Often a bright young player bursts onto the scene, tipped for greatness from the start and hotly contested for by some of the biggest clubs in the game. It seems like they have the world at their feet, surely their career will be filled with silverware and potential Ballon D’or’s.
But sadly for one reason or another, they never seem to reach that potential. Just as quickly as they burst onto the scene, they fizzle away. As we will see throughout this list, the reasons for this involve poor management, poor attitude or more sadly, injuries ruining a promising career.
The following 10 wonderkids were tipped to be the next megastars of the game but were never able to fulfil the potential, despite many of them enjoying successful careers. Included among these 10 are a few controversial choices, and as always we probably have left out some obvious ones, so feel free to voice your concerns within the comment section.
Okay so the controversial pick, it is really difficult to argue that Mario Gotze has been a wonderkid flop. After all he has a World Cup, 5 Bundesliga’s and 4 DFB Pokal’s, he even has represented a stacked Germany team 67 times. Just this past season he had 14 goal contributions in 26 league games for Borussia Dortmund. In truth, he has had a career that most footballers would envy.
But Gotze doesn’t make this list because he has been a wonderkid flop, rather he has never fully reached his potential. This was a player who at the age of 18 was being tipped for the Ballon d’Or, being a pivotal member of Dortmund’s league triumphs at the beginning of the decade. He helped tear apart Real Madrid en route to a Champions League final with Dortmund. At the age of 22, he scored the winning goal in the World Cup final. A year earlier, Bayern Munich made him the 2nd most expensive German player at the time.
The reason Gotze makes this list is because a decade ago he was tipped to be in the conversation for the best player in the world. Now at the age of 27, Gotze is overshadowed by many of his colleagues at Dortmund.
The Italian burst onto the scene as a 17-year old in 2009, scoring a delightful winner against Aston Villa in a 3-2 thriller. The following league game, he came off the bench to score a winner against Sunderland. At the time Macheda was tipped to be the next great Manchester United striker.
But them two matches turned out to be a high point for Macheda in his Manchester United career. He went onto score only twice more in the league for the Red Devils and was often sent out on loan. He went through 6 different loan spells whilst still being under contract at Old Trafford before being shipped off to Cardiff. In truth he has never been prolific in his career – Besides a brief loan spell with Birmingham, where he did hit 10 league goals in 18 games.
Now 27, Macheda flopping has often been blamed on his poor attitude. But in truth it may just be because he was never really good enough. The goals he scored for United were important in helping them to pip Liverpool to the title, but besides this he never really showed much else.
Despite shining for Real Betis this past season, there was a lot more expected from the 28-year-old at the start of his career. The Spaniard was tipped to be the next great Spanish midfielder, with many seeing him as ‘The new Cesc Fabregas’.
A whole host of prominent European clubs were after his signature, but an ill-advised move to Real Madrid practically signified his potential going to waste. Madrid were firmly etched into their Galactico era with the signings of Ronaldo, Alonso, Benzema & Kaka the year prior, and Ozil and Di Maria that very same summer. Canales entered a stacked team, one not renowned for providing game time for youngsters.
This limited game time hindered his progress, playing less than 600 minutes in his first season at the Bernabeu.
He switched to Valencia, initially on-loan before they made the move permanent. His fortunes did pick-up a Valencia but never to the level before his move to Madrid and since then he has had respectable if unspectacular spells at Real Sociedad and Real Betis.
As said before, Canales has had a decent year, particularly at Betis this season and could earn himself a move to a bigger club at this stage in his career. Yet, he was tipped for greater things, which he hasn’t been able to achieve.
Again, Babel has had a pretty decent career with over 50 international caps for the Netherlands and turning out for teams such as Liverpool and Ajax. On the other side, the 32-year-old has also played for clubs such as Kasimpasa and Al Ain.
Liverpool bought him for Ajax and Babel showed the odd flashes of genius during his time with the Reds. He did represent the Merseyside club 146 times and scored 22 goals, but was also very frustrating to watch at times. His inconsistency and disciplinary issues led to others overtaking him in the Anfield pecking order and in his final season, the Dutch winger only appeared 9 times in the league.
Since Liverpool, Babel has represented a number of teams including Hoffenheim and Deportivo, but never experienced much success there. Often seen as someone who is more interested in the partying lifestyle rather than football.
In the past few years, Babel has experienced a career renaissance. With age, he has developed maturity which led him to return to the international set-up and a decent 6-month spell with Fulham in the league.
Much was expected from Kleberson when he joined Manchester United after anchoring Brazil’s midfield during their 2002 World Cup win. Instead of the all-action midfielder they were expecting, the Red Devils received a shadow of the player they saw at the World Cup.
