World Football: 8 Players Who Have Wasted Their Talents

Tony MabertContributor IOctober 10, 2011

World Football: 8 Players Who Have Wasted Their Talents

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    Most of us like to think we would do anything to become a professional athlete.

    We probably all swear that if we were fortunate enough to get paid handsomely to play a sport we loved, we would try our best and never stop being grateful for such a wonderful opportunity.

    So it makes it all the more galling when you see a supremely talented individual fail to make the most of the gifts they were given.

    Some are happy just to coast through their peak years picking up grossly inflated paychecks.

    Others press the self-destruct button and sabotage their own careers, and some are adversely affected by circumstances beyond their control. 

    Football, perhaps more than most other sports, is full of tales of wasted talent and unfulfilled potential.

    Here are just a few examples.

Stan Collymore

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    One of the first big stars to emerge at the start of the Premier League era, Collymore was a forward who had the potential to become an England great.

    Tall, skillful and with a great eye for a finish, he scored 22 Premier League goals in the 1994-95 season, helping newly-promoted Nottingham Forest to third in the table.

    Despite his undoubted success in front of goal, his celebrations became characterised by the fact that none of his teammates would celebrate with him. Such was his unpopularity in the dressing room.

    Nevertheless, his form earned him a move to Liverpool for a British record £8.5 million, where he again scored at a decent rate and set up goals for strike partner Robbie Fowler. The highlight from his two years at Anfield was scoring the last-gasp winner in the famous 4-3 victory over Newcastle.

    But still, his outspoken nature and perceived poor work ethic soon had him shipped out to Aston Villa, where manager Brian Little backed himself to get the best out of the enigmatic striker to the tune of £7 million.

    However, Little would not last at Villa Park and new manager John Gregory was not the most sympathetic  of bosses when Collymore checked into a Priory clinic suffering from depression, which caused him to assault his then-girlfriend, TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson.

    Upon his return to football, Collymore spent three months on loan at Fulham before short stints at Leicester, Bradford and Spanish club Real Oviedo before retiring in 2001.

    Having scored 69 league goals in four years at Forest and Liverpool, the final four years yielded one fifth that total. Having threatened to become the future of the England team, he ended up representing his country just three times.

    Collymore's outspoken nature has helped him reinvent himself as a broadcaster. A tabloid sting which caught him indulging in some carnal delights with strangers. 

    The results was a small role alongside Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct 2. 

Paul Gascoigne

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    What can you say about Paul 'Gazza' Gascoigne?

    When a cheeky and outrageously talented young Geordie playing for Tottenham won the hearts of all during England's run to the semifinals of the 1990 World Cup, a star was born.

    Ever willing to clown around, Gazza willingly played the fool, though he would often stray into poor taste in his desperate search for attention.

    The stories are too numerous to recount in full here.

    Suffice to say that disembarking the England team coach wearing a pair of plastic fake breasts and asking a workman to have a go of his pneumatic drill were all typical behavior.

    But for all his messing around, there was always a destructive streak about the mercurial midfielder from Gateshead.

    That came to the fore when he charged around like a man possessed during the 1991 FA Cup final against Nottingham Forest. A dangerously high tackle on Gary Charles ended with Gazza rupturing his own cruciate knee ligaments, and he left the Wembley pitch on a stretcher in his last ever appearance for Tottenham. 

    He moved to Lazio, then Rangers, showing flashes of the player he once promised to be, but he was never the same again.

    Spells at Middlesbrough, Everton, Burnley and Boston United were unremarkable. 

    Always fond of a drink, Gazza's alcoholism spiraled out of control, and he later admitted beating his wife on a regular basis.

    The number of those holding sympathy for him began to dwindle with each new shocking admission or revelation. As his career stuttered to a farcical conclusion—including a four-game stint in China and an ill-fated tenure as manager of Kettering Town—Gascoigne became hooked on cocaine and has pretty much flitted between stints in hospital, custody, therapy and rehab ever since.

    The story of Gazza still has not replaced that of George Best as the cautionary tale told to young players about the trappings of fame.  

Asamoah Gyan

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    Surely one of the most mystifying transfers of recent times, Gyan made the decision to move to the United Arab Emirates just a year after joining Sunderland.

    Gyan's star was most definitely on the rise following his performances for Ghana at the 2010 World Cup. He won a whole legion of fans for the courageous way he stepped up to take the first penalty of the quarterfinal shootout with Uruguay having missed from the spot in the final moments of extra time.

    It was seen as quite a coup for Sunderland to bring in the the forward from French side Rennes, even if it was for a club record £13 million.

    Gyan repaid that with 10 Premier League goals in his first season on Wearside, and no montage was complete without a shot of one of his celebratory dances.

    The summer transfer window brought with it rumours of an impending exit for Gyan, but the deadline came and went without him leaving.

    Then, on a Saturday morning in early September, it was announced he would be moving to Al-Ain of the United Arab Emirates on a season-long loan deal.

    Were Gyan in his early 30s, it would perhaps be understandable, but he is still 25 and approaching his peak. He has surely burned his bridges with Sunderland, and it will take another decent club some convincing he would be joining them for the long haul.

    Gyan may have now consigned himself to a nomadic trek around footballing backwaters for the rest of his career.

Adrian Mutu

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    When Roman Abramovich turned the Premier League upside down in 2003 with his mammoth spending, Romanian striker Mutu was one of his marquee signings.

    A £15.8 million signing from Parma, who he had only joined the year before, Mutu was an exciting addition to the new Blues.

    He began the season in style, scoring four goals in three games, and though the goals quickly dried up he still made a contribution on the field.

