Soccer players are constantly evaluated throughout their careers. These evaluations from coaches and pundits often do not match the performances the players deliver on the pitch. When a player is not contributing to his team’s success on the pitch, he can become a target for media and fan criticism. If their period of poor play lasts for a significant period of time, the expectations for these players becomes diminished. Even the best players go through cold stretches, but when they last for significant periods, it becomes necessary for a reevaluation of the player.
Players can act in a manner that distracts teammates in training sessions and becomes a focus in interviews with the media. This conduct can become detrimental to teams that lack proper management and cause rifts between factions in a club. On field incidents such as red-cards can cost valuable results, leading to further strife within the club. The best managers can mitigate the effects of these, but often the players themselves are to blame when their behavior and actions do not match what is expected of them.
The following list of players have been regarded as some of the very best at points during their careers. They have been contributors to clubs that have made title challenges and lifted trophies. However, their ability to deliver results at the highest levels of the game has now come into question. Some have had public outbursts that have caused controversy, while others have demonstrated that they lack discipline or skill to continue succeeding in their respective competitions.
15 Nicolas Anelka – Striker – Free Agent
Last season, Nicolas Anelka was a massive distraction while playing for West Bromwich Albion. Early in the season, he publicly mulled around rumors of his retirement. He returned to the club and scored his first goal on December 28th. Anelka celebrated with the “quenelle” gesture, invented by a French comedian as a reverse Nazi salute. He defended the gesture as an homage to the comedian, and received a five-match suspension. His contract was terminated with West Brom as Anelka’s skills are fading and has been a distracting figure, dating back to the French mutiny at the 2010 World Cup. Nicolas Anelka should not be signed by any self-respecting club.
14 Iker Casillas – Goalkeeper – Real Madrid
During Spain’s run of glory from 2008 to 2012, Iker Casillas was one of the very best goalkeepers in the world. As most of the world saw this past summer, this is no longer the case. Casillas has struggled to perform in big matches, notably the Champions League final, where his miscalculation caused a goal for Atletico Madrid. His poor performances continued in the 2014 World Cup. During the 2012-13 season, Jose Mourinho benched Casillas in favor of Diego Lopez. If Real Madrid are going to repeat as Champions League winners, Iker Casillas’ performances will need to improve.
13 Gerard Pique – Defender – Barcelona
Gerard Pique himself admitted that he is no longer one of the best defenders in the world. Pique is still a fixture in tabloid headlines thanks to his wife Shakira, but has struggled to perform for both Barcelona and the Spanish national team. Barcelona fell short in both their Champions League and La Liga campaigns last season. A lack of stability in central defense was largely responsible. Pique’s decline has coincided with the injury and retirement of longtime partner Carles Puyol. Pique has vowed to return to form, but until he does, he will be one of the world’s most overrated players.
12 Sebastian Giovinco – Attacker – Juventus
Sebastian Giovinco’s second stint with Juventus has seen the club win two Serie A titles. Giovinco has not had much contribution to these efforts, with only eight total goals in Serie A over the last two seasons. He finished the 2013-14 season with only two goals scored in 19 matches. He has also struggled during his 19 appearances with the Italian national team, where he has only scored one goal. Giovinco also failed to score in either the Champions League or Europa League last season. An attacking player with the technical quality of Giovinco should be scoring at a much higher rate.
11 Mesut Ozil – Midfielder – Arsenal
There was an expectation of success for Mesut Ozil following his £42.5 million transfer from Real Madrid to Arsenal. Ozil performed up to expectation to some extent, scoring five goals and notching nine assists in 26 Premier League matches. However, Ozil fell well short of expectations in the Champions League. During a crucial quarter-final match with Bayern Munich, Ozil drew a foul in the penalty area. Ozil then struck a poor penalty, which was saved by Manuel Neuer. Munich then proceeded to decimate Arsenal. Ozil also had a notably poor performance during a 5-1 loss to Liverpool.
10 David Luiz – Defender – Paris Saint-Germain
The label of being the most expensive defender in soccer history may make it difficult for David Luiz to succeed at Paris Saint-Germain. The absolute best and worst of Luiz was on display during the 2014 World Cup, which saw him strike a magical free kick to lead Brazil to victory. However, David Luiz’ lack of discipline lead to Brazil conceding seven goals against Germany and the nation suffering embarrassment on their home turf. During his spell with Chelsea, Luiz was often deployed as a defensive midfielder in order to mitigate his lapses in judgment. For the most expensive defender ever, he leaves a lot to be desired on the defensive end of the pitch.
