Earlier this week a Northern Irish schoolboy by the name of Christopher Atherton entered the record books by becoming the youngest player to appear in a senior, first-class, fully-sanctioned competitive match.
Aged just 13 years and 329 days, Atherton came off the bench to play for Glenavon FC in the Northern Ireland Football League Cup. What’s more, the Lurgan Blues ran out 6-0 winners on the night with their teenage debutant providing the assist for the sixth goal.
Atherton broke a U.K. record that was previously held for over four decades by Eamon Collins, who made his senior debut for Blackpool in 1980 at the tender age of 14 years and 323 days — almost a full year older than Atherton.
Having featured for the Tangerines’ youth team, Collins was called into the first-team squad to face Kilmarnock in the first leg of the quarterfinals of the now-defunct Anglo-Scottish Cup just five weeks before his 15th birthday. It remains his one and only appearance for the club.
👏 Congratulations to @Glenavon_FC‘s Christopher Atherton, who made his first team debut against Dollingstown tonight aged 1⃣3⃣ yrs and 3⃣2⃣9⃣ days old to became the youngest ever player to play senior football competitively in the UK. pic.twitter.com/uQuK7XT2et
— NI Football League (@OfficialNIFL) September 13, 2022
Here we look at some of the other youngest players to feature in Europe’s Big Five leagues as well as those fellow wonderkids who hold the same record across a handful of other notable elite level competitions around the world.
English Premier League: Harvey Elliott, 16 years and 30 days
Elliot had only just turned 16 when he made his Premier League debut for Fulham against Wolves on May 4, 2019. The young midfielder had previously made his first-team debut for the Cottagers in September 2018, when he duly became the youngest player to ever feature in the EFL Cup at the age of 15 years and 174 days.
16y 30d – Aged 16 years and 30 days, Fulham’s Harvey Elliott is the youngest player to play a Premier League game. Cherub. pic.twitter.com/1e7KTjtR3f
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 4, 2019
The youngest ever @premierleague player!
— England (@England) May 4, 2019
English Women’s Super League: Lauren James, 16 years and 30 days
By pure coincidence the Women’s Super League record for youngest player is absolutely identical in age to that of the men’s Premier League, with then-Arsenal forward James (who is the younger sister of Chelsea defender Reece) making her bow in the division less than a month after her 16th birthday.
Spanish LaLiga: Luka Romero, 15 years and 219 days
Romero broke a record that had stood since 1939 when he came on for Mallorca in the 83rd minute of a league game against Real Madrid in 2020. The record had previously belonged to Celta Vigo defender Sanson, who was 15 years and 255 days old when he made his debut for the club just a couple of months after the outbreak of the Second World War.
1 – Aged 15 years and 219 days, Mallorca’s Luka Romero becomes the youngest player to ever play a @LaLigaEN game, beating Sansón’s record for Celta de Vigo in December 1939 (15 years and 255 days). Kid.
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) June 24, 2020
German Bundesliga: Youssoufa Moukoko, 16 years and 1 day
Still only 17 at time of writing, prodigious striker Moukoko made his senior league debut for Borussia Dortmund the day after his 16th birthday during the 2020-21 season — an appearance only made legal after the DFB changed their restrictions on player age the previous year.
Moukoko was subbed on for Erling Haaland for the final five minutes of a 5-2 drubbing of Hertha Berlin to claim the Bundesliga record from fellow Dortmund player Nuri Sahin, who made his league debut for the club aged 16 years and 334 days.
Youssoufa Moukoko becomes the youngest player in Bundesliga history. He turned 16 yesterday 🤯 pic.twitter.com/cqyWKZr2di
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) November 21, 2020
16 years and one day.
Youssoufa Moukoko is now the youngest player to ever feature in the Bundesliga 👶 pic.twitter.com/0JpbquLCVP
— Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga_EN) November 21, 2020
Italian Serie A: Wisdom Amey, 15 years and 274 days
Amey broke new ground at the tail end of the 2020-21 season when he emerged from the dugout for the final few minutes of Bologna‘s 2-0 defeat against Genoa. Though he was unable to prevent defeat, the right-back came on in the 89th minute and thus became the youngest player in the history of Italian top flight football.
15-year-old Wisdom Amey became the youngest ever player in Serie A history when came on for Bologna yesterday 👶
He was born 3 months after Lionel Messi won his first La Liga title 🤯 pic.twitter.com/gUetaQAPDc
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 13, 2021
French Ligue 1: Kalman Gerencseri, 15 years and 225 days
The longest-held record in all of Europe’s top five leagues can be found in France where Lens midfielder Gerencseri is still the youngest player to appear in a top-flight game despite doing so against Monaco in August 1960.
To put that in context, Kylian Mbappe was a relatively late bloomer in comparison having been 16 years and 347 days when he made his maiden bow for Monaco in December 2015.
Major League Soccer: Freddy Adu, 14 years and 306 days
The original MLS wonderkid, Adu was just 14 years old when he made his league debut for DC United on a wave of hype in 2004. Branded as the “new Pele” by some, the exceptionally young striker quickly buckled under the weight of those stratospheric expectations, giving way to a largely unsettled and nomadic career.
The 14-year old made history becoming the youngest person in the United States to play professional sports. pic.twitter.com/kAqNhTCOs4
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 4, 2020
Europa League: Willem Geubbels, 16 years and 113 days
Geubbels broke new ground by becoming the first player born in the 21st century to make their Europa League debut when he came on for Lyon in a group stage game against Atalanta in December 2017. The young French forward also became the competition’s youngest ever player in the process after entering the fray at the age of just 16.
16 – Willem Geubbels (16y 113d) is the youngest player ever in the UEFA Europa League. Boy.
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) December 7, 2017
Champions League: Youssoufa Moukoko, 16 years and 18 days
A little over two weeks on from becoming the Bundesliga’s youngest-ever player, Moukoko followed suit in the Champions League when he featured for Dortmund away against Zenit St Petersburg in the group stage of the 2020-21 competition. The 16-year-old striker’s introduction in the 58th minute coincided with the German side roaring back from a goal down to secure a late 2-1 win in Russia.
🖤💛 16-year-old Dortmund wonderkid Youssoufa Moukoko makes Champions League history as youngest player ever to feature in the competition! #UCL
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) December 8, 2020