    However, he had brought with him from Italy a reputation for being a fiery character, and he was soon at loggerheads with coach Jose Mourinho.

    If Mourinho was looking for a reason to get rid of the Romanian agitator, he couldn't have asked for a better excuse than Mutu testing positive for cocaine in September 2004.

    Mutu was fired, his contract canceled, and Chelsea's breach of contract lawsuit eventually landed him with a £13 million bill. 

    Juventus took a chance on the outcast, and he began to rediscover his form, though it was at Fiorentina where he truly found his feet again. There, he formed a fearsome strike partnership with Antonio Cassano.

    However, after five years in Florence, Mutu joined Cesena this summer. A fine club, for sure, but it should never have been on the radar of a player of Mutu's quality.

Winston Bogarde

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    Another man involved in a contract wrangle with Chelsea, only this time it was very much the player who came out on top.

    Bogarde arrived at Stamford Bridge in 2000 with a good reputation, having won the Champions League with Ajax and two Spanish championships at Barcelona as part of Louis van Gaal's Dutch invasion of Catalonia.

    At the start of the season in which he would turn 30, Chelsea swooped for Bogarde, offering him £40,000 a week, a huge wage in the Premier League at that time.

    Just weeks later, however, manager Gianluca Vialli was replaced, and the Dutch defender no longer fit in with the team's plans. 

    Chelsea tried to sell him but Bogarde, aware that he would not be able to get such wages anywhere else, refused a move and decided to see out his contract.

    For four years, he turned up for training, first with the senior squad, then the reserves and finally the youth team as Chelsea seemingly tried to humiliate him into leaving.

    Bogarde didn't care and made sure he was always on time for training so as not give Chelsea any reasons to terminate his deal.

    In four years, Bogarde made just 11 appearances for Chelsea and, unsurprisingly, he retired once his contract expired in 2004.

    After that, no other club would go near him.

Adriano

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    Sometimes, a striker comes along who appears to have it all. Adriano Leite Ribeiro was that man.

    When he arrived in Italy in 2001 with Inter Milan, his combination of sheer size, great touch and deadly finishing inevitably drew comparisons to Ronaldo, and they were not unjustified.

    Adriano scored plenty of goals for Inter, where he won four straight titles while delighting fans of Fiorentina and Parma during loan spells. 

    For Brazil, he played key roles in winning both the Copa America and Confederations Cup. 

    However, as with so many Brazilian players who go from having nothing in the favelas to everything in some of Europe's most glamorous cities, Adriano liked to party. He would skip training because of hangovers, and he added plenty of weight to his already bulky frame.

    Inter allowed him to go home to Brazil after the death of his father. There, he was supposed to recover his focus and battle his drinking and depression, but he often relapsed. 

    Inter terminated his contract in 2009 and, following short spells at boyhood clubs Flamengo and Roma, Adriano moved back to Brazil and joined Corinthians.

    His mother last year pleaded with the media to leave him alone, as he continues to battle his demons.

    He is still only 29, but his best days are already far behind him.

Denilson

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    As a World Cup winner and once the most expensive player on the planet, you would think Denilson de Oliveira Araujo's place among the greats would be assured.

    But the truth is Denilson is perhaps one of the biggest failures in modern football when you consider what he could have achieved.

    The versatile forward greatly impressed in Brazil's victorious 1997 Copa America campaign in Bolivia and their march to the World Cup final the following year.

    He impressed so much, in fact, that Spanish club Real Betis were persuaded to give Sao Paulo a world record £21.5 million for his services soon after Brazil had finished as runners-up in France.

    However, Denilson seemingly took that as his cue to put his feet up and enjoy the contract he had earned rather than honour it as Betis would have intended. Just two years after shelling out the biggest transfer fee for a footballer ever, Betis were relegated and Denilson was shipped out on loan to French club Bordeaux.

    Denilson eventually returned to Betis but left in 2005, having scored just 13 league goals in his six seasons in Seville.

    Still only 28 when he left Betis, Denilson spent the rest of his career moving seemingly at random, never stopping for too long at clubs in Saudi Arabia, USA, Brazil, Vietnam and finally Greece.

    He hung up his boots leaving a legacy of making spend-happy chairmen think twice before they make any future record-breaking bids.

Joey Barton

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    This may seem an odd pick, considering Barton has perhaps been playing the best football of his career over the past year or so.

    But his is still a story of what might have been.

    After spending his youth with local club Everton, Barton moved to Manchester City as a teenager and became one of the most promising young English midfielders of the day.

    However, violence and controversy have dogged his career.

    In 2004, he was fined six weeks' wages for stubbing out a lit cigar in a teammate's eye. He also spent time going in and out of anger management after assaulting a 15-year-old fan in a preseason friendly.

    The law finally caught up with him when he was given a four-month suspended sentence for causing actual bodily harm on teammate Ousmane Dabo in 2007.

    Having won his first and only England cap earlier that year, he was shipped off to Newcastle. 

    That did not curb his violent excesses, however. He was jailed in 2008 for common assault in an incident outside a McDonald's. He served 77 days in prison for that episode.

    Newcastle kept him on despite his record, and he repaid that faith by remaining at the club when they were relegated from the Premier League. He then helped Newcastle win back promotion at the first attempt.

    Over the summer, despite rave reviews for his performances on the pitch and a cult following for his musings on Twitter, Newcastle announced they were open to letting Barton leave on a free transfer.

    Arsenal were linked with him for awhile, and Barton himself maintains he came close to joining the Gunners. But in the end it, was QPR who took a chance on Barton.

    Had he not peppered his early career with one incident of thuggery after another, he would surely be at Arsenal or another top club now.