The landscape of football could have looked so different had Lionel Messi never had those hormone injections.
The story of a young Messi’s transformation is very familiar now.
As a child, it was discovered that the diminutive Argentine had a deficiency which stunted his growth and which Newell’s Old Boys were unable to pay the $1000 per-month it would cost to address.
River Plate were also unwilling to pay for the treatment, so their loss was Barcelona’s gain.
His parents, Jorge and Ceclia, were willing to uproot and it’s safe to say the decision paid off for all concerned.
Akin to Decca turning down the Beatles though, one can imagine his former scouts in Argentina kicking themselves ever since having told the youngster he was too small to make it as a footballer.
How wrong they were. At least the six-time Ballon d’Or winner is in good company and nothing proves the point better than a list of 14 other players who found themselves spat out by the world of football due to their size.
The left-back’s slight frame saw him rejected by Celtic at the age of just 15. That pushed him into the arms of Queen’s Park and five years after making his senior debut, he had joined Liverpool. If anything, his slenderness is an advantage as he tears up and down the wing, contributing 23 league assists since moving to Anfield.
The World Cup winner had a trial at Montpellier when he was young. It didn’t go to plan as the Ligue 1 club dismissed him due to his size. Fortunately, a Real Sociedad scout was also watching and offered him a contract which gave him his big break in La Liga.
The Bayern Munich legend was let go by Lille at 16 having been deemed too little. They obviously overlooked the enormous technical ability which saw him crowned French Player of the Year on three separate occasions.
Vardy had a shot at Sheffield Wednesday but after being released, he dropped back into non-league. That might have been the end of his story, too. Instead, he went on a remarkable journey with Leicester City and ended up becoming a Premier League champion in 2016.
Kane’s size was a major factor in Arsenal deciding he wasn’t good enough for their prestigious academy. The Tottenham striker has worked incredibly hard, even in the years since making his debut for the Lilywhites, at improving physically and his towering presence up front now makes him one of the best strikers in the world.
Clubs don’t seem to have learned their lessons as Felix is still only just 20-years-old. Porto had him on their books for six years and they must have regretted letting him slip away to Benfica when he was sold for €126 million to Atletico Madrid.
Shaw had a stint at Chelsea’s academy as a child but wasn’t offered a place, so he joined Southampton at the age of eight instead.
Reus has had to be pretty forgiving as it was in fact hometown club Borussia Dortmund who let him go. It was their mistake, though. BVB then had to re-sign him from Borussia Mönchengladbach in 2009.
Mahrez doesn’t just have one specific story of rejection. The Manchester City playmaker failed to impress a number of teams due to his little figure. Consequently, it wasn’t an easy journey to the top, coming via Quimper and Le Havre.
Austin scored 34 top-flight goals, enjoying his best years at QPR and Southampton. Presumably, nobody at Reading had a crystal ball when they turned him down as a 15-year-old.
Even as a child, we probably wouldn’t have fancied saying no to future Manchester United hard man Roy Keane. But the Irish midfielder was left out of invitations to trials in England, which many of his youth teammates received. He was also told he was too short at international trials.
Silva was at Benfica from the age of seven and while he dreamed of appearing for his boyhood club, they decided to let him join Monaco aged 19. At 5’8″, he had been told throughout that his height would be an issue.
Barcelona made a poor call when watching a young Alba in La Masia. He was so small his coaches didn’t even want to let him play with others in case he got hurt. It was a mistake that later cost them $15.5m to get him back.
When Mertens was 17, Anderlecht had reservations about putting him in the first team as he was considered too weak. Gent took him on instead and it’s never held him back since.
Breaking into football as a youngster can be a cruel, unforgiving task.
It’s all the more impressive that many of the above carved out such spectacular careers after being rejected so young.
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