World Football: 25 Players Who Were Washed Up by Age 25
Football's boulevard of broken dreams is littered with countless "what-ifs?" and "if-onlys." Players who were once big names in their youth saw their careers peter out in the most underwhelming fashion.
Whether it was due to injury, an ill-advised move or just because of an inexplicable loss of form, age has been unkind to many a footballer.
Here are 25 who were washed up by age 25.
As always, this list is intended to spark debate rather than end it.
British defender/midfielder once tipped as a future England captain, Paul Lake made his eagerly anticipated debut for Manchester City aged only 19 in 1987. He led the team as captain less than three years later.
But he never fully recovered from a ruptured cruciate ligament injury suffered in 1990, robbing the Sky Blues and the country of a truly prodigious talent.
Inducted into the City Hall of Fame in 2004, his legacy at the club has lasted well beyond his tragically short career.
Djimi Traore may never have been the most fashionable name in football, but since winning the UEFA Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League with Liverpool, the Malian left-back has bounced from club to club, never really impressing or making much of an impact on his travels.
Brief stints at Charlton Athletic and Portsmouth were followed by a move back to France, where he started his career, to mostly serve as a backup.
Known primarily as one of the pioneers of the pretty useless seal dribble (where a player bounces the ball on his head whilst running through a host of defenders), Kerlon may not have turned 25 yet, but that doesn't mean he's not all washed up.
Having been named "Best Player" at the U-17 South American Championship and impressing at Cruzeiro, injuries meant his spells at Chievo and Internazionale saw little playing time.
He can now be found playing for Japanese club Fujieda MYFC, but that's if you can find him.
It seems hard to believe now, but Francis Jeffers was once considered one of Arsenal's most promising young talents, having made an astonishing £8 million move from Everton aged 20.
Since then, though, he hasn't scored more than five league goals for any of the countless clubs he's played for.
He couldn't even make it in Australia's A-League—that's how terrible he is.
Tipped as a future star for Manchester United (yes, that Manchester United), winger Bojan Djordjic played only a single Premier League game for the Red Devils before being moved on by Sir Alex Ferguson aged 22.
He did alright at Plymouth Argyle, though, before being dumped by boss Ian Holloway for poor attitude three years later.
An attempted comeback for Holloway's Blackpool last season ended prematurely, Djordjic failing to make a single league appearance.
The shock of blonde hair leading his beloved Leeds United to the Champions League semifinals early in the century is the image I'll best remember Alan Smith for.
An underwhelming spell at Old Trafford can be attributed to unlucky injuries, but in truth, he has never looked comfortable since leaving Elland Road aged 24.
A French legend for having scored the most goals in a single World Cup tournament (13, 1958 in Sweden), Just Fontaine would be a must for any 100 greatest players lists.
But a recurring injury forced him to retire from football aged only 28, having played only 14 games in his final two seasons.
An undeniable legend and one of the very best natural goal scorers of all time.
In 1992, Gianluigi Lentini made a £13 million move from Torino to AC Milan.
Tipped as one of the best players in the world, the attacking midfielder helped his new side to the Champions League final and league glory in his first season.
But a year later, Lentini was involved in a horrible car crash, fracturing his skull and damaging his eye socket—injuries from which he never fully recovered.
Another promising youngster for whom injuries robbed football of a genuine talent, Dean Ashton retired from the game in 2009, having just turned 26.
The striker had been capped by the England national team only a year earlier, months before suffering the devastating ankle injury that put paid to his career.
Now aged 29, Ricardo Quaresma may still be playing plenty of football, but that doesn't mean he's done anything of note since his promising early days.
In truth, he only really played well whilst at Sporting and Porto, where he averaged about half-a-dozen goals a season.
But moves to Barcelona, Internazionale and Chelsea never paid dividends, and he now languishes in the Turkish league.
In his first eight seasons of football at Liverpool, Michael Owen scored 158 goals in 297 appearances.
Since then, he has found the net only 63 times in 178 games during underwhelming tenures at Newcastle, Manchester United and now Stoke City.
Owen still has a chance to turn his career around, but it's getting rather late for him to do so.
Norman Whiteside had the confidence of youth at Manchester United, making a difference in some big games for the Red Devils.
But not long after moving to Everton, a rapid physical decline, in part prompted by wild drinking sessions, saw him forced to retire at only 26.
Whiteside would have surely played a role in the early years of United's Premier League glory days had his career continued along the trajectory set during the 1980s.
