Consistency is one of the most valuable attributes a footballer can have. With it, they can become a reliable and solid member of their team and a player their manager/coach knows they can rely on. Without it, they can prove to be a risk and a liability, whose place in a top team can never be guaranteed. As such, inconsistent players are often the bane of a manager's life.
Inconsistent players often show flashes or glimpses of brilliance before disappearing or fading for a few games. To be a consistent professional over an entire career requires a great deal of mental toughness. The likes of Andrea Pirlo, Ryan Giggs and Lionel Messi have played at the highest level consistently and almost never had a bad game. They are a very rare breed. Most of the players on this list are attacking players, as they are the only type a manager can afford to be so inconsistent, and many have been accused of having bad attitudes over the course of their careers.
Most players' performance levels go up and down over the course of a season and their career, that is only natural, but the players on this lists form swings like a pendulum from game to game, with their fans and manager alike never knowing what to expect. Here are the top 20 most inconsistent players in world soccer.
20 Wesley Sneijder
Wesley Sneijder is a quality player, of that there is no doubt, but his form has been up and down like a yoyo over his career. He was outstanding at Ajax as a youngster, making him one of the hottest prospects in world football, and soon joined Real. With Los Blancos he didn't do enough to impress and the signing of Kaka saw him expendable. That looked to be a poor decision by the Madrid club when Sneijder had two incredible seasons with Inter, being the linchpin as they won a historic treble in 2010. True to form though, his performances tailed off, and by 2013, Europe's elite were no longer convinced and he headed to Galatasaray.
19 Papiss Cisse
Papiss Cisse was brought to the Premier League to score goals, and with an impressive pedigree for Senegal and in the Bundesliga, as well as a glowing recommendation by compatriot Demba Ba, expectations were high. Even still, no one expected him to make the lightning start to the English top flight that he did. The poacher was electric, scoring 11 goals in his first 10 games before an incredible brace in a 2-0 win over Chelsea, one of which went down as one of the greatest Premier League goals ever scored. After a record of 13 in 14 in his first season, he hit just 8 in 36 in his second. Cisse is clearly a gifted goal scorer, and his goals/minute ratio is still impressive, but if he could find some degree of consistency, he'd be one of the best strikers in the league.
18 Cesc Fabregas
Cesc Fabregas was extremely consistent in his first stint in the Premier League with Arsenal, where he served as captain for three years. Fabregas then headed to Barcelona, where he started brightly, but developed a reputation for fading around the half way point of a season. In a squad littered with midfield talent, the Spaniard was never guaranteed a spot in the first team, but that was different when he joined Chelsea. Once more, Fabregas made a blistering start. He already had 15 assists by January, yet he ended the season four months later and added only three more to that total. Having made a slow start this year, Fabregas needs to dispel the growing idea that he is an inconsistent player.
17 Erik Lamela
Tottenham have had more inconsistent players than perhaps any other top flight club in recent years, and few typify this better than Argentine Erik Lamela. The winger arrived in a summer of big spending as the North Londoners looked to replace the departed Gareth Bale. Lamela was Tottenham's biggest buy, costing a potential $46 million if add-ons are activated. The young winger had a torrid first season, playing only nine league games. After a brighter start to his second season, Lamela faded once more and has had a quiet start to the 2015-16 season.
Still only 23, Lamela's inconsistency is understandable, but now in his third season at Spurs, he needs to start stringing impressive performances together.
16 Martin Skrtel
The vast majority of the players on this list are attacking players, mostly wingers and attacking midfielders. That is because they are the creative players, or luxury players, who a manager can afford to carry on the grounds that should they create a bit of magic, it will all have been worthwhile. Martin Skrtel is the only defender to make this list, and that's even rarer, as he is a center back, probably the second most crucial position for consistency after a goalkeeper. At times, Skrtel looks solid and a leader. Yet every so often he looks wildly out of his depth, clumsy, rash and is no stranger to putting the ball in his own net.
15 Samir Nasri
Samir Nasri has become a very inconsistent player in recent years. During in his time with Marseille and Arsenal, the Frenchman was fairly consistent as a gifted playmaker who was very good on the ball and had an eye for a pass. He started at Manchester City just as he had left off at Arsenal but soon began to go quiet in games. Nasri is unusual in the respect that when he is the star of the Man City midfield he still looks an excellent player, but seems to have trouble playing alongside David Silva, perhaps the two are too similar, and it is the Spaniard who has got the nod in recent years.
