La Liga: 10 Biggest Wastes of Talent in Recent Liga History
With its open-style play, lack of consistently good goalkeeper play and referees with seemingly quiet whistles, La Liga has attracted many talented players over the years to come play in Spain. Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldinho are some of the names that have shown their talent on the pitch. La Liga has also seen the rise of many talented players come in from Liga youth squads, including Xavi, Iker Casillas and Lionel Messi.
But like the other major football leagues in the world, La Liga has seen its share of wasted talent.
What are the reasons why this happens? Many times, players have the talent, but do not have the skills needed to succeed. Sometimes, it is the player who does not play up to expectations made by his youth league play. Other times, it is the manager of the team that does not use his talent. And of course, there are the times that the player just flat out busts.
Call it a waste of effort or a waste of money; it seems that a waste of talent is simply a waste of time.
With that said and in no particular order, here are the 10 biggest wastes of talent in recent Liga history.
Michael Owen (Real Madrid 2005-06)
Michael Owen was the hope of England in the late 90s. Owen’s amazing talent and natural ability to score goals was something Englanders hadn’t seen in many years. The Liverpool FC youth product scored 118 goals in eight seasons at Anfield. Owen’s talent was something special.
This led Real Madrid to come calling.
Real Madrid President Florentino Pérez was keen on making Los Galácticos even bigger than they already were. Real already had two world-class strikers in Ronaldo and Raúl. Pérez decided this was not enough and decided to get Owen for a fee of £8 million.
Owen was on the bench for most of his time at the Bernabéu. But when he was on the pitch, he played very well. He was better when he a starter. In 15 starts, Owen scored 18 goals in 41 games. Owen had the highest ratio of goals scored to minutes played that year.
While most Premier League players seem to struggle when they come to La Liga, this was not necessarily the case with Michael Owen. When he played, he played well. This was a case of a football club president being greedy and trying to fill his team with talent.
Having two of the greatest strikers in La Liga history on your team will hurt your playing time as well.
There is only so much time you can keep talent on the bench. Owen needed to be a starter and was a waste of talent at Real Madrid. He was shipped back to England a year later.
Giovanni Dos Santos (Barcelona)
Now we come to one of the great (and for some frustrating) things in football: when a player plays great for his national team but not so great with his club.
I’m sure that Argentines wish Messi had this issue.
Giovanni Dos Santos was a wasted talent because he, like Bojan Krkić, just never seemed to be able to play at his full potential and win a spot on his club’s starting line-up. Gio was everything La Masia had produced in the past: great young players who had dribbling skills, playmaking abilities and speed. Not to mention that Brazilian flare.
Dos Santos played exceptional for Barcelona’s youth squad, even helping them win a regional title. Gio dazzled in Barcelona B, and he was quickly called up to the senior team. Frank Rijaard put Dos Santos in the first squad in 2007, but like Gio, did not prove his merit. In 28 appearances, Dos Santos only scored three goals and was constantly inconsistent.
After so many years with the youth squad and with so much talent, his failure at the first squad when his time came is what makes Giovanni Dos Santos a waste of talent.
Expectations were not as high as Bojan Krkić’s, but it was frustrating for the club to see Gio’s play, as there were moments of brilliance but never any consistency. This trend of inconsistency followed after his days in La Liga and continues to follow Gio till this day.
What make Gio’s case even more a waste of talent is by seeing how he plays with the Mexican national team. Gio’s play in international duty compared to his play in a club jersey is like night and day. The same year Gio was called up to Barça’s first squad was also the year that he made his debut with the national team.
Dos Santos has consistently played well for El Tri. Before Javier Hernández, Dos Santos was consistently the best player in the Mexican squad.
There’s a reason why Dos Santos has been on so many teams in such few years. He’ll never be surrounded by better players than he did when he was at the Camp Nou. He still has the talent, but it looks like he will never put it together when he is wearing a shirt that was not the Mexican one.
We’ll see if his brother Jonathan follows in Giovanni’s footsteps.
Klass-Jan Huntelaar (Real Madrid 2009)
In the winter 2009 transfer window, Real Madrid was down in the league points standing and felt it was time to add some muscle to try and catch up to Barcelona’s record start. In January of that year, Los Blancos brought Klass-Jan Huntelaar from Ajax for €20 million. There was supposed to be many highlights for Huntelaar at Madrid.
Do you know any? Because I don’t.
Huntelaar played in 20 games and scored eight goals. While this is not a bad goal-to-games ratio, perhaps Klass-Jan play was overseen because he needed more superstar appeal, a trait Madrid strikers have traditionally had.
