Being brandished a player with incredible ability and potential may be fantastic for one’s self-confidence. But with such praise, criticism does come easily and sometimes the greatest of players will crumble and fade away when they are tipped as a world-class talent of the game. You’ve seen it all before – your one-season wonders, the young starlets dubbed world-beaters after merely a few games. Yet very few will ever realise the potential they supposedly have, with the majority destined to collect dust as a back-shelf alternative. It’s not always the player’s fault – a tyrannous managerial reign may demand a mass exodus or injury could take its toll.Generally though, few players can maintain supreme quality for the most part of their career and there will always be patches where those formerly seeing the net bulge on the European stage are struggling in the depths of mediocrity.We look at five players in particular who, although once remarkable talents, have been practically forgotten.
#1 Lukas Podolski
Köln to Arsenal. Arsenal to Inter. Inter to Galatasaray. Many believed that when Lukas Podolski, bolstering one of the sharpest eyes for goal in world football, made the switch to North London in 2012, he would remain a key fixture in the Gunners setup for years to come. How wrong such predictions turned out to be.
As Arsene Wenger’s side continued to search desperately for the striking solution that could hand them a title, the German forward remained a solid choice up top and always seemed to find the net when it counted most. After helping Germany lift the World Cup in 2014, the German was eyeing a first-team starting spot. But the arrival of Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona and the emergence of Olivier Giroud as Arsenal’s most sound option going forward left Podolski frustrated at his involvement.
After quoting in November 2014, “Of course, I am not happy with my situation right now. I can't be satisfied with that. It is hard when you can't do what you love,” the former-Bayern forward was evidently unsettled and Arsenal loaned him out to Inter Milan in January this year.
The media were quick to react to Lukas’ transfer, claiming it was poor judgment on Roberto Mancini’s part to bring in the out-of-favour German. He was even voted the Serie A’s second worst signing in a Gazzetta dello Sport poll.
“Podolski must do more,” Mancini had said, as reported in The Independent. “What he's doing is not enough and he's the first to recognise that.”
After returning to the Emirates off the back of a less than fruitful spell in Italy’s top flight, the 3-year-old German moved to Galatasaray, where one would expect his once star-studded career will now rot away.
The Oviedo-born Spaniard really did encapsulate the magnetic DNA of Swansea’s 2013 League Cup winning side. Initially brought in to supersede the departed Gylfi Sigurdsson in the no.10 role, Michu’s fine eye for a pass was matched by his killer finishing – inaugurating a transition to the top of the tree where he was even more successful.
It was a bizarre turn of events which mark Michu’s name on this list. In the 2012/13 season, the forward flirted with the Premier League top scorer’s spot – a frankly admirable feat considering he was relatively unheard of come his arrival in the summer of 2012. Finishing on 18 goals for the season, Michu’s brace in the League Cup semi-final away to Chelsea earned him a bumper 4-year contract with the Swans and, following their emphatic triumph and Michu’s goal in the final, everything seemed all fine and dandy.
This, however, is yet again a case of a club’s success being an individual’s downfall. Swansea lured in more attacking options to provide support for Michu, with David N’gog arriving from Bolton and, perhaps more notably, Wilfried Bony from Vitesse Arnheim. Any doubters of Bony’s quality were shortly silenced, as the Ivory Coast forward nudged Michu out of the frame with his clinical form in front of goal.
Following the arrival of Bafetimbi Gomis at the start of the 2014/15 season, Michu was loaned out to Napoli where he also received minimal game time. The 29-year-old forward now sits on the fringes of the Swansea first-team and some may be forgiven for failing to realise he’s still in the EPL with a lot of talk of his contract being terminated if he didn’t find another club.
#3 Alexandre Pato
Believe it or not, this Brazilian sharpshooter has surpassed the days of being a wonder-kid blessed with flair and skill. At 26 years old, he is desperately struggling to find the form that secured the title of AC Milan’s predominant talisman.
Sandwiched between the transcendent talents of Ronaldo and Kaka, Pato was once the most captivating teenage dynamo gracing world football. Having bagged 9 Serie A goals in his debut season for the Rossoneri after making the switch from Internacional, the footballing community anticipated that Milan had found a pure gem.
Pato’s reliance on raw speed and movement in the final third told when a catalogue of injuries plagued his remaining Milan days. When fit, he was as prolific as any, but seldom could he shrug off the burden of recurring muscular issues. Despite rumours years before about a bumper switch to PSG, Pato and Milan saw fit for the Brazilian to return to his homeland with Corinthians.
A goal on his debut against Oeste would perhaps be the pinnacle of his time with Time do Povo who were growing concerned with Pato’s lack of confidence when through on goal. Regardless of coach Adenor Leonardo Bacchi or ‘Tite’ continually defending his player at the time, pressure mounted and the unveiling of a new tactical system by Tite’s replacement left Pato redundant and a move to São Paulo shortly followed.
Now trying to find his feet with another outfit from Brazil, memories of Pato unravelling the meanest defences Europe had to offer have been long forgotten.
#4 Josh McEachran
Tipped to be the future nucleus of Chelsea’s industrious midfield, perhaps even Frank Lampard’s successor, Josh McEachran had everything on his side – raw quality, age and a club boasting an accelerating pedigree. Yet, with all the grand bonuses of being a Blues player, McEachran also felt the wrath of the negatives.
Despite an impressive 2009/10 season, in which he helped the Chelsea youth side lift the FA Youth Cup, the midfielder’s debut callup to the first team in a League Cup affair against Blackburn Rovers in December would be his last for that season.
An obese transfer kitty inflicted further damage to his credentials as Chelsea continued to invest in new, namely foreign, blood. As a result, the Oxford-born Blue fell further down the pecking order. Fast forward to the present and, following a string of five loan spells in three years, McEachran was sold to Brentford for an undisclosed fee, rumoured to be in the region of £750,000 – hardly the mammoth price tag his early-career warranted.
With an eager attitude, great versatility to play across the middle of the park and expert vision, there is no doubting the 22-year-old can still work his way into a top-flight side. It was ultimately a lack of game time which negated his natural ability and Brentford may provide the Englishman with the perfect foundations for a more sustainable future.
#5 Ryan Babel
Product of the highly acclaimed Ajax youth academy, Ryan Babel was always going to struggle to live up to the gargantuan reputation previously laid down by the likes of Frank Rijkaard and Johan Cruyff. But his truly rapid decline from one of the Netherlands’ finest young prospects to a dwindling figure playing in the UAE was something very few would have envisaged.
Reaching nine shy of a century of appearances at Liverpool, Babel managed just 12 goals and was often deployed on the flank where he seemed far less influential. In his time at Anfield, Ryan saw three managerial reigns, which only flustered him further and he failed to string together a series of consecutive games.
The next stop was Hoffenheim, where the Dutchman may have seen more regular action. In a league of lesser physicality, he was expected to thrive, but instead it was to be no more than another lacklustre few campaigns, which resulted in him eventually buying out the remainder of his contract to become a free agent.
Ajax snapped their former forward up for a short stint before Ryan opted for a peculiar move to Turkey with Kasmpaa, where he racked up a further 58 appearances before an even more staggering transfer caught the headlines (or in the context of this article didn’t), when Babel joined Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates.