In 2015, Lionel Messi gave his backing to a select few youngsters, with the confidence that they would blossom from wonderkids into world-class superstars. These players, it is fair to say, have turned out very mixed results, with some turning into first-class players, with others flopping and escaping the memory.
Lionel Messi 2015 Wonderkids: Where are They Now?
Success Rating — 2/10
One of the most promising talents at Manchester United in the earlier part of the decade, James Wilson has not lived up to the hype.
Soon after Messi backed the young striker, he went on loan to then-Championship side Brighton and Hove Albion. Following an underwhelming spell there, with just five goals in 27 appearances, he returned to the Red Devils, before going on another loan, this time with Derby County. Even less impressive this time, he earned himself just five appearances, and only scored once. His time there was cut short due to injury and he returned to Old Trafford in February of 2017, less than six months after joining.
Failed loan spells at Sheffield United and Aberdeen followed this, but the Scottish side bought him, despite having poor stats there.
In the most recent January transfer window, Manchester United sold him, only half a season after making his temporary deal permanent. Now in League Two, Wilson seems to have found his level, with two goals in six outings for Class of ‘92 owned Salford City.
Success Rating — 8.5/10
Undoubtedly the most successful of Messi’s starlets, Timo Werner has turned out as an excellent centre-forward. He joined current club, RB Leipzig, from VfB Stuttgart in 2016, and has excelled since. The German goal-scorer has 26 goals and 10 assists in 32 appearances this season, attracting interest from many of Europe’s top clubs like Barcelona, Liverpool, and Manchester United. Rated at $88 million, he would not come cheap, but that is a testament to how good the 24-year-old is. Although not many of the Lionel Messi 2015 wonderkids proved him right, Werner certainly did.
Success Rating — 3.5/10
Chelsea outcast Kenedy has had a tough time since the Barcelona legend’s prediction. He made 20 appearances during the 2015/16 season, however that seems to have been the peak of his career.
He joined Watford on loan for the 2016/17 campaign, but returned to the Blues in December of that season, having struggled with injuries and with just 15 minutes of game-time. Staying in London for the rest of the season, Kenedy did not do much better, and the Brazilian joined Newcastle United a year after returning from the Hornets, on yet another temporary deal.
Although he played consistently, his time with the Magpies was not career-saving. Having spent half a season there in 2017/18, they felt that he had earned another season. Kenedy was not particularly impressive for Newcastle last season, though, and he returned to Chelsea in the summer. He is currently on loan at Getafe, however, there is much uncertainty over his future, with it unclear whether he will remain with Chelsea, as he tries to re-find his footballing ability.
Success Rating — 5/10
Another of Messi’s 2015 wonderkids who was Chelsea’s at the time, Jeremie Boga has since moved on. Failed loan spells with the likes of Stade Rennais FC, Granada CF, and Birmingham City, have seen him fall out of favour in London. From 2015 to his Chelsea departure, the Ivorian scored just seven times in his 93 appearances on various loan spells and with the London club. Now in Serie A with mid-table side Sassuolo, Boga’s career seems to have somewhat picked up, with 12 goals and assists from 24 games in the competition.
Success Rating — 3/10
Tipped by Lionel Messi to be one of the most promising wonderkids in the world, Khiry Shelton has not left the MLS in his career, bar one year with SC Paderborn in Germany. He played for New York City FC for nearly three years, before moving to Sporting Kansas City. His year in Germany, where he went from Kansas on a free transfer, concluded with a return to his former team in the USA’s Midwest. He has not had the big-money move once thought possible and looks to be a standard MLS player for the rest of his career, fighting for game-time at Kansas.
Success Rating — 1.5/10
One of the most promising talents in Italy, Accursio Bentivegna was a US Palermo player. Despite the backing of one of football’s greatest ever talents, Bentivegna failed to impress, with three failed loan spells from the Italian outfit. He finally left in the summer of 2018, making his loan move to Carrarese Calcio 1908 permanent. In Italy’s third tier, he has looked more comfortable but never turned into the world-class player which many once believed he could.
Success Rating — 4.5/10
Not necessarily a failure, but certainly not a success, Gyasi Zardes has hit better form lately. The American striker was solid for California based Los Angeles Galaxy, but never reached his true potential or at least the potential which Messi believed he had. He left LA Galaxy soon before the arrival of legendary centre-forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic and has since become an instrumental part of the Columbus Crew SC side, having scored 34 goals in 66 appearances there.
Success Rating — 6/10
Formerly of Manchester City, Rony Lopes joined Monaco shortly before gaining Messi’s backing. In January 2016, the French club loaned him out to LOSC Nice for a year and a half, and upon the Portuguese winger’s return, he slotted into Monaco’s starting team. He was an important part of their side who finished second in 2017/18, with 15 goals and seven assists, but failed to reach those heights again having failed to impress in Ligue 1 last season. Having joined Sevilla, Lopes is not doing any better, with just three league appearances since his move to Spain.
Success Rating — 6/10
Maxwel Cornet still has time on his side. The 23-year-old is an important asset to Olympique Lyonnais, where he has played since Messi bracket him to become something big. Cornet has been consistent for several years and, as a first-team regular, he could still make it to a top team, with many years of his career ahead of him.
Success Rating — 4.5/10
Aleksey Miranchuk has been loyal to his boyhood club Lokomotiv Moscow, however, loyalty is about all that he can be praised for. He has been a good player for the Russian giants but has not turned into the kind of player which Lionel Messi foretold. The 24-year-old still has time, however, with no clubs showing interest in him, it is unlikely that he will get the big money move which he dared to dream of many years ago.