But one factor that does need to be mentioned in defense of Huntelaar is Real Madrid’s troubles of that season that could have contributed to Klass-Jan not being able to get a fair shot at staying in Madrid.
Real was in a transitional phase as a club. Club president Vicente Boluda and coach Juande Ramos were on their way out. The Dutch invasion of Arjan Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Ruud Van Nistelrooy had seemed to have run its course. And Madrid legend Raúl had come into overwhelming criticism with his play and was on his way out. Barcelona’s overwhelming success made it even worse for Madridistas looking for change.
How was Huntelaar going to be successful in that environment, let alone prove his worth with Madridistas both in the organization and with fans?
In the summer of ’09, Florentino Pérez came back as president and began the second Galácticos era. Pérez completely dismantled the squad, getting rid of 14 players, including Huntelaar to AC Milan.
After a year with Milan, Huntelaar was sent to Schalke 04. Huntelaar has been tremendous for the German squad, scoring 12 goals in 13 games. Add on his good play in international duties with the Netherlands, and it shows that Klass-Jan is no waste-of-talent player and, in fact, a quality player.
But with Real Madrid, Huntelaar was clearly a waste of talent.
Juan Román Riquelme (Barcelona 2002-03)
Barcelona had their worst season in recent club history in 2002-03. Barcelona finished sixth in the table and were out in the round of 32 in the Copa Del Rey. One of the biggest wastes of talents in recent Liga history was a part of that Barça team, Juan Román Riquelme.
Riquelme had reached star status at an early age at Boca Juniors. After eight years at La Bombonera, Riquelme’s time to play in Europe had come. Coinciding with a contract dispute with Boca, Juan was transferred to Barcelona for €11 million.
Riquelme seemed to be ready to play for a big European club.
But manager Louis van Gaal had other thoughts.
Van Gaal was not a fan of Juan and kept him on the bench for most of his Barça stay. Louis referred to Riquelme as a “political signing." When Juan was on the field, he played as a midfield winger instead of his natural position as center midfield. This made Juan unable to create the plays he made at Boca and with the Argentine national team.
And no, being a midfield winger is not the same as being a center attacking midfielder.
In 30 appearences, Riquelme scored only three goals and was nowhere near the player he was at Boca. He was loaned out to Villarreal after the season.
At the Yellow Submarine, Riquelme was able to bounce back. He was one of the better midfielders in La Liga during his years in Spain. Juan earned a FIFA Player of the Year nomination in 2005 and continued to play well for his country in international duty.
Juan Román Riquelme is an example that it doesn’t matter if you have talent; you can still be wasted on the bench via a coach’s decision. Whether it was a political signing or not, Juan Román Riquelme brought plenty of talent to Barcelona, only to be wasted on the bench.
Joaquín (Real Betis)
Perhaps we forget about Joaquín because he did not play for Real Madrid or Barcelona. But Joaquín was a talented playmaker and had the skills to be play for Real, Barcelona or any other major club in the world. So why is he on this list?
Because he never was able to play for a major club in when he was at his peak.
Joaquín was a Real Betis product. He made his professional debut in 2000. With his help, Betis were able to go from newly promoted status to Champions League qualifiers in 2005. At such a young age, he was an excellent playmaker and was Betis’ best player for many years. He had over 50 caps with the Spanish national team as well.
He was young and one of La Liga’s best players, yet for some reason, it seemed that Joaquín was never able to catch the attention of a major club. Joaquín finally went to a bigger (not major) club in 2006 when he landed in Valencia. Joaquín played well for Los Che, but never had the players needed to win a Liga title.
By 2007, Joaquín had lost his form and later on he would find it challenging to find a starting line-up spot with talented youngsters David Villa, David Silva, and Juan Mata coming up. He was sent to Málaga this past offseason.
It’s obvious that Joaquín, like many footballers, peaked at a young age, but it doesn’t take away the fact that he had a very good run in the early part of the 2000s and deserved to play for a major club. Maybe he needed to have the charisma of other players in Europe had in order to get noticed.
Most Liga followers know Joaquín, but outsiders may only recognize the name Joaquín for his penalty shot being blocked by South Korean goalkeeper Lee Woon-Jae in the 2002 World Cup semifinals.
Real Betis saw the best of Joaquín. That in itself is a waste of talent.
Nicholas Anelka (Real Madrid 1999-2000)
After a successful two seasons with Arsenal, Real Madrid came knocking and bought Anelka’s services for £22.3 million in 1999. He was paired with Fernando Morientes and Raúl to improve the white’s attack.