9 Jack Wilshere – Midfielder – Arsenal
England has a knack for overhyping young talent lurking on the fringes of the national team setup. Jack Wilshere can now be considered one of these overhyped players. As a midfielder he often struggles against opponents who can outmuscle the 5’7’’ Wilshere. He failed to score a goal in any of his 25 appearances in the 2012-13 season. Last year he only managed three goals in 24 league appearances. For a player considered to be the future of the English midfield, Wilshere has struggled to stay healthy, score goals, and compete against Europe’s elite clubs.
8 Hulk – Winger – Zenit St. Petersburg
To say Hulk was disappointing at the 2014 World Cup is an understatement. In his six appearances with the Brazilian national team, Hulk could not manage to score a goal. He did manage to put the ball in the net against Chile in the Round of 16, but had the goal taken away for a handball. Later in that match, he missed his penalty. His teammates and goalkeeper Julio Cesar did manage to bail Hulk out, but the disappointment was undeniable. Hulk plays his club football for Zenit St. Petersburg in the Russian Premier League. He has still not played in one of Europe’s five major leagues.
7 Joe Hart – Goalkeeper – Manchester City
Joe Hart found success at a young age and has been Manchester City’s starting goalkeeper since the 2010-11 season. Since being named the first choice keeper, he has racked up a laundry list of blunders that have cost his team dearly. His struggles continued as the keeper for England. Last November, Hart was dropped from the City first team after giving up a crucial goal to Fernando Torres, but returned one month later as top choice keeper. City still managed to win the Premier League title, almost in spite of Joe Hart’s goalkeeping.
6 Fernando Torres – Striker – Chelsea
Fernando Torres was at one point the best striker in the world. At this point, Torres does not even come close to that. El Nino’s form has suffered a dramatic downturn following his £40 million move to Chelsea. Last season, Torres managed only five goals in 28 Premier League appearances. The season before he scored eight League goals in 36 appearances. This falls well short of the performances Torres turned in while at Liverpool. Now considered to be on the fringes of the Chelsea squad, Torres is demanding the club pay the remainder of his £16 million contract before signing for another team.
5 Steven Gerrard – Midfielder – Liverpool
Steven Gerrard has had a bit of resurgence at the age of 34. After helping Liverpool to within an arm’s reach of the Premier League title, his slip against Chelsea allowed Demba Ba to score the decisive goal which doomed Liverpool to a second place finish. Gerrard went on to captain England in the World Cup, but played a crucial role in their demise. In the match against Uruguay, two mistakes by Stevie G led to two goals from Luis Suarez and England’s exit from the World Cup. Following the tournament, he retired from international football. It's safe to say that he's no longer a world class midfielder.
4 Franck Ribery – Winger – Bayern Munich
Franck Ribery has been a fixture in the Bayern Munich setup during a very successful stretch in the club’s history. He has also been involved in the French national team for one of the worst stretches in their history. Following a successful 2006 World Cup run, Ribery was a part of France squads that crashed out in the opening stage in Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010. He was dismissed from the 2010 World Cup team for an argument with manager Raymond Domenech. In 2012, Ribery’s France squad was eliminated in the quarterfinals against Spain. Despite finding success in the Bundesliga, Ribery has struggled in his role with the French national team.
3 Wayne Rooney – Striker – Manchester United
Wayne Rooney is a player capable of scoring goals of spectacular quality. However, when he is not smashing overhead kicks against Premier League opposition, Rooney often goes missing for matches at a time. Rooney finally managed to score his first goal at the World Cup this past summer, but he has had a career of national team blunders. His red card dismissal in 2006 against Portugal brought disgrace to the nation. His red card in the final qualification match prior to Euro 2012 caused him to miss all of England’s group stage matches. The high profile blunders have earned Rooney the “underachiever” label despite the success he has had with Manchester United.
2 Nani – Winger – Sporting Lisbon
Nani has struggled significantly over his last two seasons with Manchester United. Injuries and lack of form have caused Nani to fall significantly from once being considered one of Europe’s elite wingers. Over the last two Premier League seasons, Nani has scored only one goal. His only goal last season came in the Champions League. After signing a five year contract extension with Manchester United in September 2013, Nani was loaned out to Sporting Lisbon on a season long loan in 2014. In his debut game against Arouca, Nani had a horrific performance which included a yellow card, a missed penalty, and his substitution in the 77th minute.
1 Pepe – Defender – Real Madrid
Over the years as Real Madrid’s enforcer, Pepe has developed a reputation as one of soccer’s pantomime villains. Pepe lived up to that reputation this summer when he headbutted Thomas Muller during Portugal’s World Cup match against Germany. Pepe received a red card and doomed Portugal to a crushing defeat. Pepe was left out of Real Madrid’s Champions League Final lineup, possibly because of his red card risk. He has also been involved in violent incidents with Lionel Messi and Cesc Fabregas. At the age of 31, he is now considered Madrid’s third choice center back behind Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane. With his physical gifts fading, Pepe’s trademark intensity may be more of a distraction than strength.