20 Hugely Hyped Footballers Who Faded Away
Along with massive hype comes massive pressure and while some footballers embrace the attention, others simply fade away into mediocrity.
Sometimes injuries or psychological issues cause a player's career to take a nosedive but at other times it is simply a matter of media and fans vastly overestimating his abilities or potential.
Ill-considered transfers have also undone many great prospects.
Judging by the names who appear on this list of much-talked-about footballers who failed to succeed at a level that was expected of them, being Brazilian or English often comes with an extra dose of hype.
Some predictable names make the top 20, with Robinho, Freddy Adu and David Bentley all appearing. But who will be No. 1?
20. Elvir Baljic
Signed for €15.6 million by Real Madrid in 1999 as part of a reckless splurge, which saw the Spanish giants also invest heavily in names like Nicolas Anelka, Edwin Congo and Geremi, Elvir Baljic only ever ran out 11 times in the famous white shirt.
After a decent first match, the Bosnian's shine soon evaporated, as he did not seem up to the standard required. A long term injury did not help matters, and when Vicente del Bosque took charge, Baljic was deemed excess to requirements.
"The new Rivaldo" ended his career in the Turkish league in 2008 but not before attempting to break into the music industry. He dropped an album in 2005, but that too was a failure.
19. Ryan Babel
Maybe it's because he is Dutch, or maybe it's because he emerged from the famed Ajax academy, but it seems much more was expected of Ryan Babel than he was ever realistically going to deliver.
Liverpool spent £11.5 million on the wide attacker after he had won two Dutch titles and starred at the 2007 Euro U-21 Championships.
Despite showing the odd flash of ability, however, the now 27-year-old never produced quality with any consistency at the English club.
After four years, Liverpool lost patience and shipped the Dutchman off to 1899 Hoffenheim, where he also failed to impress.
Babel is currently plying his trade for Kasimpasa in Turkey.
Purchasing a player with a World Cup winner's medal around his neck does not necessarily equate to a wise investment, as Manchester United found when they took Kleberson on board.
After anchoring Brazil's midfield at the 2002 World Cup alongside Gilberto Silva, the Atletico Paranaense youngster was keenly sought on the transfer market.
United eventually won the race for his signature, but they didn't get the powerful engine in the middle of the park they were expecting.
Kleberson picked up an injury in just his second game for the club, and he only managed 20 appearances in total.
The word "dud" seems appropriate here.
17. Philippe Christanval
From the Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year and then star Barcelona signing to premature retirement and club-less, at the age of 29; Philippe Christanval's trip from hero to zero was certainly rapid.
The powerful, skilful center-back won the French league with Monaco and earned six caps for France, but he never produced the goods at Barcelona.
After being released by the Catalans, he spent the next five years playing a handful of games for Marseilles, then Fulham, before he quit the game in 2009 when he was unable to secure another contract.
16. Harry Kewell
Though Harry Kewell may well be satisfied with how his career turned out, it could have reached far greater heights had injuries not intervened.
Certainly, the Australian had the footballing world at his feet when he moved from Leeds to Liverpool in 2003.
In his time with the Yorkshire club, he had won the PFA Young Player of the Year, been named in a PFA Team of the Year and reached the semi-finals of both the UEFA Cup and the Champions League.
After a bright start at Liverpool, however, injuries soon took their toll. He spent much of his five years at the club on the treatment table before moving to Galatasaray in 2008.
Most famously, Kewell hobbled off in the first half of the 2005 Champions League final with his side trailing Milan 3-0. Liverpool, of course, went on to score three second-half goals and win the match on penalties, but Kewell could take little personal satisfaction from the final result.
Though the 35-year-old enjoyed something of a resurgence in Turkey, and he still plays first division football in Australia's A-League, he never fulfilled the potential he once showed at Leeds.
15. Ariel Ortega
River Plate fans will probably disagree, but Ariel Ortega never lived up to the promise he showed as a youngster emerging from the shadows of Diego Maradona.
When River took on Juventus in the 1996 Intercontinental Cup, Japanese television producers could hardly stop showing images of the two sides' respective prodigies.
Alessandro Del Piero may have scored the winner that day for the Italians, but Ortega put on a display that left little doubt that he too was destined for greatness.
While the Argentine soon made the switch to European football, and he would go on to play an impressive 87 times for his country, he did not ever establish himself as one of the top two or three players in the world as he may well have, considering his talent.
His European career, in fact, was fairly underwhelming and in the end he played less than 100 matches in the Old Continent for Valencia, Sampdoria, Parma and Fenerbahce combined.
