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Wilshere, Halilovic under threat from Odegaard to be UCL's youngest

If Martin Odegaard plays for Real Madrid against Schalke this week, he will become the youngest player to appear in the Champions League. Here are the current ten youngest, and what happened after their debuts ...

10. Jack Wilshere - Arsenal vs. Dynamo Kiev, 16 years and 329 days (2008)

It would be rash to write Jack Wilshere off as an unfulfilled talent already but when the young midfielder made his Champions League debut in 2008, coming on as a substitute in a group game against Porto, huge things were predicted for him. His inclusion on the bench was more a consequence of a squad ravaged by injury but still this was recognition of a precocious talent. Wilshere only played another 40 or so minutes of senior football that season, becoming a more regular presence in the following campaign but in the intervening years, injuries have severely curtailed his involvement. If his current absence runs its expected course, he will have missed 119 weeks of football in the last five years, playing a relatively paltry 95 games. If he solves his fitness problems his potential could be realised but not if things continue this way.

9. Roman Wallner - Sturm Graz vs. Inter Milan, 16 years and 298 days (1998)

Sturm Graz qualified for the group stage in 1998 but faced Inter Milan and Real Madrid as well as Spartak Mosco. Results fell pretty much as you'd expect, with just one draw and five defeats to show for their efforts. However, in their final group game at the always amusingly named Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium, tragically now monikered the UPC Arena, against Inter, a young colt called Roman Wallner came on for the final three minutes, a couple of months shy of his 17th birthday. However, this wasn't the start of a glorious career but rather one that seems to define "journeyman", with the young Austrian going on to represent 12 clubs over the following 13 years, taking in spells in Germany, Greece and Scotland before returning to Austria where he now plays for SV Grodig in the regional leagues.

8. Anthony Vanden Borre - Anderlecht vs. Benfica, 16 years and 290 days (2004)

Anthony Vanden Borre should probably be a case study for the perils of judging a player from youth performances. He was in the same junior sides as Vincent Kompany and made his debut before the future Manchester City captain, making his league bow at just 16 years and 187 days and touted as a huge prospect, with Anderlecht great Paul van Himst describing Vanden Borre as "the biggest talent" he had ever seen. Vanden Borre made his Champions League debut in the third qualifying round of the 2004-05 competition, a 1-0 defeat away to Benfica, but despite the predictions of greatness, he has never established himself. He was bought by Fiorentina, then Genoa from where he spent a few months on loan at Portsmouth, before being sold to Genk and finally returning to Anderlecht in 2013.

7. Aleksandr Pavlenko - Spartak Moscow vs. Feyenoord, 16 years and 284 days (2001)

Something of a prodigy and a sought-after midfielder as a youth, Aleksandr Pavlenko started his career on the books of Dynamo Moscow before moving to Academia Moscow, then FC Lausanne in Switzerland before finally reaching Spartak Moscow. Pavlenko made his Champions League debut for Spartak against Feyenoord in a dead rubber group game (both teams had already been knocked out by Bayern Munich and Sparta Prague) in 2001, coming on for the final seven minutes of a 2-1 defeat. The following season he established himself as a regular in the Spartak side, staying there for almost nine years, although injuries would restrict his appearances. He moved on to play for Rostov, Terek Grozny and Krylia Sovetov, before signing for FC Tosno in the Russian second tier in 2014.

6. Bryan Cristante -- AC Milan vs. Viktoria Plzen, 16 years and 279 days (2011)

Having already qualified for the knockout phase of the 2011-12 Champions League, AC Milan manager Massimiliano Allegri made a few changes for the final game against Viktoria Plzen. That meant the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Gianluca Zambrotta were on the bench, but sitting alongside them on the sidelines that night was Bryan Cristante, a teenage midfielder who was given a nine-minute run-out. Milan managed to throw away a two-goal lead during his time on the pitch to draw 2-2. Those would be the only nine minutes he'd play for Milan until November 2013, leading to only a handful more appearances, after which he was sold to Benfica for six million euros last summer.

Wilshre burst on to the scene for Arsenal as a teenager but injuries and inconsistent form has since held him back.

