10 Players Who Never Fulfilled Their Potential

Alex Richards@@AA_RichardsContributor INovember 7, 2013

10 Players Who Never Fulfilled Their Potential

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    Sometimes in football, things simply don't work out.

    Whether it be for individuals or clubs, sometimes things happen, and despite intentions being right and honest, they don't go to plan.

    Hence why some players flop after massive transfers, or why some big clubs are relegated despite investing a lot of money in their playing squad.

    Similarly, sometimes footballers simply do not live up to expectations.

    From increasingly young ages, players are picked and judged on whether or not they have what it takes, whether or not they have "potential."

    After the decision over whether they have potential, the question then turns from how much, to can they fulfill it.

    And while many do follow the career path expected for them, there are those who simply, for a variety of reasons, fail to meet their potential.

    Here is a look at 10 players, all blessed with wonderful gifts, that to varying degrees, simply didn't meet the highest levels of which they were either capable or which were earmarked for them to reach.

    Let's take a peek.


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    Whoever at Sao Paulo orchestrated the deal that saw Denilson transferred to Real Betis for a world-record transfer fee in the summer of 1998 probably hasn't ever had to pay for a drink at the morumbi since.

    Quite simply, because he painted a picture to the Spanish club and sold what could have been, not what was.

    Denilson was nothing more than an old-fashioned left-winger. Linear in his movement, he went up and down the touchline and was nothing but blistering pace and acceleration. Sure he had a step over and a nifty little back heel that he used to beat defenders from time to time, but in essence, there wasn't much to him.

    Sure he had some talent, as 61 Brazilian caps will attest to. But he was never a £23 million player, nor was he ever likely to prove to be one. His time in Spain was less than a success, and the quality he did threaten to have was never consistently showcased, nor ever fulfilled.

    In the end, he'll always be remembered as a mega-money flop and for a couple of interesting factoids:

    • The most used substitute in World Cup history.
    • Played in Brazil, Spain, France, Saudi Arabia, America, Vietnam and Greece.

Alvaro Recoba

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    The most mercurial of footballers Alvaro Recoba was capable of the sublime, the spectacular, the ridiculous and the just freakingly unreal.

    Technically, his left foot was something to just sit back and admire. Capable of picking a pass over six yards or 60, a devilish deliverer of set-pieces and capable of the most ferocious shots it was a thing of beauty.

    Recoba's ability as a No. 10 was something that you simply couldn't argue with. Talent-wise, he had IT.

    Unfortunately for El Chino, football is about more than an individuals mere talent. Sometimes desire is a greater necessity than simple God-given talent; it's a shame Recoba seemingly didn't know that.

    An excellent half-season on loan at Venezia in the first half of 1999 and a good season at Inter the following 12 months were as good as Recoba got consistency wise despite him spending a decade at San Siro.

    Throughout the rest of his time in Italy, he was extremely hit or miss mixing highlight reel moments with performances where an empty shirt would likely have performed better. 

    Ludicrously talented, he was potentially a Ballon d'Or winner. He never got anywhere near. As such, you can only dream about what he would have been like had he had Javier Zanetti's mentality.

Joe Cole

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    It's fair to say that Joe Cole has had a very good career if you consider the clubs he's represented and the trophies that he has won.

    However, the uber-talented wunderkind whose bag of tricks and flicks lit up Upton Park as a youth team talent with West Ham United and had scouts drooling has never quite managed to have the individual impact at senior level that was expected of him.

    Certainly there were moments—most notably his stunning strike against Sweden at the 2006 World Cup and a quite mesmeric piece of skill followed by an unerring finish as Chelsea celebrated a second Premier League title in a 3-0 dismantling of Manchester United—but they were never as consistently forthcoming as perhaps they should have been considering his talent. 

    The question is why?

    Perhaps it has something to do with managers never actively pursuing a course of building an entire team around him, never quite trusting him enough to make him a key member of their starting XI and also a slice of misfortune.

    Jose Mourinho grabbed hold of him at a young age at Chelsea and converted him from a lithe, free spirit into something of a more conventional wideman, more bulky and confined to nothing more than vertical tracking up and down either flank.

    By the time he reached Liverpool, injuries had ravaged him and the acceleration, which was never blistering but had been so important for much of his career, had gone. Fitness issues have continued since.

    Certainly, West Ham, Chelsea, Liverpool, Lille and West Ham again isn't a bad career. Nor are 56 England caps, three Premier League successes and three FA Cup winners' medals. 

    But still, there remains that feeling that somewhere along the way, the precocious, artful dodging-spirit was lost, and English football was less well off because of it.