14. El Hadji Diouf
Hot property after the 2002 World Cup, El Hadji Diouf did not take English football by storm as many thought he would following a transfer to Liverpool.
Diouf starred in Senegal's run to the quarter-finals in Japan-South Korea, and he was even named in the World Cup All-Star team.
For the Reds, though, he only managed 69 appearances and three goals, before he was loaned out, then eventually sold, to Bolton.
He is currently on the books of Championship club Leeds United.
13. Joe Cole
He might have mildly disappointed the average England fan by not fully harnessing his playmaking abilities but much of the credit for over-hyping Joe Cole must go to Steven Gerrard.
This from Gerrard, speaking to Match of the Day magazine back in 2010 when the two were team-mates at Liverpool, as reported by Espn.co.uk:
Messi can do some amazing things, but anything he can do Joe can do as well, if not better.
He used to shock us in training by doing footy tricks with a golf ball that most players can't even do with a football.
I really fancy Joe for the [player of the year] award this season.
Cole only went on to play 26 times in three years for Liverpool before being loaned out to Lille and eventually leaving on a free transfer to West Ham United.
Messi he is not.
12. Julius Aghahowa
A brilliant showing at the 2000 Summer Olympics earned Julius Aghahowa a big-money move to Shakhtar Donetsk, where the pacy striker had a rip-roaring first couple of seasons.
After scoring 18 goals in 35 games, there was reportedly interest from the likes of Arsenal and Juventus, per Sky Sports, but a move did not materialize.
Quickly, Aghahowa's form began to dip for Shakhtar, as abuse from rival fans rained down on him.
When a transfer finally did come about, it was to Wigan in the English Premier League but by that time the Nigerian's star had faded.
A stint in Turkey did little to revive his career and nor did a return to Shakhtar. He was released by the Ukraine club in 2012 and could not find another employer.
11. Caio Ribeiro
Inter Milan signed a trio of hot South American prospects, Javier Zanetti, Roberto Carlos and Caio Ribeiro in 1995, with the latter the most exciting proposition of all, following his Golden Ball-winning exploits at the World Youth Championships.
Carlos was soon shunted to Real Madrid, where he became an absolute superstar of a full-back, while Zanetti went on to become an Inter legend.
And Caio? He barely played at the Nerazzurri, and after a short stint at Napoli, he returned to his homeland with his tail between his legs.
10. Candido Costa
Getting called the next anybody usually turns out to be a curse rather than a blessing.
Candido Costa, when he emerged from Salgueiros and signed for FC Porto, was dubbed "the next Luis Figo" by some.
Over the years it became clear that the only traits Costa had in common with the former Barcelona and Real Madrid star were that he was Portuguese and that he played on the right side of the pitch.
9. Michael Owen
Yes, he played for England 89 times, scoring 40 goals, and he found the net 163 times in club football, but Michael Owen was perhaps the weakest player ever to have won the Ballon D'Or.
He received a tremendous amount of attention early in his career thanks to his wonder-goal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup, and his hat-trick against Germany in 2001 (which went a long way to securing him the Ballon D'Or).
To be fair, Owen was a prolific scorer as a youngster for both club and country, and he looked set to break all number of records.
As the game changed, though, and injuries affected his pace, it became clear there were limited strings to the striker's bow.
He spent the majority of his playing days a shadow of his former self.
He was a goal-scoring machine at youth level for Brazil, but he never produced the same level of performance in his senior career.
Adailton won the Golden Shoe at the 1997 World Youth Championship on his way to notching 24 goals in his 19 games for the Brazil U-20 team.
He signed for Parma, but he could not nail down a spot in the team with the likes of Hernan Crespo and Enrico Chiesa ahead of him in the pecking order.
A loan move to PSG did not help is progression any further and although he did reasonably well at Hellas Verona between 1999 and 2006, there were nowhere near the number of goals in his footballing life as had been expected when he started so brightly.
7. Ibrahim Ba
Senegal-born Ibrahim Ba was lightning down the right touchline in his early days in French football, and he soon drew the attention of giant clubs all over Europe.
He took up with a powerful Milan side in 1997 but life in Serie A did not suit the attack-minded midfielder.
Failure to be selected in France's 1998 World Cup squad severely dented Ba's confidence, and he was never quite the same player after that.
His struggles at Milan continued and loan spells at Perugia and Marseille failed to reignite his fire.
A short stint at Bolton was more embarrassing than helpful, and the once-thrilling prospect retired in 2008 with little to show for all his innate gifts.
The sublime dribbling skills of Robinho saw him hailed as yet another "new Pele" when he was playing for Santos as a teenager.
