At the ripe old age of 16 years and 94 days, Ryan Sessegnon became the youngest player to score a goal in the Championship on Saturday. Sessegnon’s strike against Cardiff jogged Tom Simmonds’ memory and led him to think of other players who made their professional debuts in adolescence.
It’s been quite the start of season for debutants who have either just left school, or are still there in the case of Ethan Ampadu, the son of former professional Kwame Ampadu, who made his full debut for Exeter in their EFL Cup match with Brentford earlier this month.
Journalist and former England test batsman Ed Smith wrote of ‘the curse of talent’ in his 2008 book, What Sport Tells Us About Life. Smith used an example of an academic study tracking the fortunes of American high school beauty queens, which found that the beauty queens were typically doing worse in adult life than those girls who were less exalted for their looks in adolescence.
You could draw a parallel, as Smith does in his book, between the beauty queens and talented sporting prodigies who never quite make it to the heights expected of them because of what Smith describes as talent’s, ‘nasty knack of protecting the talented from the urge to self-improve.’
Of course, there are examples of young tyros who tore it up at an early age and went from strength to strength. Wayne Rooney kicked on from scoring against Wrexham in the League Cup for Everton as a 16-year-old to pretty good effect. But, it’s unrealistic to expect every teenage prodigy to follow in the slipstreams of Rooney or Jordon Ibe. The example of John Bostock is an appropriate one to follow for those who it doesn’t happen to straight away.
Bostock was the player who, when he made his debut for Crystal Palace at 15 years and 287 days old, a number of pundits were tipping to be in the heart of England’s midfield at Euro 2016.
It didn’t quite work out as planned for Bostock, who made a premature move to Tottenham after just four games in red and blue – four more games than he played for Spurs. After appearing to lose his way after five loan spells in those five years, Bostock has rebuilt his career in Belgium.
Three seasons of starring for Royal Antwerp, and most recently OH Leuven where he averaged a goal every three games over two seasons, have earned Bostock a move to Lens in France, who he chose to join over an unnamed Serie A team.
This revival gives the 24-year-old’s tale a hopeful turn while he is still young enough to deliver on the talent, and is now better placed to exploit it. In a recent interview with ITV, Bostock made plain he was aware of his past, and now wanted to focus solely on self-improvement.
“I’d like to be defined as a player who is hungry to achieve, a player who is not trying to live up to that 15-year-old hype, keen to learn the game and enjoy the game,” he said.
In Moneyball, Michael Lewis wrote of Billy Beane, the first-round baseball draft pick turned genius scout and general manager of Oakland Athletics, who achieved success by ignoring received wisdom that, “he found talents in himself almost before he was ready to exploit them.”
It’s a phrase that could equally be applied to talented footballing prodigies who fall by the wayside after an early taste of the limelight. We can hope, for the sake of all young players thrust into the limelight in the way Bostock was, they do not experience a similar bump on their way up. However, they could all do worse than to look at how Bostock has come back from that bump in case it does go wrong for them at some stage.
Which precocious footballing talents did you most enjoy watching? Did any not go on to achieve what you thought they would?
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