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10 Players that had the world at their feet but failed to fulfill their promise

Ah, wasted talent. Perhaps one of the most frustrating things in football. To have all the ability in the world only to throw it away really grates on the average football fan, particularly when most would love to have both that amount of ability and the chance to get paid handsomely for playing football.

Footballing history is littered with players that have had ‘the world at their feet’ only to fail to live up to expectations or fulfil the promise they show early on in their career or as a youngster. It’s not always their fault of course – some, like Gianluigi Lentini, formerly the most expensive player in the World (£13m, 1992) – suffer tragedy (in Lentini’s case, a car-crash) and their careers never recover.

Others, however, like Thomas Brolin or Adrian Mutu, let the excesses of life (food in Brolin’s case, recreational activities in Mutu’s) take over, which only accelerated by the riches football brings.

Kaka is a strange case of injuries and a massive money move to Real Madrid that failed to work out, and on the Orlando City midfielder’s 34th birthday it got us thinking about others who’ve promised so much, yet not quite delivered.

Whether through their own lack of drive, failure to adapt or other outside factors, these 10 players have failed to live up to what promised to be wildly successful careers. Some of the players featured here have produced good football, great even, at times, winning both trophies and plaudits along the way, but what they all have in common is that their failure to have the kind of impact and career in football they seemed destined for.


Rising to prominence in Serie A during the early 2000s Adriano Leite Ribeiro, or simply Adriano, was a strong, quick and powerful Brazilian striker. After bursting into the national side at just 18, it was generally downhill from there on for the uber-talented hit-man who let’s say enjoyed the ‘party lifestyle’.

The fact he scored 27 in 48 for his country, as well as having some hugely productive seasons at Inter Milan where he helped win four scudettos and earned the nickname L’Imperatore (the Emperor), make his well documented battles with weight, fitness and work-ethic all the more galling.

He currently plays for Miami United, in the USA’s fourth tier!


Cast your mind back eight years. An unfancied Russian side, led by current Chelsea interim boss Guus Hiddink, surprised everyone by making their way to the semi-finals of Euro 2008. And at the heart of their impressive run an impish talisman by the name of Andrey Arshavin stole the show. So impressive were his performances that they earned him a move to Arsenal just a few months later.

Arriving at the Emirates in fine form, he initially made quite an impression on both the Gunners and the Premier League as a whole – even non-Arsenal fans will remember his scintillating four goal performance against Liverpool, one of the finest in Premier League history  but as time wore on, the Russian playmaker wore out and his showings became increasingly more mercurial as his fitness and work-rate dipped.

Lacking ambition and character – perhaps Arsenal suited him after all – Euro 2012 was a disaster for the Russian national side, and captain Arshavin was seen as a big reason for that. For a player so naturally gifted and once adored in his homeland, it was a sad ‘beginning of the end’ to a career that never quite fulfilled its promise.


Yep, once upon a time talkSPORT’s very own outspoken pundit and commentator, Stanley Victor ‘Stan’ Collymore, was one of the most promising young strikers in England. Helping Nottingham Forest bounce back to the Premier League at the first attempt following relegation, 22 goals in the top-flight then alerted many of the bigger clubs to his talents.

Eventually it was Liverpool who came calling and, for a while, everything was going smoothly as he formed a deadly strike partnership with Robbie Fowler. But then came the rise of the ‘Spice Boys’ culture at Anfield (white suits for an FA Cup Final!) and this, coupled with other well-documented off-field issues, saw the striker progressively struggle with performance on the field, and clinical depression off it.

Spells at Villa, Leicester and other clubs failed to reignite the drive and talent shown in his early days and eventually his career tailed off, before retiring and moving into media work. A supremely talented but also deeply troubled individual, Collymore could have been so much more than a tabloid headline.


Once the most expensive footballer in the world, his £21.5m to Betis was a killer. As with many Brazilian attackers, he was blessed with great technical ability and natural footballing skill – add to this his scintillating pace and you can see why the Spaniards forked out such an astronomical fee for him in 1998.

But the demands of the European game, coupled with the struggles of his new club, meant Denilson failed to have the kind of impact. He also gained over 60 caps for his country and was part of two World Cup squads (1998 and 2002) but in truth he made about as much of an impression for the Seleção as he did his club side.

Denilson is the perfect example of a player over-reaching, believing his own hype and taking the money before properly developing the undoubted innate talent he possessed, content with show-reel moments over a genuinely successful career.


