‘Wonderkid ‘ – a term that was once used to describe the likes of Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Freddy Adu.
It is a word that’s bandied about a hell of a lot in the footballing world these days, to the extent where being labelled one doesn’t particularly mean much, and doesn’t really set you apart from the rest of the young generation.
Now, I’m a bit of a Football Manager addict, and I must confess that the game I play an unhealthy amount of has probably contributed to the degeneration and irrelevance of this term.
Back when computer games were considered a bit of a joke in terms of a real life comparison; when someone was called a ‘wonderkid’, they probably were one. In this day and age – anyone can be a wonderkid purely thanks to a ‘Goals, Tricks and Skills’ video on YouTube.
I’m not completely disregarding ‘wonderkids’, but the term now has to be taken with a pinch of salt.
The development in the accuracy of the Football Manager database has meant young players have even more pressure to develop into a star; to become the next Lionel Messi, the next world-beater.
‘Wonderkids’ are now a lot easier to identify and follow, whether you’re a casual player of the game, or a coach of a senior football club. It is no secret that professional teams, Everton being an example, use the Football Manager database.
For this series, it gives me a solid set of players to build a team with. I have selected some of the best under 18 players on the game to play for Wonderkid FC in the Premier League.
The whole premise of the series is to see just how well I can do in the English top flight with a team of the world’s best youth players. If there are bit good enough under 18s for certain positions, I can look at 19-year-olds, but ultimately I would like to avoid that if possible.
Be that as it may, I am not completely revamping the Premier League and its rules, so one team has to go. To determine said team, Wonderkid FC will replace the current 20th placed side – sorry Aston Villa fans.
I will go into all the club details in Part 2, but this first instalment is purely to lay down the groundwork for the series, and to let you know who has been selected for my team of gems. Let’s get to it!
Gianluigi Donnarumma [AC Milan] – 16
Donnarumma made history back in October as he became the youngest debutant goalkeeper in the Serie A, at 16 years and 8 eights months old. In Football Manager, he lives up to the real world hype; possessing a solid set of attributes, especially when you consider his age.
The attributes that stand out are reflexes and rushing Out; which are both 15; this suits my preferred sweeper keeper role. His one on ones are rated as a 13, meaning he’s perfectly capable in between the sticks. There’s loads of room for improvement but he’s definitely the best goalkeeper in his age group.
Bartlomiej Dragowski [Jagiellonia] -17
I’ll forgive you if you’ve never heard of this guy. Let’s just says he’s a relatively unknown prospect. However, in the world of Football Manager, he’s really come to prominence in the past couple of editions.
He’s not quite as good as Donnarumma as a sweeper keeper, but he is also pretty good for his age; his handling and reflexes really standing out. His mental stats are also really solid which bodes well for development, although his kicking isn’t amazing.
Whilst Dragowski is good for his age, he’s not likely to be our number 1. Donnarumma has that firmly in his grasp, but it’s nice to have good competition.
Alex Meret [Udinese] – 18
Talking of good competition, another Italian will provide just that. It isn’t really a surprise seeing as he’s the oldest of out three goalkeepers, and will be pushing Donnarumma for a first team berth intently.
He’s likely to start our cup games and fill in if Donnarumma gets injured (I’ll be referring to him as GD from now on).
In terms of attributes, he has a lot of solidity rather than ‘okay’ interspersed with quality. Again, kicking is a worrym but I’ve already addressed similar concerns.
It’s nice to see another mentally good keeper at the squad. They should be able to deal with regular first team football despite their tender ages.
If anyone is going to compete with GD for a regular starting spot in the Premier League, it’s Alex Meret, but all three will be given a chance over the coming season.
Felix Passlack – D/WB/M/AM(R) [Dortmund] – 17
Felix Passlack was a real favourite of mine in Football Manager 2015; not only for his undoubted potential, but for his extreme versatility.
You may think that using the word ‘extreme’ is a bit, well, extreme, but it’s not.
He can play nearly everywhere. Predominantly he plays all down the right – a natural in all positions down that side. But he can play everywhere on the left AND through the middle.
In fact, the only two positions he can’t play are striker and central defence…useless.
He’s a fantastic player going forward, and his flexibility means I’ve got cover for about six different positions, which I love.
He’s not amazing defensively which could see him being pushed forwards if he’s a liability, but he’s 17-years-old. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Borja San Emeterio – D(R) [Racing] – 18
Felix Passlack would do very well to keep San Emeterio out of the first team, at right back especially.
He is far more well-rounded and is a really good talent, who I’m excited to work with.
He’s just as good going forward, and a good crosser, who’s pacey enough to beat his man. His high work-rate means that he won’t mind getting up and down supporting both attack and defence.
In defence he’s so much better. He is better at marking and tackling and can also pass a ball. He’s not as raw as Passlack and that means he’ll probably be the first choice right-back.
Jesus Vallejo – D(C) [Real Madrid] – 18
I’m going to say this in simple terms: Jesus Vallejo is brilliant.
