Early Signings: football's most promising young talents

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The practice of professional football clubs signing contracts with young players before they reach the legal age to do so has been a topic of considerable debate and controversy in the world of sports. Stories have circulated, particularly involving powerhouse institutions like Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, allegedly signing contracts with children as six or eight years old. While the authenticity of these specific cases may be disputed, the broader issue of academies engaging in such practices has indeed raised concerns among fans, stakeholders, and regulatory bodies.


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One of the primary concerns surrounding the signing of underage players revolves around the potential exploitation and manipulation of young talents. Critics argue that children at such tender ages may not fully understand the implications of signing a professional contract, including the long-term commitment it entails and the potential consequences for their personal and athletic development. Furthermore, there are concerns about the pressure placed on juvenile players and their families by clubs eager to secure their talents at an early age.


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While there are numerous rumors and stories about very young players being scouted and even verbally agreed upon by top organizations, formal contracts with players under the age of 16 are highly regulated by the FIFA and often not made public due to legal and ethical reasons. However, there are a few well-documented cases of players who were identified, scouted, or entered into youth agreements with major institutions at an early age. Here are some famous names and their stories:


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Lionel Messi

Messi joined FC Barcelona's La Masia academy at 13. Moreover, the academy paid for the treatment of Lionel's growth hormone deficiency after the trial. While not as young as the 6-8 age range mentioned, his move from Argentina to Spain at such a crucial developmental age is a prime example of a club investing early in a future star.


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Ansu Fati

Barcelona signed Ansu Fati to his first professional contract at the age of 10 after he had joined their youth ranks. The young talent came to Spain from Guinea-Bissau and played in the Barcelona children's team being one year younger, but this did not prevent him from receiving prizes as the best scorer in tournaments. Fati's rise through La Masia to the first team highlights the potential success of early scouting and development. At the age of 16, Ansu first appeared on the field for the main Barcelona team. He also scored a goal in La Liga and he is the youngest player to score against an opponent in the Champions League. He was signed by Paris Saint-Germain in 2021.