If you played Football Manager during the 2000s then Freddy Adu should be a familiar name (along with the similarly prodigious English youngster, Cherno Samba). Adu, an attacking-midfielder/striker, was signed to a professional contract at just 14, when DC United of MLS drafted him in 2004, and was heralded as the great hope of American ‘soccer’ who would take the country onto the next stage of the footballing landscape.

The promise soon faded when he left the the States however, joining Benfica as an 18 year-old, before spending the next several years as a journeyman at several different clubs across different countries. With over 70 caps at various different age levels for the USA national side, Adu has plenty of experience and undoubted talent, but he never really became the superstar he was projected to be.

Still only 26, Adu currently plays for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the North American Soccer League (NASL), America’s second-tier.


Perhaps the most tragic figure in modern day football, Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne is still heralded as one of the most naturally gifted footballers this country ever produced. Rising to prominence at home-town club Newcastle United, Gazza helped lead England to a World Cup semi-final – but a yellow card received meant he would have missed the final had they got there, leading to one of the most sadly iconic images in the game – his tears.

After moving to Spurs and helping them to the 1991 FA Cup Final, the self-inflicted injury he suffered early on in the game really set the tone for the rest of his career. Moving to Lazio in Italy after that, followed by spells at Rangers, Middlesbrough and Everton, his skill on the ball was always prevalent but was overshadowed with his battles with his inner demons, including alcoholism and depression.

Since leaving football his troubles have been well documented in the tabloid press, shocking and saddening images of this once great footballer commonplace over the years. Were it not for the unfortunate events and personal problems, Gazza may well have been able to become even better than he was, although you get the feeling that some players are destined for a life of tragedy rather than unbridled success. An amazing footballer nonetheless.


To play for both Barcelona and Real Madrid in your career, means you have to have a great deal of talent. And Saviola did – at least initially. His first three years at Barcelona, following a prolific start to his career as a teenager at River Plate in Argentina, were relatively successful in terms of goal return, but after that his career drifted off.

Spells at various different teams around Europe never saw him regain the heights he struck as a youngster and, although he won plenty of silverware with a variety of clubs as well as nearly 40 caps for Argentina, he followed the career path of so many uber-talented teenagers and never fulfilled the vast promise he had.


Perhaps the player with the greatest disparity between talent and fulfilment of talent on this list, Veron’s performances in Serie A during the late 1990s earned him a move to Manchester United in 2001 – a £28m transfer that was a record in English football at the time.

But his time at Old Trafford was largely a failure, as he struggled to adapt to the English game and was labelled as an expensive flop. Despite this, he was bought by Chelsea under Roman Abramovich in 2003, again failing to deliver on his immense talent. He spent two years at the Bridge before moving back to Italy and eventually his country of birth, Argentina.

His failure to adapt was a major factor in his lack of success in England, and the immense talent he possessed and displayed early on in his career in Serie A was never realised.


Once one of England’s most talked about and promising teenagers, Lee Sharpe had ‘the world at his feet’. It seemed a legendary career was on the cards for Sharpe at Manchester United, but a love for extra-curricular activities saw him anger manager Sir Alex Ferguson. And this, coupled with injuries and the rise of Ryan Giggs, meant that he quickly fell out of favour at Old Trafford.

His dribbling and skill on the wing was seen at Leeds, Bradford and other clubs later in his career, but the considerable brilliance he showed in the early days at Man United was a distant memory. Another story of a talented young footballer succumbing to the ‘lifestyle’ and wasting what could have been an amazing career.


And lastly, arguably the poster-boy of wasted talent, Ricardo Quaresma had all the talent in the world but failed to really deliver at any of his clubs. Likened to fellow countryman Cristiano Ronaldo, his dazzling feet and trickery saw him play for a host of clubs, including Barcelona, Porto and Inter Milan, as well as a very short stint with Chelsea.

He failed to make it at any club he played for to be honest, his skill and technical ability far outweighed by a poor work-ethic and lack of tactical awareness. Jose Mourinho claimed he could turn Quaresma into the player he promised to be when he joined Chelsea, but this failed to materialise and like so many of the names on this list, the innate talent that the Portuguese wide-man possessed was never truly realised throughout much of his career.

Still playing, at Besitkas in Turkey, Quaresma’s talents could still see him part of Portugal’s Euro 2016 squad.

Article title: 10 Players that had the world at their feet but failed to fulfill their promise

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