For an 18-year-old, he has a great maturity and a certain roundness to his game. He can do the basics well (tackling, heading and marking) whilst also being able to step it up.
His passing and vision are both 12, meaning he has the potential of being a good ball-playing defender in the future. This would give us a different dimension – with a playmaking centre-half.
He’s pretty quick for a defender so we can push higher up the pitch, whilst he’ll also stop at nothing to make sure the team performs to the best of its ability.
He’s not particularly strong, which is a concern, but everything else is really pleasing.
Jairo Riedewald – D(LC) [Ajax] – 18
Jairo Riedewald is another really good prospect in this side.
Hailing from the famed Ajax Youth Academy, he’s equally adept as a centre-back and a left-back. His attributes aren’t quite good enough as a left-back so he’ll definitely be counted as part of our centre-half contingent.
He’s quite imposing at 6’2″ and has a really solid set of attributes. He has the potential to be a really good player, and I’m hoping he can fulfil that at Wonderkid FC.
Filippo Romagna – D(C) [Juventus] -18
I’m still a little unsure on Romagna, but from all the feedback I’ve had, it’s been positive.
It’s always nice when they’re playing for a team like Juventus. In fairness, these guys are only 18, they’re younger than me. I can’t really expect them to be amazing, so if they can do the basics well, there’s plenty to build around.
He certainly does to basics well: his heading, marking and tackling are all 13, whilst he’s also got some pace about him.
He works hard which is vital for a team I manage, and whilst he mightn’t be the complete package now, he could very well be.
Matthijs de Ligt – D(C), DM(C) [Ajax] – 15
Matthijs De Light is 15 – unbelievable! Although this is a risk, in all honesty.
At 15 you can never tell if anyone’s really good, and you also have to set your expectations a little lower when it comes to attributes.
So yeah, it’s quite hard to judge him at the moment.
He’s got some solid attributes – nothing special at the moment – but I hope he can become a really good centre back, maybe even a defensive midfielder?
As I’ve said, he’s almost a complete unknown, but it’s nice to have a really young player in the squad. If this series lasts a while, then he’ll be one for further down the line.
Jorge – D(L),WB(L) / M(L) [Flamengo] – 19
The only 19-year-old in the squad and he’s someone very few of you may have heard of.
I signed him for my Corinthians side in 2017 and he battled very hard with the next man on the list for a first team spot.
He does everything I want a full-back to do – I want them to be just as effective in the attacking third as they are in defence.
He has some really strong attacking attributes whilst mentally he’s very strong.
I’m looking forward to watching him play, but he has got some real competition for that left-back spot…
Guilherme Arana – D(L), WB(L) [Corinthians] – 18
Anyone who regularly plays Football Manager knows that the clubs in Brazil have academies stockpiled with some wonderful talent, and Corinthians is no exception.
Guilherme Arana is in many ways very similar to Luke Shaw; young (18), athletic and good going forwards and backwards.
I’ve actually managed Arana on this game and he is very good, so I’m excited to use him. He’ll provide a lot of competition at left-back and will start in the cup games.
He’s not really amazing but he’s solid, and would make the first team for a lot of Premier League sides.
I know that if one of my left-backs gets injured, I know there’s more than adequate cover.
Ruben Neves – DM/M(C) [Porto] – 18
Ruben Neves is the next big thing in world football, and has already been linked with teams like Liverpool and Chelsea.
He’s actually the youngest person to have captained their team in a Champions League game, and his maturity has helped in making that possible.
He is the complete defensive midfielder; he can pass, he can create and he can tackle. Mentally he is brilliant and he can only get better.
In Football Manager, he becomes the world’s best defensive midfielder and is a fine addition to the squad.
Thiago Maia – DM [Santos] – 18
The latest Brazilian in the team this time comes from Santos, and I’m dubbing him the Brazilian Ruben Neves.
There’s a long way to go until he becomes as good as the greatest holding-midfielder to have ever played the game, but there aren’t many who can match up to the mercurial talents of Lucas Leiva are there?
He’s another who I would describe as being a complete player, and him and Neves could really be special for my team.
Youri Tielemans – M(C) [Anderlecht] -18
Youri Tielemans is a Football Manager cult hero. He’s like the midfield version of Romelu Lukaku, in that he has been a mainstay in the Anderlecht side since he was 16-years-old.
Whilst he may not be the strongest midfielder in the world, he is brilliant on the ball, with the ability to open up defences from deep at will.
He has been the go-to guy for Football Manager players in the past few years, and he’s a guy you simply must have in your team. I’m expecting big things from him.
Riechedly Bazoer – D(C),DM, M(C) [Ajax] – 18
Another from Ajax and another with some really nice flexibility. He’s natural as a centre-back, defensive midfielder and a centre midfielder.
I’m a big fan of flexibility and his presence means we can try a variety of systems, and maybe branch out into the hipster wilderness.
As you’d expect from a man who’s come through the Ajax Academy, he’s really good on the ball which provides us with a lot of options. He can bring the ball out from the back, be a creative midfielder or a controller from deep – this is what I like.
