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Top 15 Soccer Stars Who Were Terrible At First

Tales of rising superstars, exceptional talents and wonder-kids always make for a brilliantly captivating story. Shining brightly from a young age, players with an innate talent can often attract the interests of some of the best clubs in the business.

Clamoring for a sneak peek at the latest and best prodigy on the market, press, scouts and neutrals are often abuzz with excitement at the thought of seeing the next Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi or Luis Suarez. However, there are also the more peculiar cases of the players who start out without much interest, away from the light, cast into the shadow - these are the players who can surprise us even more than the next-generation starlet.

The reason? They turn against a tide of expectation that is often built up over time, eroding the preconceptions that have been reinforced. Others, too, only break through when they're older, when they finally get a lucky break or when they get handed a rare chance to shine in the right set-up, with the right players around them.

In truth, players who manage to drastically reinvent themselves, instill a new-found sense of self and play like never before are almost as rare a commodity as the rising star. Often fueled by a desire to improve so as to not lose a life - and a dream - on the field of play, their renewals are a source of inspiration as well as wonderment.

Here, we're going to look at players who were once considered below-par (rightly or wrongly), consigned to the scrap heap almost before they had even got going, giving special emphasis to those who were either disregarded when they first arrived at a particular club or whether it took time for anyone to properly recognise their talents and utilise their special skill-set to optimum effect.

Feel like we've left someone important out? Let us know in the comments section.

15 Bebe

via eurosport.com

Going from living in a homeless shelter to earning £12,ooo per week at one of the biggest clubs in the world, the general consensus at the time of Bebe's arrival at Old Trafford was that he must have had some incredible potential to lure Manchester United in after only a handful of appearances for Vitoria de Guimaraes.

14 Ashley Young

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

When he joined the Red Devils in the summer of 2011, it seemed like an odd transfer. For years he had performed consistently with Aston Villa, but making the step up to a top Premier League club looked as though it could well be a stretch too far - and so it proved as he really struggled to hit the ground running, looked out of place on the left wing and was widely criticized for diving.

13 Matt Smith

via theguardian.co.uk

Currently on the books with Fulham as a striker, Smith is in a pretty comfortable position right about now. Rewind a few years, though, and the 26-year-old was struggling to get a look in at lowly Cheltenham Town's youth team, as he was released as an 18-year-old. Whilst studying at the University of Manchester he captained the football team, but that looked like the pinnacle for Smith, right there and then.

12 Jay DeMerit

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Raw, unpolished and without much hope - Jay DeMerit took it upon himself to make the bold move of traveling to England from the U.S.A to make it in the top flight. With just $1,800 to his name, the odds were stacked against him, with even his mother saying he was "crazy" to take on such a mountainous undertaking.

11 Milivoje Novakovic

via slovenskenovic.si

Viewed as someone who lacked ability, Novakovic was the victim of poor judgement by so many coaches and scouts for far too long. Despite enjoying a decent youth career, it was rarely thought that he'd succeed as a professional. Indeed, his youth club Olimpija Ljubljana even stated at the time that "his legs are too thin to become a professional footballer." Yeah, ever heard of training regimens and protein, you guys?

10 Mame Biram Diouf

via independent.co.uk

Bringing no impact to Manchester United when he signed for them as far back as 2009, he pocketed just one goal in nine matches before being quickly ushered into the reserves until he was duly shown the exit door after giving him more than enough opportunities to shine.

9 Diego Forlan

via eurosport.com

Arriving in England in 2001, the ex-Uruguay international was widely tipped to blast his new club Manchester United to yet another Premier League title. Having had a good career until that point at Independiente, many believed he had the necessary attributes to go make a hugely positive impact in front of goal. Alas, it just didn't work out for him, as he managed just 10 goals in 60 appearances during his four years.

8 Demba Ba

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Deemed unworthy for Barnsley as a teenager, it would have been difficult to envisage just how the Senegalese star would eventually make it, especially considering he was also turned away by the likes of Auxerre and Olympique Lyonnais. Eventually offered a chance by French minnows Rouen, it's safe to say, he was hardly setting the football world alight.

7 Ian Wright

Colorsport

A late bloomer, Arsenal's goal-scoring legend Ian Wright wasn't highly thought of as a young footballer. Attempting to make the grade at a multitude of different clubs, his talents weren't enough to attract a contract offer from anyone that saw him play for a number of years - both Southend United and Brighton & Hove Albion all rejected the opportunity to sign him when he earned a trial at both clubs.

6 Charlie Austin

via thisisanfield.com

What a turnaround it's been for Charlie Austin over the past few seasons. Rejected through the conventional route of the academies as a youngster, the usual roads of progression were blockaded to him at the very beginning of his journey. Released as a teenager from Reading, the way to the top seemed a long way off, and getting to the Premier League remained a pipe-dream as he grappled with the strain of lower-league football.

5 Gareth Bale

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

There was once a time when current Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale was a figure of tremendous ridicule at White Hart Lane. Having secured the move from Southampton, a club renowned for their ability to produce exceptional talent, the signs were there that the teenage sensation could continue to impress. Superstition, anxiety and poor performances all played their part in almost condemning Bale to a step down as Birmingham City came snooping.

4 Paul Pogba

Tim Groothuis/Witters Sport via USA TODAY Sports

A disconsolate figure while at Manchester United, the current Juventus star is currently one of the hottest properties on the transfer market, and it's easy to see why. Having recently won the double in Italy, securing a Serie A medal as well as a gleaming Coppa Italia accolade, he was cruelly denied a Champions League winners' medal when Barcelona got in the way. At the top of his game, it's head-scratching to think why he wasn't good enough to impress Sir Alex.

3 Samuel Eto'o

via soccernews.com

Failing to make a mark at Real Madrid when he was signed up by their prestigious youth academy, Eto'o couldn't make the big splash when he had the chance, having worked hard to make it. Loaned out to a number of clubs during his formative years, the ex-Cameroon international looked like he was on the verge of getting shown the exit door.

2 Steve Bruce

via dailymail.co.uk

Some hardcore England and Manchester United fans might heartily disagree with this assessment of Steve Bruce, but looking back on his early attempts to break into the professional sphere, it's clear there was something important missing from his style of play, preparation and innate ability. Turned away by the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough and Burnley - he was eventually deemed good enough for Gillingham.

1 Thierry Henry

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

True, he enjoyed some good times at AS Monaco in the early stages of his career, but when he secured a transfer to Italian giants Juventus, it really looked as if he had been overrated. Underwhelming, inconsistent and a shadow of his better self, the Frenchman experienced a serious dip in form in the Serie A. Played out of position on the flank and with a lot of pressure on him to perform, the ex-France international cut a sorry figure.

His eventual move away from this nightmare to the far more heavenly Highbury with Arsenal saw him experience the best period of his career as he was entrusted with leading the line - and he did that job wonderfully, indeed. Although he did taste success with Barcelona and the New York Red Bulls later on, he will always be fondly remembered as one of the Gunners' best strikers and most charismatic figures.

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Top 15 Soccer Stars Who Were Terrible At First