25 Most Wasted Talents in World Football History
Talent alone will not guarantee a fulfilled footballing career. Combining that talent with mental fortitude is imperative.
Many have lacked that trait and for all the talent they had, their careers never reached the astronomical heights of super stardom or even footballing immortality as some had envisioned.
Others had their promising careers cut short by unforeseeable circumstances.
Here are the 25 most wasted talents in world football history.
Kaz Patafta was the name young promising Australian footballers looked up to.
At 16, he was already training with Benfica and would have been in their setup if not for Football Federation Australia blocking the transfer.
I was mesmerised by his performances at the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Championships. Think Luka Modrić— small framed yet he found a way to impact games.
The FIFA Technical Study Group agreed, writing, "Technically adept, good understanding and overview of play, strong leader."
He was the only Australian mentioned as an outstanding player in the report.
At 17, he was in Guus Hiddink's training squad for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
When Patafta returned to the A-League and Melbourne Victory on loan, I could tell something wasn't right.
He didn't dominate games, he struggled and looked more like a squad player than a star, let alone one that was contracted to Benfica.
At 23, he is without a professional club and I still cannot grasp what happened.
It can't be mental, because he was a strong leader as the FIFA Technical Study Group noted.
Technically, he was miles above anyone in the Australian youth set up.
Dani is perhaps one of the most handsome men to ever play the game, so good looking he worked as a model from time to time.
This quote by Rupert Metcalf at The Independent summed up Dani's career. "Remembered at Upton Park more for his fondness for London's nightclubs than his playing prowess."
His talent only got him so far and at the age of 27, he abruptly retired.
In 1967, Harald Nielsen was made the most expensive player in the world by Inter Milan.
Yet he only played in eight games for Milan club.
Perhaps they didn't factor in his playboy lifestyle or his focus on trying to get rich.
His career was curtailed by injuries, and he retired at just 28.
He then become an entrepreneur and author.
On top of the world
Despite being hesitant in giving teenagers a chance, José Mourinho started Carlos Alberto in the 2004 UEFA Champions League final against Monaco.
The then 19-year-old rewarded Mourinho's faith with a goal.
Since then, his career has burned out and it seems he peaked as a 19-year-old.
Sebastian Deisler had great control of the football and was once touted as the future of German football.
But a combination of injuries and depression ended his career at just 27.
One hopes he finds solace in life after football.
Darko Pančev's time at Red Star Belgrade marked one of the most prolific goal-scoring records in the club's history.
97 goals in 112 games.
Yet his ill-fated move to Inter Milan debilitated the rest of his career when he had the world at his feet.
Lee Sharpe's start to his Manchester United career was somewhat fortuitous, as he took advantage of Jesper Olsen leaving for Næstved and Ralph Milne being rubbish.
Yet as Sharpe progressed, injuries and his love for extracurricular activities ended what could have been a legendary Manchester United career.
Then again, Ryan Giggs coming out of the youth didn't help Sharpe's career.
Like Sharpe taking advantage of circumstances, Giggs took advantage of Sharpe's unfortunate circumstances and cemented his legacy at left wing.
Kerlon is the archetypal example of what happens to overly flashy footballers.
This poor kid suffered because of his natural ability, especially his seal dribble where he would run whilst bouncing the ball on his head. This only gave defenders more reason to hurt him.
He's hardly played a game in the past few seasons.
Juan Sebastián Verón
Juan Sebastián Verón is one of the most elegant footballers I've had the pleasure of watching.
However, for someone so immensely talented, he crumbled under the pressure.
I believe if teams weren't tailored for him to succeed, he didn't.
He wasn't complete enough to adapt and change.
He was so talented, Chelsea bought him for £15 million having watched him fail at Manchester United.
His career is similar to that of Juan Román Riquelme, but at least Riquelme had medium-term success with Villarreal.
Verón's European C.V. is unfulfilled.
It seemed as Tomas Brolin's career progressed, he began developing an unhealthy habit of fast food.
It may be okay for the average Joes like you and me, as it's not going to cause us to lose our jobs. But it's not okay for a professional athlete.
Brolin had the ability to be a top quality footballer, but he threw it away.
Perhaps injuries contributed to his unhealthy diet.
Javier Saviola was so good, he played for both Barcelona and Real Madrid.
He had good acceleration, trickery and guile.
Yet for whatever reason, he never reached the heights that were laid out for him when he dominated the FIFA 2001 U-20 World Cup.
When I saw photos of a grossly overweight Michael Johnson, I was not only horrified but sad because you knew this kid was destined to be England's future.
He was plagued by injuries, mental problems and indiscipline.
It's a testament to Manchester City for symbolically keeping him on their books, even though they should terminate his contract.