14 Angel Di Maria
Some may see Angel Di Maria's inclusion as a knee-jerk reaction to the Argentine's poor season at Manchester United, but that is not the case. While Di Maria joined United on the back of an exceptional season with Real Madrid, in which he won the Champions League and reached the World Cup final, making the team of the tournament in both competitions, his La Liga form was never consistent. On his day, Di Maria was capable of producing magic whether from out wide or through the middle. His lightning pace, quick feet and invention make him a tricky opponent, but outside of the big games, he can go missing all too often. PSG will hope this isn't the case since signing him this summer.
13 Mesut Ozil
Another player who made a big money move from Real Madrid to the Premier League and didn't quite live up to the expectations surrounding them is Mesut Ozil. The German playmaker was a massive signing for Arsenal as Arsene Wenger smashed his record transfer fee for a player by more than double the previous record, shedding out over $60 million to make Ozil the most expensive German player in history.
He began life at the Emirates in fine form, but just as Los Blancos fans had noticed, the Gunners supporters soon saw a drop off in form from their new man. On his day, Ozil is arguably the finest creator of chances in European football, he just needs to be on his day a little more often.
12 Shaun Wright-Philips
Few careers have nose-dived quite as spectacularly as that of former Manchester City and England winger Shaun Wright-Philips. After a blistering start to life in the Premier League with Manchester City as a youngster, SWP was snapped up by Chelsea, in the days before the Sky Blues were awash with cash and had to sell their best assets. The fee was around $35 million and made the 24-year-old one of the most expensive Englishmen in history. At Chelsea, Wright-Philips' performances were up and down, and when he returned to Man City after three seasons, he couldn't recapture the form he had showed in his first stint, despite showing glimpses of his old self.
A miserable time at QPR spelled curtains for his time in England and SWP headed to the MLS and is looking to breathe new life into his career in the states with the New York Red Bulls, just as his brother Bradley did.
At one time, Robinho was regarded as the hottest prospect in world football. At Santos, he was a revelation right through from the junior and youth teams to the first team. At the age of just 15, Pele was already hailing the teenager as his heir apparent. None of this pressure seemed to get to the young man, who joined Real Madrid at 18 and took to La Liga like a fish to water. His inconsistency was accounted for, as it would with any 18-year-old, but by his fourth season, aged 22, Los Blancos felt a $50 million offer by Man City was sufficient.
He started brightly in England but it was clear all was not right. He seemed to have lost some of his spark and inventiveness, and although it reared its head at times, he never justified the price tag. A return to Santos and a spell with AC Milan failed to iron out the inconsistencies and Robinho now plays for Guangzhou in China.
10 Mirko Vucinic
Ask any Italian football fan what Mirko Vucinic is capable of on the football pitch and they will tell you wonderful things. Ask them how often he produces them and your reply may be rather less glowing. The Montenegrin second striker looked like a world beater at times, gradually making the steps up from Lecce, to Roma, to Juventus. Once at the pinnacle of Italian football with Juventus, his inconsistencies were highlighted in greater detail. A hugely entertaining player, on his day he carried Juve, but when off it he contributed almost nothing to the performance of his team. He now plays for Al Jazira in the UAE.
9 Hatem Ben-Arfa
One of the most frustrating footballers of the 21st century, Hatem Ben-Arfa had all the tools to become a world class player. His skill, control and dribbling abilities were genuinely good enough to rival the likes of Messi, Hazard and Ronaldo, but his attitude and application was poor enough to rival Mario Balotelli or Mido. In the 2011-12 season he was superb, the star of a Newcastle team which finished fifth in the Premier League, but he needed the team to be built around him.
He soon fell out with Alan Pardew and his performances were never steady again. Steve Bruce offered him a lifeline at Hull City but his discipline failed him once more. Now back in France with Nice, Ben-Arfa is impressing, but aged 28, he will never hit the heights he should have.
8 Ricardo Quaresma
Portuguese winger Ricardo Quaresma had a lot in common with Ben-Arfa. He was also a very gifted and technical player, and Quarema was even powerful, making him a real complete package. He looked an incredible prospect with Sporting CP and a player destined for greatness. He joined Barcelona aged 20 but his form for the Catalan club was shaky, and he left after just a year.
Back in Portugal, he looked to be in form once more, but moves to Inter Milan, Besiktas, Chelsea, Al Ahli and a return to Porto followed. His game always being plagued by inconsistency, with some accusing him of a poor attitude. He re-joined Besiktas but most doubt his ability to perform consistently at the top level now, aged 32.