Sebastian Deisler

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    As Germany stepped out of the mess that was Euro 2000 and looked to the future, Sebastian Deisler was the young prospect who offered a tired, old Mannschaft hope.

    Rising through the ranks at Borussia Monchengladbach and then making his name at Hertha Berlin, the midfielder was a pointer to the country's future: a talented, technical midfielder that was capable of operating in a variety of different roles.

    In 2002 Deisler moved to Bayern Munich, but unfortunately, his fortunes had already begun to turn.

    He arrived at Die Bayern suffering from a knee injury, a recurring theme during his time in Bavaria while the onset of depression also took its toll.

    He kept returning but in one way or another kept breaking down again and could never put together a consistent run of games—in five years he was restricted to 84 appearances across all competitions. Additionally, though he made 36 appearances for his country, he never appeared at a major international tournament following his Euro 2000 breakthrough.

    In January 2007, Sebastian Deisler retired from the game age 27; a career that had so much promise but was cruelly ravaged.

Freddy Adu

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    At 14 years of age, Freddy Adu was being hailed as the man to lead MLS into becoming one of the world's major leagues having starred for the United States under-17s as a 13-year-old.

    Stocky, quick, powerful and with a fair few tricks in his bag, the Ghana-born youngster was thrust into professional life at DC United as perhaps the most hyped footballer the planet has ever seen—I mean come on, MTV did a program about how the world was at his feet...He was 14!

    By the time he turned 23, Adu was moving onto his ninth professional club, swapping Philadelphia Union for Brazilian minnow Bahia.

    His previous sojourn in Europe with Benfica—encompassing loan moves at Monaco, Belenenses, Aris Salonika and Caykur Rizespor—saw his reputation disintegrate; so few were interested in taking him back, while his MLS showings in Philadelphia in 2011 and 2012 showed anything but progress.

    Certainly looking back with hindsight, it's easy to point to Adu as the most over-hyped footballer in the internet age, his name having spread like wildfire. There was talent there, no doubt; his goals record and showings for the junior US side showed that.

    However, some just can't translate that at higher levels. Unfortunately for Adu, the early hype has effectively killed his career.


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    Dubbed as Pele's heir when breaking through as a bright young thing at Santos, Robinho had led the Brazilian giants to national glory by the time he was 18, and his love of Pedaladas was quickly becoming the stuff of legend following the destruction of one poor defender.

    A rise to the national XI was swift, and in 2005, his undoubted talent led the one-man highlight reel to Real Madrid.

    However, since then Robinho hasn't quite lived up to his billing.

    Sure he's played for two of Europe's greatest clubs—Real Madrid and AC Milan—with a spell as the marquee signing for Manchester City's mega-rich owners in 2008 sandwiched in between. And he's helped himself to the not inconsiderable tally of 90 international caps with the Selecao, scoring 26 goals.

    But it's rather that somewhere along the way, he seemingly lost something. Whether motivation or love of the game, the smiling teenager was replaced by an apparently less happy adult, and performance levels fluctuated between moments of magic and periods where he simply didn't seem interested in events at all—one performance for Manchester City against Tottenham at White Hart Lane immediately springing to mind.

    Between 2007 and 2010, Brazil coach Dunga made he and Kaka the creative fulcrums of his Brazil side, only for them to crash out in the 2010 World Cup when a semi-final place looked theirs for the taking against Holland.

    Since then, what should have been Robinho's peak years (he's still only 29) have amounted to little: He's on the outside looking in as Brazil gear up for their own World Cup and he's once more flattered to deceive in the Italy's second city.

    Unfortunately, flattering to deceive has been the story of Robson de Souza's career.

Anthony Le Tallec

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    Anthony Le Tallec was signed by Liverpool from Le Havre in 2001, along with Florent Sinama-Pongolle after hugely impressive performances for the French national youth team in the UEFA European Under 16 Championships and the FIFA Under 17 World Cup.

    At the latter, Sinama-Pongolle was the tournament's top scorer, and while his nine goals earned him the tournament's Golden Ball for best player also, it was Le Tallec—the Silver Ball winner—who was more highly thought of.

    While Sinama Pongolle was all Pace and trickery, Le Tallec was more refined, intelligent in his positioning and technically adept. Hopes were high for him, but he simply couldn't make the leap at senior level.

    Quite simply, Le Tallec was never able to nail down a regular place during his formative years, and as such, he never reached the heights expected of him. His growth was stunted when he moved to Anfield permanently in 2003—the Reds having left him at Le Havre for two years—and numerous loan spells didn't work out.

