There are a number of ingredients necessary in order for an individual to become a top soccer player, these include ability, attitude and luck. This is a list of 25 men who had the first in great doses but lacked one of, if not both, of the latter pair. Take a look at the two best players in the world right now, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Both of course have bags of ability, but equally important is the attitude and fortune they have experienced over their careers.
Messi's career could have been over before it had even begun when he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency, but he got the break he needed when Barcelona offered to cover his medical bills. Cristiano Ronaldo is well-known as one of the hardest training players in the game with an exceptional attitude, and he also managed to avoid any serious injuries as a youngster.
This is a list of players who seemed destined for greatness only for a lack of fortune or application to put plague to their careers. Some went on to have respectable careers, without ever tapping into their true wellspring of potential, whilst others burnt out spectacularly or suffered career-ending injuries. So many players have failed to reach their potential, but here are the 25 most extreme and tragic of those who didn't. Whether it was due to injuries, off pitch issues or tragedy, things didn't pan out with these players. Some did in fact have good careers, but left us wanting more.
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Bizarrely, Quaresma is not the only Portuguese winger of his generation who could make this list. Like Quaresma, Nani has failed to reach the heights he was capable of when he first arrived at Manchester United. Such is Quaresma's ability, he has played for the likes of Sporting, Barcelona, Porto, Inter Milan, Chelsea and currently, Porto. At the age of 20 he played 28 games for Barcelona in a single season, having already amassed 74 appearances for Sporting. Hopes were high for Quaresma who was already a Portugal international at the same age. However, he soon started to fall out with his teammates and was criticized by fans and players alike for his selfish streak and his spells at Porto (first), Inter Milan and Chelsea were all failures. Now 31, Quaresma is a regular for Porto but has not reached the greatness he could have.
24 Ariel Ortega
Ariel Ortega was a supremely skilled playmaker who should be remembered for his unerring speed, control, dribbling, vision and skill. Instead, he is remembered as the notoriously temperamental Argentine who never made it in Europe. Emerging from the legendary River Plate academy, Ortega became an Argentine international at just 19 and went to the 1994 World Cup as a 20-year-old. A move to Europe followed; Valencia, Sampdoria, Parma and Fenerbahce all took him on. Despite impressing for all, Ortega's attitude caused endless spats and fall-outs which saw him return to Argentina. He ended his career with River Plate, having won seven Argentine titles and amassed 87 caps for his country, but this was still too little for a man of Ortega's considerable talents.
23 Hatem Ben-Arfa
There are only a handful of players more talented with the ball at their feet than Hatem Ben-Arfa, yet you will never hear his name being uttered in the same breath as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Eden Hazard. At the age of 28, OGC Nice fans will hope Ben-Arfa can still fulfill his staggering potential, but one can say with some confidence that the Frenchman will never reach the heights he should have. Picking up the Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year award in 2008, other winners include Zinedine Zidane, Robert Pires, Thierry Henry, Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri and Eden Hazard, and it is not absurd to suggest Ben-Arfa should have had a similar career to the aforementioned players.
Having won Ligue 1 five times, he moved to Newcastle United, where he lit up the league in his debut season. After that, attitude problems surfaced as Ben-Arfa fell out with Alan Pardew. Hull City offered him a second chance this season, only for similar issues to end his loan at the KC Stadium, he is now at OGC Nice, where he is ineligible until next season and has already talked of retirement.
Kaka's place on this list is debatable, given that he is one of few men on here who did reach their potential, but for not nearly long enough. In six years with AC Milan, between the ages of 21 and 27, he was untouchable. A creative force and incredibly graceful, in his prime, Kaka would glide past opponents and both scored and assisted goals on a regular basis.
In 2007, he won both FIFA World Player of the Year and a Ballon d'Or, and in 2009, he joined Real Madrid becoming the second most expensive player of all time. Things did not click for the Brazilian at Real, an injury early on was a sign of things to come and despite being in what should have proved his peak years, he looked a shadow of his former self. Now 33, Kaka is currently trying to rediscover his form of years gone by in the MLS with Orlando City.