7 Adel Taarabt
If it's players with a bad attitude that you're looking for, then look no further than Moroccan Adel Taarabt. He joined QPR from Tottenham and in the 2010-11 season he was by far the best player in the Championship as he inspired the club to promotion, although even that season didn't pass without drama from the attacking midfielder. Interest from PSG and Napoli reportedly turned Taarabt's head, as he was replaced as captain by Joey Barton.
His form that season was mixed at best, and that's how it would remain for the next three years until the present day. His performances were equally up and down with Fulham and AC Milan, and he joined Benfica in the summer but is yet to appear for the club.
6 Mario Balotelli
Another player renowned for his poor attitude, wild behavior and unusual antics is Italian forward Mario Balotelli. Clearly a talented footballer, Balotelli came through the ranks at Inter Milan as a teenager and made an instant impression in the first team. His power and technique made him a real prospect, although attitude problems always put a cloud over his future. He fell out with Jose Mourinho and re-united with Roberto Mancini at Manchester City. Once more, he was at times brilliant and at times crazy, marred by inconsistency. After a terrible season at Liverpool he is now on-loan at AC Milan.
5 Emmanuel Adebayor
Emmanuel Adedayor's form seems to be dictated by what's on offer should he play well/poorly in recent years. After impressing for Monaco he joined Arsenal, and in the 2007/08 season, his best ever, he was the second top scorer in the Premier League, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo. The big Togolese then made a big money move to Manchester City, where he started well but soon faded, seeing his place in the pecking order drop behind the likes of Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero. When he joined Tottenham on loan he was incredible once more, bagging 17 goals in 33 games, but his form dropped massively after signing a permanent deal. His form continued to waver until he was released, and now finds himself being a free agent.
4 Kevin Prince-Boateng
We are now approaching the most inconsistent players in the world, and without doubt, Kevin Prince-Boateng is right up there. The Ghanian who was born in West Germany is an absolute monster on his day. He is strong and powerful as well as being quick and naturally gifted, he has run some of the best teams in the world ragged on his day. Yet when he's not on form, he might as well not be on the pitch, as he goes completely missing and becomes effectively invisible. In his early days at AC Milan he appeared to be maturing as a footballer, but that wasn't so, his form continued to be erratic and a move to Schalke hasn't altered that, he is still a hugely frustrating player.
3 Antonio Cassano
Technically speaking, Antonio Cassano is probably the most gifted player on this list, and that is no small claim on a list featuring some very natural footballers who are excellent on the ball. Cassano however, should have been a top player, in the very top bracket of players of his generation. His skill, control, passing and awareness are as good as anyone's. Nicknamed the Jewel of Old Bari, Cassano danced past opponents and made a mockery of defenses in his early years when on form.
His best years probably came at Roma, where he was given a free role, but a move to Madrid under the disciplinarian Fabio Capello at Real was a horrible choice. Cassano has had a respectable career, winning four trophies and 39 caps, but he should have done so much more had he regularly produced what he is capable of.
For Manchester United fans, the words inconsistent and Nani will be forever intertwined. The Portuguese wide man arrived with all the ability in the world, and surely all it took was some of Fergies man management to get the best out of such a magnificent prospect. Nani, like Ronaldo, arrived at Old Trafford from Sporting CP, and like Ronaldo, Nani had bags of ability. He could dribble at pace, beat a man and was capable of producing a wicked shot.
Sadly, Nani had none of the application that his compatriot did. What made Ronaldo a top player was not just his ability but the hard yards he put in. First in the training ground and the last out, CR7 was constantly refining his technique and striving to be better. Nani meanwhile showed every so often what a talent he could have been, with his best form coming between 2010 and 2012, but he always flirted with greatness, never quite capturing it.
No player has been as gloriously inconsistent as Brazilian striker Adriano. In fact, no player has come close. The man has made inconsistency an art form. At his best, he was a dominant striker who could run defenders ragged and had one of the most blistering strikes of a ball of any player in the world. At his worst, he was genuinely terrible. He didn't even look like a footballer at times. Adriano spent five seasons at Inter Milan, in two of them he averaged a goal every two games, in the other three he was named the worst player in the league, AKA the Bidone d'Oro.
That is quite a remarkable feat. Once his performances at Inter dropped from inconsistent to just downright not good enough, the Brazilian international headed back to Brazil, joining Sao Paolo on-loan. He was superb, and Inter gave him another chance, but he failed to find consistent form once more. He had one more stint in the Serie A, a five game spell with Roma, but failed once more. He returned to Brazil, but has played only 10 games in the last four years, plagued by fitness troubles. Now 33, it remains to be seen whether Adriano will ever restart his failed career.
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