Youth football offers a glimpse into the future that so often proves a false dawn.
Never has this been more apparent than Brazil’s showing at the Under-17 World Cup in 2009.
Here’s a cautious tale, featuring starring roles from Neymar and Philippe Coutinho, about why you can never trust youth football.
Brazil had sauntered through the South American qualifying process, topping a group that included Colombia, Paraguay and Peru.
The star attraction for Brazil was undoubtedly a diminutive attacking midfielder who was dazzling audiences with his array of feints and tricks only a Brazilian could conjure.
Not Neymar- he didn’t play during qualification- but Vasco de Gama’s 16-year-old Coutinho.
He was ably assisted by Fluminense’s Wellington Nem, who buzzed around the pitch in a similarly vibrant fashion and scored two goals in qualifying.
Coutinho scored in both Brazil’s opening games, against Paraguay and Peru, to settle any nerves, with a 2-0 loss to Colombia offset by a 3-0 win against Bolivia in the final group match.
By the time the Under-17 World Cup in Nigeria came around Neymar was firmly the name on world football’s lips.
Type ‘Neymar’ into Google and you were flooded with countless articles about the ‘next Pele/Ronaldo/Robinho/Ronaldinho’.
The 17-year-old made his Santos debut seven months prior to Brazil’s opening game and had already established himself as the next great Brazilian hope.
He was joined in Brazil’s tournament squad by Coutinho, Nem, Casemiro- who would soon make his debut for Sao Paulo- and Wellinton Silva, fresh from a trial at Arsenal.
Throw in the addition of goalkeeper Alisson and Corinthians full-back Dodo, who was very much in the Marcelo mould, and it was easy to see why Brazil were early tournament favourites.
Brazil were drawn in Group B, containing Granit Xhaka’s Arsenal, Mexico and Japan.
In the first game, against Japan, goals from Guilherme and Neymar were twice cancelled out, and it took a 94th minute goal from Nem to secure three points.
A shaky start, but one easy to put down to first game nerves. Right?
Apparently not. Consecutive 1-0 losses to Mexico and Switzerland saw Brazil crash out at the group stages.
Sixteen of the 24 teams who entered the tournament qualified for the round of 16, but Brazil weren’t to be one of them.
Who stood out?
So while Neymar, Coutinho and co flew back to Brazil, the tournament continued.
Switzerland, powered by the goals of Haris Seferovic- who now plays for Benfica- beat hosts Nigeria in the final.
Nigeria’s Sani Emmanuel who, like Seferovic, scored five goals, was named the tournament’s best player. He was last seen playing for Oskarshamn in the third division of Swedish football.
Spain, whose squad contained Koke, Isco and Sergi Robero, did manage to bring home some silverware after Borja Baston, scorer of one goal for Swansea last season, was handed the golden boot.
What happened next?
If ever there was proof that youth football is about as reliable as Derren Brown’s lottery predictions it’s the trio of Neymar, Coutinho and Casemiro.
One is the world’s most expensive player, one is a three-time Champions League winner at the age of 25 and the other plays with James Milner.
All three have gone on to win senior caps for Brazil, while Neymar looks set to hold the record for the number of Brazil caps and goals by the end of his career.
But we’re going to ignore everything we’ve just said, as England happen to be the current holders of the Under-20 World Cup and the Under-19 European Championships.