21 Lee Sharpe
At the age of 20, Lee Sharpe was a Manchester United regular and a full England international. At the age of 32, he had been released by Bradford, Exeter and Grindavik, forcing him into retirement. A left winger, Sharpe's place in the United team was taken a young Ryan Giggs, left-back was taken by Dennis Irwin. Having transferred to the right wing, David Beckham emerged from the United academy and Sharpe decided to move on. He became Leeds United's record signing in 1996, but in three years plagued by injuries, he only played 30 times. Sharpe's career spiraled horribly downwards, with short-lived spells at a string of lower league sides ending in failure. Since retirement, Sharpe has made his living appearing in a number of British reality TV shows.
20 Darko Pancev
Having won the European Golden Boot in 1991, Darko Pancev had the world at his feet. Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United were all after the Macedonian forward who had scored 84 goals in 91 games for Red Star Belgrade, becoming a European Cup winner and a Ballon d'Or runner-up. Instead, he chose Inter Milan, and it proved a poor choice, as Pancev later said, "Signing for Inter was my greatest footballing mistake."
In Italy, he was accused of being lazy and not working for the team, and in three years, he played just 19 games. Pancev never rescued his career, and he retired at 31. Rarely has there been such a spectacular fall from grace as Darko Pancev, who now owns a cafe in his native Macedonia.
19 Juan Roman Riquelme
Juan Roman Riquelme will retire at the end of this season, after 18 years in the game. Languid, nonchalant and mercurial, he is a man who has split opinion ever since he first turned out for Boca Juniors as a teenager. In Argentina, he is considered a genius, on a level footing with Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, as indicated by his four victories in the Argentine Footballer of the Year award.
In Europe however, he is remembered with rather mixed views. At his best, he almost single-handedly made Villareal a force domestically and in Europe. At his worst, he was a disruptive figure, who regularly missed training and was shipped back to Argentina. His ability at times was frightening, and it is obvious that Riquelme should be regarded as a true great. Instead, he continues to divide opinion.
18 Peter Marinello
A break-out star for Hibernian at the age of 18, Peter Marinello became Arsenal's record signing when he joined the club at the age of 20 in 1970. The British press labelled him the "next George Best", and he scored against Manchester United in his Arsenal debut, fueling the hype surrounding the young Scot. However, from that day onwards, Marinello's career began to deteriorate. Like Best, Marinello was a good-looking chap, who lived a celebrity lifestyle rather than one of an athlete.
A heavy drinker, Marinello picked up a nasty knee injury early in his Gunners career. The indomitable combination of partying, heavy drinking and injury troubles soon put pay to Marinello's hugely promising career. He left Arsenal after just three years and went on to play for Portsmouth, Motherwell, Canberra City, Fulham, Phoenix Inferno, Hearts and Partick Thistle; hardly the glistening career he seemed set for at 20.
A skillful forward, Dani was renowned for his good looks and grace on a football pitch. At 19, he had broken into the Sporting and Portugal first teams. A loan to West Ham followed but already, at the age of 20, Dani's demons presented themselves. He was sacked by the club after just nine games when he missed training and was spotted out in a nightclub. His next move was to Ajax, where he spent four years in and out of the team, only ever showing glimpses of his true ability. After leaving Atletico Madrid in 2003, he failed to find a new club and retired at the age of 27. Having modeled throughout his career, Dani went into the profession full-time upon retirement, as well as making various television appearances.
16 George Best
Whether playing as a winger or as a second striker, George Best was one of the finest players to ever grace the game. He had pace, skill, balance and an ability to beat defenders with ease, arguably better than any other player in history. He was thrust into the Manchester United first team at the age of 17 and stayed there for 11 years, playing 474 times for the club, scoring 181 goals, winning the league twice, the European Cup once and a Ballon d'Or for himself in 1968.