Instead, they are trying to get Johnson to a point where he can continue his professional footballing career.
Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images
Antonio Cassano had 99 problems, but talent wasn't one of them.
His combination with Francesco Totti at Roma was telepathic and should never have been broken.
What a dumb move to go to Real Madrid under a disciplinarian like Fabio Capello.
He spent two seasons eating (so much so that Real Madrid began fining him) and sleeping around. I wonder if his recent heart attack has anything to do with his lifestyle at Madrid.
Ariel Ortega almost played more games for the national team than he did in Europe.
He had what it took to excel in Europe, but he didn't.
Three separate spells with River Plate indicates an unwillingness to modify and survive in Europe.
Ricardo Quaresma had so much skill yet failed to make the grade at Barcelona and Inter Milan (and Chelsea, I guess).
I remember José Mourinho telling people this would be a different Quaresma—one who wouldn't be contempt with a few highlight reel moments but one that wanted to win and dominate.
It never happened.
Stan Collymore's partnership with Robbie Fowler was sweet and sensational.
Imagine if they were actually best friends.
Gary Speed's suicide gives you some food for thought on how incapacitating depression can be.
Depression cut Collymore's career up.
In retrospect, Freddy Adu should never have left the MLS because his forays into Europe left his footballing career in limbo.
He hardly played top flight football in four seasons.
I'll admit, I was drinking the Adu Kool-aid because technically he is superb and it seemed he had the will to succeed.
You don't force your way into a professional football team at 14 years of age if you don't have mental fortitude.
He's still 22 so he has time, but it seems he'll just be a good MLS player as opposed to a world class footballer as was once projected.
For a year or so, Adriano was ratcheting up performances that saw him earmarked as the next world class forward.
He rested on his laurels and believed he could just play without putting in the hard yards.
Gigi Meroni was the Italian George Best on and off the field.
He would drift past defenders with ease, but his career was tragically cut short at the age of 24 when he was hit and killed by a car.
The person driving the car was Attilio Romero, who idolised Meroni and even had a picture of Meroni in his car.
Romero would later become Torino's president, so the club was run by a guy who accidentally killed one of their most promising footballers.
Only in Italy.
It seemed Denílson was more content with his one highlight reel moment than trying to win games.
Real Betis made him the most expensive player in the world and, in effect, made him the man.
But Denílson didn't want to be that man and perhaps felt he didn't have the tools to be a great player.
Then I say, well you shouldn't have taken the money. You should have held out for a move to a bigger club.
He managed to play in 68 games for Brazil, though he never really did anything.
Álvaro Recoba had more talent in his opposite feet than the large majority of footballers.
But he had no heart whatsoever.
He didn't have the mentality of a winner and was content with okay performances and the odd spectacular goal.
Here is Peter Marinello's candid take on his career: "In 1970 Arsenal came in for me, paying £100,000. There was now huge expectation, which increased when I scored on my Arsenal debut at Old Trafford. I had an agent and received so many offers—to open nightclubs, appear on Top of the Pops, model, even to make a record (until they heard my voice). It was a crazy time.
"At the end of three-and-a-half years at the club, I made the mistake of chasing the money and joined Portsmouth. I would never be the same player again.
"I don't like to make excuses, but my career was deeply affected by my wife's illness. She suffered from post-natal depression and, ever since, has suffered periods of serious depression.
"I didn't always help, as Joyce was often worried about my gambling and drinking, not to mention the other women who were always hanging around. I left Portsmouth in 1975 and had a good spell back in Scotland at Motherwell, but I was never as hungry again."
Paul Gascoigne's mental demons derailed what could have been an historic career.
He had such finesse but was ferocious on the field, and his suspension against Germany in the 1990 FIFA World Cup semifinals summed up his career.
He pointlessly fouled Thomas Berthold, already knowing a yellow would leave him suspended, and his reaction to the yellow card became one of the most iconic FIFA World Cup photos ever.
Pelé was so sold on Nii Lamptey that he named the teenage prodigy his successor.
Remember Lamptey wasn't Brazilian—he was Ghanaian, so for Pelé to name his successor to a foreigner was legit.
Many bought into Lamptey because at 15, he dominated international youth competitions and in his teens, he was looking the goods in Europe.
Mentally broken down by his horrific family surroundings, being ripped off by his agent, losing his children and ultimately his love for the game saw his career burn and crash.
In boxing, there is Salvador Sánchez. In football, there is Duncan Edwards.
At such a young age, both Sánchez and Edwards had already proven their quality at the highest level. The question was, would their careers transcend the sport?
We will never know because Sánchez had his life taken in a car crash and Edwards perished in the Munich air disaster.
Please read Greatest Headed Goals Ever.