Top 10: Premier League 'boy wonders'

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Raheem Sterling recently put to pen-to-paper on a new five-year contract with Liverpool, having exploded onto the Premier League scene this season with the Anfield giants.

After his meteoric rise into the first-team, Sterling has become the latest in a series of ‘boy wonders’ to have graced the Premier League since its launch 20 years ago.

With Sterling having announced his arrival on the biggest stage, GiveMeFootball takes a closer look at those who made a similar impact during the early stages of their career, although not all succeeded in living up to their potential.

10 – Raheem Sterling

Sterling made his Liverpool debut in a fleeting appearance against Wigan Athletic towards the tail end of last season, and has gone on to be one of the Reds’ star men this year under manager Brendan Rodgers.

His first Premier League goal came against Reading in October, and he has since earned international recognition with England, despite being eligible to play for Jamaica, the country of his birth.

Nonetheless, Sterling recently committed his international future to England, much to the disappointment of The Reggae Boyz.

9 – James Vaughan

Everton starlet James Vaughan overcame knee ligament damage and a severed foot artery to make 49 appearances in the Toffees’ first-team, and currently holds the record for the youngest ever Premier League goalscorer for his strike against Crystal Palace at the tender age of just 16 years and 271 days.

Now plying his trade with Championship outfit Huddersfield, Vaughan has forged a solid, if unspectacular career based predominantly in the lower leagues. The 24-year-old striker has enjoyed spells with Derby County, Leicester City, Crystal Palace and Norwich City, prior to moving to John Smith's Stadium in August 2012.

8 - Milan Baros

Milan Baros is currently contracted to Turkish outfit Galatasaray, but he amazed Liverpool fans with his pace and eye for goal when he signed for the Anfield club as a 20-year-old in 2002.

After selling Emile Heskey and Michael Owen, Baros had the unenviable task of being Liverpool's lead talisman, although his time with the Reds was hampered by his indifferent relationship with then manager Gerard Houllier.

Baros impressed most for his national side, particularly at Euro 2004 with Czech Republic, even winning the Golden Boot award following a remarkable run of goalscoring form. After leaving Liverpool, Baros has turned out for Aston Villa, Olympique Lyonnais and Portsmouth.

7 – Federico Macheda

Federico Macheda grabbed the headlines with a match-winning brace for Manchester United against Aston Villa in 2009. However, his goal scoring heroics were not enough to secure him a regular starting berth at Old Trafford, and he has enjoyed loan spells at Sampdoria and Queens Park Rangers in recent times.

Perhaps one of the less spectacular stories of the Premier League, he has been frequently linked with a move away from United, but the 21-year-old currently remains contracted to the Manchester giants. With the January transfer window looming, it remains to be seen whether the Italian striker will remain at Old Trafford for much longer.

6 – Stewart Downing

A product of Middlesbrough's famed academy, Stewart Downing broke on to the scene under former boss Steve McClaren during the 2004/05 season. His impressive form saw him become one of the Premier Leagues' most sought-after wingers, with his displays in the League Cup doing little to dampen expectations.

Having made a significant contribution as Boro were crowned eventual champions of the competition, Downing's form sparked interest from a number of Premier League clubs, with Aston Villa making the move to bring him to Villa Park in 2009, signing a four-year-contract in the process.

Downing continued to impress for the midlands-based club, earning international recognition during his stint with the Villans. Liverpool signed the 28-year-old midfielder in 2011 after paying a whopping £20m to secure his signature.

5 – James Milner

It didn’t take long for James Milner to get his big break at Leeds United, but the club’s financial problems forced them to cash-in on the youngster in 2004.

Whilst unhappy to be leaving his childhood club, Milner went on to shine for his new employers - Newcastle United. Later on in his career, he played a key role at Aston Villa under former boss Martin O’Neill.

Milner's career has continued to go from strength-to-strength, as he is now the proud owner of a Premier League winners medal, having won England's top honour with Manchester City last season following his arrival at Eastlands back in 2010.

A key member of the England squad under Fabio Capello and now Roy Hodgson, Milner is clearly fulfilling the potential he showed as a youngster at Leeds United, and the Elland Road outfit can be proud of his achievements to date.

4 – Cesc Fabregas

The young Spaniard came into an Arsenal side that had just gone an entire season unbeaten, but quickly nailed down a place in the centre of midfield due to his immaculate passing capabilities.

Although he was on the club’s books during their incredible run of 38 games without loss, he did not play enough games to be awarded a medal, instead winning his first major trophy in 2005 after the Gunners defeated Manchester United on penalties in the FA Cup Final.

Now at Barcelona, the club he signed for as a youngster, Fabregas is widely regarded as one of the best midfielders in the world, and with his remarkable displays for both club and country, it's easy to see why.

3 – Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo arrived in England as an 18-year-old boy for a fee of £12.24million back in 2003. It took no time at all for Manchester United’s midfield magician to impress, as he claimed the PFA Young Player of the Year award just two years later.

Ronaldo requested the number 28 shirt upon his arrival - the same number he had at Sporting Lisbon - in an attempt to avoid comparisons with United legends George Best and David Beckham, with a plethora of big-names having previously worn the famous number seven shirt.

His request was ignored by his manager Sir Alex Ferguson, instead Ronaldo eventually went on to join the ever-growing list of United legends to have worn the shirt.

The Portuguese enjoyed six years at the Theatre of Dreams before transferring to Real Madrid for a world record fee of £80million, a fee that is yet to be surpassed.

2 – Michael Owen

Despite a subsequent career blighted by injuries, Michael Owen is perhaps one of the Premier League's most memorable teenage sensations.

Within a year of making his debut for Liverpool, Owen had been called up to Glenn Hoddle’s World Cup '98 squad, where he stunned Argentina with a wonder goal that lives long in the memory.

Owen, now plying his trade at Stoke City, was crowned the Premier League’s top scorer after scoring 18 goals in his first full season at Anfield, and is the only England player to have scored at four major tournaments.

1 – Wayne Rooney

A previously unheard of Wayne Rooney burst onto the scene in 2002 with an unforgettable winner against Arsenal. With just a minute of normal time remaining, Rooney unleashed a 30-yard thunderbolt that on this occasion, England international goalkeeper David Seaman had no chance of saving.

At the time, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger described him as the "biggest prospect in English football", and Wenger was absolutely spot on. The young Evertonian was soon snapped up by Manchester United and within two years, he had scored a Champions League hat-trick against Fenerbache.

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