Remembering these 5 former prodigies who burst on the scene
From James Vaughan to Ravel Morrison, Will Rook reminisces about the careers of these once heralded players.
It’s important to say that, despite the obvious parallels, Vaughan was never going to be the next Wayne Rooney.
Comparisons between the two were inevitable after Vaughan became the Premier League’s youngest ever goalscorer in 2005, while playing for Everton.
Coming off the bench to make his professional debut against Crystal Palace at Goodison Park, he netted the fourth in a 4-0 win.
Vaughan was 16 years and 270 days old at the time of the strike that catapulted him to fame – 90 days younger than Rooney when he scored off the bench against Arsenal three years earlier.
But to draw any other equivalency is a little unfair on a player that has spent a large portion of his career battling injuries.
Vaughan initially suffered a ruptured cruciate ligament while on duty with England Under-18s the following season, and then had to deal with a dislocated shoulder and ruptured artery in his foot during his time at Everton.
The now-31-year-old left the club in 2011, having featured 60 times in all competitions, of which just eight were starts.
He has since forged a decent career in the EFL, featuring for nine different clubs either on loan or permanently. He has particularly impressed at Huddersfield and Bury, for whom he scored 14 and 24 league goals respectively in the 2012/13 and 2016/17 seasons.
When you burst onto the scene as devastatingly as Macheda did, it’s hard to know where else there is to go.
The striker is synonymous with his stoppage-time winner against Aston Villa on his professional debut in 2009.
With the game at 2-2 and Manchester United’s title bid on the verge of falling apart, he was thrown into the action as a second-half substitute and brilliantly scored deep into injury time.
After scoring 46 seconds into his next appearance – deflecting in a Michael Carrick shot – to secure a 2-1 victory over Sunderland, Macheda had set a high standard for himself.
But in truth, the Italian never rediscovered those heights. His Premier League career had already peaked at the age of 17, after a total of 36 minutes on the pitch.
Macheda would only make five appearances for United in the following season and had to wait nearly a year until his next goal.
He would eventually leave Old Trafford permanently in 2014, having made 19 league appearances, after a series of injuries and unsuccessful loan spells meant that he found it difficult to establish himself.
Now 28 years old, he is currently with Greek giants Panathinaikos, for whom he has scored 24 goals in 53 games.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Kakuta.
Signed by Chelsea as an 18-year-old from Lens in 2007, his move would result in a transfer ban for the Blues before he had even made a first-team appearance.
The level of scrutiny he received following that, combined with a serious injury, meant that it was difficult for him to succeed at Stamford Bridge.
Not that he didn’t show his talent while at the club.
Kakuta ended his first season with Chelsea as the youth team’s top scorer and was voted the academy’s player of the year. After playing a reserve game with him, Michael Ballack reportedly told a group of German journalists to ‘go and see the French lad, he is the star.’
But a double ankle fracture in February 2008 meant that he had to wait another 18 months for his Premier League debut.
Kakuta would ultimately make just six league appearances for Chelsea before leaving permanently for Sevilla in 2015.
He now plays for Ligue 1 side Amiens, following spells at Heibei China Fortune, Deportivo and Rayo Vallecano.
Sir Alex Ferguson once labelled a 14-year-old Morrison ‘the best player he had seen at that age.’ Praise doesn’t come much higher than that.
Rio Ferdinand, meanwhile, said that the teenager was ‘taking the mick out of everyone on the pitch’ as a teenager, and that he ‘would pay to watch him train, let alone play in a match’.
Yet Morrison was to leave Old Trafford for West Ham at 18 years old without having made a single Premier League appearance.
Throughout his career, he has only once managed more than 18 league appearances in a season at any of his 11 clubs.
Not that his talent has never been under question. Just search ‘Ravel Morrison goals compilation’ on Google to get a flavour of his artistry.
Instead, it has been his application that has come under the microscope.
With Lazio, Ostersund and even Mexican side Atlas having previously taken a chance of him, Morrison is back in the Premier League with Sheffield United – via a loan spell at Middlesbrough.
The Blades are the latest in a long line of clubs who have tried and, so far, failed to help him realise his potential
Think of former Premier League prodigies and McSheffrey is unlikely to be one of the first names that pops into your head.
But the ex-Coventry winger was an exciting prospect early in his career.
At just 16 years and 198 days old, McSheffrey was handed his professional debut by former Sky Blues manager Gordon Strachan against Aston Villa in 1999.
It was an appearance that, until Aaron Lennon featured for Leeds in 2003, made him the youngest ever player to play in the Premier League. He was also the youngest player to ever feature for Coventry until 2010.
Yet, like many others in this piece, his potential was hampered by a serious injury.
McSheffrey missed an entire calendar year between 2000 and 2001 through a hip injury, only for Coventry to have been relegated from the Premier League by the time he had got back in the team.
The remainder of his career was primarily played in the second tier, though he did make it back to the Premier League while with Alex McLeish’s Birmingham in 2007.
As a persistent knee injury continued to cause him trouble, he retired in 2018, aged 35, and is now a coach at Doncaster.
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