Hitting a hat-trick is always guaranteed to generate headlines. Doing so as a teenager is therefore a sure-fire way to make the entire footballing world sit up and take notice, as evidenced by the frenzied reaction to Zakaria Bakkali’s stunning treble for PSV on Saturday evening.
The 17-year-old’s sensational exploits in the 5-0 demolition of NEC at the Philips Stadion saw him become the youngest player to ever hit a hat-trick in the Eredivisie, while at the same time wholly vindicating Belgium boss Marc Wilmots’ decision to include him in next week’s friendly against France.
Of course, football is littered with tales of players who shone ever so brightly at a young age only to quickly burn out and fade away. However, as you can see from below, it takes a special kind of talent to score a hat-trick aged 18 or under …
An 18-year-old Alessandro Del Piero had already opened his Juventus account, scoring as a substitute against Reggiana in what was just his second appearance for the club, when he made his first start for the Bianconeri, against Parma. What happened next set Del Piero on the way to iconic status in Turin, with the trequartista helping himself to a sublime hat-trick. Indeed, he never looked back, going on to become Juve’s record goalscorer and appearance holder, not to mention establishing himself as one of the finest No.10s of the modern era.
Trevor Francis was just 16 years and 307 days old when he became the youngest hat-trick scorer in the history of British football. The prodigiously gifted forward didn’t just net a treble, though, he scored all of Birmingham City’s goals in a 4-0 rout of Bolton Wanderers on February 20, 1971. Of course, Francis’ crowning moment in the professional game would not come until some eight years later, when he headed the winner for Nottingham Forest in their European Cup final clash with Malmo.
Sir Alex Ferguson did his utmost to try to persuade Jeremy Menez to move to Old Trafford before the winger deciding to remain at Sochaux and sign a professional contract with the club at just 16 years, 10 months and 15 days old – a Ligue 1 record. The legendary Scottish coach’s intense interest in the Frenchman became perfectly understandable in January 2005 when Menez scored a hat-trick against Bordeaux – in just seven minutes. Menez may not have quite lived up to his early promise but he is a key player for current French champions Paris Saint-Germain.
Scoring a hat-trick at any level is impressive, but it takes a unique talent to net a treble in a World Cup semi-final. Pele was such a talent. Of course, the truly remarkable thing about the Brazil legend’s feat was that he was just 17 years and 244 days old when he destroyed Just Fontaine’s France 5-2 in Solna on June 24, 1958. Pele netted another two goals in the final and a legend had well and truly been born.
Ferguson may have missed out on Menez but there was no way he was going to let Wayne Rooney slip through his grasp. Indeed, the fearless forward was just 18 when the United boss managed to persuade his employers to hand over £25.6m (€29.7m) for the Everton starlet. Rooney wasted little time proving it was money well spent, scoring a hat-trick on his United debut, a Champions League hammering of Fenerbahce at Old Trafford. He may no longer be a fan favourite at Old Trafford but the Rooney of 2004 remains the most awesome teenage talents the game has ever seen.