“If you’re good enough, you’re old enough,” legendary Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby once famously quipped.
Starting them young has long been part of football and some clubs do it better than others. Down the years, we’ve seen wonderkids come and go, some leaving a great impression, but it’s what happens after that initial burst to stardom that fascinates.
There’s no bigger stage in club football than the Uefa Champions League and since its 1992 inauguration, many of the game’s elite goalscorers have graced it.
But what of those who found the net regularly as teenagers? We’ve taken a look at the top seven to see what happened to them next.
7. Bojan Krkić
Champions League teenage goals: 5
Career path: Barcelona, Roma, AC Milan, Ajax, Stoke City, Mainz 05, Alaves, Montreal Impact
Following in the footsteps of Lionel Messi in 2020 is daunting, the same could be said just over a decade ago when Bojan Krkić broke through at Barça. A promising start couldn’t be sustained and he’d leave the Catalan giants initially on loan at several clubs (notably AC Milan and Ajax) before joining Stoke City on a permanent basis.
While contracted with the Potters, the Linyola-born forward joined Mainz 05 on a temporary basis, it was there Bojan joined an exclusive club of players to score in each of Europe’s top five leagues. Now at Montreal Impact, Bojan is being managed by former Barcelona teammate Thierry Henry, but recently bowed out of the MLS 2020 play-offs and his contract is up at the end of the year.
6. Yakubu Aiyegbeni
Champions League teenage goals: 5
Career path: Julius Berger, Gil Vicente, Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Kfar Saba, Portsmouth, Middlesbrough, Everton, Leicester City, Blackburn Rovers, Guangzhou R&F, Al-Rayyan, Reading, Kayserispor, Coventry City
To call Yakubu Aiyegbeni a journeyman is an understatement. The former Nigeran centre-forward would play his trade in no fewer than seven countries before retiring from the beautiful game.
Unlike everyone else on this list, his Champions League career was short and sweet. During the 2002/03 season, he’d play five games with Maccabi Haifa, scoring five goals, including a hat-trick against Olympiacos and one more goal in a 3-0 win over Man Utd.
English football ultimately came knocking; Portsmouth, Middlesbrough, Everton and Leicester City would all enjoy him before undergoing a mini world tour. A return to England beckoned, though after three matches with Coventry City, he decided it was time.
Champions League teenage goals: 6
Career path: Real Madrid, Schalke 04, Al Sadd, New York Cosmos
Raul’s path to becoming a Real Madrid legend began the moment Atletico Madrid shut down their youth academy, which he was a part of. As soon as he first donned that famous white jersey, you just knew he was on the road to stardom. Goalscoring came easy for the young Spaniard and his early Champions League years saw him reach half a dozen.
There was no chance of him being a flash in the pan and before hanging up his boots with New York Cosmos (after spells at Schalke 04 and Qatari outfit Al Sadd) Raul would cement his intimate relationship with the competition, winning three crowns and topping the all-time scorers chart. It would take the ridiculous, if not freakish, talents of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to dislodge him from that spot.
Now back at his greatest love Real, he currently serves as head coach of Real Madrid Castilla.
4. Karim Benzema
Champions League teenage goals: 6
Career path: Lyon, Real Madrid
Has there been a more underrated striker in recent years than Karim Benzema, who’s certain to finish his career as one of the most prolific in European Cup history?
Tipped for big things as he was coming through at Lyon, the Frenchman has certainly lived up to expectations and then some. His formative years, in which he reminded some of Ronaldo (the great Brazilian number nine), saw a number of clubs approach him for his services, notably Man Utd, who experienced him first-hand during the run to their 2008 Champions League success.
It was during that campaign he scored the bulk of his goals as a teenager. One more season in Lyon followed before Real Madrid won his signature and the rest, as they say, is history. Benzema, the fifth-most prolific goalscorer in the tournament’s history, has subsequently helped Los Blancos win four titles.
3. Patrick Kluivert
Champions League teenage goals: 7
Career path: Ajax, AC Milan, Barcelona, Newcastle United, Valencia, PSV, Lille
Patrick Kluivert and Ruud van Nistelrooy were born on the same day but their career trajectory couldn’t be any more different. Kluivert started with a bang, his breakthrough campaign saw him score the winner in Ajax’s fifth European Cup final, to secure a fourth title in 1995.
That effort saw him become the youngest player to score in Uefa’s showpiece event, a record which hasn’t been topped since. After leaving Amsterdam, the Dutch marksman followed a well-trodden path to AC Milan, albeit struggling in Serie A (six goals in 27 matches), before reuniting with Louis van Gaal at Barcelona.
From that strong spell in Spain, where Kluivert netted 90 league goals, he’d briefly play in England with Newcastle United (scoring 13 goals across 35 games) prior to returning to the Netherlands, though now representing Ajax’s big rivals PSV Eindhoven. A 14-year playing career ended at Lille and following his retirement, he’s moved into coaching and various administration roles since.
As of writing this, he’s back at Barça as their academy director.
2. Erling Braut Haaland
Champions League teenage goals: 10
Career path: Bryne FK, Molde FK, Red Bull Salzburg, Borussia Dortmund
Haaland only turned 20 July 21, 2020 which, as with Mbappe before, you wouldn’t believe given his performances that are seemingly beyond his years. The son of former Premier League defender Alf-Inge Håland, he has been the talk of world football this year.
After a tentative start in Norway, the Leeds-born striker really let everyone know what he’s about in 2019. Firstly at Fifa’s U-20 World Cup finals, he bagged nine goals in a 12-0 win over Honduras and then started scoring for fun in the Champions League with Red Bull Salzburg. Along the way, he’d set new records while leaving many jaws on the floor.
Europe’s big boys, notably Juventus and Manchester United, managed by his former Molde coach Ole Gunnar Solskjær, were reportedly determined to sign him, but he opted for Borussia Dortmund, who are renowned for player development. Haaland hit the ground running at a terrifying pace in the Bundesliga and Champions League.
His brace against PSG, with Mbappe on the field, saw him close in on the Frenchman’s record, although things didn’t exactly go to plan in the second leg, with Dortmund crashing out to the eventual runners-up and ending Haaland’s hopes of catching Mbappe’s record. But he did break one of Mbappe’s records, however, scoring the most goals in a single Champions League season as a teenager. He was also rewarded for his displays with the 2020 Golden Boy award, beating the likes of Ansu Fati, Alphonso Davies and Dortmund teammate Jadon Sancho.
OFFICIAL: The top 10 standings for the 2020 Golden Boy award.
Erling Haaland is this years winner. pic.twitter.com/98MPeEktaH
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) November 21, 2020
1. Kylian Mbappé
Champions League teenage goals: 13
Career path: AS Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain
It feels like a lifetime ago when Kylian Mbappe announced himself. Week after week in Ligue 1, the Paris-born marksman would seemingly break a record or set a new one. Defenders in France’s top division weren’t his only victims, though, as Europe’s very best would feel his wrath and en route to AS Monaco’s unexpected 2016/17 Champions League semi-final berth, Mbappe would bag six goals before setting the all-time best for teenage goalscoring the following campaign with hometown club Paris Saint-Germain.
Kylian Mbappé was the first player in history to score in each of his first four Champions League knockout games.
Record breaker. ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/nVJT8E1xoX
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 10, 2017
His final months as a teen would see him become the second footballer after Pele to score in a World Cup final before turning 20. Since then, Mbappe won the inaugural Kopa Trophy (commissioned by France Football) which is given to the best performing player under the age of 21. Yet to celebrate his 22nd birthday, the world is his oyster with many strongly believing him to be the heir to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.