Every even year, the FIFA under-17 and under-20 World Cups happen; they are tournaments that reveal some of the next big names in world football, while some others also emerge from youth teams and academies into some of the biggest clubs sides in the World.
However, despite the immense outstanding talents that they show, many of them fail to live up to expectations.
For every Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé, Andres Iniesta, Victor Osimhen, and several others who managed to follow up their youthful exuberance with a long and successful football career, there are several others who failed to live up to expectations.
Although not for the lack of talent, but the majority of these players fizzle out because of injuries, lack of opportunities, wrong career move, sometimes attitude and lack of will to stay dedicated and so on and so forth.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the top 10 soccer players who did not reach their potential.
1. Jack Wilshere
Arsenal’s youngest-ever league debutant, Jack Wilshere, bounced into professional football as a sixteen-year-old in 2008 and bossed the midfield in his first few years, including outstanding UEFA Champions League performances against European elites.
His performance alongside Aaron Ramsey against a golden generation of Barcelona team that had Iniesta and Xavi was discussed all around.
In fact, many expected him to surpass the likes of Gerrard, Lampard, and other top English midfielders who came before him.
Unfortunately, injury stopped Wilshere from fulfilling any of those expected potentials.
His goal against Norwich in 2013 still remains one of the best Premier League goals, and at 31, when he was supposed to be in his prime, he coaches Arsenal’s u18 team.
2. Freddy Adu
It may seem like rhetoric and redundancy now, but no loss about footballing disappointment like this would be complete without Freddy Adu.
He’s the biggest unfulfilled potential in the world of football.
Freddy Adu was already dubbed “next Pele” just aged fourteen; he had a contract with Nike worth around $700,000.
He made his career debut in the MLS at fourteen. The weight of expectations and the success of the MLS was firmly placed on his shoulders.
That never worked out, and he eventually became a journeyman as his performances failed to impress the big clubs.
His case, though, can be blamed on pressure set at the early stages of his career and lack of needed talent in elite football.
3. Alexandre Pato
Sometimes, it always seems like the only club Pato actually played for is AC Milan; oh, Chelsea.
It’s always hard to remember, and there are many more clubs on the CV of the Brazilian forward who many expected would lead Le Selecao’s forward line for a long time.
Alexandre Pato was already a starter and a Seria A winner at the age of 21 for AC Milan, but a promising career was blighted with injuries.
A return to his roots in Brazil, time in Spain with Villarreal, and then the Chinese Super League never saw him reach half of his potential.
Anderson represented Brazil in the South American under-17 Championship in April 2005. Later that year in October, he played in the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Championship, where he won the Golden Ball award as Brazil finished in second place.
Anderson’s best career time was with Manchester United at Old Trafford, but after that, he never reached the heights despite winning the Golden Boy Award in 2008.
Unfortunately, Anderson’s failure was purely an inability to meet up with the quality needed, and they spent a few years globe-trotting before retiring and becoming an assistant manager in Turkey.
5. Mario Götze
Mario is one of the few players who are on the list and still playing professionally and even in an elite top flight.
The 30-year-old scored the winning goal at the 2014 FIFA World Cup for Germany against Argentina.
However, even that does not save him from the painful tag of being tagged a failed prospect.
Mario Gotze played for Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, winning a lot of trophies, but his biggest problem was the frequent injuries he faced which meant that he never reached 100% of his potential.
That brings into retrospect what would have been if he remained fully fit.
He went to the Netherlands and played for PSV and is currently with Eintracht Frankfurt, but he is on the wrong side of 30; it doesn’t look like Gotze would ever be where many thought he would be.
6. Mario Balotelli
If there is any player who would wish to turn back the hands of time and do things differently, then it’s definitely Mario Balotelli.
The striker definitely let attitude become his kryptonite, and without injury problems, the only thing that could stop Balotelli was himself, and that’s exactly what he did.
He started his career brightly with some of the biggest clubs across Europe, and also some of the biggest individual performances for the club and Italy.
However, with each stint was one or two behavioral sabotage, and at 32, playing in Switzerland, Balotelli could have been more than just a bad boy.
Adriano’s case is a sad one, Brazilian could have easily become one of the greatest to play the game if only he had done so for a long, but unfortunately, nature wasn’t kind to the Brazilian.
His time at Inter Milan was one of the most remarkable stints a player would have anywhere.
He was unstoppable with his speed, energy, shot power, and everything. His left leg was a devastating weapon as he won multiple titles with the Nerazzuri.
He was not part of the Brazil team in the 2022 FIFA World Cup that Brazil won, but he was expected to take the role of Ronaldo after his retirement.
However, the death of Adriano’s father also meant the death of his drive to play football and his career as well.
A return didn’t turn things around as he battled depression, amongst many other things, and despite the early sparkles, the journey through the dark tunnels didn’t bring a light at the end of it for Adriano.
8. Bojan Krkić
Bojan Krkić recently retired from professional without any noise, a sad, very early end for a man that came from Barcelona’s football academy “La Masia” and was considered the new Messi.
He’s the biggest European kid that disappointed a lot of analysts and fans who expected a blossoming career.
As early as 17, the winger was on the lips of Blaugrana fans.
His debut season saw him score 10 goals in his debut season.
His problem wasn’t quite visible, but Bojan didn’t churn out expected performances before going on several loan deals before leaving the club in 2011 with 41 goals in 163 appearances.
Whilst playing for Real Madrid in the early stages of his career, a lot expected plenty from Brazilian Robinho.
Whether it was the wrong move to leave the Santiago Bernabeu for Manchester City when they were starting their Arab project or not, something actually went wrong the moment he left Real Madrid.
Robinho joined Manchester City and was expected to lead a new era for the club to become what they are today. However, that did not happen.
Despite playing for Real Madrid, Manchester City, AC Milan, and some big clubs in his career, Robinho did not reach the potential expected of him and never laid down any big mark anywhere.
Robinho’s inconsistency and lack of discipline may have contributed to his failure to become a great soccer player.
10. Federico Macheda
Federico Macheda’s only spark was scoring a late minute winner goal in his debut against Aston Villa in 2009 for Manchester United in the Premier League.
The former Manchester United striker, was considered a “crazy talented” player who was expected to become “the next big thing” but he failed to live up to his potential due to injuries and a failure to perform consistently
The pressure of expectations followed him with every single loan move he made, and even at 31; he still goes on loans.
The Italian didn’t even make a senior Italian national team appearance as bad as it was.
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