FM18: Wonderkids 2008: Where Are They Now?

Release and New Features

Football Manager’s 2008 edition would initially be released in October of 2007, there were, unfortunately, a number of bugs and issues with the first release, however. A beta patch was released two weeks later which fixed a majority of the larger bugs, but the game would not be a totally seamless experience until the February update. Despite this, the game still went Platinum selling over 300,000 copies worldwide and to great acclaim from the Football Manager community.

New features would include an overhauled Finance System, FaceGen for Re-Gen players, Improved Match Engine and the addition of All-Time Best Elevens, giving you the ability to track the careers of the players that achieved legendary status and perhaps moved on.
An ideal feature for any bedroom manager who built his team around the wonderkids of the year, only to see them move on for huge profits. Who was part of that mythical group of players? Did they have the careers predicted for them?

For a majority of the players I used in my careers, at Reading, Udinese and Hamburg, it didn’t turn out all that well, in fact just one of the players highlighted below can justly say they’ve lived up to the billing.

England’s Next Generation

2007/08 Season was an interesting time for English Football, capped by the failure to qualify for the European Championship hosted jointly by Austria and Switzerland. The shine of The Golden Generation had well and truly worn off, two bore draws with Macedonia and Israel and defeats to Croatia early in 2007 led to calls for Steve McLaren sacking and a shot in the arm for the Senior Side.

Wonderkids by the name of Micah Richards and Michael Johnson both graduates of Manchester City Academy would be heavily touted as long-term replacements for the ageing Gary Neville and Frank Lampard. Richards was well sought after already come the end of 2007 when the game was released, then manager Stuart Pearce stating “It would take a huge bid for me to consider letting someone of Micah’s quality go”.

A £6m bid from Tottenham that summer was not considered a “huge bid” although it has to be said I signed him for Hamburg for half as much, where he would become club captain in year 4 and carry the team to several Bundesliga Titles, DFB Pokal and a Champions League Trophy.

In reality, Richards would make a flying start, in-fact he would average nearly 25 appearances per season over 10 years at Manchester City, before being loaned out to Fiorentina in September of 2014. He would win The FA Cup and Premier League, receive 3 nominations as PFA Young Player and Players Player of The Season as well as captain the side on several occasions, a great honour for someone so young.

Micah might not have hit the heights he did for me at Hamburg, but in the grand scheme of things he’s done well to have made so many appearances for a top club through its rise up the Premier League, and at a time they could have bought anyone in the world.

Now turning out for Aston Villa in The Championship aged 29, it would seem Richards chances of adding to his 13 England caps and medal collection are slim, a return to Premier League is on the cards, perhaps a chance to show he can deliver at the highest level once again will strengthen his justification as a Wonderkid.

A Career Down The John, Son

Michael Johnson had the world at his feet in 2007 making his way through the Manchester City Academy via Leeds, Excelsior and Everton aged 16 and graduate quickly to the Senior side at 18 years old. Johnson first grabbed my attention in real life when scoring an absolute screamer for City vs Derby County, ending a run of home games in which the whole team failed to score. He picked up the ball on the halfway line, dribbled in-field beating three players, a one-two with Elano, before finishing with the outside of his boot from 20 yards.

It would prove to be a highlight of a very brief career in reality. The virtual Michael Johnson initially started his career on-loan at my Reading FC side, aiding in the success of their inaugural Premier League season. Reading would finish 11th with Johnson being amongst my best players that season, so the decision to purchase him for £4m at the start of the next season was an easy one. It would be the beginning of a 12 season stint, in which Johnson would become club captain in his 3rd year and make the team tick.

Qualifying for the Europa League in year 4, 5 and 6, winning it at the 3rd time of asking. Domestic success was few and far between but it did include a career-high finish of 3rd in the league and 2 FA Cups. The reality is a rather sad story, Johnson would struggle both mentally and physically to maintain the successes of his first full senior year.

A recurring abdominal injury would end his run in the first team and between 2008 and his eventual release in 2012, Johnson would make just four first-team appearances. News of his release by City wasn’t public knowledge until a tweet showing Johnson, overweight, unfit and drunk outside of a kebab shop surfaced. Johnson was also in trouble with the law, three drink driving offences accumulated in a £5000 fine and a ban.

It would prove to be the catalyst for major change, an extended stay in The Priory Clinic for Addiction and removal from the public eye did Johnson the world of good. Now 30 years of age Johnson is retired from Football (bar the odd game at the amateur level) and runs his own Estate Agency business.

It is fair to say Michael Johnson has not lived up to the wonderkid tag, perhaps through no fault of his own. Injuries have very often made or broke the very best players in the world and mental illness is a tougher beast to tame, unfortunately, both got the better of a player who could have won the lot.

Sealed With a Kick

Kerlon Moura Souza, or simply Kerlon, was 19 years of age at the time of release and setting the online world a light at the time. YouTube was in its infancy in 2007, it wasn’t commonplace for videos to have millions of hits and outside of the latest music videos, few would even break 250k mark. Kerlon would invent a skill so audacious it would command a viewership of millions and he would remain the only player in the world to perform the skill regularly in the game.

The Seal Dribble or “drible da foquinha” was a wonder to behold, Kerlon would flick the ball up into the air, delicately balance the ball on his head and run full steam ahead, leaving opposition players with only two choices, be beaten or chop Kerlon down and concede a freekick.

Often they would choose the second option which rarely alleviated the issues as Kerlon was a dead-ball master, regularly scoring free kicks from anywhere up to 25 yards out. This would also cause another problem for the tackler, often because there was no intention to take the ball, it would result in a red card and suspension.

Beginning his career at Cruzeiro, Kerlon would make 75 league appearances in 3 years and secure the u17 World Cup Golden Boot, before Europe came calling.

Initially, he would turn down a move to Manchester United and stay in Brazil for another year, before super agent Mino Raiola purchased 80% of his rights for $1.3m and move to Inter Milan was finalised. The move to Inter would come with conditions, Kerlon would spend the first year on-loan to Chievo as Inter had already filled their Non-EU quota.

Unfortunately for Kerlon, his genius would be the cause of his downfall. A major knee injury suffered in one of many tackles during a seal dribble in the March prior to his move would recur to devastating effect. Kerlon would make just nine league appearances in 5 years, never once appearing for Inter Milan before being released.

A journeyman career would follow in Japan, USA, Slovakia and back home in Brazil before retiring aged 29.

Another wonderkid who failed to live up to the billing again no fault of his own. Crippling injuries were a direct result of his ability and opposition players only had one answer, kick him off the park.

Scouts Got It Wrong?

As discussed before the scouts that work to produce the SI database are very often fans of the club they provide information on, perhaps giving a somewhat biased opinion on its youth.

That might explain why so many of the wonderkids we’ve encountered in the virtual world don’t make the impact they promise in reality. That said, the three players I’ve highlighted here all had genuine promise and for two that didn’t carve out the careers they should have, blame can hardly be laid at their door.

What if Kerlon hadn’t invented the seal dribble and resulting crippling injuries, what if Johnson had the mental strength to cope and recover from his physical injuries, it’s likely they would have cemented the careers, in reality, they’d successfully managed in the virtual world.