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The U-17 World Cup is a showcase event, displaying the best young players of modern football. While some players go unnoticed despite success in this competition, Rahul Warrier lists those that went on to have successful careers in senior football as well.
The U-17 World Cup is the first international stage for young players to display their talent and make themselves known to the world. Many top players have first starred here, even if many have not been part of winning teams. The fact that the second tier of international teams like Mexico, Switzerland and Nigeria (several times) have won show how balanced youth football is during such tournaments. As a new edition rumbles on in Chile, here are the best 10 players to have been part of a title-winning team in the U-17 World Cup, with a perfect balance of 5 from the 1990s and 5 from the 2000s.
Note: players are listed by the chronological order of the tournaments
Samuel Kuffour // Ghana // 1991
One of the best African defenders to have graced the game, Samuel Kuffour is well known for his time at Bayern Munich, having played for them for 12 years. His physical prowess made him a capable centre-back. He was an integral part of that team and won 17 titles with the Bavarian club. He was such a prodigy that he managed to play in two U-17 World Championships, in 1991 and 1993, where they came 2nd. Kuffour is famously remembered for his display of anguish after his team cruelly lost to Manchester United in the 1999 Champions League final.
Nwankwo Kanu // Nigeria // 1993
Kanu is a striker well-known for his successful time at Arsenal, where he became a fan favourite for his goals. Having also played for Inter Milan, Ajax, West Brom and Portsmouth, Kanu belongs to a select group who have won the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League, UEFA Cup and an Olympic gold. He is also one of the most-capped players for his country and was the second highest-scorer in the U-17 tournament with 5 goals including one hat-trick.
Stephen Appiah // Ghana // 1995
Injuries curtailed the career of Appiah, who was actually only 15 when he won the U-17 World Cup with Ghana in 1995. A strong box-to-box midfielder, Appiah was a well-rounded player with the ability to rack up the assists and goals. He spent the majority of his career in Italy, having played for Udinese, Parma, Brescia, Juventus, Bologna and Cesena. His constant injuries only allowed him to show glimpses of his talents when he played. He also captained Ghana at their World Cup debut in 2006 and was part of the squad that narrowly missed the semi-finals in 2010.
Ronaldinho // Brazil // 1997
Arguably the best player of his generation, Ronaldinho in fact burst into the limelight with two penalties at the U-17 Championships in 1997. His technical skills were matched by none. The things he could achieve with the ball at his feet were simply unparalleled. He went up to another level at Barcelona where he was truly at his peak. Words can not describe what this man could do. There is no need to state that he is the best player ever to have won the U-17 World Cup, and the best player the world has seen in recent times talent-wise along with Messi.
Adriano // Brazil // 1999
L’Imperatore, as he was known in Italy, under-achieved on the immense potential he had. While he had successes at Inter and Flamengo, and scored numerous goals for the duo, Parma and Brazil, the personal problems he had to face in between his stint at Inter more or less sent his career downwards. A move to Brazil did not do wonders to his career either. Nevertheless, despite his inconsistency and fitness issues his talent was undoubtable and his attributes truly made him a top player when he was at his peak. He did not net in the U-17 World Cup however.
Hector Moreno // Mexico // 2005
A tough no-nonsense centre-back, Moreno currently plies his trade for PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch Eredivisie. Having previously for AZ and Espanyol, Moreno is a main-stay in the Mexican national team and is one of their best defenders at the moment. Moreno is also known for his crunching tackles, one of them which resulted in a double leg fracture for Luke Shaw. He is also known for his timely goals, and scored in the semi-final victory in the 2005 U-17 World Cup.
Giovani dos Santos // Mexico // 2005
Once one of the most exciting youth prospects, the elder of the dos Santos brothers is a skilful, pacy and creative playmaker. Having never truly achieved his potential, despite having played for Barcelona, Tottenham and Villareal, he decided to move to the MLS and LA Galaxy in order to get more playing time and become a starter for Mexico. Gio has something most footballers do not have, a Gold at the Olympics (2012), and he also won the Silver Ball at the U-17 World Cup in 2005.
Carlos Vela // Mexico // 2005
The third and last Mexican on this list, Vela was the recipient of the Golden Boot in 2005, firing his team with 5 goals to the title. That performance brought his potential to Arsenal who signed him up. However Vela was unable to reach similar heights for Arsenal and after being shipped about on loan, he eventually joined Real Sociedad in 2011, initially on loan, where he has enjoyed a relative degree of success on a personal level. Internationally however, Vela has had problems and after a three-year hiatus, he is finally back with the Mexicans, which bodes well for them considering he is one of the country’s best players.
Granit Xhaka // Switzerland // 2009
Once dubbed the “young Schweinsteiger” by his then national coach Ottmar Hitzfield, Xhaka possesses excellent vision and technique. While only 22, Xhaka has transitioned into a strong and intelligent midfielder, adding passing accuracy and bustle to the centre of the park. He is part of the midfield engine which drove Monchengladbach to this year’s Champions League. He doesn’t bring too many goals to his club side but has already netted 6 for Switzerland, including one in the 2014 World Cup. In 2009, he scored a solitary goal in the group stages. Much is expected of the Swiss who has already achieved a fair bit.
Ricardo Rodriguez // Switzerland // 2009
An accomplished defender, Rodriguez is one of the best young left-backs in the world, with strong heading ability and pinpoint delivery of crosses. His pace and stamina make him an attacking outlet. Currently at Wolfsburg, he is the best player in the country ahead of Shaqiri and Xhaka and continues to grow. Rodriguez also possesses a rocket of a left foot, using it for thundering free-kicks. In 2009, he played an important role for his team with 3 goals. Only 23, the sky is the limit for Rodriguez.
Written by Rahul Warrier