Why a former child prodigy ended his career at the age of 26

Jacinto Elá was once considered one of football’s greatest prodigies. But the dream of a great career was not to come true for him. Instead, he hung up his football boots surprisingly early.

The history of football not only knows the stories of talented people who realize their dreams and earn millions as stars. Those who are honest know that these biographies are very rare compared to the sheer number of talents who dream of being able to follow in the footsteps of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. every year around the world.

Even before Messi and CR7 set out to change the world of football with their skills, a young Spaniard was seen as the next big thing. What’s more, Jacinto Elá was predicted to have a future at the top of football. Elá was born in 1982, so he should have shaped football over the past twenty years. The fact that it didn’t come about is due to various reasons that show that talent alone is not enough to really make a breakthrough.

Elá was born in Equatorial Guinea but moved to Spain with his parents at a young age. He learned to play football when he was young at Espanyol Barcelona and at a youth tournament in 1996 he attracted the attention of several scouts from major European top clubs. Manchester hosted the Nike Premier Cup that year, a tournament for talented youngsters aged between 13 and 15.

Jacinto Elá: “Football is cheating”

Espanyol and Elá were also there – and more than that. The club won the tournament, Elá was voted best player. He was then well known to the talent hunters in world football. After his strong performances in Manchester, Elá even got an equipment contract with the eponymous sporting goods giant Nike.

“When I was 14, they called me the best young player in the world,” Elá wrote years later in a blog on his website: “I knew it wasn’t me, but it helped me turn pro.” Elá progressed through the other youth teams at Espanyol, winning the junior championship and the Copa del Rey. He played for Spain’s U18 national team alongside Victor Valdes and Mikel Arteta, scoring five goals in 11 games.

But then his development stalled. For Espanyol he completed only one game for the professionals in the cup, in 2001 Elá was released by the club. “Only 0.2 percent of youth players make their debut in La Liga,” he said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Confidencial, in which he settled accounts with the business. “But they make the children believe that they were sent by God, that it’s easy to make millions and own luxury cars. Football is cheating. It’s easier to win the lottery,” he said clearly.

After leaving Barcelona, ​​Elá, now 19 years old, got a contract with FC Southampton. In England, the club is known for its good youth work, but Elá was never happy. The language barrier made his integration difficult, and he never made it past the reserve team in Southampton either.

Jacinto Elá: Traveling as a teacher and fashion designer after football

During this time, young players rarely got a chance to show themselves to the pros because the club was constantly fighting against relegation. “I could delete Southampton from my CV and it would not lose its relevance,” Elá later wrote. In addition, his body gradually played tricks on him at that time, and long-term knee problems bothered him.

And so, one afternoon, we had a conversation with Steve Wigley, then Southampton reserve manager. Firstly, Wigley explained that the club was happy with Elá. “All of a sudden he put his arm around me and was like, ‘Jazzy, we think it’s best for you if you start looking for a team.’ I looked at him with a face of cement and deaf at the same time,” he looked back.

Elá returned to Spain and a year later returned to the island for a few months, playing for Dundee United in Scotland. After a few stints in Spain’s footballing insignificance, he ended his career at the age of 26. After that, Elá was on the road in a variety of jobs – whether as a teacher, with a train company or as a fashion designer together with his wife. He also wrote books and blogs about football – a business that didn’t deliver what it once promised.


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