‘They can be exploited’: clubs help young footballers navigate digital age

Child prodigies attract huge followings but Premier League clubs are warning against the consequences of early fame

As a six-year-old with four million Instagram followers, Arat Hosseini was not your typical academy footballer, but although “Mini Messi” is an extreme example, the young Iranian epitomised the challenge confronting England’s top football clubs as the digital-native generation of young players comes through.

The headline-making child prodigy has now left Liverpool, where he spent three years, but there are others: “Kid Messi” and “Kid Ronaldo”, children whose parents have documented their “careers” on Instagram, YouTube or TikTok. Boot deals are signed aged 11 and one’s fame was such that he was mobbed while playing at a recent tournament.

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