The 25 most valuable youngsters in 2004 - how did their careers pan out? (25-11)

Rafael van der Vaart was one of the most valuable youngsters in the world back in 2004

The year 2004 was a golden one for football.

Greece shocked the world at Euro 2004, Jose Mourinho’s Porto side won the Champions League and the likes of Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho and Zinedine Zidane were strutting their stuff week in week out.

But what was the state of the game in terms of up and coming young stars 16 years ago? It was pretty darn healthy.

Thanks to Transfermarkt, we can look back on the 25 most valuable players in world football in 2004 who were aged 21 or under.

Did they fulfil their enormous potential or did they simply peak ridiculously early? Find out below!

25. James Milner (Newcastle)

Value in 2004: €7.5m

Highest career value: €21m

One of the most underrated players of the modern era. After success with Newcastle and Aston Villa, Milner secured a big-money move to Man City in 2010 where he was a key figure in the club’s entrance into the Premier League’s top six.

He moved to Liverpool in 2015 and is still going strong at the age of 34. His move to the Reds will always feature in a ‘best free transfers’ list.

Grade: 8/10

24. Ricardo Quaresma (FC Porto)

Value in 2004: €7.5m

Highest career value: €25m

The best years of the mercurial Portuguese winger’s career came after his move to Porto in 2004. However, he will always be remembered as a player who failed to fulfil his full potential.

Disastrous spells at Inter Milan and Chelsea were followed by average stints at Besiktas and a return to Porto. Quaresma may have 80 senior caps for his country, but so much more was expected of him.

Grade: 5/10

23. Ruben Oliveira (Juventus)

Value in 2004: €8m

Highest career value: €8m

The valuations say it all. In 2004 the Uruguayan seemed to have the world at his feet, but it all went wrong shortly after.

Since ’04, the now 37-year-old has been on the books of 12 different clubs with little to no success. Oliveira is currently playing in Serie D with Osti Mare.

Grade: 1/10

Oliveira celebrates with Del Piero

22. Jermaine Jenas (Newcastle)

Value in 2004: €8m

Highest career value: €15m

On the face of it, Jenas’ career was pretty decent. Twenty-one England caps and a regular at Tottenham for eight years following his move to the club from Newcastle in 2005 is a fairly healthy CV.

But serious injuries curtailed his career and Jenas never reached the heights expected of him as a youngster. He retired from the game in 2014 after a short spell with QPR.

Grade: 5/10

21. Nilmar (Lyon)

Value in 2004: €8m

Highest career value: €20m

Ironically, the Brazilian striker is now most famous for being a FIFA Ultimate Team cult hero due to his ridiculously overpowered card on FIFA 12.

In real-life, the lightning-quick striker was a more than decent striker at both Lyon and Villarreal and even earned 25 senior caps for Brazil, scoring nine goals. But he was never a world beater and Nilmar called time on his career at Santos in 2017.

Grade: 5/10

20. Carlos Alberto (FC Porto)

Value in 2004: €8.5m

Highest career value: €8.5m

Once again, the values on show speak for themselves. His brief spell at Porto came to an end in 2004 and after that, Alberto turned into a journeyman.

The footballing nomad turned out for 12 different clubs after leaving Portugal, with 11 of them hailing from his native Brazil. As you probably guessed, he didn’t set the world alight at any of them and retired in 2019 while with Boavista.

Grade: 1/10

Alberto in action for Porto

19. Glen Johnson (Chelsea)

Value in 2004: €8.5m

Highest career value: €17m

After finding his feet in the Premier League at Portsmouth following his indifferent spell with Chelsea, Johnson secured a move to Liverpool in 2009.

With the Reds, the Englishman was one of the best right-backs in world football, earning a total of 54 caps for England. A success? We think so.

Grade: 7/10

18. Dmitri Sychev (Lokomotiv Moscow)

Value in 2004: €10m

Highest career value: €10m

A man labelled as the ‘Russian Michael Owen’, Sychev was pretty darn good for Lokomotiv for much of his career. Between 2004 and 2016, the 36-year-old scored 92 goals in 267 games.

