Life as a youth player has become increasingly difficult and frustrating. More often than not, youth players will either get released before they even have a sniff of first team action, or they’ll be loaned out to build their experience before signing permanently for another side.
With so much money in the game nowadays, teams are happier to spend big on a ready-made star who will make an instant impact rather than nurture a younger talent into becoming a club legend. Some of the best names in footballing history came through their club’s youth system to be legends, Steven Gerrard, Francesco Totti, Paolo Maldini to name a few.
But moving away from a big parent club doesn’t necessarily mean a step down. Here are six players who went in search of first team football and made it back to the top…
1. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
Arguably one of the best strikers produced by Dutch football, Huntelaar started his career at PSV under Guus Hiddink. The striker made only one appearance before being loaned out to both De Graafschap and AGOVV.
Huntelaar decided to then move to Heerenveen, where he was offered regular first-team football. 60 games and 36 goals later, he signed for PSV’s fierce rivals Ajax for £8m. The Dutchman went on to play for Real Madrid, Milan and Schalke before moving back to Ajax last summer.
2. Samuel Eto’o
Most football fans will remember Eto’o as a prolific striker who tore La Liga up at Barcelona with Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry. But the Cameroonian forward actually started his career at Real Madrid, although it was unsuccessful. The 36-year-old only made three first-team appearances for Los Blancos as he spent most of his time on loan during his three years at the Bernabeu.
Following a successful loan move to Mallorca, he made the move permanent, where he continued to impress. Barcelona snapped him up four years after that, and the rest is history. Eto’o has gone on to play for Inter, Chelsea and Everton, and he currently plays for Turkish side Antalyaspor.
3. Paul Pogba
We all know this story. Sir Alex Ferguson clearly didn’t rate Pogba enough to give him a regular chance in the first team – and when Rafael was selected over him to play in midfield, the Frenchman knew it was time to leave.
Juventus snapped the 24-year-old up on a free transfer and transformed him into one of the best midfielders of today’s game. Pogba has since moved back to Old Trafford for a once world record fee of £89.3m, claiming he had unfinished business for the Red Devils.
4. Nathan Ake
Nathan Ake was once part of Chelsea infamous youth system that focuses on sending as many young players as they can out on loan while signing expensive talent to make immediate impacts.
Ake spent time on loan at Reading, Watford and Bournemouth before making his deal permanent with the latter. He was praised for being brave enough to make the switch, and following his move, he criticised the youth system in place at Chelsea, which has seen them loan out 33 players this summer.
5. Gerard Pique
Another player to leave Manchester United in search of first team football, Gerard Pique moved on after Sir Alex Ferguson decided to pick Jonny Evans ahead of him. He also had Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic ahead of him, but Evans was the man used for rotation, so Pique packed his bags and moved to Barca.
Following his £5m move, he has won six La Liga titles, three Champions League and numerous other trophies. It’s fair to say he made the right decision.
6. Cesc Fabregas
After starting his youth career at Barcelona, Fabregas decided to move to arsenal in search of more first team football. The Spaniard quickly became a fan favourite at the Emirates before being made captain. He reached the Champions League final, eventually losing out to Barcelona, and also won the FA Cup in 2005.
Much like Pogba, Fabregas decided he had unfinished business at his former club, and decided to move back to the Nou Camp in 2011. The 30-year-old has since moved to Chelsea. where he lifted his first and second Premier League titles.