A poor attitude and lack of any kind of consistency meant he could not live up to that billing when he took on the challenges of European football.
Despite the odd moment of brilliance for Real Madrid, the Brazilian did not establish himself as a favorite of coaches or fans.
At Manchester City he encountered similar problems, and he sought a loan move back to his homeland in 2010.
South America guru Tim Vickery wrote this for World Soccer about Robinho at the time and although the player has since returned to European football with Milan, it is clear he is never going to be regarded as one of the great Brazilian players:
"I really expected Robinho to become the best player in the world," said former Santos winger Edu.
"But, unfortunately, along with a lot of people, I was wrong. He’s coming back to Brazilian football at a moment when his prestige is low."
Even so, there was a warm welcome for him back at Santos, where he made his name between 2002 and 2005.
Most fans seem pleased to have him back and are prepared to forgive the sulk act – by now well known to Europeans – that he threw in order to force the club to sell him to Real Madrid.
Renowned for his spectacular skills on the ball, Denilson went from the world's most expensive player to a costly flop in just a few years.
Real Betis, gambling big in the hope of joining Spanish football's elite, splashed the cash for the Brazilian in 1998.
He had wowed observers the year before in the Confederations Cup, winning the Golden Ball for that tournament. Denilson's ability was plain to see.
With a £21.5 million price tag floating above his head, however, the youngster was soon overwhelmed by the pressure.
Defenders in Spain figured him out pretty quickly as well, and his amazing dribbling skills alone were not enough to make him an influential player in La Liga.
Denilson's decline was rapid. He retired in 2010 without playing a game for the Greek club he was contracted to, Kavala.
4. Nicklas Bendtner
Held in high regard as a youngster, Nicklas Bendtner has never been afraid to promote his own abilities.
Ralph Ellis of The Daily Mail explains the extent of the striker's ego:
Arsenal’s striker has never quite lived up to his self-publicity.
He once said: "If you ask me if I’m one of the best strikers in the world I say ‘yes’ because I believe it."
When the Gunners brought in a sports psychologist to do tests, he scored 10 for self-perceived confidence in a test that was graded from nought to nine!
Legend says he chose the number 52 as his squad shirt at The Emirates to celebrate a contract worth £52,000 a week – and he kept the same number in a loan spell at Sunderland.
This year after returning from Juventus on loan he settled for a more modest 23.
It looks like Bendtner, now 26 (the same age as Messi), won't quite live up to his own expectations.
3. David Bentley
Touted as the heir to David Beckham on the right side of England's midfield, David Bentley showed sensational promise as a young man, but he lost his way somewhere along the line.
Having stood out as a top prospect when he was coming through the ranks at Arsenal's youth academy, Bentley spent two years at Blackburn Rovers proving he was, indeed, a quality player.
Things began to turn sour, however, after a £16.5 million move to Tottenham. The midfielder did not have the same impact at the struggling London club, and when Harry Redknapp took over as manager, his chances in the first team became limited.
A string of unexciting loan spells followed, and by now, though he is still only 29, the gloss has well and truly worn off Bentley.
When he switched from Valencia to a mega-rich Lazio in 2001, Gaizka Mendieta was perhaps the hottest midfielder on the planet.
The Roman club certainly thought so, which is why they were happy to hand over €48 million for him.
Mendieta had been the driving force behind a dynamic Valencia team's run to two consecutive Champions League finals, and he could seemingly do almost anything in the middle of the park.
Lazio's expensively constructed side failed to gel, however, and the Spaniard could not match the exploits of the recently departed Juan Sebastian Veron and Pavel Nedved.
He was loaned to Barcelona, where he became a bit-part player, then he saw out his days quietly at Middlesbrough.
1. Freddy Adu
It is hard to select anyone else to top a list of the most over-hyped players in football.
If you believed some of the descriptions of him when he first came to prominence as a 14-year-old, you would think Freddy Adu would have 500 career goals to his name by now and he would be playing for one of the best sides in the world.
Though he is still only 24, as The Telegraph explains, Adu is never likely to reach any lofty heights.
The forward, now 24, shot to prominence 10 years ago when he became the youngest ever player to appear in a United States professional sport for DC United in Major League Soccer after being selected with the number one overall pick in that year's draft.
A trial with Manchester United followed for the teenager once dubbed "the next Pele" but Adu failed to reach the lofty expectations set for him by the American media.
After disappointing spells in Portugal, France, Turkey and Brazil, Adu has been training in England with Championship club Blackpool.
Much ado about nothing, then.
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