Football Features

Where are they now? The youngest-ever players of Fifa’s top 15 men’s national teams

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 17:27, 12 October 2021

This past week Gavi became the youngest player in the history of Spain’s men’s international team.

The teenager broke the record when he started in the Nation League semi-final win over Italy. He then started the final as well, playing excellently in both games and proving that, despite his youth, he is ready to be considered as a first-team regular for Spain.

The question is, were other country’s record breakers that lucky? We’ve had a look at FIFA’s top 15 ranked men’s international teams, found their youngest-ever player and checked up on where they are now.

15. Johann Vogel (Switzerland)

Age at record: 18 years, 0 days
Game of record: Greece 1-1 Switzerland, 8/3/1995

Where are they now? After setting the record, Vogel played for his country for over a decade, earning 94 caps. Meanwhile his club career took him to places as disparate as PSV, Blackburn and AC Milan. He is currently retired, having left the game in 2012.

14. Willy Baumgartner (Germany)

Age at record: 17 years, 102 days
Game of record: Switzerland 5-3 Germany, 5/4/1908

Where are they now? Baumgartner played four times for Germany as a teenager but never again after 1909. He retired in the 1920’s and passed away in 1953, at the age of 62.

13. Freddy Adu (USA)

Age at record: 16 years, 235 days
Game of record: USA 0-0 Canada, 22/1/2006

Where are they now? The one-time wonderkid of US Soccer, Freddy Adu never lived up to the ridiculous potential he showed as a kid. He set records as “the youngest X” everywhere he went at first but never excelled. He played for fifteen teams in nine countries and is currently, aged 32, without a club having last appeared for Osterlen FF in 2020. Adu’s 17th and final appearance for the USMNT came in the 2011 Gold Cup final, as he scored in a 4-2 defeat to Mexico.

12. Walter Horacio Peralta (Uruguay)

Age at record: 17 years, 96 days
Game of record: Uruguay 2-0 Venezuela, 8/9/1999

Where are they now? Peralta was barely 17 years old when he debuted for Uruguay but despite being a striker he never scored in any of his seven caps. He had a journeyman career and was last seen playing for Deportivo Maldonado back in his native Uruguay.

11. Jan van Breda Kolff (Netherlands)

Age at record: 17 years, 72 days
Game of record: Netherlands 3-1 Belgium, 2/4/1911

Where are they now? When Jan van Breda Kolff made his record-breaking Netherlands debut he also set another record as the country’s youngest-ever goalscorer, bagging the second goal in a 3-1 win over Hungary. He won Bronze in the 1912 Olympic Games before his career was then interrupted by World War I. After retirement he became a stockbroker in the USA and although he passed away in 1976, his son and grandson are notable basketball coaches.

10. Harald Nielsen (Denmark)

Age at record: 17 years, 322 days
Game of record: Denmark 2-2 Czecheslovakia, 23/9/1959

Where are they now? Nielsen was a formidable figure. Just a year after his record-setting debut he was top scorer at the 1960 Olympic Games, picking up a silver medal to go with his six goals. He enjoyed a productive playing career with Bologna in Italy and after retirement in the 1970s he helped to pressure the Danish FA to professionalise. Nielsen was also the co-founder and first chairman of FC Copenhagen. He passed away in 2015 and there is currently a statue of him in the middle of a public square, which is also named after him.

9. Luis Perez (Mexico)

Age at record: 17 years, 308 days
Game of record: Mexico 2-0 El Salvador 17/11/1998

Where are they now? Perez made his Mexico debut in a friendly win over El Savador just a couple of months before his 18th birthday, but would have to wait another two year for his next cap. Perez went on to play 69 times for Mexico, while also spending his club career in his native country before retiring in 2016.

8. Gavi (Spain)

Age at record: 17 years, 61 days
Game of record: Italy 1-2 Spain, 6/10/2021

Barcelona’s young prodigy stepped onto the field for Italy and shattered Angel Zubieta’s near-90-year-old record, and not only that he was instrumental in Spain’s big win, shutting down the Italian midfield with exceptional pressing and passing.

Where are they now? Heading back to Barcelona before resuming the Blaugrana’s campaign to try and win something this season.

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7. Jose Gralha (Portugal)

Age at record: 16 years, 279 days
Game of record: Spain 3-1 Portugal, 18/12/1921

Where are they now? Gralha is deceased.

6. Diego Maradona (Argentina)

Age at record: 16 years, 120 days
Game of record: Argentina 5-1 Hungary, 27/2/1977

Where are they now? The magnificent Maradona has sadly left us but not before having one of the greatest careers the game has ever seen. His debut as a 16-year-old was impressive but he missed out on the 1978 World Cup, making up for it in 1982 and especially 1986 when he led Argentina to glory. A legend at Napoli in the club game, Maradona remains a mythic figure to this day and likely for years to come.

5. Renzo De Vecchi (Italy)

Age at record: 16 years, 111 days
Game of record: Hungary 6-1 Italy, 26/5/1910

Where are they now? De Vecchi was perilously young when he made his debut but did enough to earn more call-ups. He represented Italy in the 1912, 1920 and 1924 Olympic Games and was his country’s captain for five years as well. De Vecchi retired in 1929 and became a journalist, writing about football until he passed away aged 73 in 1967.

4. Julien Verbrugghe (France)

Age at record: 16 years, 309 days
Game of record: France 0-15 England, 1/11/1906

Where are they now? Verbrugghe’s France debut was truly traumatic as they were decimated by England Amateurs. After the outbreak of World War I he joined the French infantry and sadly perished during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 at the age of just 26, only a decade removed from his incredible record-setting appearance.

3. Theo Walcott (England)

Age at record: 17 years, 74 days
Game of record: England 3-1 Hungary, 30/5/2006

Where are they now? Theo Walcott was a shock inclusion in England’s 2006 World Cup squad and in a pre-tournament friendly he broke Wayne Rooney’s record to be the youngest England international ever. He failed to make a massive impression for the Three Lions but has had a decent club career, and is currently back at boyhood club Southampton.

2. Pelé (Brazil)

Age at record: 16 years, 259 days
Game of record: Brazil 1-2 Argentina, 7/7/1957

Where are they now? A year before he set the world aflame at the 1958 World Cup, Pelé was debuting for Brazil as a 16 year-old. No one could have imagined the juggernaut they were about to witness, but witness it they did. Pelé is currently retired and is now known for making terrible predictions.

1. Fernand Nisot (Belgium)

Age at record: 16 years, 18 days
Game of record: Belgium 7-1 France, 30/4/1911

Where are they now? It feels fitting that the no. 1 nation in the world also has the youngest debutant. Fernan Nisot was only just 16 when he played for Belgium in their 7-1 demolition of France. After a brief disruption due to World War I, Nisot was part of the Belgian side that won gold at the 1920 Olympic Games. Nisot passed away in 1973.