When playing Football Manager, or any football management simulation game, one of your primary desires right from the beginning is to find your next star player. You don’t mind if you have to wait a few years for them to develop as they’ll be yours; the incredible young player that you found and you developed, becoming one of the best in the world – saving you a fortune in transfer fees along the way.
Building a dynasty is key to long-term success on Football Manager, so here we’ll be looking at the great wonderkids of past editions that allowed us to start up the youth movement, bolster the reserve and youth team, and then bring unrivalled success to the first team.
Here, we’ll be looking at some of the many wonderkids that Football Manager and the game that it split from in 2005, Championship Manager, have produced over the years, why they were so loved in the games, what games they were discovered on, and how they got on outside of the simulation games.
While many great wonderkids fulfilled their Manager destiny, such as Sergio Aguero, Arda Turan, Marek Hamsik, Manuel Neuer, Fernando Torres – to an extent – Wayne Rooney, Neymar, Romelu Lukaku, and many others, the focus here will be on those who didn’t quite make it.
As of December 18th, Barcelona were priced at 59/50 to beat Chelsea in the first leg of their upcoming Champions League tie, but back in 2006, they had a team that could walk over this Chelsea setup.
At a time when the Barcelona team was littered with the likes of Carles Puyol, Deco, Henrik Larsson, Ronaldinho, Mark van Bommel, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, the immaculate Samuel Eto’o, and a budding Lionel Messi, everyone’s favourite transfer target sat in the youth team.
Bojan was all set to be Barcelona’s greatest striker of all time, with so many editions of Football and Championship Manager rating him incredibly highly, right from his 2006 days in the youth team.
In 2011, Barcelona sold Bojan in a very bizarre deal to AS Roma, in which the Spanish giants received €12 million for the transfer, but were obliged to buy him back at the conclusion of the 2012/13 season for €13 million unless Roma blocked it by forking out €40 million.
With seven goals in 37 games for Roma and three goals in 27 games while on loan to AC Milan, the Spanish striker was inevitably sent back to Barcelona. Since joining Stoke in 2014, he’s scored 15 goals in 67 games amidst injuries, but is now spending his second consecutive spell out on loan and is valued at €5 million.
In the 2008/09 season, or Football Manager 2009, Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder was on top of the world. Though plagued by injuries, he was a superstar in football, so much so that Manchester United – who are 29/20 to win their first Champions League tie with Sevilla – were hotly linked to him.
But on Football Manager, even if you were running Manchester United, you didn’t care about Wesley, it was all about Rodney. The younger of the Sneijder brothers, of which there are three, would become a megastar on ’09. Far superior to Cesc Fabregas and even touted to become better than Cristiano Ronaldo for the low, low price of £3 million.
Coming through the Ajax youth system, Rodney Sneijder was keenly watched by admirers of his older brother, but he simply couldn’t become what Football Manager had foreseen for him.
Floating around Dutch clubs and even signing for Dundee United in July 2015 – only to be released one month later – the now 26-year-old Rodney Sneijder was recently picked up by DHSC Utrecht as a free agent, now playing alongside Celtic player Evander Sno.
2007 was most certainly the year of Sherman Cardenas on Football Manager. Simply put, Cardenas was a world beater. The humble Colombian would begin with fairly meek ability and potential ability, but his rapid growth had the attacking midfielder become an incredible player.
For those who discovered him via their scouting networks in South America, he quickly became their hero and the superstar of the Colombia national team – who are doing quite well without him, priced at 4/5 to beat Japan in their first World Cup 2018 game.
Starting off with Atletico Bucaramanga, the fabled Cardenas really made a name for himself at Millonarios in his one season there in the Colombian second division before moving on to La Equidad.
From his 2010 move to the first half of the 2017/18 season, Sherman Cardenas has played for eight different clubs – two in Brazil, the other six in Colombia – being loaned out regularly by his current parent club Atletico Nacional, of the first division in Colombia. He’s now valued at £405,000 aged 28.
Another wonderkid of the 2007 age was Renato Augusto. One of many young players at the time who were tipped to be the next Ronaldinho – as if that was even possible – the Brazilian central midfielder was a great buy in the game, and has actually done quite well for himself outside of the confines of Football Manager.
He has enjoyed long stints at Corinthians and Bayer Leverkusen, before settling for a big money move to the Chinese Super League in 2016 for £7.2 million. Now valued at £8.1 million, he hasn’t quite reached his Football Manager heights, but he’s done rather well for himself considering the way that some of these prospects go.
Michalis Pavlis, sometimes Mixalis Pavlis, was incredible. From the 2006 edition of both Manager games, the Greek sniper could be purchased for a couple of million at the most and become your top scorer within a season or two – scoring 50 plus goals regularly.
While Football Manager jumped off of the Pavlis train quite quickly, Championship Manager stuck with the AEK Athens sniper until the bitter end of their superb 2010 edition.
Outside of the Manager dreamland, Pavlis barely played for any club that he signed for, being forced into retirement in 2014 due to being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
At age 15, Crystal Palace gave one John Bostock his debut in 2007, making him hot property on Manager games - not that he also wasn't before being given a shot in the first team.
He was up there with the likes of Victor Moses and Aaron Ramsey as great young players to buy from the English leagues year after year. It’d take a few seasons, but Bostock would become your top central midfielder with superb stats across the board.
Signed by Tottenham Hotspur after four games for Palace, many loan spells led him being sold to Royal Antwerp in 2013 on a free, and has since played for OH Leuven and is currently playing regularly for RC Lens, still only 25-years-old and valued at £1.8 million.
The Mighty Freddy Adu
Whether you stayed loyal to Championship Manager or peeled off to Football Manager, in 2005, Freddy Adu was a must-buy. The American attacking midfielder was set to rule the world, potentially even becoming the Pele of the United States of America.
Making his professional debut at 13 got the ratings on Football Manager to start buzzing, and some major clubs to the east of the Atlantic. The 2005/06 season was the most significant for Adu as clubs in Europe could finally play the hyped-up American as he turned 16, and he barely cost a million.
In real life, however, it hasn’t been such a fairytale for the once highly touted prospect. Securing a big €1.5 million move from Real Salt Lake City to Benfica in 2007 looked to give him the elite-level experience that Adu needed to become a superstar.
But after several loan moves and four goals in 17 games with the Portuguese giants, Freddy Adu transferred for free to Philadelphia Union in 2011 but also failed to make an impact.
Short-lived stints in Serbia and Finland saw Adu return to home in 2015 to play for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the second tier of American football. Now in his prime at 28-years-old, Adu has been a free agent since January 2017, valued at a generous £100,000.
Freddy Adu was a major player in the game for years, but, in the end, he will forever be known the ultimate Ozymandian example of Football Manager wonderkids.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*