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Alex Iwobi and the fast learners who played for their country before their club

Life came at these players fast when they were capped by their country before making an official club appearance

International football is the pinnacle of every footballer’s career.

But while some players defied the odds to climb Mount Everest, others simply got a helicopter to drop them off at the top.

For the following footballers international recognition came before making a single club appearance. Was it all downhill from there?

Will Donald get the USA call before playing for Chelsea?

The Mega Agency
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Will Donald get the USA call before playing for Chelsea?

Alex Iwobi: Nigeria debut 08/09/2015, Arsenal debut 28/08/2015

We’re not saying nepotism had anything to do with Alex Iwobi’s first cap for Nigeria, but his uncle does happen to be Jay-Jay Okocha.

Iwobi played for Nigeria against the Democratic Republic of Congo in Belgium then, 19 days later, took to the pitch for Arsenal against Sheffield Wednesday.

The winger appeared in all of Nigeria’s 2018 World Cup games and has gone on to make a decent start to the season, scoring against Chelsea.

Once Upon a Time at Arsenal

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Once Upon a Time at Arsenal

Javier Mascherano: Argentina debut 16/07/2003, River Plate debut 03/08/2003

Javier Mascherano found himself in the unenviable position of having to budge past River Plate captain Leonardo Astrada to get his chance at club level.

Luckily he’d already done enough with Argentina’s youth sides to catch Marcelo Bielsa’s eye as part of the crop that included Carlos Tevez and Pablo Zabaleta.

Mascherano’s debut came against Uruguay in a 2-2 draw on a mixed day for the Milito family as Diego scored twice for Argentina before Gabriel netted an own goal to level the game.

Mascherano saw nothing of tackling his own team-mates

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Mascherano saw nothing of tackling his own team-mates

Vincent Thill: Luxembourg debut 25/03/2016, Metz debut 21/09/2016

Vincent Thill would already be the best Luxembourg-raised midfielder in the history of the game if it wasn’t for a certain Miralem Pjanic.

As fate would have it Thill made his international debut against Pjanic, who has three Luxembourg Under-19 caps to his name and also came through Metz’s academy, when Luxembourg played Bosnia and Herzegovina back in 2016.

A first-team appearance for Metz six months later saw the attacking midfielder become the first player born in the 2000s to debut in Europe’s top five leagues, but he’s since stagnated somewhat.

Thill is now on loan at French third division side Pau FC, who were once home to Adrien Rabiot and Andre-Pierre Gignac.

‘Have you finished your homework yet?’

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‘Have you finished your homework yet?’

Mauricio Isla: Chile debut 07/09/2007, Udinese debut 19/12/2007

Mauricio Isla had yet to kick a ball in anger following his move to Udinese when Marcelo Bielsa made him a full Chile international.

Isla’s chance, like fellow ankle-botherer Mascherano, owed plenty to his performances for Chile’s youth sides, including a starring role in the 2007 Under-20 World Cup.

He’s gone on to earn a pleasingly round 100 caps for his country, which might come as something of a surprise to QPR fans who watched him during the 2014/15 Premier League season.

X Factor is a bit different in Chile

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X Factor is a bit different in Chile

Chris Ikonomidis: Australia debut 30/03/2015, Lazio debut N/A

Heard the one about the Australian in Rome? Nope? Well that’s probably because Chris Ikonomidis is yet to make a senior appearance for Lazio since joining in 2013.

The 23-year-old has, however, played six times for Australia, including making his competitive debut in a 2018 World Cup qualifier against the mighty Bangladesh.

Ikonomidis has picked up first-team experience with Salernitana, Danish side AGF and Western Sydney Wanderers, but that crowning game for Lazio is still proving illusive.

Clap if you never want to play for Lazio

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Clap if you never want to play for Lazio

Emanuel Mammana: Argentina debut 07/06/2014, River Plate debut 03/12/2014

There’s definitely a higher power at work in football. Mammana made his Argentina debut six months before taking his first steps as a River defender, just as Mascherano did 11 years earlier.

Who did Mammana replace when he came of the bench against Solvenia? Yep, big Javier.

Unlike his gentle introduction to international football, Mammana’s River debut came in the high-pressure environment of the 2014 Copa Sudamericana final.

River won 3-1 over two legs, which should have been the start of an insatiable rise to the top for the centre-back.

But four years on, having struggled to make an impact at Lyon, Mammana is recovering from a cruciate ligament injury suffered while playing for Zenit which ruled him out of the 2018 World Cup.

Harry Wilson: Wales debut 15/08/2013, Liverpool debut 16/03/2017

Just the four years between Wilson’s first taste of action for Wales and his first-team debut for Liverpool.

Wilson was called up to the Wales squad by Chris Coleman amidst a spate of injuries, coming off the bench to play the last three minutes of a 1-1 draw with Belgium.

Those three minutes meant Wilson was ineligible for England going forward, while also netting his granddad £125,000.

Wilson is still waiting on a Premier League appearance for Liverpool, although played against Plymouth Argyle in an FA Cup replay last year.

Craig Bellamy didn’t let him go the entire game

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Craig Bellamy didn’t let him go the entire game

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