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.
24 Ariel Ortega
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.
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.
21 Lee Sharpe
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."
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.
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.
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.
15 Tomas Brolin
14 Nii Lamptey
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.
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.
12 Freddy Adu
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.
10 Harald Nielsen
9 Paul Gascoigne
8 Carlos Alberto
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.
6 Sebastian Deisler
5 Gigi Meroni
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.
3 Billy Kenny
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.
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.
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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