BERNAT LÓPEZ / ©XTREM FOOTBALL
From Peter Ofori-Quaye to Bojan via some rather more names, these players all made their mark in Europe very young. What happened? Bojan began like a bomb. The first player born in the 1990s to score in the Champions did it not in a group-stage thrashing, but by netting the only goal, away, in a quarter-final first leg against Schalke (2007-2008).
It was a special season for Bojan, because he broke Messi’s record for the youngest Barcelona player and scored 12 goals. In his first Champions goal, the forward was 17 years and 217 days. He was immediately touted for greatness; the next Masia legend. Unfortunately, the ‘new Messi’ tag proved a millstone. After 2011, the striker left Barcelona for Roma. Then, he performed for Milan, Ajax, Stoke, Mainz and Alaves.
Indeed, the second in the list is Kovacic, now performing for Chelsea. The Croatian made his Champions debut four months after his 17th birthday (2011-2012), against Madrid. That match ended in a narrow 1-0 defeat for Dinamo Zagreb, but Kovacic would later achieve a moment of personal glory by putting his side 1-0 up against Lyon. At that time, he was 17 and 215 days.
Kovacic has achieved the glory in his career, moving to Inter Milan in 2013, then to Real Madrid in 2015. After making a loan move to Chelsea this summer, the 24-year-old has settled impressively at his new club
The big kid
Finally is time for the first one: Peter Ofori-Quaye. Born in Accra, he was playing for Kalamata at the barely believable age of 15. The striker was part of an influx that made the region more famous for its Ghanaians than its olives.
A big move to Olympiakos was not long in coming and Ofori-Quaye was fast-tracked into the first squad. He was an unused substitute in the Greeks’ first Champions League tie of the 1997/98 season, against Porto. In the next match, Peter was in the bench again in Rosenborg.
Certainly, these were the days when the Norwegians were a group stage staple. As a result, they breezed into a four-goal lead that feels vaguely nostalgic in itself. Introduced on the hour with little left to lose, it took just nine minutes for Ofori-Quaye to make good his reputation as game young gunslinger. He was 17 years and 194 days, a record which is still valid today.