Wasted Talent: Footballers who didn’t fulfill their potential

Posted by - November 17, 2010 - International, Lists

Just brings a tear to the eye

It is the English way, and it is the football way. Build them up to knock them down. Wonderkids, new superstars, the next big thing. But it can all go to waste, lost in a flurry of fast cars, crippling injuries or football’s most feared graveyard: going off the boil.

Today OTP looks at six players who promised much, but never matched up to their potential. This is not to say that they were not successful, and most were, but the age-old mantra rings true: “How good could he have been?”

The following players were considered and deserve mentions:

Kieron Dyer, Richard Wright, Jonathan Woodgate, Ariel Ortega, Hugo Viana, Danny Cadamarteri, Duncan Edwards RIP, Juan Veron, Francis Jeffers, Ibrahim Ba, Michael Owen, Gaizka Mendieta, Sebastian Frey.

Stan Collymore
At a time when Shearer, Sutton, Ferdinand and Fowler were leading the line of English Premier League strikers, Collymore was arguably the complete version.

To anyone who is surprised by his inclusion, simply see below:

This was not a fluke, either. Collymore was comfortable on either foot, a characteristic sadly missing from many top footballers, and had the customary power and pace. After scoring 41 goals in 65 league games for Forest, Stanley Victor moved to Liverpool for a British record fee. After two mediocre seasons Collymore moved to Villa, but never again managed to recreate his East Midlands glory days.

Alleged scuffles with Ulrika Jonsson and himself in a car park followed, and England had got only three caps from a player seemingly destined for more.

Javier Saviola
For a player to be talented enough that both Real Madrid and Barcelona sign you, you have got to have that something. Saviola did, and therefore seemingly had the world at his feet.

At the start of his career, for River Plate, Saviola started off in unbelievable fashion, winning the South American Player of the Year award in 1999, aged just 18, and in fairness, he has then scored goals at every club he has represented, including 50 at a goal every 200 minutes for Barca.

There is no off-field scandal or controversy and no crippling injuries. In the same way that disappointment is worse than anger from a parent, Saviola’s problem is not that he is not good, it is that he should have been great.

Gianluigi Lentini
It is the reverse Roy of the Rovers stuff. When Lentini became the world’s most expensive player in 1992 after a £13million move to AC Milan, Italy had found its new superstar. A year later it was all in ruins.

At the age of 24, Lentini was involved in a serious car crash that fractured his skull and eye socket. Whilst he made a full recovery, his career was never the same again, being loaned to Atalanta before a £2million transfer back to Torino. The world’s most expensive player made just 13 caps for his country.

Whereas Lentini was unlucky, Denilson’s case was a stranger one: he just turned out to not be that good, although Real Betis paid a world record £21.5million to take him from Brazilian football.

Although he remained consistent at the club, and indeed made 61 caps for Brazil, winning the World Cup in 2002, there was an evident lack of spark in the player that had wowed the fans of Sao Paulo, and he was eventually sold to Bordeaux after dropping out of the Betis first-team squad, drifting around whilst being as unsuccessful as he was nomadic.

Stats fans prick your ears up. Denilson is the most used substitute in World Cup history, and has played in Brazil, Spain, France, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, America and Greece.

Cherno Samba
Not simply a tale of Champ Man mis-prediction.

Born in Gambia but raised in England, Samba played at every age group of England up to under-20s. He signed schoolboy terms with Millwall, and the club were so confident in his abilities they rejected a £1.5 million offer from Liverpool in 2003 before he had even played a senior game. However, he never made the step up from reserve football.

Now 25, Samba has played just 60 league games, and just seven in the top flight, for FC Haka of Finland.

Paul Gascoigne
The tragic hero in English football’s saddest soap opera. In his pomp Gazza was king; the most talented footballer England has ever produced. But Gascoigne’s downward spiral of self-destruction definitively portrays the evils of fame and fortune, defining exactly our definition of ‘flawed genius’.

In his heyday at Tottenham Hotspur, Gascoigne was a magician. He scored more than 100 career goals, and played 57 times for his country. But for every Gazza peak there is a trough. He should have played twice as many.

Our only saving grace is that whilst Gascoigne has to endure addiction, mental instability and depression, us mere mortals have Italia 90, FA Cup semi-final 1991, and England-Scotland Euro 96. Euro bloody 96!

Football writer Nick Miller describes the tragedy perfectly:

Every time I see the name ‘Paul Gascoigne’ in the news, I recoil, because I fear the day it’s going to be followed by ‘…was found dead’. It’s almost a relief to hear he’s just been arrested for being pissed again. It’s hard to see how he can be helped – he has a perfect storm of illnesses that are tragically only pointing one way.


  • Fifinho

    As an Australian, one player immediately spring to mind: Harry Kewell

    I don’t think I really need to explain that one do I…?

  • http://twitter.com/deanlloyd86 Dean Lloyd

    I wouldn’t say a ” games 1 goal ratio is mediocre for Collymore, it was more his attitude than got him ousted.

  • http://twitter.com/deanlloyd86 Dean Lloyd

    *2 games

  • bilby

    Another Australian to mind is David Seale. Not even sure if I’ve remembered the name right. I’m thinking of the striker who led the line in the U-19 side that reached the World Youth Championship Final before losing to host nation Portugal (the Figo, Rui Costa, etc. generation).

    And poor old Dean Ashton. What a player he might have been. The sad part of that is that being picked for England was the finish of him…his career-ending injury occurred in an England training session.