Fifa U-17 World Cup men: Where are they now?
India is hosting the most important football tournament in the country’s history. The Fifa Under-17 World Cup may not quite seem like an event at the pinnacle of world football, but for a country such as India, where the first 8 out of the top 10 most popular sports are cricket, the event is a big deal. Football fans all over the country, all seven of them, will look forward to the tournament for multiple reasons. They will hope, first of all, that the tournament serves up exciting football. Second, Indian football fans will hope it will mark a significant inflexion point in the history of Indian football. For some years after independence, India seemed like an early mover when it came to Asian football. The fall that followed was precipitous.
But most of all, fans in India and elsewhere will hope that the future superstars of world football will make a mark at this tournament on Indian soil. Six or seven years from now, when the next Lionel Messi lifts the World Cup, Indians can say we saw that star rising first.
But what about the past stars of the tournament? As we shall see in this brief pick of some of the tournament’s greatest past performers, success at the U-17 World Cup can lead to many different things, good and bad.
Marcel Witeczek: Winner of the Golden Boot for top goal scorer in the inaugural tournament in China in 1985, Witeczek went on to have a top-class, if not spectacular, career in the Bundesliga. He never broke into the German national team, but did manage to win the league twice and the Uefa Cup once with Bayern Munich.
James Will: James Will won the Golden Ball for best player at the 1989 tournament in Scotland. The Scottish goalkeeper, who conceded only three goals from open play in the tournament, helped his team to the finals where they lost to Saudi Arabia on penalties. Only three members of that Scottish team played senior football for their country. Will gave up football not long after and became a policeman.
Nii Lamptey: Once upon a time the Ghanaian Lamptey, best player at the 1991 tournament, was hailed as the next Pele. Rising from an appalling childhood, and beset by personal tragedies, Lamptey’s career crippled under the pain and pressure. He never came close to achieving his early promise. But the very fact that he persisted with football regardless of his losses is a miracle in itself.
Landon Donovan: Winner of the Golden Ball in the 1999 tournament in New Zealand, Donovan went on to become arguably the greatest American footballer in history. Donovan can boast of an entirely respectable career in club football, playing with acclaim in Germany, England and in Major League Soccer. But it is his performance for the US team, with 57 goals in 157 appearances, that makes him a legend.
Cesc Fabregas: Arguably one of the most successful alumni of the U-17 World Cup ever, Fabregas shined for Spain with a Golden Ball winning performance in the 2003 Finnish edition. Fabregas has gone on to win almost everything there is to win in football. Except the Champions League in which he came runners-up with Arsenal.
Kelechi Nwakali: The Nigerian is the most recent winner of an U-17 World Cup Golden Ball. And that happened in Chile in 2015, when the Nigerians won the tournament for a record fifth time. Nwakali joined Arsenal the next year. Since then, the Nigerian has plied his trade on loan in the Dutch Eredivisie. Can he buck the trend and replicate his youth success at the senior level? Arsenal fans will certainly hope he can.