For all the wonderkids and the talented players that are born around the world every year, there are many that seem to sparkle before eventually fizzling out. For reasons of injury, morale, or just a general lack of interest in the game, many have blown their chances to make it big, and have become the football world’s hardly-knowns.
Here is a list of 5 players who threatened to dominate world football, before slowly sliding into obscurity:
1. Andy Van Der Meyde
Andy Van der Meyde once was an integral part of an Ajax team that also included the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rafael Van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder, and was seen as one of the best young players in world football.
However, after a difficult spell with Inter Milan, he started developing drinking problems and depression, which saw both life and career spiral out of control.
A move to Everton didn’t help him either, as an extra-marital affair and further issues with drug abuse saw his footballing hopes slide slowly into obscurity. After being released by Everton, he had brief spells with Dutch clubs PSV and WKE, before calling time on his career at the age of 31.
When asked about how he threw his career away, he says:
“I was an idiot and sometimes I lie in bed and think about it, ‘Wow man, come on Andy you were a good player’.
“At one moment I was second behind Luis Figo as the best winger in Europe and sometimes I think I wasted it. That is a lesson and now want to help other players and help them not make the same mistakes I did.”
A mercurial player if ever there was one, Adriano showed through his career both the good and the bad in the life of a footballer, enjoying great success and then plummeting to greater depths thereafter.
He won multiple league titles in both Italy and Brazil, as well as the Copa America and the Confederations Cup with the national side in his heyday (winning the best player’s award and the Golden Shoe in both tournaments).
However, he was also suspended and fired by a few of his clubs for missing training sessions and workouts, and at times didn’t look interested in the game, ‘winning’ the Bidone d’oro award for the worst player in the Serie A three times (2006, 2007, 2010).
Still only 31 years of age, Adriano would have had a few years of football left in him, had he not been looking like this:
3. Ricardo Quaresma
When the 17-year old Quaresma made his debut for Sporting CP, many thought that he would replace the legendary Luis Figo in the national team.
After a couple of seasons with the Portuguese club, a number of Europe’s elite made their interest in the winger known, with Barcelona finally snapping the player up for around €6 million. However, he managed only one season with the Blaugrana before moving to clubs like Porto, Inter Milan, Chelsea and Besiktas.
Known to have frequent altercations with his teammates and managers, Quaresma was suspended and released by Besiktas for launching a scathing attack on Carlos Carvalhal, and most recently was released by UAE club Al Ahli just months after he had signed for them.
4. Stephen Ireland
Just around the time when Manchester City were starting to show their financial clout, Stephen Ireland was the star in the Citizens’ midfield, playing in a team that had the likes of Robinho, Carlos Tevez, Patrick Vieira, Gareth Barry and many others. He was even adjudged the team’s Player of the Season in 2009.
However, as his attention on the game decided to wane, Ireland saw a sharp decline in his performances, with then-manager Roberto Mancini saying: “I don’t know what he is thinking about his future but, for me, Stephen is a fantastic player and if he can change his head I think he can start to play like he used to earlier.”
Ireland eventually left City for Aston Villa, but didn’t enjoy the best of times in the Midlands either, as his time at the club was disrupted by the lack of playing time and spats with manager Gerard Houllier.
“After 15 matches on the bench (at Villa), Houllier told me to stay at home,” said Ireland. “I trained during the week and on Fridays he told me, ‘no point you coming, you are not in the team’.
“Yet I was the best player in training. It was my team that won in every session. One of the few times he played me, we drew 0-0 at Chelsea and I ended up man of the match.
“Apparently that didn’t matter to him. I was stuck with being paid for doing nothing at all. I was left to myself. I had to pay out of my own pocket for medical treatment. Can you believe that?”
He spent half a season on loan at Newcastle United but played only 49 minutes of football for the club, and was in the centre of controversy again when a picture of him smoking from a sheesha pipe was posted by his girlfriend on Twitter during the regular season.
After failing to perform as well as his managers would have wanted, Ireland was made to train with the reserves, and has been sent out on loan to Stoke this season.
5. Ibrahim Afellay
Another Dutch player who lost his bearings after a sensational start, Afellay was a star at PSV Eindhoven for many years. The winger made his offical debut for PSV when he was just 17, and progressively developed with the club, becoming one of their key players as well as the captain of the side in the coming years.
After being linked with numerous big name clubs for a year, Afellay finally chose to move to Barcelona in 2011. However, a mixture of injuries and bad form has meant that the 27-year old has just made a total of 20 league appearances for the club in almost 3 years, even getting loaned out to Schalke last season.
He currently is back at Barcelona, but is out with injury and unlikely to win back a first-team place any time soon.