Young footballers share a lot of similarities with young musicians. Both are the subjects of huge hype, only to be forgotten when they fail to live up to it. Some manage to carve out a career for themselves, but go largely unnoticed by the world, while others shine brightly for an instant only to descend into mediocrity.
This is a list that could go on for a long time, so for brevity’s sake there’s only three that make the cut here.
Take Theo Walcott, for instance.
Here is a player who arrived with so much hype and excitement about his future, and it was subsequently impossible for him to match. While his contract talks were ongoing, fans were dismissive of his ability and concerned that his wage demands did not match his on-field performance.
Is that enough to label him as an underachiever? Perhaps. However, this is a list of players who are still playing, yet are beyond dispute in their status as players who have never lived up to expectations.
Comments and suggestions are welcomed, as always.
Bentley was supposed to be the “new David Beckham,” but despite a strong start to his career he has been unable to reach his potential, let along fulfil the burden of that tag.
Bentley started at Arsenal, where he was unable to get a run in the first team. He spent time on loan at Norwich before making a permanent move to Blackburn, where he would spend the happiest time of his career.
He scored some incredible goals with the Lancashire club, as well as scoring consistently. He was voted the team’s player of the year in 2006-07, won his first England cap and the stage was set for a big-money move.
This happened in 2008, when he moved to Tottenham for £15 million and promptly fell off the radar.
Aaron Lennon kept him out of the side, but the truth of the matter is that Bentley’s form just wasn’t good enough. He was subsequently loaned to Birmingham, West Ham and Russian side FC Rostov. Two of those loan spells were cut short by injury, but there have always been questions about Bentley’s commitment.
Bentley is one of those players who seems to expect things to come to him, rather than work to achieve them. Carried away with praise and hype, he lost sight of football and embraced the arrogance of celebrity instead. This resulted in a driving ban when he crashed his £98,000 Porsche after a night drinking with the band Jet.
He had—and still has—the talent to succeed, but his trajectory has nosedived ever since joining Spurs. Now 28, he has been recently linked (via The Sun) with a move back to Blackburn, which could give him another chance to glean something from his once-promising career.
He may consider himself one of the best strikers in the world, but there’s not many others who do.
When Bendtner arrived at Arsenal in 2004, he was loaned out to Birmingham to gain first-team experience. He was impressive during his time, giving him many options to consider in his career. As a teenager he was a clear talent and there seemed to be no limit.
He stayed at Arsenal but was unable to make an impact on the first team. He had an altercation on the pitch with Emmanuel Adebayor in 2008, and then suffered a run of poor form and poor judgement, both in front of goal and in front of the cameras.
In 2009, Bendtner was photographed leaving Boujis nightclub at 4a.m. with his trousers round his ankles, following a 3-1 Champions League defeat to Manchester United.
He briefly recovered to win Arsenal’s Player of the Month award in March 2010, but lost time to injury and never lived up to his early promise.
He was subsequently loaned to Sunderland and Juventus, where he again matched brief success with overall disappointment before getting injured in December 2012. It’s unlikely he’ll see time in the Premier League again, and Arsenal will look to offload him in the summer.
Francis Jeffers is a cautionary tale for every young footballer. Emerging in the Everton side as a 16-year-old, he showed an eye for goal and had the world at his feet after three consistent years on Merseyside.
He remains the joint all-time leading goalscorer for England Under-21s—13, shared with Alan Shearer—and the expectation was that he would follow Shearer’s path to England greatness.
He caught the eye of Arsene Wenger, who paid £8 million for his “fox in the box” services in 2001. However, that was as good as it got for Jeffers, and he subsequently failed to find a place in the side behind Thierry Henry, Sylvain Wiltord and Kanu.
He then suffered a variety of ankle injuries that derailed his career, and was loaned back to Everton before a disagreement with David Moyes saw him out of favour entirely. He was sold to Charlton for £2.6 million but then loaned out to Rangers before his deal was allowed to expire.
He spent time at Blackburn, Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday, where a headbutt and punch in a game against Port Vale saw him sent off and immediately placed on the transfer list.
That was the last time Jeffers played in England, although he has since spent time at Newcastle Jets in Australia, Motherwell and Maltese side Floriana.
He is currently without a club and a regular on lists that lament wasted promise.