Anthony Martial became the most expensive teenager in history when he joined Manchester United on deadline day. The Red Devils paid nearly £2m for each of the Frenchman’s 19 years in order to bring him to Old Trafford.
The pressure on him will be immense. Not only has he been brought in to add firepower to a strikeforce that looks as sparky as a damp match, but he has also been handed the number nine shirt. Now, that may not be the most iconic of jerseys at the Theatre of Dreams – the likes of Saha, Berbatov and Falcao haven’t exactly raised its profile – but wearing such a number brings with it a weight of expectation, even more so in England, where the centre-forward is still greatly revered.
That’s quite the burden for a youngster. Not only has he been hit with a huge price tag – something he is powerless to prevent- but he has also been derided as a poor signing. Martial will be uprooting his life at such tender years, leaving behind family, friends and everything he knows. It’s like university but with millions of fanatical supporters watching and scrutinising your every move; just imagine.
These are struggles that have belied many a whipper-snapper when they have been transferred for large sums, not many have found the going easy. Here we take a look at some of the game’s most pricey teenagers and how they coped with the gravity of moving from ‘hot prospect’ to ‘star player’ overnight. It’s a list that should act as a warning to those instantly expecting great things from the Red Devils newest signing, most notably his manager.
Luke Shaw – Southampton to Manchester United £31m
Another United signing rolls in as the second most lavish teenage purchase, and it is one that the north-west club have had to persevere with in order for it to bear fruit. The Southampton academy graduate looked like a fine signing when he made the switch to the Premier League’s most successful club. The fee was almost ignored, such was his great potential, but his supposed astronomical wage demands even scared Chelsea off and there were fears his mind was not in the right place.
That may well have been the case. Louis van Gaal dismissed Shaw’s suitability for first team football, thanks to a lack of fitness both physically and mentally, hardly something to be expected from a player worth over £30m. Nevertheless, Shaw got fit and made 16 league appearances last term, earning a call-up to the England squad.
The now 20-year-old has made an excellent start to the new campaign and it is only now that he is starting to pay back that inflated transfer fee.
Lucas Moura – Sao Paulo to PSG £28m
Now, this list has a theme, and that theme is Manchester United. The Old Trafford outfit were hotly-tipped to make Lucas Moura the most expensive teenager ever to grace the game back in 2012. However, it was PSG who eventually took the plunge, splurging a grand old sum of £28m on a player still taking his washing round to his Mum’s.
The fee was so astonishing that United boss Sir Alex Ferguson proclaimed his bewilderment at such a price: “I find it quite amazing that a club can pay €45million for a 19-year-old boy. Right you are Sir Alex, maybe have a word with the man currently in possession of the hot-seat you vacated around two years ago.
The Brazilian hasn’t exactly torn trees up in Paris either. He has scored 12 goals in 75 outings for the capital club impressing in patches but never hitting any dizzy heights. He laid on six assists and bagged eight times in the previous campaign, his best return yet but at 23, people are still waiting for him to explode.
Wayne Rooney – Everton to Manchester United £26m
Recognise this guy? Yup, yet more Manchester based spending. Wazza was the most-wanted man on the planet in the summer of 2004. He was the boy who almost made David Seaman look as helpless as Ronaldinho did, and he looked destined to be the greatest English player of his generation. Obvioulsy, with this being England, praise, and ultimately pressure, was heaped on the teenager in abundance.
He turned up at Old Trafford and did himself no favours in the pressure stakes. Rooney scored a hat-trick on his debut against Fenerbahce and laid on a assist as he announced his arrival in typically rambunctious style. The United striker has gone on to reach double figures in every season since but only twice has he passed the elusive 20 mark in the top-flight.
Whether the former Toffee has scaled the heights that were expected of him is too big a debate to have here, but external factors in his personal life, fitness issues and questions over his development have all been a hindrance at times. Despite all this he is on the cusp of being England’s greatest ever goalscorer, has skippered both his country and his club and is guaranteed a place in United folklore.
Javier Saviola - River Plate to Barcelona £25m
Football hipsters of the world, unite and take over. At last, a player that at no point seemed destined for the bright lights of Manchester. Javier Saviola was a phenomenon in his native Argentina. He plundered 45 goals in 86 games for River Plate and earned himself the nickname of El Conejo (The Rabbit). That caught the eye of Barcelona’s money men, who shelled out around £25m for the 19-year-old prodigy.
What followed was 60 goals in his first three seasons at the Camp Nou but after that he faltered massively and was sent out on loan before ultimately being sold, as Barca moved on to the cusp of the tiki-taka era. Spells at the likes of Benfica, Malaga and Olympiacos followed but his potential was never quite fulfilled.
Like many an Argentine, Saviola was engulfed by comparisons with the great Diego Maradona. Only one man has been able to emerge from that shadow and that is Lionel Messi. It's a lesson Martial will have to learn, after umpteen suggestions of his likeness to Thierry Henry. Javier Saviola, much like his compatriot Juan Roman Riqueleme, has been confined to the pages of independent football magazines and the hearts’ of football hipsters.