Anelka’s goal-scoring ability was not seen in Madrid, as he struggled with a knee injury. He only played in 19 games, scoring only two goals. Anelka’s only contribution to Real was the away goal he scored in Madrid’s second leg victory versus Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinal. While that was an accomplishment, for the then record amount of money Real Madrid spent on him, he was expected to do more.
What adds to Anelka being such a waste of talent was his tumultuous relationship with his teammates and the Real Madrid organization. Nicholas went on strike for three days that season and refused to practice. This obviously did not sit well with manager Vicente Del Bosque, and Anelka was suspended. Reports also claimed that Anelka was an outcast in the locker room, and that players like Morientes—his expected striker partner—did not speak to him.
Anelka got a lot in his one year with Madrid: a nice paycheck and a Champions League title. Real sent Ankela back to his first team—Paris Saint-Germain—a year later.
In an interview with Spanish newspaper Marca a few months after his Madrid exit, Anleka said "The main thing is that I now play with other Frenchmen, with people who understand and like me.”
That’s a very narrow-minded comment,wouldn’t you say? Sorry Nicholas, but in sports, work and in life in general, you don’t always get along with some of your peers, and not everyone has to or will like you.
Anelka also accused Del Bosque and his Real teammates of not adapting to his style of play.
Couldn’t you adapt to Madrid’s style of play, Nicky?
Anelka’s oversensitivity and flat-out spoiled behavior makes him wasted talent.
Zlatan Ibrahimović (Barcelona 2009-10)
Pep Guardiola, for all the praise that he receives for his coaching, is deserved of criticism of his relationship with his strikers. Pep’s falling out with Samuel Eto’o after one season at the helm lead to then Barça president Joan Laporta to look for a new striker.
Laporta negotiated to bring in Zlatan Ibrahimović in 2009, paying a Barcelona record €46 million plus Eto’o to Inter Milan in exchange.
At the beginning, Ibra seemed to prove his worth. He scored in his first four Liga matches, a team record for the Catalans. A thigh injury kept him out for three weeks, but he returned to score the only goal in the first El Clásico of the season versus the revamped Galácticos of Real Madrid.
Albeit he scored 16 goals in the season, Zlatan was a waste of talent because of Guardiola’s relationship with him. As the season went on, reports began to surface that Pep and Ibra did not see eye-to-eye on on-the-field strategy. Many games did not feature Zlatan in the offense’s plan. Ibra was the odd man out.
Many critics also say that his playing style was never going to work with Guardiola’s “tiki-taka” play. It was also reported that Pep did not even speak to Zlatan for months in the latter part of the season. Injuries did not help Zlatan’s cause, either.
Pep had enough, and Ibra was sent shipping to AC Milan in August of 2010.
In his new book, Zlatan bashes Pep Guardiola for “ruining his Barcelona dream."
First Eto’o, then Zlatan. Maybe David Villa needs to watch out.
Sergio “Kun” Agüero (Atlético Madrid 2006-11)
Sergio Agüero falls in line with the likes of a Joaquín: playing exceptionally well on team that is not going anywhere. This may sound harsh for Atlético Madrid fans to hear, but it’s the truth.
El Kun was transferred to Los Colchoneros in a €20 million move from Independiente (ARG). After a slow first year, Agüero proved he was the future of Atlético in the 2007-08 season by scoring 19 goals, finishing third in La Liga in scoring. His play that year helped Atlético win the now-defunct UEFA Intertoto Cup.
Kun was a goal-scoring machine, scoring 74 goals in his five years in the Spanish capital. Diego Forlán also helped Kun and Atlético win the UEFA Europa League and UEFA Super Cup in 2010. But you always got the feeling that his team was always playing for third or fourth place La Liga standings.
Given Real and Barça dominate in both play and in the financial aspect, it was tough to see a talented player like Kun try and carry his team knowing it would only lead to disappointment. To Sergio’s credit, he tried his best to stay positive about his team and their financial issues. Agüero stated many times how he loved Atlético and wanted to lead his team to great things.
Perhaps he was too naïve.
Last year, Forlán’s play began to slide and was eventually benched. Agüero proceeded to carry his team throughout the season and scoring a personal best 20 goals in the season. Football fans, as well as major clubs, finally took notice of Agüero’s ability to lead. Kun’s efforts with Atlético were to no avail as Atlético—lacking talented and skilled players around him—were inconsistent, mediocre at best and finished seventh in the standings.
