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.
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.
Unfortunately, the then 20-year-old just couldn't cut it under Sir Alex Ferguson and was quickly shipped out on loan, widely regarded as a laughing stock. Since then, however, he's enjoyed a decent amount of joy at Portuguese outfit Pacos de Ferreira, Cordoba and Benfica and has shone with some incredible, individual golazos along the way. It's safe to say that he's not been given regular game-time despite possessing some really good talent.
14 Ashley Young
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.
Although it took time, a renaissance eventually arrived as Young's career took a turn for the better with the arrival of Louis Van Gaal in the dugout. Now a valued member of the team, he's proven many doubters wrong with some terrific commitment, as he's said himself: "The manager has called upon me whether it's been left wing or left-back and I've gone out there and given 110% as I always do and I've enjoyed the season."
13 Matt Smith
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.
Stints at Oldham Athletic, Macclesfield Town and Leeds United all followed but he has now found consistency in his playing time - as well as with his goal-scoring. Netting 18 times across various competitions since the start of the 2014/15 season for a trio of clubs, he's refused to give up on his dream of playing the best football he can at the highest level.
12 Jay DeMerit
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.
Now retired, DeMerit can reflect back with pride on a career that saw him battle through the various levels of the English game all the way from non-League football to the Premier League with Watford, the World Cup with the USMNT and even the MLS as captain of the Vancouver Whitecaps.
11 Milivoje Novakovic
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?
Not one to let the misconceptions of others get in his way, he went on to enjoy a fruitful career that saw him join up with FC Cologne for a number of years where he became the Bundesliga 2's top scorer for a season. He's also a key member of the Slovenia national team at present.
10 Mame Biram Diouf
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.
A quick glance at the goalscorers' chart for the season just finished, however, and it's clear to see that Diouf has redeemed himself a great deal as he became Stoke City's top scorer in the league with 11 strikes.
9 Diego Forlan
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.
That said, the improvement in his fortunes since he exited the "Theatre of Dreams" is a well-known success story. Enjoying exhilarating spells at both Villarreal and Atletico Madrid where he won the Intertoto Cup, UEFA Cup and Super Cup, he more than made up for his wasted years at United.
8 Demba Ba
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.
Nowadays, though, Ba is a veteran forward, and he's only recently finished the season as the Turkish Super Lig's second-highest scorer with 18 goals to his name from 29 appearances with Besiktas. But with interest in his services from the Premier League continuing to swirl about, we could very well see him make a return, although it's unlikely he'll represent either Chelsea or Newcastle United any time soon.
7 Ian Wright
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.
Then, a lucky break came his way when a Crystal Palace scout brought him on board where he flourished thanks to a successful partnership with Mark Bright. Soon thereafter, with confidence in himself sky-high, Arsenal came calling and the rest, as they say, is history.
6 Charlie Austin
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.
Now, he's one of the most free-scoring Englishmen in the top flight, netting 18 times last season, more than Saido Berahino, Wayne Rooney and Danny Ings. Recently, he reached the pinnacle of his career to date with a call-up to the England national side, under Roy Hodgson.
5 Gareth Bale
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.
Soon, however, he managed to turn things around in mind-boggling fashion, became a figure of esteem for the Lilywhites and began to play some of the best football of his career, eventually proving himself enough to see Los Blancos offer Spurs an outrageous offer they simply couldn't refuse. Now, he's one of the best players in the world and has a Champions League medal to prove it.
4 Paul Pogba
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.
That said, the fact remains he wasn't good enough at United and was transferred to the Bianconeri as a direct result of his below-par displays. United legend Paul Scholes thought the very same when he said: "While he obviously had bags of potential, he was not really playing well enough in that period up to Christmas 2011 to warrant a place in the first-team squad on a permanent basis, let alone start games."
3 Samuel Eto'o
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.
Turning the tide in his favor, he eventually went on to become a legend at Madrid's fiercest of rivals Barcelona and has since enjoyed a lucrative career with a plethora of top clubs such as Everton, Inter Milan, Chelsea, Fiorentina and even Anzhi Makhachkala where he has won so many trophies and medals - a far cry from his terrible days in the Spanish capital.
2 Steve Bruce
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.
Securing a move to Manchester United, the legend of the beautiful game cemented his place among the pantheon of greats in double-quick time, but it could all have panned out so differently.
1 Thierry Henry
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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