A new season arrives. A young prodigy bursts onto the scene, having made a name for themselves already in the youth ranks, and with so much to prove upon getting promoted to the first team. They continue to do well, eventually earning a starting position in the lineup at just 17 years old.
The solid performances just keep coming, and after a successful first season as a full professional player, big clubs come calling.
Breaking news: 14-time UCL champions Real Madrid submit a historic bid for the teenager.
It’s no surprise; the rumors were circulating for most of the season that Los Blancos were interested in him, but it’s not a rumor anymore. In little to no time at all, their bid is accepted. Within a few days, the player officially signs his contract, becoming the most expensive signing in history.
They hand the boy the number 10, much to the criticisms of many Madridistas and football fans. Soon enough, ‘overrated’ shouts on social media kick up, and the boy hasn’t even made his debut yet.
The day comes: he makes his debut for Madrid. In the 71st minute, with the team leading 2-0 in their opening day match, he is brought onto the pitch. The Santiago Bernabeu faithful roar as their newest signing steps on the legendary grass for the first time in white colors. It seemed like everything was going as planned up until this point.
Quickly, those uplifting, exciting chants turn into faint boos. The boy’s first couple touches have been dreadful, perhaps just some nerves. The fans don’t care, though. They want immediate impact.
A chance arrives as the boy is played through on a beautiful pass, falling 1 on 1 with the opposing keeper. He takes one touch to settle the ball, another to push it forward. All he has to do is place it, and he’d win over the crowd for good.
The boy’s been in this position countless times for his previous club, rarely messing up in these scenarios, and he had a golden boot to show for it. This time, though, it wasn’t meant to be.
Suddenly, he has a lapse in concentration, and although the far post of the net was gaping, he opts to round the keeper in the last second. Unsuccessfully so. Thanks to a bad touch, the keeper reads him like a book and dives for the ball. Chance gone.
The whistles from the crowd are louder than ever, and they only get louder as the official blows for full time. It’s almost as if they forgot that they had won 2-0. Truthfully, it seems like all they really wanted was for the boy to prove his worth.
The season goes on, and despite occasional moments of brilliance that he had so often shown in his previous club, he simply did not live up to his potential, let alone his insane price tag.
At the end of the season, Real Madrid celebrated yet another UCL victory, along with a La Liga trophy to show for it, but the boy played little to no role in these successes. He was often on the bench for much of the season, much to the appreciation of Madridistas around the world.
Not long after the summer transfer window opens, Madrid accept a bid from a mid-table club in a different league for less than half the amount that they originally paid for him. The now 18-year-old’s time at the peak of European football had been short-lived, and now it’s officially over.
It’s a scenario we see time and time again in the football world. Whether it’s because of long-term injury, tactical changes, personal circumstances, loads of pressure, or simply because the player in question just was never as good as people expected him to be, the story of unfulfilled potential and failed expectations is a recurring theme in the beautiful game.
In the end, the story of unfulfilled potential serves as a reminder that football, like life itself, can be unpredictable and full of twists and turns. It is the unpredictable nature of the game that keeps us intrigued, as we witness the rise and fall of players, the triumphs and disappointments, and the constant search for the next footballing superstar.
Keep reading as we list a number of stars, past and present, that unfortunately failed to live up to their expectations, categorized by the reasons they came up short. 😔
It’s quite possibly the most common problem that footballers come across. Ironically enough, it seems like it only ever happens to the good ones. Ever prepared to watch a match of your favorite club, only for the lineups to get announced and your star player is nowhere to be found? It’s frustrating.
Marco Reus: Perhaps one of the unluckiest players of this generation, The Borussia Dortmund and Germany forward has been plagued by injuries throughout his career. A last-second injury ruled him out of the 2014 World Cup, so unfortunately, he’s not a world champion.
Although he did manage to play in Russia in 2018, Germany infamously crashed out in the group stage. Failing to recover in time from an ankle injury subsequently kept him out of the World Cup in Qatar last year.
To this day, Reus has struggled to maintain consistent fitness, which has hindered his ability to remain consistent at the highest level. Despite this, he is undoubtedly a Dortmund legend, and as their captain, he is a key player for the squad whenever he’s able to suit up. But we’re only left to imagine how much more he would have achieved if not for his injuries.
Ousmane Dembélé: Dembélé joined Barcelona in 2017 as a highly promising young talent, fresh off a stellar breakthrough season for Borussia Dortmund. However, a series of injuries, including muscle problems and a long-term hamstring injury, limited his minutes over the next few seasons. Up until recently, Barcelona had simply not been able to count on him.
Against all odds, the Frenchman has had a career revival of sorts, beginning midway through the 21-22 season when it seemed like he was on his way out of the club. However, the window closed, and he went on to link up with new signing and former Dortmund teammate Aubameyang for the rest of the season. Dembele’s performances were incredible, and despite Barcelona going trophyless, it was clear that the club could finally rely on the winger and justify his signing five years prior.
Radamel Falcao: The Colombian striker was a world-breaker for most of his career, so he’s hardly a flop in the grand scheme of things. He was world class for Porto, Atletico Madrid and Monaco, and he’s a legend for the Colombia national team. However, he suffered an ACL injury in 2014, which ruled him out of the remainder of the 13-14 season, as well as the World Cup.
