killing 3 of his friends – as bar himself they were all not wearing seat-belts! He recovered after 7 months, and short while after got the Malaga move. He started well, with 5 goals soon after his move, but gradually – with Malaga suffering in the league, did not get chances. He was sold to Granada, where he made 40 apps with 1 goal, and then loaned out – currently to Quilmes back in Argentina. His talent was undoubted, but it could well be the mental scars of his three friends who passed away that could be haunting him.

5. Lulinha (Corinthians to Estoril/Olhanense, 2009-11)

This kid was basically then what Neymar was a season or two ago – seen as the next superstar ready for Europe. He had 16 goals in 16 games for the under 17’s, being compared to all the greats there had ever been. Despite just 4 goals in 80 odd games for his side Corinthians, it was his play, his skill and movement that earned him the plaudits. So, at the end of the 2008 Brazilian season, he got a loan to Portugal – infact two…The first was a season with Estoril, where he scored 3 in 31 games. Then he had a season with Olhanense, with 2 in 19 games. It was hoped he would do well enough that someone like Benfica would pick him up, and with the whole player rights there, and ownership of % of the player, it would benefit them in the long run. His performances were substandard, and after another season on loan with Brazilian based Bahia, he was sold on – and has been floating about ever since with the likes of Ceara, RB Brasil and now Botofogo

Those were the biggest 5 disappointments in recent memory…but there are two players that I believe have been hyped up by the game itself when really they were never destined for anything like what was expected – these two are FM legends, that have now been all but forgotten…

1. Carlos Fierro (Guadalajara, 2011-Present)

This lad was expected to be huge. But in 120 games thus far, and still only 20 – he has 10 goals from either the wing or up-front as a striker. His elevated stature in the world is basically down to the game – and he has never lived up to it. Something could still happen, but you’d think by 20, an with his reputation, there might have been some talent there – but clearly there is very little.

2. Sherman Cardenas (Multiple Clubs)

Here is what South American football expert Tim Vickery said back in 2008:

“I think he’s suffered a bit from an unfairly inflated reputation. He got in the first team at Bucaramanga, a relatively small provincial Colombian side, very early. He showed some talent and then I believe was awarded a high value by the Football Manager game (I’m a bit like Alfio Basile with this new fangled technology). He’s still developing, and his progress would be seen as perfectly satisfactory if it wasn’t for this unrealistic expectation which had been created. I watched him at length last year in the South American Under-20 Championships, and though he came up with flashes, he looked very lightweight and, understandably, well away from being the finished article. He’s young enough to participate in the next version of the tournament in January – I’m hoping we might see something good from him then”

Now 25, Cardenas has done very little, playing for a number of sides and scoring a few goals. He has been possibly the worst affected by these Football Manager ratings, and if you see on one of the most popular games in the world that you are expected to become a superstar, it must put a weight on very young shoulders. Cardenas is now playing in Brazil.

Now here is one final player that could still go either way – a Chilean sensation for Colo Colo that earned a move to Sevilla, and is doing okay…

1. Bryan Rabello (Sevilla)

At 21, Rabello still has time on his hands. Sevilla have given him a few chances and also loaned him out to get experience. He has had stints with Deportivo while in the Segunda, as well as Luzern in Switzerland and recently Leganes in the Segunda again. He is a player full of pace and power, with a mean shot on him. The key is not rushing him – he did well in the Sevilla B team, and performed at all clubs so far on loan. It takes time to adapt, and I think this coming season he could start to show full potential. He could turn into a star player, maybe an Alexis Sanchez, or he could be another Keirrison – but the key is belief, and he has that in himself by the sounds of things, as do those at Sevilla

Too many of the above were given up on far too quickly, and with very slight players who get knocked about when they come to Europe, it can take 2/3 seasons to adapt and those mentioned were pretty much not given that time. injuries halted Kerlon’s career in Europe, while Keirrison was expected to perform by Benfica and Fiorentina immediately, and not put in the Barca B team like Alen Halilovic or Martin Odegaard have been now. Clubs will have learned their lesson – Rafinha Alcantara spent several seasons in the B side before breaking into the first team like he has now.

It also shows that just because a game says a player will become world class does not necessarily mean he will. Very few from those lists really make it fully – you see the likes of Breno, Ratinho, Ferreyra, Ortega, Guilherme, Botelho, Zuculini and Lodeiro, among many that came to Europe are also failed – huge reputations smashed in a season or so, often because not enough time was allowed to adapt.

Over the last 15 years at Newcastle I have seen 12 South America’s come in, from Daniel Cordone to the legendary Fumaca – even the likes of Clarence Acuna, Cristian Bassedas, Cacapa and Diego Gavilan – and all given few chances. The only ones to make it – Fabricio Coloccini and Nobby Solano, and even then Coloccini spent years in Spain before coming to England, which helps.

South American talents are among the most precious in football – there are many out there that could have been the next Messi or Romario, but not afforded the time. It’s a dog-eat dog world, and unfortunately many young talents gets chewed up and spat out far too soon.