Source of the famous "Bosman Ruling," Jean-Marc Bosman spent much of his 20s in court, doing battle with the "suits" of the game, when he should have been playing the game.
The ruling he helped implement allows players to move clubs when their contract comes to an end—a right that I'm sure many of today's best are grateful to Bosman for fighting for.
Don't get me wrong on this one: Asamoah Gyan is still a quality player. It's just the league that he's currently playing in that's not.
After impressing at the 2010 World Cup, Gyan made a high-profile move to Sunderland, where he had an up-and-down first season.
But the economic lure of the UAE turned his head and resulted in a top talent fleeing Europe for nothing more than dollar signs.
Manchester United glamour boy of the late '80s and early '90s, Lee Sharpe's career fizzled out like a damp firework having threatened greatness in his early days.
Injuries can be blamed for that but also a reckless personal life that saw its fair share of booze, women and partying too great for Sir Alex to abide.
Nii Lamptey became a superstar in Belgium and the Netherlands in his teenage years, and he was tipped for greatness by many in the game.
But a move to English side Aston Villa signalled a descent so quick and so great that his name is now a byword for unfulfilled potential.
The Ghanaian midfielder has finally resettled in his home nation, where he now works as an assistant manager.
Serbian striker Mateja Kezman was fantastic for PSV, scoring tallies of 31, 20, 40 and 38 each season during his time in the Netherlands.
His subsequent days at Chelsea and Atletico Madrid failed to deliver on the hype, and Kezman played out his final season of football in Hong Kong this past year.
Proof that the drugs don't work, Australian goalkeeper Mark Bosnich allowed a cocaine addiction to get the better of him in his mid-20s, resulting in short-lived spells at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge that failed to match his previously relatively successful time at Aston Villa.
Now a television pundit Down Under, Bosnich never fails to miss an opportunity to take shots at his former boss, Sir Alex, for whom he holds an ongoing ill-feeling.
The tragic story of Sebastian Deisler is a far cry from many on this list.
Tipped as a future great of German football in his early days at Hertha Berlin, a move to Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich coincided with his developing depression, a condition that forced his retirement soon after he turned 27.
Deisler's is a cautionary tale for football clubs, who must be careful regarding the pressure they put on their young stars.
Having played some cracking football at Serie A side Parma, and impressing at both the Euro 1992 and World Cup 1994 tournaments, Tomas Brolin made a high-profile lucrative move to English side Leeds United soon after, then managed by Howard Wilkinson.
But having allegedly arrived in the country overweight and then played out of position by Wilkinson, Brolin's career quickly turned to custard, never recovering from an ill-advised transfer to Elland Road.
George Best's descent from footballing genius and Manchester United cult hero to common journeyman can honestly be described as being self-inflicted.
Having been a star of the game and a household name, excesses in his private life meant the flying winger's career took a turn for the worse in his mid-to-late 20s and saw him spend much of his later years playing in relative anonymity in the USA.
When he made the move to Manchester United in 2003, the prevalent joke regarding Roy Keane's possible successor Eric Djemba-Djemba was: "so good they named him twice."
It didn't take long for such a quip to be ridiculed.
Unfortunately for the Old Trafford faithful, Djemba-Djemba never really looked up to the task of British football, eventually departing to Qatar in his mid-20s.
Another player who is yet to turn 25, but another player who is also well and truly washed up.
The Ugandan-born, German-nationalised winger Savio Nsereko was once considered worth £9 million by Premier League side West Ham.
Three years later, and Nsereko is playing in Germany's third division, a far cry from his glorious youth spent in Italy at Brescia.
The career trajectory of Jesper Blomqvist somewhat resembles that of the outline of a pyramid.
In his mid-20s, the Swedish winger won the treble with Manchester United, often drafted into the starting lineup in the place of injured first-teamers.
However, the dog days soon followed for the man with the winning smile, but at least he possesses a trophy cabinet far shinier than most of his contemporaries'.
Freddy Adu may have developed into a key player for the Philadelphia Union this past season, but that doesn't render his career any less disappointing.
Hailed not just as the future of American football but of the world game too in his youth, Adu never fully transitioned to the European game, perhaps moving to Portuguese powerhouse Benfica a little too early in his career.
Now 23, there is still time for redemption for Adu, but hard work and dedication is the only path that leads to the success promised to him what seems like an age ago.
Which players that were washed up before 25 could be added to this list? Are any of the inclusions here unfair?