The traditional path to professional football was being talent-spotted in a youth league then signed up on S-form for a pro club.
But nowadays, youth academies and feeder clubs ensure that there’s a more systematic approach to mopping up the cream of playing talent from across the world.
And sport’s become an academic discipline, with the value of football coaching degrees espoused by many modern managers.
However, sometimes uncovering rare talent is more akin to a striking gold unexpectedly — here are four unusual football discoveries that became superstars.
- Raheem Sterling
Former Liverpool star Raheem Sterling signed for Manchester City for £44 million in 2015 and has also played regularly for England.
But he first impressed experienced coach Tom Walley while playing with jumpers for goalposts in Cassiobury Park, Watford.
In a short space of time, Tottenham and Fulham showed interest in Sterling — but Liverpool swooped in with a £1 million contract and he started with the club a month before his 15th birthday.
- Lionel Messi
Veteran football agent Josep Maria Minguella has represented top talent like Maradona, Rivaldo and Stoichkov — but arranged for maestro Lionel Messi to visit future club Barcelona after watching him on video.
The web wasn’t as widely used for scouting purposes at the time as it is today — so we’ve got old-fashioned VHS to thank for helping Minguella link Messi’s prodigious talent with the Catalonian giants.
He relocated to Barcelona with his family in February 2001 and the rest is football history.
- George Weah
George Weah must be the best former-footballer premier — he became President of Liberia earlier this year.
The sublime striker was named FIFA World Player of the Year in 1995 during his stint with AC Milan — but it was current Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger who first brought him to Europe in 1998 when he signed him for Monaco.
Wenger had asked a friend working in Africa to keep an eye out for talented strikers — and when Weah fitted the bill, he sent out a scout, then signed him for a bargain £50,000.
- Henrik Larsson
Regarded by many pundits as the best player to ever play in Scotland, Swede Henrik Larsson scored 242 top-flight goals for Celtic in 313 games before plying his talents with Manchester United and Barcelona.
And Celtic bagged one of football’s best bargains when they paid Dutch club Feyenoord £650,000 for him in 1997.
Celtic fans hailed him as the ‘King of Kings’ and his agent Rob Jansen believes he’d be worth £40 million in today’s market.
Today’s football talent scouts have a host of technological tools and financial resources to help them tap pools of talent around the world.
But these four unusual football discoveries that became superstars prove that a keen eye for terrific talent has given some of the game’s greatest players their big breaks.
Who’s your favourite player with an unusual back-story? Share your thoughts in the comments section.