Kun was named the vice-captian of the team in January of this year in an effort to try and keep his talents at the Vicente Calderón.
But Agüero had enough. In May, he stated that he wanted to leave Atlético Madrid.
A struggle ensued. Kun was requesting to move to a major club, while Atlético were very hesitant to transfer him (and who can blame them). Finally, Atlético agreed to transfer Agüero to Manchester City for an estimated €41 million. Kun has shined for the Citizens, as he has scored 10 goals in 11 games.
Kun has always been a great player, but his play was always overshadowed by Atlético Madrid’s struggles to succeed in La Liga. It was tough to watch such a talented player be so frustrated on-the-field, as Kun ran all over the pitch trying to create plays for his teammates.
It is not Atlético Madrid’s fault that Kun’s talents were being wasted. They did what was best for the team. Last season finally showed all of us how Sergio Agüero’s talents can carry a team almost single-handedly.
Kun finally realized that his talents were being wasted on a team that wasn’t going anywhere. He wanted to be a star, and in order to showcase his talents to their full potential, he needed to leave Atlético.
Bojan Krkić (Barcelona 2007-11)
There are times in sports when you are waiting for a talented player to finally break out and shine.
Bojan Krkić was one of those players.
Bojan was one of the most promising players to ever come out of La Maisa in Barcelona. There are stories that Bojan scored over 9,000 goals in his youth career. Bojan, with his small figure, his natural scoring ability and exceptional dribbling skill. He was seen as a Catalan version of another Barcelona B product, Lionel Messi.
In fact, consider this: Bojan and Messi both played in Barcelona B for one season, and in his lone season, Bojan actually scored nearly double the goals (2006-07, 22 appearances, 10 goals) than Messi did(2004-05, 22 appearances, six goals). Bojan also became the youngest Barça player to make his official debut in a Liga match, a record previously held by Messi. Some culés even said that Bojan would eventually be better than Messi.
This obviously never has, nor ever will happen.
You can’t blame those observers for believing in Bojan. Krkić is arguably the most promising talent Barcelona, perhaps even Spain, had seen in recent memory. But this is a case of a player being hyped as well as a player not having the skills needed to be successful.
Every year was the same story: This is the year Bojan breaks out.
Every year was the same result: disappointment and a waste of talent.
Bojan had every opportunity to shine. Having Messi, Xavi Hernández, Andres Iniesta and others mentoring you seemed to be enough. Not to mention having excellent coaches like Frank Rijaard and then Pep Guardiola as your teachers. Pep gave Bojan plenty of chances to prove himself, but Bojan never stepped up. The quick rise of another other Masia-bred player, Pedro Rodríguez, hurt both Bojan’s chances to play.
Pedro became the player Bojan was supposed to be.
Guardiola finally decided that Bojan’s time was up and shipped him off to AS Roma this offseason. Now alongside former Barcelona B manager Luis Enrique, Bojan will try and revamp his career.
Bojan had the talent, but never had or learned the skills needed to succeed.
Kaká (Real Madrid 2009-present)
Most people will say Kaká doesn’t deserve to be on this list because he has been injured for most of his time at the Bernabéu.
But injuries are a part of the game. Kaká has been a waste of talent for not being able to stay healthy and playing to the level he did at AC Milan.
Kaká was one of the big four signings Florentino Pérez (yes, him again) made in the summer of 2009. He was the second biggest signing—and second most expensive at €68.5—of that year behind Cristiano Ronaldo.
Many Milan fans criticized the club for selling Kaká. For so many years, Kaká was the star of Milan and of Serie A. Kaká helped Milan win the Champion League crown in 2007, a year that also saw Kaká win the Ballon d’Or.
Jose Mourinho’s entrance, along with the signings of Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira, made Kaká’s place on the starting line-up not secure. Kaká wouldn’t get a chance to win a spot in the line-up as he had knee surgery, taking him out of action for eight months.
As much as Kaká has been injured, it doesn’t change the fact that he has been a waste of talent with Real Madrid. While Mou continues to say that he will stick with him, it’s clear that Kaká is not the player that Jose wants running his midfield. Even when Kaká has been health, Mourinho has consistently kept him out of the line-up in favor of Ozil or Khedira.
There have been too many games where Kaká has not come into the game at all. And when Kaká has played, he has not been able to create plays or score goals like he did with the Rossoneri.
For so much money, Kaká has given so little.
When healthy, Kaká doesn't belong on the bench, and he doesn't belong at Real Madrid. Talent wasted.