    Now, you can find the 29-year-old occasionally appearing in Ligue 1 for Valenciennes

Stan Collymore

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    Back in the '90s, England were blessed with a wealth of outstanding strikers: Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand, Teddy Sheringham, Robbie Fowler, Andy Cole and Ian Wright.

    All were absolutely brilliant strikers, and competition for places in the England squad was fierce. But arguably none were as naturally talented as Stanley Victor Collymore.

    As a cente-forward, Collymore simply had no borders. Strong, quick, two-footed, capable of beating a man with a moment of individual brilliance and intelligent in terms of his movement, he appeared to be the complete package.

    At Nottingham Forest, he was simply monstrous, leading the line for Frank Clark's side with a pace and panache that saw him feared by Premier League defences.

    An English record transfer to Liverpool followed for £8.5 million, and though he helped the side to an FA Cup final in his debut season, he would stay at Anfield only one more year before joining boyhood club Aston Villa in 1997.

    Gradually, Collymore's career tailed off—taking in Leicester, Bradford, Fulham (loan) and Real Oviedo—as a host of unseemly off-field issues came to light during a difficult personal period.

    For a time, Collymore lit up the Premier League, and he earned himself three international caps; were he playing now, that figure would have unquestionably been more.

    However, looking back, and there's a tinge of sadness that Collymore's mercurial talent didn't harness greater career honours.

    On his day, he was a shooting star capable of lighting up the night sky. Unfortunately, he burned out too quickly.

Gianluigi Lentini

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    "He was a really big talent…Fast, strong, physical. Really good."—Fabio Capello.

    When Gianluigi Lentini exchanged Torino for AC Milan in 1992, he became the world's most expensive footballer, costing the Rossoneri £13 million after having proven himself a versatile, dangerous wide midfielder with I Granata—despite the world record fee, Torino supporters were furious at the sale of their prize asset.

    His dribbling mesmeric, his pace something else and with excellent upper body strength thrown in for good measure, he looked as though he'd fit right in at his new club. Great things were expected.

    And in his first year at the San Siro, he played his part in leading the team to Serie A glory and the final of the European Cup. 

    During pre-season ahead of the 1993-94 campaign however, his upward momentum was irreversibly stopped.

    Lentini’s Porsche 911 left the road just outside the town of Villafranca d’Asti. Travelling at an estimated 200 kilometers per hour, the car flipped, leaving Lentini with a fractured skull and eye socket.

    Somehow, he returned to the pitch at the beginning of 1994, but he was never the same. There were occasional glimmers, but the balance had gone. By 1996, Milan had sold him to Atalanta, having been a mere bit-part player in each of the previous two years.

    He ended his career with just 13 international caps after playing for the final eight years below the Italian top division.

    And credit to the man, for playing through to his 40th birthday in the Italian lower divisions, so much in love with the game that he continued, despite not being what he once was.

    However, it wasn't meant to be that way.

Ricardo Quaresma

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    Back before Cristiano Ronaldo was being Cristiano Ronaldo, there was another highly thought of winger in the ranks at Portugal's Sporting Club who looked as though he'd be a potential world-beater.

    A thrilling dribbler, quick and devastating in one-on-one situations against opposing defenders, he had been outstanding as Portugal were crowned the UEFA European under-17 champions in 2000. And the following year he made his senior club debut at just 17, helping the Sporting to a Portuguese league and cup double.

    Ricardo Quaresma seemingly had the world at his extremely fast, beautifully expressive feet.

    However, then came his first setback, as a move to Spanish giants Barcelona simply came too soon in 2003. Within a year, he had been discarded, returning to Portugal with then-European champions Porto.

    And certainly he would go on to have a successful time in the Estadio Dragao, winning three league titles in four years and being named the Portuguese league's best player in 2006. His mix of flicks and bamboozling tricks made him a YouTube favourite.

    However, what should have been the making of Quaresma, a £21 million move to Inter Milan as Jose Mourinho took the reins in 2008, turned into a nightmare.

    Unable to immerse himself with Mourinho's tactical plans and showing little in the way of previously seen quality, he was awarded the 2008 Bidone d'oro—the Golden Bin—for Serie A's worst player in 2008 (he would also finish second the following year).

    A loan spell at Chelsea amounted to four league games in five months before he was cast aside to Besiktas in Turkey. In January 2013, he moved to Al Ahli in Qatar, but he left in the summer and has been without a club since. 

    At the age of 30, Quaresma finds himself on the footballing scrapheap.