5. Kenneth Zohore - FC Copenhagen vs. Barcelona, 16 years and 263 days (2010)

By the time Kenneth Zohore made his Champions League debut for FC Copenhagen, he was already well used to setting records. He was the youngest player to appear in the Danish Superligaen at 16 years and 35 days and subsequently became the division's second youngest goalscorer when he bagged against Lyngby a few months later. Still, making your European bow at the Camp Nou is special, as he did in October 2010, and this wasn't just some dead rubber "for the experience" introduction, either. Zohore was brought on with 16 minutes remaining and his side just 1-0 down at the time, only for Lionel Messi to wrap up Barca's win in the closing moments. Zohore made 26 appearances in all for Copenhagen before moving to Fiorentina in January 2012 but failed to make an impression and signed for Brondby in 2013, from where he joined IFK Gothenburg. Additional information: he's a vague relation of Didier Drogba, his father being the Chelsea striker's second cousin.

4. Charis Mavrias - Panathinaikos vs. Rubin Kazan, 16 years and 242 days (2010)

Sometimes, when a result is required, a manager will do almost anything to try and get it. And sometimes, that means throwing on an untested 16-year-old in the closing stages, hoping his youthful promise inspires a victory. That's what Panathinaikos boss Nikos Nioplias did when trying to salvage a win and his side's qualification against Rubin Kazan in 2010 as Charis Mavrias come on as a late wildcard. The ploy didn't work, but it made Mavrias (at the time) the second-youngest player to appear in the Champions League. From there, he went on to establish himself in the Panathinaikos team before Sunderland paid 3 million pounds for him in 2013. Unfortunately, he was one of the tranche of players purchased by Paolo Di Canio who would go on to make no impact at the Stadium of Light, making just six first-team appearances before being quietly shipped back to Panathinaikos on loan this January.

3. Youri Tielemans - Anderlecht v Olympiacos, 16 years and 148 days (2013)

A common theme on this list has been players that were highly thought of as teenagers by their clubs, but fail to live up to their promise. However, while Youri Tielemans is still only 17 at the time of writing (his birthday is in May), his Champions League debut at an absurdly young age seems to have been the start of something more lasting, rather than the premature high point of a career. Tielemans made his Champions League debut from the start of Anderlecht's 3-0 defeat to Olympiakos, his performance in central midfield providing one of the few high points in that encounter for the Belgian side, and since then he's established himself in their side, becoming a transfer target for some of the continent's top clubs. And he sounds very mature. "I like taking my responsibilities," he said a few months ago. "The two little dips in form that I endured -- one last season and then again in the early part of this season -- have helped me grow up. You have to dare to impose yourself if you want to become great. I've always had the soul of a leader. Age is unimportant."

2. Alen Halilovic - Dinamo Zagreb vs. Paris Saint-Germain, 16 years and 128 days (2012)

Former Dinamo Zagreb manager Ante Cacic wasn't afraid of throwing young players in at the deep end. At least, not with midfield prodigy Alen Halilovic, to whom he gave a senior debut in the ever-spicy "Eternal Derby" for Dinamo Zagreb against Hadjuk Split. A few weeks later, Halilovic was handed his Champions League bow against the Paris St Germain side of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Javier Pastore and Thiago Silva. Admittedly, he only came on as a 90th minute substitute, but he soon became a first-team regular, making 21 appearances that season. He became Dinamo's youngest ever scorer and even made his senior international debut at the end of the campaign, a week before his 17th birthday. It wasn't just those in Croatia that rated Halilovic, though, as after some promising performances he was snapped up by Barcelona, making his first-team debut in the Copa del Rey against Elche this season.

1. Celestine Babayaro - Anderlecht vs. Steaua Bucharest, 16 years and 87 days (1994)

As this list has displayed, Anderlecht seem to have plenty of faith in the incredibly young, and it was they who gave the youngest player (for now) to appear in the Champions League his European debut. Left-back Celestine Babayaro made his European bow when barely old enough to ride a moped, starting against Steaua Bucharest in a group match back in 1994. The historic debut only lasted 37 minutes, though, the exuberance of youth perhaps getting the better of the Nigerian as he was sent off before halftime. From there Babayaro was a key man as his country won gold at the 1996 Olympics (he scored in the final), earning a move to Chelsea for whom he played over 130 times and won the FA Cup and the Cup Winners' Cup before spending a few years at Newcastle. His career would end on something of a bum note, agreeing a three-year contract with LA Galaxy but cancelling the deal before playing in a competitive match, eventually announcing his retirement in 2010. "The next thing would be for me to remain cool, calm and see what the breeze will bring," he said in 2011, and he now works with young players in Nigeria.

Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.


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