Magnificent Seven is back with a look at the seven biggest “wasted talents” – players who looked for all the world to be the next global stars but ultimately fell short. Let’s see who shows up…
Mario Balotelli (suggested by @yellowcardSCB)
Serie A winner. Champions League winner. Premier League winner. FA Cup winner. European Championship finalist. World Golden Boy winner. There’s not a lot Mario Balotelli hasn’t already accomplished in his short yet eventful career. It seems that living up to the massive hype is one of those few unaccomplished things in many people’s eyes. For all the highs (his contributions to Manchester City’s first Premier League title, Euro 2012) there have been more noticeable lows (temper tantrums, falling outs, red cards, poor form) from a player who seems to have every gift a player could want. Big, strong, quick with an excellent touch and quick wit in front of goal, he looks like the ideal striker for any side in world football. Yet, Inter got shot of him when City called who were then glad to recoup most of their money from AC Milan who were in turn just glad Liverpool needed a striker. The jury is still out on Super Mario but there is still time for him to turn it around.
Sebastian Deisler (suggested by @Davidudl)
German football has not always been the beautifully orchestrated machine you see today that churns out world beaters on an annual basis. At the turn of the millennium it was struggling, bereft of any of the excitement and verve of today’s set-up. However, there was a small glimmer of hope over in Monchengladbach as Borussia had an exciting attacker by the name of Sebastian Deisler who was setting German football on fire in a struggling side. As soon as Borussia dropped into the second tier, Deisler was off to Hertha Berlin where, despite horrible knee injuries, his form was good enough to earn a big money move to Bayern Munich. His time at Bayern was destroyed by injuries and depression meaning that after 4 years and around 60 league games, Deisler called time on his career in 2007 with 36 German caps to his name.
7. Alvaro Recoba
The first Uruguayan footballer that will generally spring to most people’s minds these days is Luis Suarez – the insanely gifted striker that can and has scored goals from everywhere and lots of them to boot. About a decade ago, Alvaro Recoba was that man for Uruguay but the similarities between he and Suarez end there. While Suarez’s commitment will never be questioned, Recoba’s could and was on a regular basis. A sublime footballer who just never fancied it sometimes (and he has admitted that in the past), it is a testament to his abilities that he spent a decade with Inter despite only showing brief glimpses of quality. He’s still playing at 38 in the Uruguayan top flight but there is a sense of what could have been had Recoba had Suarez’s work rate and desire.
6. Savio Nsereko (suggested by @Davidudl)
Ugandan born but raised in Germany, there was considerable hype around Nsereko so much so that Brescia signed him as soon as he turned 16 and gave him his professional debut before he turned 17. There was such hype that West Ham shelled out £9 million for him. Sadly the German youth international turned out to be all hype as he only played 10 times for West Ham before returning to Italy with Fiorentina for a cut price. He didn’t even play for Fiorentina and it took 6 loan spells (a combined 21 games) and a few disappearances for him to eventually be released. Most recently showed up in Kazakhstan and was arrested in Thailand for attempting to extort money from his family in 2012.
5. Ariel Ortega
The man who was heir apparent to Maradona in Argentina with his incredible dribbling, flair, eye for a pass and technique, Ortega earned 87 caps for his country and played at three World Cups. Yet, he could have been so much more. Ortega broke out with River Plate in the early 90s and eventually made his way over to Europe and played for Valencia, Sampdoria, Parma and Fenerbahce but non of those spells lasted more than a season despite the huge fees involved. Ortega’s biggest downfall was his temperamental nature which, at its worst, cost him $11,000,000 and four months of his career after he didn’t return from international duty to Fenerbahce. Ortega always had the ability but after all of the temper problems and inability to settle in Europe left him seeing out his career in Argentinean football despite his vast talent.
4. Michael Johnson
A hugely gifted product of City’s academy, Johnson burst onto the scene in the 2007-08 season before City were the multi-billion champions of the Premier League. Compared to Michael Ballack, tipped to be the future of the England midfield and wanted by Arsenal and Liverpool, he seemed set to have a great career. However, from an early stage injuries besieged the young midfielder, costing him years off his career and ending his professional career at City in 2009. His contract was kept on in the hope he would return but by the end of 2012 he was completely out of shape and quietly retired after his contract was paid up. It turned out that Johnson was never truly cut out for professional football despite his natural gifts. He received treatment in the Priory clinic for “mental health issues” while also becoming a regular on the Manchester evening scene and casinos in the city. There have been claims that City sometimes couldn’t find anything wrong with him physically despite his clear pain. Roberto Mancini said it best when he was released, “I am sad for him”.
3. Nii Lamptey
You know somebody is a special talent when Pele calls them the “next Pele”. Even more so when that talent hails from Ghana not Brazil. That was the tag given to Nii Lamptey, an explosive striker who was tearing up the Belgian league with Anderlecht. Lamptey had it all – size, speed, trickery and the knack of scoring goals. His career is sadly known more for its failures than anything else. It all began so promising at PSV and Anderlecht but a naive Lamptey had signed his rights over to a pretty shoddy agent who agreed for Lamptey to join Aston Villa without the player’s consent. So began Lamptey’s failures as he never really settled in England, with his failure knocking his fragile confidence hugely before multiple moves and personal tragedy destroyed the career of the world’s most promising youngster. His fragility was not helped by an abusive upbringing but the naivety of young Lamptey destroyed a career that looked so incredibly promising.
2. Freddy Adu
The youngest player and scorer in MLS history by some way, Adu was the incredible 14-year-old the USA were pinning their hopes on a decade ago. 10 years on and America is now holding Adu up as a cautionary tale for all youngsters, his tag as “the new Pele” used as headline fodder instead of the serious comparison it was initially meant for. Adu’s biggest problem was that he left the US at 18 for Portugal where a culture shock and lack of game time stunted his development hugely. Four loan spells away from Benfica saw him clock up a total of 28 league games and by 2011, he was back in the US looking to rebuild his career at Philadelphia Union. Again, more disappointment followed as Adu was gone after 2 years, off to Brazil for a few short months before he rocked up at Serbian side Jagodina recently where he has played only once. The second new Pele is now nothing more than a punch line and poster boy for the dangers of early hype.
A powerful striker with a hammer of a left foot, Adriano’s early career was punctuated by goal scoring in the notoriously difficult Serie A with Parma and Inter leading to many Brazilians considering him the long-term successor to Ronaldo. He was the best player and top scorer at the 2005 Confederations Cup and was Inter’s star man the following season. Sadly, that was the high point for Adriano as his partying lifestyle began to catch up with him. His form dropped, his weight shot up and he began to miss training or arrive late. Inter were struggling to reign him in and by the mid-point of the 2007-2008 season, he was loaned out to Sao Paulo after being sent back twice by Inter for poor fitness. His time at Sao Paulo was OK but he left acrimoniously after some poor professionalism caused his loan to end earlier than expected. He returned to Inter as a back-up and while he did get some goals, his rescinded his contract in April 2009 after not returning from international duty. He returned to Brazil for a good spell with Flamengo but stories of partying still dogged his career. He bombed at Roma and Corinthians as his weight really ballooned and he hasn’t played a professional game in around 2 years at this point. The long-term successor to Ronaldo is now just a sad sight to behold.
Those were the biggest wastes of talent. Of course, if you have your own suggestions then let us know @LongBallFoot on Twitter. Special thanks to @yellowcardSCB and @Davidudl for their suggestions. Stay tuned for more from The Long Ball coming soon.