From this moment on, Falcao was not the same player, and simply could not replicate the incredible goalscoring form and fitness that had earned him the nickname “El Tigre”. Subsequent loans to Chelsea and Manchester United were total failures, and he eventually returned to Monaco.
This return season was quite successful, though. As new captain of the side, he led Monaco - alongside a teenage Kylian Mbappe - to a Ligue 1 title and the semi-finals of the UCL. Falcao finished the season with 30 goals in 43 games.
It happens to us in our daily lives as regular people. Who’s to say famous athletes don’t experience it, too? Here are some notable players that had severe declines in their career because of personal issues that seeped into their performances.
Ronaldinho: The Samba footy legend himself is perhaps the epitome of what it means to play beautifully. Unfortunately, that magic we were so used to watching day in day out started to fade, beginning after Brazil’s shock 2006 quarter-finals exit at the hands of France. Many put the blame on Dinho, as it was reported that he was partying a lot before and after matches.
Sadly, he would not really bounce back from this. Although he still produced world class moments for Barcelona in the following two seasons, he continued his partying antics, and was slowly becoming a bad example for the squad - and a certain young Argentine genius.
Ultimately his partying habits and lack of discipline got him shipped out of Catalunya, and although at one point he had a slight revival in the later years of his AC Milan, he would never return to his very best.
Adriano: The Brazilian forward was once upon a time one of best strikers in the world. Sadly, his career took a sharp turn for the worse upon his receiving of the news that his father had passed away. It sent him to a dark place, which sprouted partying and drinking problems that ultimately destroyed the on-field consistency and dominance that he was famous for, hence earning the nickname “The Emperor”.
Near the end of his second-stint with Inter Milan, he would be sent back to Brazil for a year for rehab purposes, but it would do little for him in the long-term. Jumping around to different clubs in Brazil and a brief return to Europe to play for Roma summed up the rest of his career. He never truly bounced back, and he would eventually retire in 2016 at 36 years of age as a shadow of the goalscoring genius he once was.
Emmanuel Adebayor: The Togolese striker’s career took a turn for the worse after he made a controversial move from Arsenal to Man City in 2009. Despite enjoying a decent start with the Blues, his performances and attitude were called into question in later seasons. He had clashes with fans, disciplinary issues and his commitment to the team was often scrutinized.
You might remember his infamous celebration vs. the Gunners, where he ran the full length of the field to celebrate in front of the Arsenal faithful. They were not too happy with the act, to say the least.
Adebayor had subsequent spells at clubs such as Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur, but he would never regain his consistency. For the remainder of his career, he would bounce around many other clubs, eventually retiring just a few months ago in March.
Hatem Ben Arfa: If you didn’t previously know, Ben Arfa came up in the Lyon ranks alongside Karim Benzema. One went on to become one of the best strikers of the modern game, and the other never amounted to much at the highest level.
Despite his exceptional talent highlighted by his magical dribbling abilities and flair, the now 36-year-old’s career is heavily overshadowed by his inability to stay away from controversy. Following a heated clash late last year with the Lille coaching staff that led to his permanent suspension from the club, his former agent spoke out. He didn’t hold back at all.
“Hatem is 35 now, but he'll be 17 years old all his life. He's a child. I'm sure some psychiatrists would rack their brains over a character as difficult as Hatem's.”
This attitude was very visible in his various other disagreements and issues throughout his career. Bad relationships with coaches like Laurent Blanc and Didier Deshcamps, as well as various teammates and coaching staff members at Newcastle, Marseille and the French national team all damaged his reputation.
Currently, Ben Arfa is a free agent.
Dele Alli: During his early years at Tottenham, the English midfielder made an immediate impact. He showcased his versatility, technical ability, and goal-scoring prowess, putting up 32 goals across his first two seasons with the team. He had become an integral part of the squad under then-manager Mauricio Pochettino, culminating in a UCL final appearance in 2019.
It all went downhill when Pochettino was sacked just 5 months after that loss vs. Liverpool in Madrid. Spurs would quickly hire Jose Mourinho, but the iconic manager could not bring the best out of a struggling Dele Alli. In the following seasons, he would go through some off-field controversies that had many once again questioning his maturity. On top of that, the midfielder would be robbed and injured by knife-wielders at his North London home in May of 2020.
In short, disciplinary issues mixed with injury problems and unfortunate real-world circumstances have held back Alli from achieving his full potential. And at just 27 years of age, there is still plenty of time for a career resurrection. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen in his brief loan to Besiktas this past season.
Robinho: The Brazilian forward emerged as a highly promising talent at a young age and gained global attention when he signed for Real Madrid in 2005.
During his time with Los Blancos, Robinho showcased his exceptional dribbling skills, close ball control, and flair on the field. He had the ability to produce magical moments and create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. However, despite his undeniable talent, Robinho struggled to consistently deliver at the highest level.
Robinho's time at Real Madrid was followed by spells at other clubs including Manchester City, AC Milan and Santos. While he had some bright moments, he failed to establish himself as a true superstar and fell short of the expectations placed upon him. Inconsistency, off-field controversies, and reported issues with attitude and work ethic ultimately held him back.
Although his time in Europe had long been expired, Robinho's remaining career faced a huge setback when he was convicted of sexual assault in 2017. The incident tarnished his reputation, and he had no choice but to hang up his boots in 2020.