He certainly didn’t emulate Owen, but he was decent nonetheless and eventually retired in 2019 shortly after moving to Armenian side Pyunik.

Grade: 5/10

17. Fernando Cavenaghi (Spartak Moscow)

Value in 2004: €10m

Highest career value: €14m

The Argentine was a decent striker during his three spells with River Plate – scoring 112 goals in 210 games – but he just never fully settled in European football.

After joining Spartak in 2004, he struggled to score consistently before joining Bordeaux in 2007. He fared a bit better in France, before heading back to River Plate in 2011. Interestingly, Cavenaghi scored 21 goals in 23 games for APOEL Niscoia just before retiring in 2016.

Grade: 6/10

Cavenaghi with River Plate

16. Obafemi Martins (Inter Milan)

Value in 2004: €10m

Highest career value: €16m

The outrageously fast Nigerian was a big hit at Inter during his teenage years and wasn’t half bad at Newcastle after joining the English club in 2006.

But he was expected to reach the upper echelons of the sport and sadly, Martins never quite made it. After decent spells with Seattle Sounders and Shanghai Shenhua, the now 35-year-old opted to retire in 2018.

Grade: 5/10

15. Diego Ribas (Santos)

Value in 2004: €10m

Highest career value: €29m

After swapping Brazil for Porto in 2004, Diego struggled to adapt to European football. However, a switch to Werder Bremen in 2006 re-ignited his career and he was one of the most sought-after players on the planet once again.

But a big-money to Juventus in 2009 saw his career in European football back on the decline. Spells with Wolfsburg, Atletico Madrid and Fenerbahce simply could not revive the Brazilian’s form and he’s now back in his homeland with Flamengo.

Grade: 4/10

14. Vincent Kompany (Anderlecht)

Value in 2004: €10m

Highest career value: €35m

Whatever happened to that guy, eh? After dazzling as a teenager in Belgium, Kompany was snapped up by Man City in 2008 and his career took off.

The Belgian cemented his status as one of the best centre-backs to have played the game while in England, captaining City to four Premier League title wins. He’s now back at Anderlecht as player-manager.

Grade: 10/10

Kompany in action for Anderlecht

13. Wesley Sneijder (Ajax)

Value in 2004: €10m

Highest career value: €45m

It took a while for Sneijder’s career to take off. The Dutchman was sensational with Ajax all the way up until 2007, but a move to Real Madrid that year proved a tad detrimental to his progress.

But in 2009, the midfielder moved to Inter Milan and grew into one of the best midfielders of the modern era under Jose Mourinho. The now retired Sneijder also made 134 appearances for Holland and probably should have won the Ballon d’Or in 2010 as well…

Grade: 9/10

12. Emmanuel Adebayor (AS Monaco)

Value in 2004: €12m

Highest career value: €25m

Adebayor’s eye-for-goal at Monaco was spotted by Arsenal, who snapped up the Togolese striker in 2006. In truth, the best years of Adebayor’s career were spent with the Gunners before he joined Man City in a rather controversial transfer back in 2009.

His struggles at City were evident, but spells with Real Madrid and more notably Tottenham reminded the world of his undeniable talent. Adebayor is still playing out in Paraguay with Olimpia.

Grade: 7/10

11. Rafael van der Vaart (Ajax)

Value in 2004: €12m

Highest career value: €26m

Like his countryman Sneijder, Van der Vaart’s career stagnated after moving to Real Madrid in 2008 from Hamburg.

But a transfer to Tottenham in 2010 sparked the Dutchman back into life for two years. Van der Vaart then moved back to Hamburg in 2012, before short spells at Real Betis and Midtjylland. The elegant playmaker retired in 2018 and is now a professional darts player!

Grade: 6/10

Van der Vaart with Ajax


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