Best announced his retirement in 1971, aged 25, but continued to play for the club until 1974. After leaving the club, his alcoholism and celebrity lifestyle grew further, to the point where his natural ability could no longer fully compensate. He played for 16 other clubs after United, never playing anywhere near the ability he was capable of. Had George Best lived the life of an athlete, he could be remembered as the greatest player in the history of the game.
15 Tomas Brolin
In the early 90s, Tomas Brolin was one of the most highly regarded prospects in Europe. He won trophies in Sweden and Italy in his early 20s, as well as inspiring Sweden to a Euro and World Cup semi-final in 1992 and 1994. After breaking his foot in November 1994, Brolin struggled to regain fitness, a problem that would eventually end his career. He moved to Leeds United in 1995, where he looked rather rotund in his two years in England. The fourth best player in the world a year previously, went on to be voted Leeds' worst ever player and the second worst in Premier League history. Spells at Zurich, Parma, Crystal Palace and Hudiksvalls failed to revitalize the Swede's career, and he retired at the age of 28. Since retirement Brolin has been an active World Series Poker player.
14 Nii Lamptey
Nii Lamptey - Aston Villa[/caption]
The tale of Nii Lamptey is a truly tragic one. Abused and neglected by his parents, his father was an alcoholic who would beat him regularly. Like all great tragedies, Lamptey's story showed promise, hope and light at the end of the tunnel, only for that to be brutally crushed by naivety and the avarice of a greedy agent. Despite vying with Tony Yeboah and Abedi Pele, Lamptey became a regular starter for Ghana at the age of 16. At the same age, he had become a starter for Anderlecht, and he remains the youngest player in the history of the Belgian league. Aged 19, he joined PSV, where he was even more explosive; 10 goals in 22 games made him one of the hottest prospects in world football.
There were raised eyebrows then, when he joined Aston Villa in 1994; it later emerged that the move saw Lamptey's agent pocket 25% of the transfer fee. He struggled in England and never bounced back, in a career which seemed destined for greatness, Lamptey was stalled by naivety, the death of two of his three children and the racism he experienced in some parts of Europe. The tragedy of Lamptey continued, as it emerged he was not the biological father of his three children. He returned to Ghana in 2005, where he founded a school.
13 Antonio Cassano
Antonio Cassano burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old with Bari in Serie A, where he was seen as the future of Italian football after scoring the winner against Inter Milan as a teenager. Aged 19, he joined Roma for over $40 million, where he spent five years and played his best football, winning the Italian Young Player of the Year award in 2001 and 2003. He was afforded the freedom to roam as a no.10 with Roma, where he flourished alongside Francesco Totti.
After ongoing arguments regarding his contract, Cassano left Roma for Real Madrid in 2006. Under the disciplinarian Fabio Capello, trouble was always likely. The pair clashed regularly, particularly over Cassano's emerging weight problems. Cassano went on to play for Sampdoria, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Parma, where he ripped up his contract in January and has since been a free agent. Cassano had the ability to be one of the finest players of his generation, but not the attitude to match.
12 Freddy Adu
A lot has been made of Freddy Adu's infamous fall from grace. Some claim he was simply over-hyped, whilst others suggest he lacked the mental steel to cope with the pressure put upon him. However, any 14-year-old who can break into a first team has both considerable talent and mental strength. Few players are considered more talented at 14 than 24, but that could be said of Adu, who was a regular in the MLS for DC United at 14, but was released by Serbian side Jagodina having failed to make a single appearance at 24. Adu is still only 25, but now playing for KuPS in Finland, it is impossible to see Adu reaching the levels he seemed capable of in his early teens.
Brazilian forward Adriano is quite possibly the most spectacularly inconsistent individual in the history of the sport. Both incredibly powerful and technically gifted, on his day, he is unplayable. However, far too often in his career, Adriano has not been 'on his day', but has instead cut a lackluster, uninterested and overweight figure. A Brazil international at 18, he signed for Inter Milan at 19. Between 2000 and 2005, he continued to grow, scoring over 70 goals in 125 games between the ages of 18 and 23.
