We all love a teenage sporting star. There is something about seeing a young starlet showing their capabilities on the grand stage of their preferred sport. Last week the AFL world was abuzz by the debut of 18-year-old Jack Silvagni. Silvangi comes from a family full of football history, as both his father and Grandfather are members of the Carlton Team of the Century. In the wake of Silvangi’s debut we have compiled a list of the five most talked about teenagers of all time in the world of sport. Some of these adolescents are from decades gone by, while others still have their best years ahead of them. No matter what sport they are from, these starlets have had the weight of expectation held upon their shoulders from the start of their careers.
- Patrick Cummins
Patrick Cummins burst onto the international cricket stage in 2011 at the age of 18. In his debut test for Australia, Cummins took seven wickets and scored 13-second innings runs to guide Australia to victory over South Africa.
Cummins became the talk of the nation and was tipped to lead the Australian bowling line up for the years that followed. But injuries have curtailed Cummins career and he has not played at test for Australia since his debut.
Time will tell if Cummins ever reaches his potential but when he does return, he will certainly be under less attention than years past.
- Jack Watts
Jack Watts was a fan favourite before he even made his senior AFL debut for Melbourne. The 196cm forward plied his trade with the Sandringham Dragons at TAC Cup level and attended Brighton Grammar before being selected as the number 1 pick in the 2008 National Draft, ahead of Nic Naitanui and Daniel Rich.
Possessing a strong pair of hands and recording the second fastest time by an non-indigenous player in the 20 metre sprint, Watts was regarded as a promising prospect, who would guide the Demons back up the ladder.
Given the number four guernsey, previously worn by the great Norm Smith, Watts made his senior debut against Collingwood in round 11, 2009. Senior Collingwood players tormented a physically frail Watts and he was gang tackled in his first touch of AFL football.
For such promise, Watts has never been able to fulfil the expectations placed on him. Coaches have tried playing Watts in different positions but he has never been able to grasp the opportunity with both hands, leading many to proclaim him as one of the worst number one picks of all time.
Now in his eighth year in the AFL, Watts has finally shown glimmers of his potential and has kicked 27 goals in 14 games this season.
- Anthony Martial
Very few people knew who Anthony Martial was when Manchester United signed the 19-year-old Frenchman in August 2015 for £36 million, a record price for a teenager.
United supporters were livid with the signing as they saw it as United being unambitious in the transfer market and a rash purchase, considering at the time United’s only recognised striker was Wayne Rooney.
Expectations were high on Martial leading into his first game for the club, which was against rivals Liverpool. Martial started on the bench and was brought on in the 65th minute, with United leading 2-1. Martial silenced his doubters and became a fan favourite when he went on a spectacular run to score United’s third goal and clinch the victory.
Eight days later, Martial scored twice in a 3-2 away win to Southampton. By the end of the season, Martial had scored 17 goals in 57 appearances for the Red Devils, won the Golden Boy Award for best young footballer in Europe and cemented his position in United’s starting line up.
Martial has also been tipped to be a star of the French national side in the decades to come and is part of the French squad for the 2016 Euro’s.
- Ian Thorpe
By the age of 18, Ian Thorpe had already won five Olympic medals and was the face of Australian sport. Thorpe burst onto the sporting scene aged 14, when he became the youngest male ever to represent Australia, while his 400 metre freestyle victory at the 1998 Perth World Championships made him the youngest ever individual male World Champion.
At the 1998 Malaysian Commonwealth Games, a 16-year-old Thorpe won individual gold medals in the 200 and 400 metre freestyle, as well as winning gold in the 100 and 200 metre freestyle relay. Thorpe’s dominance at the 1998 games saw him be named the youngest ever ‘Swimming World Swimmer of the Year.’
Along with Cathy Freeman, Thorpe was the face of the 2000 Sydney Olympics and held the weight of the nation on his shoulders. Thorpe exceeded expectations by winning three gold medals and two silvers.
Four medals, including two gold’s at the 2004 Athens Olympics followed, but injury and a lack of motivation forced Thorpe into retirement at the age of 24.
- George Best
George Best was the fifth Beatle. Best personified the changing society of the 1960’s and his skill, good looks and undeniable charm made him the envy of men and the desire of all women.
The Belfast born starlet made his debut for Manchester United as a shy 17 year old in 1963. It didn’t take long for Best to lose the shyness, as he would be the pioneer for the celebrity footballer, seen today with the likes of David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Best’s technical ability and dribbling prowess made him a target for opposition players who would consistently punch, kick and sledge Best in an attempt to hinder his performance.
Best catapulted to superstar status at 19 when he scored two goals in a European Cup quarterfinal clash against Benfica. Fans, specifically women, flocked to see George Best at every chance thay got, which included camping out in front on his residence and sometimes even breaking into his bedroom.
By 1968, Best was at the peak of his game, helping guide United to their first European Cup, while individually being awarded the Ballon d’Or for best player in the world.
Unfortunately the highs didn’t last for long. A downturn in United’s form and the constant attention from the media and fans led to Best becoming an alcoholic.
Aged 27, Best was released by United due to his erratic behaviour and lack of motivation. Post United, Best played for 18 football clubs around the world and spent most of his time living in America.
There were opportunities to resurrect his career at power clubs like Juventus but Best’s love for Manchester United was so great that he did not want to play for a side that may one day have lined up against United.
Years of alcohol abuse took it’s toll on Best’s health and kidney failure ended his life in 2005, aged 59.
Those who were fortunate to witness the skills of Best will remember talented footballer, who possessed skill, pace and desire never seen on the football field before.
But the highest praise came in the form legend, Pele. Pele, who himself is widely recognised as the best player to ever grace a football pitch, stated that George Best is the greatest player of all time.