Footballers Released as Youngsters Who Still Had Successful Careers

Andrew Robertson
Robertson was released by Celtic as a teenager | Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Football is a cut throat industry. Academies take on large cohorts of promising young talent every year in order to nurture just one or two gems into the first team.

This leaves a selection of players cast aside in their youth, with their footballing dreams dashed before their careers have even begun.

Occasionally a talented teenager will slip through the net, but another coach will see something in a player that one team might have missed. Let's take a look at the players released as youngsters that have gone on to prove a few people wrong.

Javier Zanetti

Inter Milan's Argentinian defender and c
Having been released as a teenager, Zanetti did not retire until he was 40 | CHRISTOPHE SIMON/Getty Images

The defender spent seven years in the Independiente academy, only to be rejected at 16 for being 'too slight and too weak'. He began working as a bricklayer with his father, before signing for Argentinian second tier side Talleres de Remedios de Escalada.

Zanetti earned a move to First Division side Banfield, before joining Inter in 1995. He would remain with the Italian side for 19 years, defying age in both his performances on the pitch and appearance - barely ageing a day from 21 to 40.

The Argentinian would make 143 appearances for his country and play 858 times for Inter, winning 12 major trophies.

Franck Ribery

Franck Ribery
Ribery took the long route to the top | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The Frenchman was part of the Lille youth set up for three years, but was released aged 16. Lille claim it was for bad behaviour, Ribery insists it was because they deemed him too small.

The winger really had to graft to make it to the top, moving to local fourth division side Boulogne in order to keep his footballing dreams alive. Ribery then joined third tier side Ales, but they went bankrupt within a year and were relegated three divisions, and he was forced to work to work in construction with his father (maybe him and Zanetti could go into business?)

Ribery eventually earned a move to in Ligue 1 with Metz in 2004, and he signed for Bayern Munich four years later via spells with Galatasaray and Marseille. It was in Germany where Ribery enjoyed his greatest success and established himself as one of the finest wingers in the world. He won nine Bundesliga titles in 12 years with Bayern. Lille have won three Ligue 1 titles in their 75-year history.

Jamie Vardy

Jamie Vardy
Vardy won the 2019/20 Golden Boot | Michael Regan/Getty Images

The striker was with Sheffield Wednesday as a 15-year-old, but was judged to be too small to make the grade. He dropped into non-league, working as a technician while playing for Stocksbridge Park Steeles.

Big money moves to the bright lights of Halifax and then Fleetwood soon followed, before Championship side Leicester eventually took a punt on Vardy at the age of 25, and the Foxes earned promotion to the Premier League three years later.

Since releasing Vardy in 2002, Sheffield Wednesday have spent 14 seasons in the Championship and four seasons in League One. Vardy has climbed seven divisions and won the Premier League.

Harry Kane

Harry Kane
Kane has a knack for scoring in north London derbies | Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Arsenal signed Kane as an eight-year-old, but he was released after just one season with the club for being 'a bit chubby' and 'not very athletic'.

A boyhood Tottenham fan, the striker joined Spurs two years later, and grafted his way into the first team after four separate loan spells.

Kane has gone on to captain his country, win a World Cup Golden Boot, and is the north London derby's all-time joint top scorer with 10 goals so far against the Gunners.

Declan Rice

Declan Rice
Rice is being targeted by Chelsea - the very team that released him as a 14-year-old | Pool/Getty Images

The defensive midfielder spent eight years in the Chelsea academy, but was released at the age of 14.

Rice quickly earned himself a trial at West Ham, and just three years after being released by the Blues, he had made his Premier League debut for the Hammers.

The 21-year-old's performances in a West Ham soon earned him international recognition, as well as the attention of a certain west London side who play in blue, who have been heavily linked with signing Rice in the summer transfer window.

Andy Robertson

Andrew Robertson
Robertson was released by Celtic as a youngster | Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

The left back was released by boyhood club Celtic when he was playing in their Under-15 team as he was judged to be too small.

Robertson joined local amateur side Queens Park, simultaneously working at Hamden Park to earn a living.

He was eventually picked up by Dundee United in the Scottish Premiership, before securing a move to Premier League side Hull within a year. It was there where he caught the attention of Liverpool, and 11 years on from being released by Celtic, Robertson is now a Champions League and Premier League winner.

Joao Felix 

Joao Felix
Felix was released by Porto as a teenager | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Another member of the 'deemed too small' brigade is Joao Felix. The forward joined the Porto youth set up as an eight-year-old, but was released seven years later because of his stature.

He joined Benfica aged 15, and had made his senior debut by the time he was 18. He finished his debut season in the first team with 20 goals, as Benfica won the title. Kai Havertz and Jadon Sancho were the only teenagers in Europe to outscore Felix during the 2018/19 season.

After just one year in the Benfica first team, and five years on from being released by Porto, Atletico Madrid coughed up a full €126m to bring him to La Liga.