In lieu of today's international fixtures, I decided to compile a top 15 list of football's wasted talents. For a player to have been considered, they would have had to have met the following criteria:
- If said player made a longstanding impact for a first team, they are included - therefore players like: Nii Lamptey, Cherno Samba and most recently Michael Johnson are automatically excluded etc;
- If said player peaked extremely early, but won trophies (team or personal) during their short peak, then no matter how steep the decline or how close to football immortality they were, they are automatically excluded. For example: Patrick Kluivert, Michael Owen, Juan Sebastian Veron, Fernando Torres etc;
- If said player has achieved legendary status at an unfashionable club and hence won very little, then they would still be automatically excluded. For example: Juan Roman Riquleme, Matt Le Tissier, Francesco Totti ect.
- If said player showed incredible promise at a young age, has slightly fallen below expectations but has subsequently won many trophies where they played a significant part, then they are subsequently excluded. For example: Wayne Rooney, Robinho, Karim Benzema ect.
- If said player is under the age of 28 and is currently still playing, they are automatically excluded. For example: Nani, Asamoah Gyan
This list will contain players who had performed at a high level for a duration of time (3 years), had yet to receive the proper adulation their talents deserved, were on the cusp of achieving it and then one of: bad form, injuries or a wrong transfer move curtailed their career.
Before I do get started, here are a few names that failed to make the list but deserve a (dis)honourbale mention:
- Dimitar Berbatov - One of the most talented players of his generation, with a first touch that ranks up there with Zinedine Zidane's - so what went wrong? Berbatov has a horrible work ethic which causes him to fade out of matches too much - why isn't he on the list? Won a golden boot in the 2010/11 season and was major reason Man Utd regain the title that year (Rooney was not much help that year with 11 goals). He is also Bulgaria's leading goalscorer with 48 in 78.
- Robbie Fowler - One of the best 'natural finishers' in the game and unlike most poachers, his all round game was good as well. Unfortunately Fowler wasted much of his time being a part of a talented Liverpool team in the 90s with the underbelly of a worm - he only won one trophy with them in the 90s - and his numerous goals were often cancelled out by a weak defence. He avoids the list as Liverpool were far stronger in the 00s and played a huge part as captain of the Liverpool side that won 5 trophies in one year.
- Carlos Alberto - Hugely talented and was in a race with then youngsters Kaka and Robinho to replace an out of favour Rivaldo. He scored the first goal in Porto's Champions League victory in 2004 and seemed destined for bigger things. This proved to be as good as it would get - his stay in Europe interrupted by insomnia. He is currently 28 floundering in Brazil. He avoids the list as his potential never materialised at any point for large periods.
- Diego Tristan - West Ham fans will remember him as an overweight striker who scored only 3 in 14. From 1999 (his debut in 1998) to 2002 he was the scourge of European defenders - some Manchester United fans may remember his double to defeat them. As prolific as he was for three years (injuries), the others on the list were more skilled.
- Ledley King - Out of the five top centre backs to come out of England during his peak: Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, John Terry, Jamie Carragher and Jonathan Woodgate - I suspect King was the best, and second unluckiest (I'll let you work that out for yourselves). King was clean in the tackle and composed on the ball, in order to accommodate him (he was the last to come out of the five) England would often switch to a back three or play him as a defensive midfielder. Thierry Henry rates King among the best he's played against (considering Henry played against Cannavaro, Nesta, Maldini, Thuram ect) this is the highest of praises. King avoids the list as he is Tottenham legend.
- Emmanuel Adebayor - Perhaps the most infuriating player that has ever existed - Drogba's twin one minute, Ade Akinbiyi's the next, Judas's twin the next. The aforementioned reasons are why he has only a Copa Del Rey to his name and the reason Arsenal fans hate him, Manchester City fans celebrated when he went and Spurs fans want him out. Only avoids the list as he's done enough (currently earning £170,000 a week) in his footballing career not to consider it a waste of his talents.
- Andy Van Der Meyde - The dutch version of Paul Gascoigne, always injured and when he's not, he's always intoxicated - one way or another. Avoids the list as his potential never materialised to anything substanial.
- Rafael Van Der Vaart - For many this may be an odd one but when he came out of Ajax at the same time as: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wesley Sneijder, Mido, Chivu, Jonny Heitinga, De Jong and Andy Van Der Meyde; it was Van Der Vaart who was rated the highest. When he hit 22 in 30 in 2002/03 (a season that saw Ajax minutes away from a Champions League semi-final) Platini like things were expected - truth be told he plateaued and hit a nadir. Nonetheless 107 caps (many of those as captain) for his nation (Holland) and a Ballon Dor nomination is enough to keep him off the list - just!
- Chris Kirkland - If he tried to lift his arm he'd probably brake it; if he opened his mouth he'd probably dislocate his jaw; if he opened his eye it would probably fall out its socket - you get the picture.
- Diego Ribas Da Cunha - Hails from the same school of Santos graduates with Robinho - the ones that received comparisons with a fellow Santos graduate - Pele. So why is he here? Ridiculously talented he has found his talents restricted to mid-tier teams in Germany. His mega move to Juventus in 2009 was a mega fail. Had he joined a few years later once current Juve' manager Conte had stabilised the team, then maybe he would have profited. Unluckily back in 2009 the team were still floundering trying to shake the affects of the relegation imposed on them. He should by now be compared with Iniesta and Ozil for best playermaker, at 28 there is still time, only reason he stays off the list.
- Diego Lopez - I know what you are thinking, yes, this is the current Real Madrid goalkeeper. "But he's awesome! The hell did he nearly make the list?" Simple, Diego Lopez is a consummate professional and as such the Real Madrid academy graduate wasted his initial years behind Casillas. He then moved to Villarreal and spent 4 and 1/2 years there making world class save after world class save - the thanks? A solitary appearance for Spain and he was never called up to the Spanish winning squads of Euro 2008, 12 and World Cup 2010. Only avoids the list as he has finally been given the big gig he deserves. Hopefully by the end of his career he will have won a few trophies.
- Carlo Cudicini - Even worse than Diego Lopez, he was never called up to his nation (Italy). Not through any fault of his own Gianluigi Buffon is the best goalkeeper I have ever witnessed, Francesco Toldo was a brilliant number two and a combination of several talented number three's who were picked solely because they played in Serie A. A few trophies with Chelsea plus the fact he is warmly received at the Bridge keep him off.
- Celestine Babayaro - Was part of a Nigeria squad that massively underachieved. Between 1994 and 2002, Nigeria had a squad that could challenge the very best. They won the African nations in 1994, Olympic Gold in 1996, several under-21 tournaments and reached 4th in the 1994 FIFA world rankings. The only reason they did not achieve more was done to laziness and Babayaro was symptomatic of that. Fails to make the list as he won quite a few trophies in his time at Anderlecht and Chelsea.
- Francesco Toldo - As mentioned earlier, Toldo was a fantastic goalkeeper, truly unlucky to be behind Buffon. For many years he kept Fiorentina, Inter and Italy in matches where they had been truly outplayed. He avoids being put on the list as he is highly regarded in both Fiorentina (only left due to their then Bankruptcy) and Inter.
- Adrian Mutu - Drugs and partying nearly ruined an extremely promising career. He gets away from being on the list after being part of a Juventus team that won the Scudetto (albeit through buying the referee) and through becoming a Fiorentina and Romanian hero.
Actual top 15 coming out soon!