Being a Football Superstar at 16 Doesn't Always Turn out So Sweet

Article excerpt

Byline: MICHAEL HART

PELE, no less, set the standard and half a century after taking the football world by storm his status as wonderkid - first class, remains unchallenged.

Theo Walcott is far too young to know much about the roots of football's wonderkid phenomenon. Even his parents would need help recalling how Pele, aged 17, scored six goals in Sweden in 1958 and helped Brazil become the first and only South American nation to win the World Cup in Europe.

Such achievements are already beyond young Theo unless, at the age of 16, he can persuade Sven-Goran Eriksson to take him to Germany and initiate an unlikely series of events beginning with his international debut and culminating with England winning the World Cup - you never know!

And that is precisely the problem with wonderkids.

You never know how they will turn out. Few live up to the extravagant claims made on their behalf.

Some disappear altogether having failed to embellish wild predictions with any significant achievement.

Most, though, establish modest careers in their chosen profession without ever getting close to the glories predicted as they set out on their journey.

Let's hope Theo has a truly wonderful career and fulfils his huge potential at Arsenal. He will certainly enjoy a full and challenging education under Arsene Wenger.

But only time will tell whether he ends up on a pedestal with the other successful wonderkids of the English game. The alternative is the eternal frustration that comes to those who failed to reach the potential that was slung across their shoulders at a young age.

There was once a 17-year-old striker at Oldham Athletic called Wayne Harrison. In the mid-Eighties all the big clubs were looking at him but he wanted to go to Liverpool, who were serial League title winners at the time and European champions. Liverpool were the club every boy wanted to join.

Wayne had played just four games for Joe Royle's Oldham but, such was his potential, Liverpool risked [pounds sterling]250,000 on his transfer fee. …