At the beginning of the 2005/06 season, he seemed a different man. His form slumped, questions were asked of his work rate and he was repeatedly spotted in nightclubs. Following the death of his father, he suffered further weight and alcohol problems. Aged 33, he is now a free agent and has played just 13 games in the last five years; depressing figures for such an immensely talented man.
10 Harald Nielsen
Harald Nielsen was one of the most gifted natural goalscorers that the game has seen. At 18 he was the top scorer in the Danish second division, at 19 he was the top scorer in the Danish first division and at 22 he was Serie A top scorer as he fired Bologna to the league title. Nielson only played for Denmark between the ages of 18 and 19, due to Danish FA rules which remained until 1971, yet he still managed 15 goals in 14 caps. In 1967 he joined Inter Milan and became the most expensive player in history, at the time. Aged 26, he played just eight times for Inter, and only another 14 times after that, before retiring at 29.
9 Paul Gascoigne
Similarly to Kaka and Best, Paul Gascoigne did arguably realize his incredible potential, but only briefly and still probably did not fully tap into the genuine ability he had. After impressing at Newcastle as a teenager; Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham were all after Gazza. He joined Spurs for a British record transfer fee, before moves to Lazio, Rangers, Middlesbrough, Everton, Burnley, Gansu Tianma and Boston. Gascoigne was exceptional at the 1990 World Cup, as England reached the semi-finals, and wowed as England reached the same stage in the 1996 Euros. However, when it comes to demons, Gazza had them all. Bulimia, OCD, bipolar, alcoholism, cocaine, chain-smoking, gambling and junk food all plagued his career; it is some indication of his natural ability that he still forged a career despite a lifestyle featuring the list above.
8 Carlos Alberto
At the age of 19, Carlos Alberto had become a Porto regular, won the league and Champions League, scored in the Champions League final and been capped for Brazil. It is little surprise then, that he was touted for greatness. He returned to Brazil and Corinthians, aged 20, where he fell out with the manager and refused to play for the club. He returned to Europe in 2007, with Werder Bremen, but was loaned out every season of his three years at the club. In a career which promised so much, Carlos Alberto has never achieved the greatness of his namesake and compatriot. He moved to the Arabian Gulf League in January, but having failed to play he joined Brazilian side Figueirense last week.
7 Adrian Doherty
The Class of '92, as they have become known, is the name given to the group of players who emerged out of the Manchester United Academy in remarkable fashion. Giggs, Scholes, Beckham, Butt and the Nevilles being the most notable. However, when the crop of players played together in their teens, it was Adrian Doherty who was the most highly regarded. However, aged 16, days before his scheduled Manchester United debut, he suffered a cruciate ligament injury to his knee.
Even today the injury can end careers and for the most promising player in English football, it did just that. After almost two years sidelined he was no longer the same player, he moved to Derry City, where he played three times before retiring in his teens. Aged 26, Doherty moved to Amsterdam where he slipped into the canal; after a month in a coma, he died a day before his 27th birthday.
6 Sebastian Deisler
Another career ruined by a cruciate ligament injury is that of Sebastian Deisler. He became a German international at 20 and was hailed as the future of German football. Despite his first cruciate ligament injury at 19, Deisler fought back, and was signed by Bayern Munich aged 22. However, his injury troubles would never leave him alone, and spiraled the youngster into depression. In five years at Bayern, he played only 62 games before retiring at the age of 27. The fact that the German National Team and Bayern continued to play Deisler through his numerous injuries shows the ability he had and their faith in him, but sadly his body could never cope with the demands of the game and his technical ability was never truly realized.
5 Gigi Meroni
Gigi Meroni is perhaps not as well known outside Italy as he should be. A hugely talented winger, sometimes likened to George Best, he was supremely talented and explosive, blessed with the natural ability to beat defenders at ease. At the age of 24 he had played 145 games in Serie A, scoring 29 goals and featured in the 1966 World Cup for Italy. However, it was at the age of 24 that Meroni's career and life ended, after he was hit by a car following a game between Torino and Sampdoria. Fabrizio Poletti was also struck by the vehicle but survived, Meroni did not. The tragedy ended a potentially tremendous career of one of the finest Italian players of his generation.