He will also work his socks off, which is another trait that I love my players to have. I’ve got a feeling I’ll grow fond of him and he could easily break into the starting eleven.
Renato Sanches – M/AM(C) [Benfica] – 17
I’m a big fan of Sanches. He’s deceivingly good.
A first look at his attributes and you think there’s nothing special, but there’s just something about him.
He’s another hard working creator who likes to get in the box and score goals.
If I do play him, it’ll probably be a bit deeper as he likes to control the tempo of the game.
At 17, there’s plenty of time to develop his solid attributes, and he’s a great cover player to have.
Martin Ødegaard – AM(R,C) M(R) [Real Madrid] – 16
Is Martin Ødegaard the most famous teenager in the world? In the footballing world, maybe.
All the top clubs were clamouring to sign him when he was at Strømsgodset and it was Real Madrid who eventually won the race.
Whilst he’s a player with really good potential, it’s not all there at the moment.
Physically, there’s a lot of work to do. However, it creative ability is really good, so if we’re struggling to get goals, he’s the man to create them.
Gerson – AM(RLC) [Roma] – 18
Yes, it’s another Brazilian, and don’t worry, there’s more to come.
He’s a real South American flair player who could conjure up the unthinkable and the untried to get his side a goal.
He can play anywhere behind the striker, be it an out-and-out winger on the left, an inside forward on the right or a shadow striker in the hole.
I’ve got no qualms with playing him from the off, but there’ll be stiff competition which should drive him to do better.
He’s just joined Roma in real life so there is obvious talent, can he replicate that in the virtual world?
Bilal Ould-Chikh – M(R), AM(R,C) / M(LC), AM(L) [Benfica] – 17
Another one who has the versatility factor, I somehow don’t think that’ll make prime time ITV television. Bilal Ould-Chikh is definitely someone who I’ll be playing on the wing.
He likes to play on the right and cut inside onto his favoured right foot.
He’s quite raw, more about running and getting balls into the box rather than intricate play and nice finishing.
He does need a lot of work but I’ve seen him after he’s developed on this game before and he turns into a bit of a monster, so I’ve got high hopes and expectations.
Kristoffer Ajer – DM,M/AM(C) [Start] – 17
If you were to ask me who the most underrated FM youngster is, Kristoffer Ajer’s name would be around the top of the list.
He oozes quality, and for someone who’s only 17 years of age, he can become world class.
He fits into the Ruben Neves mould, with a little more guile going forwards which could be very useful.
He’s another who likes to dictate the tempo of the game, which makes him perfect for the defensive midfield role.
It is also worth mentioning that at 6’5″ – he’s quite tall, so he could be someone to aim at at set pieces to get a few extra goals.
Malcom – AM(L), ST(C) / AM(R) [Corinthians] – 18
Another star Brazilian who I’ve also managed on this game before. This is another who can excite crowds consistently, be it on the left wing or upfront.
With the quality of some of his attributes, I’m more inclined to use him upfront, but there is the option to put him out wide as he can dribble and cross.
He could also play on the right and cut inside, playing almost as a wide forward.
I’ll have to look at what suits the team best, and if he’s part of it, then I’m sure he can do a brilliant job.
Gabriel Barbosa – AM(R), ST(C) / AM(L) [Santos] – 18
Another Football Manager legend and potentially the best player at the club.
He is a brilliant finisher and creator, someone who can roam around and do everything.
He’s like Malcom in the sense that I’m not totally sure where to play him, he’s good on the right but a touch better upfront.
I’ve not even settled on a system I’m going to play yet so we’ll see closer to the time where I’ll play him.
Luka Jovic – ST(C) / AM(RL) [Red Star Belgrade] – 17
Ah, my second favourite striker on FM15 just behind Andrea Belotti. He may be slightly small at 5’9″, but he’s physically very good.
Jovic knows how to find the net and can also play out wide. I like my strikers to move around and create space and he suits this perfectly.
There’s no guarantee he’ll be in the starting XI immediately, but if he performs when he gets a chance, there’s nothing stopping him from gaining a first team berth.
Richairo Zivkovic – ST(C) [Ajax] – 18
The last man in my Wonderkids squad is Richairo Zivkovic, and he is the type of striker I really love.
Yes he’s quite tall at 6’2″ but that doesn’t mean he’s not athletic. He’s incredibly quick, can create for his team mates and – the most important thing for a striker – he can score.
Zivkovic, along with Jovic, is a proper striker.
Whilst the likes of Malcom and Barbosa are equally as adept on the flanks, the Ajax youngster is more the type of player that you want leading the line.
So, you know my team, now I’ve somehow got to try and get them into a system.
There are plenty of thoughts swirling around my head, but I’ve got four formations in mind: 4-2-3-1, 4-2-2-2, 4-3-3 and 3-4-3.
There’s no doubt that all these four and others will be tried and tested throughout the season.
I’d like to actually survive relegation first time around – I know these players haven’t fully adapted so it will be a struggle, but I know that they’ve got the ability to survive, anything better than that and it will be a bonus.