In only his 2nd appearance for Manchester United, Kleberson picked up an injury and over the next 2 seaons only appeared 20 times for the Old Trafford outfit before embarking on a journeyman career.
The injury definitely didn’t help his career, but similar to Babel, it seems Kleberson enjoyed the odd night out more than football.
After starring for Porto, Sir Alex Ferguson parted with £20 Million to bring the the then 19-year-old to Old Trafford. After a successful first season in Manchester where he won the League and Champions League double, Anderson was also awarded the Golden Boy award. This was the peak of his time in a red shirt.
Over the course of the next 7 seasons, injuries and a lack of professionalism hindered any further progression from the Brazilian as he failed to appear in the league more than 20 times a season. In his 2 seasons at Old Trafford, he played a total of 10 times in all competitions, and had a unsuccessful loan at Fiorentina. Eventually Anderson returned to Brazil for Internacional but his fitness was often questioned.
For some that so much was expected from, Anderson only appeared 8 times for Brazil and it is fair to say never reached his full potential.
Another controversial choice, Owen has 163 Premier League goals, has played for clubs such as Liverpool, Real Madrid, Newcastle and Manchester United. He has appeared 89 times for England and scored 40 goals. Oh and he has also won the Ballon D’Or.
Yet it still feels like he hasn’t achieved his full potential. Maybe this was because his ceiling was so high in the first place? In his first full season as the starting striker at Anfield, Owen won the Golden Boot at the tender age of 18. He then went on to score that dazzling solo goal against Argentina during the World Cup that summer. He continued on as an Anfield legend, but his move to Real Madrid was the beginning of the end.
I guess Owens career can be looked at in two parts. Pre-Madrid he was one of the most feared strikers in the world and post-Madrid he was a shadow of his former self. Despite an impressive scoring record at the Bernabeu, Owen was not a regular started and itched for move back to England. Newcastle made him their record signing but Owen suffered injury setback after setback. A broken metatarsal followed by an ACL followed further thigh strains and hernia operations. At this point the former England international had lost his pace and despite some memorable moments at Old Trafford, he ended his career at Stoke City.
The youngest Barcelona player at the time, Bojan was heralded as ‘The next Lionel Messi’. In his debut season he netted 10 times and followed this up with 8 goals the season after despite fewer appearances. He continued to be a consistent if unspectacular contributor at the Nou Camp but would never have usurped the likes of Messi, Eto’o, Henry, Ibrahimavic, Sanchez, Villa and Pedro who all played in similar positions to Bojan during his time with the Bluagrana.
He switched to Roma in search of more playing minutes, but the complex deal involved a obligatory buy-back clause for Barcelona within the following 2 years, unless Roma were willing to pay a further 28 Million Euros for the Spaniard. At Roma, Bojan was unable to secure consistent playing time, his performances often lacking which resulted in a loan switch to Milan where things didn’t get any better. After returning to Barcelona, Bojan enjoyed a much more fruitful spell on loan at Ajax but he was deemed surplus to requirements at back in Spain. His inconsistent performances put off many of the bigger teams going in for him and eventually he moved to Stoke City. Despite some good performances for the Potters, Bojan’s attitude has often been questioned and resulted in him being pushed out on loan to Mainz and Alaves, where he has continued to perform inconsistently.
From being heraleded as the next Lionel Messi to not being welcomed at Stoke, Bojan has had a drastic fall from grace.
Pato burst onto the scene at the San Siro as an 18-year-old scoring 9 goals in his maiden campaign followed by 18 the year after. The Brazilian was very highly rated and justified the hype with a string of impressive European performances against Real Madrid and Barcelona.
But similar to Owen, injuries ravaged a potentially great career with recurring hamstring and thigh problems cutting short Pato’s game time and affecting his development. These really started to take effect during his 3rd season in Milan and by 2013 Pato had returned to Brazil. Back in his homeland, Pato enjoyed a prosperous spell with Corinthians and Sao Paulo but less success with a loan at Chelsea and then a move to Villarreal. After a brief spell in China, Pato is back in Brazil with Sao Paulo.
Well everyone knew Freddy Adu would show up on this list, literally the poster child for wonderkid flops. There isn’t much that I can say about Adu that hasn’t already been mentioned. The American rose to prominence as a 14-year-old playing for DC United and capped by the USMNT at 16.
Labelled as ‘The next Pele’, a move to Benfica early in his career did not pan out, and since then Adu has become a journeyman footballer plying his trade for 14 teams in 8 different countries.
For Adu, it seemed the fame came too soon and he was never able to cope with the demands. The move to Benfica did not help the situation or allow him to hone his skills. Since then he is another footballer that has become more interested with the celebrity lifestyle rather than his performances. Now the forward, still only 30 is without a team after a season with the Las Vegas Lights.