When football fans all over the world think of unfulfilled potential, Denilson is probably their prime example. The Brazilian was blessed with all the skill in the world, through his use of feints and tricks he could humiliate any defender in the game on his day. He joined Real Betis for $43 million in 1998, aged 21, becoming the most expensive player in the world at the time. He spent the bulk of his career at Betis, but never justified his price tag or played to his full capabilities, scoring 13 goals in 186 games.
He played for eight clubs in five years after leaving Betis, playing less than 100 games as he played in Brazil, France, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Greece and the U.S. Remarkably, he played in six tournaments for Brazil, picking up 61 caps, but even his staunchest admirers concede he never lived up to his potential.
3 Billy Kenny
Billy Kenny - Everton[/caption]
William Kenny, better known as Billy Kenny, was the the most highly rated young English player in the early 1990s. Dynamic, tough, tireless, skillful and with an eye for a pass, Kenny seemed to be a complete midfielder. At 19, he had broken into the Everton and England Under-21 set-ups, winning man of the match in the first Premier League Merseyside derby, as the teenager dominated a Liverpool defense featuring the likes of John Barnes, Steve McManaman and Jamie Redknapp. Peter Beardsley nicknamed him the "Goodison Gazza", but just as the youngster had nailed down a first team place, shin splints sidelined him for six months.
Unable to train, Kenny became unfit and depressed, and an addiction of alcohol and cocaine took over his life. At the age of 20 he was sacked by Everton for gross misconduct, a year later he was sacked by Oldham for the same reason. At 21, Kenny retired. He overcame his alcohol and cocaine addictions in his late 20s, but by then it was too late. A serious football career, which should have been Kenny's path, was gone. One of England's greatest prospects only played 21 games in the Football League.
At the 2005 South American Under 17 Football Championships, all eyes were on one man. The 17-year-old Brazilian phenomenon Kerlon; scouts from Real Madrid, Barcelona and AC Milan had all been sent to watch Brazil's brightest prospect since Ronaldinho. He did not disappoint, with eight goals in seven games saw him named the best player at the tournament. The youngster possessed searing pace, a thunderous free-kick, sumptuous control and could beat men with ease; most notable of all though was his 'seal dribble'. Kerlon would flick the ball up and subsequently run at pace, always controlling the ball with his head or top half of his body.
The technique made him almost impossible to tackle without fouling, which is what tended to happen. Kerlon was pushed, kicked and elbowed off the ball, and eventually the punishment took its toll, when he picked up a serious knee injury in 2007. He still moved to Inter Milan in 2008, but his time with the club, mostly loaned out, was plagued by injuries. Playing so little football in his late teens stunted his development as a player. In 5 years, between 2007 and 2012 (aged 19-24), he played just 5 games. He moved to the US last year and joined Miami Dade FC in March, but now aged 27, Kerlon has sadly failed to achieve anywhere near the promise he showed at 17.
1 Duncan Edwards
Duncan Edwards became the youngest First Division player in history with Manchester United, when he made his debut aged just 16 years and 185 days. He became a United regular and England's youngest post-war player at the age of 18 years and 183 days, a record which was not beaten until Michael Owen played for England in 1998. At the age of 21, he had played 151 games for Manchester United and was being lined up as a future England captain. However, it was at 21 that Edwards journey came to an end, as he was one of the eight players who were killed in the Munich Air Disaster in 1958.
Sir Bobby Charlton said of Edwards that he was, "the only player that made me feel inferior", Terry Venables believed he would have lifted the World Cup as England captain in 1966, rather than Sir Bobby Moore, and Tommy Docherty believed Edwards would have gone down as the greatest player of all-time. Physically powerful, skillful and equally adept when shooting or passing, Edwards was a tragic loss to the game.
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