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Top 10 Career Advancements in the 21st Century

Alisson at Liverpool
© Ace Football

Explore the most astonishing career advancements in football history! From unexpected transfers to increases in market values and prestigious achievements, this article delves into the remarkable journeys of players as they navigate the twists and turns of their careers, seizing opportunities and etching their names in the annals of footballing greatness.

10. Warren Zaire-Emery: Rising Star of PSG

At just 16 years old, Warren Zaire-Emery, a PSG academy product, made history by becoming the youngest player to take to the pitch for the Parisian club’s first team in his debut season. His talent was further acknowledged as he also became the youngest goal scorer for PSG and the youngest player to start a Champions League playoff match when manager Christophe Galtier trusted him on the flank in the attack against Bayern Munich. His impact has been significant; in the current season, he starts 72% of the games for one of the world’s most formidable teams, playing an essential role for Paris Saint-Germain. It comes as no surprise that by June, at 17 years of age, Zaire-Emery’s value surged by €40 million, tripling his preseason valuation.

9. Alisson’s Value Skyrocket: From Roma To Liverpool

In the summer of 2016, Roma acquired Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson from Internacional for €8 million, with an initial valuation of €7.5 million. Despite not having any significant titles or individual awards and having only debuted for the national team, Roma banked on his potential, which Alisson did not immediately showcase. His debut came in a Champions League qualification match, and it wasn’t until he played in the Europa League that he got consistent game time. However, he did not feature in Serie A games under coach Spalletti. The following summer, with the end of Wojciech Szczęsny’s loan and subsequent departure to Juventus, Alisson became Roma’s first-choice goalkeeper. His impressive performance led to 17 clean sheets and a spot in the Serie A Team of the Year. Even more notable was his contribution to Roma’s sensational run to the Champions League semi-finals where he showcased his talents, attracting Liverpool’s attention. The English club set a goalkeeper transfer record by paying €62.5 million for Alisson, whose value increased to €90 million within eighteen months, establishing him as one of the world’s finest in his position.

8. Pedri’s Rise: The New Catalonian Jewel

Pedri, purchased by Barcelona after his first few matches in professional football, signed his first professional contract with Las Palmas at 16. His transfer to Barcelona was finalized in September 2019 for €22 million, despite not having any initial valuation due to his young age. Pedri didn’t exactly stand out in the second Spanish league at first, but his performance for Las Palmas in his debut season showed promise. By April 2020, his valuation increased to over seven million Euros. After transferring to Barcelona, every confident performance added millions to his value. In March, after debuting for the national team and consistently showcasing his talent, his estimated worth soared to €70 million. In May 2021, having played 50 games for Barcelona at only 18 years and 164 days old, he showed signs of a remarkable career trajectory. Unfortunately, injuries due to the demands of adult-level play slowed his rapid rise, but Pedri had already established himself as an invaluable asset worth around €100 million. His compelling story from an unknown teenager to a global superstar epitomizes the meteoric rise of young talent in soccer.

7. Enzo Fernandez’s Spectacular Jump: From River Plate to Global Esteem

Enzo Fernandez started learning football in River Plate’s academy and made his first team breakthrough at age 20 after being loaned out. Benfica took a chance on him after a strong season, acquiring the youngster for a record fee of €44 million, €10 million more than they paid for forward Darwin Nunez. Fernandez immediately started delivering top performances for Benfica, scoring in Champions League qualification games and earning the Midfielder of the Month award in Portugal twice. His international debut came in September 2022 and by November, he was making substitute appearances in Argentina’s World Cup group matches. His exceptional play quickly earned him a starting role. The 22-year-old midfielder was pivotal for Argentina, never being subbed off in playoff matches, and was named the Best Young Player of the tournament. Following the World Cup, his value soared to €55 million. His progress caught the attention of Chelsea, making Fernandez the sixth most expensive player in football history at the time and the costliest English club acquisition at €121 million. At Chelsea, he immediately became integral to the team, not letting a generally poor team performance detract from his proven top quality. His market value enhanced by more than €50 million in just one season.

6. Marcus Llorente’s Atletico Ascension

Marcus Llorente emerged as a key figure in Atletico Madrid’s title-winning season. His impressive performance included reaching a double-figure in both goals and assists, a feat not achieved at Atletico since Diego Forlan’s era. This culminated in a historic peak value of €80 million for Llorente by the end of May 2021. He debuted for the Spanish national team under Luis Enrique, playing as a right-back and earning a spot in the squad for the UEFA European Championship. Llorente’s remarkable versatility and pivotal role for both club and country accentuated his growing reputation and market value.

5. Muani’s Breakthrough and High-Value Transfer

Randal Kolo Muani experienced an exceptional season in the French league with Nantes, scoring a cumulative 21 goals over three seasons. Initially sent on loan to the third division, he eventually secured a place in Nantes’ main squad. In the summer of 2022, he transferred to Eintracht Frankfurt, adapting quickly to the Bundesliga and becoming the league’s third-highest scorer and second-best assistant. This performance propelled him to be named the Bundesliga Rookie of the Tournament and helped Frankfurt reach the Champions League play-offs for the first time, where he also became the top scorer in the German Cup, leading his team to the final. PSG recognized his talent and secured his transfer for a substantial fee that exceeded his peak value, aiming to bolster their squad for the current season.

4. João Félix’s Landmark Season and Record Transfer

João Félix developed his skills in Benfica’s academy after a low-profile start at Porto. His breakthrough season saw him promoted to Benfica’s main team at 19, where he began making significant impacts in the Liga NOS, becoming the youngest scorer in league history and demonstrating his prowess alongside Seferovic. Under new coach Bruno Lage, Félix found fresh opportunities and excelled as a forward, contributing to Benfica’s championship victory and earning a place in the Europa League Team of the Season. By June 2019, his value had escalated to €70 million, and Atletico Madrid signed him for €127 million – nearly double his valuation. His record transfer followed a singular season that positioned him among Europe’s elite players.

3. Kolo Muani’s Unforeseen World Cup Influence

Despite a mishandled moment in the World Cup final’s extra time, Kolo Muani’s substitute appearance in the halftime turnaround was influential in leading France back into the game and extending the match into extra time. The then 24-year-old’s performance at the World Cup complemented a standout season at the club level. This story highlights the meteoric progress of a player previously loaned to the third division, which contrasts with his central role in propelling France to the World Cup final and setting a new benchmark for his career.

2. Erling Haaland’s Explosive Debut Season

Erling Haaland made a resounding impact in his debut at RB Salzburg, dominating the Austrian league with his goal-scoring prowess. His performance included a hat-trick in his first Champions League match, surpassing the dreams of legendary players like Messi. Haaland continued to break records, becoming the first player in Bundesliga history to score five goals in his first two games. His value increased significantly during the season, highlighting his rapid ascent from a promising Norwegian league player to a high-profile name dominating Europe’s top stages.

1. The Lingering Echo of Marcus Llorente

While details remain unclear, it appears that Marcus Llorente’s ascendancy at Atletico Madrid further crystallized with his adaptability and critical contributions to the team’s success. Despite being deployed as a right-back, a shift from his usual midfield position, Llorente’s performance has left a lasting imprint on the club’s championship aspirations and his own career trajectory. The story reflects on the significance of a player’s ability to rise to the occasion, regardless of the role, and cement their status among the elite – a theme that resonates deeply in the realm of competitive soccer.