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4 Genuine Football Wonderkids That Didn't Fulfil Their Potential

4 Genuine Football Wonderkids That Didn't Fulfil Their Potential

Four football wonderkids who couldn’t fulfil their potential and get to the very top of the game

Forlorn players that didn't fulfil their potential

Late in the 2020 summer transfer window, Theo Walcott joined Southampton on a season-long loan from Everton.

The cyclical nature of this transfer will please the football romantics; Walcott has returned to the club where it all began and where he burst onto the scene aged just 16.

However, having never hit the dizzy heights many predicted at Arsenal, and with his spell at Everton largely unsuccessful, is his career a tale of unfulfilled potential?

This post explores four football wonderkids who never quite lived up to the hype.

Fraser Spinney from Post and In makes his debut for The Sporting Blog with a piece on unfulfilled promises.

Theo Walcott

Club appearances: 563

Club goals/assists: 132/95

International appearances: 47

International goals: 8

Fourteen years after leaving the south coast to head to north London for a fee of £5m plus add-ons, Theo Walcott has returned to his boyhood club. '

He returns having forged a decent Premier League career but having not hit the levels many had anticipated for Walcott when he left as a 17-year-old.

Walcott broke through very early at Southampton and became their youngest ever first-team player when he came off the bench in a 0-0 draw at home to Wolves in the Championship at just 16 years and 143 days.

Walcott would also become Southampton’s youngest ever goal scorer, scoring in a 2-1 defeat to Wolves in his full debut before scoring in the following two matches.

Premier League clubs were very much aware of the young speedster’s potential and had already begun circling.

Walcott signed for Arsenal just a matter of months after his senior debut in the 2006 January transfer window but did not feature for the first team, meaning that he finished his debut season with 5 goals in 23 games in all competitions, all for Southampton.

Despite not appearing for Arsenal between signing and the season ending, Walcott was a surprise inclusion in the England squad for the 2006 World Cup.

A bold move by Sven Goran-Eriksson and one that raised the eyebrows of England fans around the country.

Theo Walcott's first interview after rejoining Southampton, the club he started his career at.

He had impressed in the Championship, yes, but he had not played a solitary Premier League minute let alone played for his country. On reflection, his inclusion in the squad was not justified as he did not make a single appearance and it is difficult to envisage a scenario where he would have been needed.

It was a World Cup which ended dismally for England with a Quarter-Final exit at the hands of Portugal following a Wayne Rooney red card and penalty shootout.

However, Walcott had become England’s youngest-ever player by appearing in a pre-tournament friendly victory over Hungary aged 17 years and 75 days.

In the early days at Arsenal, Walcott was used sparingly by Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman was keen to allow the youngster to develop and this was reflected in his appearances, although he featured heavily in the Carling Cup.

In fact, it was in the final of this competition that he scored his first Arsenal goal, although the day ended in defeat with Chelsea running out 2-1 winners.

Walcott really arrived on the world stage in his second competitive appearance for England. In September 2008 he scored a hat-trick away against Croatia in a 4-1 England win.

This made him the youngest hat-trick scorer for the England national side and the first to score a treble since Michael Owen in 2001.

However, perhaps it could be said that in this moment, aged just 19, Walcott’s career peaked. Despite this performance in Zagreb, Walcott failed to make the 2010 World Cup squad.

In fact, he has never made a World Cup appearance. This despite the fact he travelled to the World Cup in Germany a fresh-faced 17-year-old. His first World Cup was to be his last.

When you consider Walcott as a winger then his goal contributions in his time at Arsenal aren’t bad, but they are also not exceptional. He has always been very much a confidence player, reflected by the theme of scoring braces and hattricks but not regularly scoring game after game.

The 2013/14 season was Walcott’s best for Arsenal, with 21 goals, 19 of which were scored when playing on the right-wing.

This is a position Walcott was desperate to move from for long periods of his career, he was convinced he should be a centre forward and regularly said as much openly.

However, Wenger never felt he had the right attributes to play this role for any prolonged period of time.

The early comparisons to Henry, not helped by Walcott adopting the number 14 shirt, never really came to fruition. Walcott was not the ice-cold Henry; he was a player who was at times unplayable but nowhere near regularly enough to reflect the early promise his career had shown.

The right-wing/centre forward debate that followed Walcott throughout his career certainly won’t have helped him but cannot be blamed for his failure to fulfil his potential.

Injuries may have played their part at times, but again are not to blame. While Walcott’s early years were full of promise and his electric pace terrified defenders throughout his career, he always lacked a cutting edge.

He simply was not clinical enough and his final ball and decision-making were all too often lacking. He has often been labelled as lacking a football brain and when you look back at his career this makes sense. A talented player who didn’t have the tools to take himself to the top level.

Now that he is 31 and back at Southampton, via Everton, he will be keen to make the most of the twilight years of his career. He is home and this can only be a good thing for him.

The fans will be hoping he can discover the form that made every team in England chase his signature all those years ago. He may be a success at Southampton once again and the nostalgia of his first spell will likely give him some extra credit with fans of the club.

With 75 Premier League goals, 47 England caps and three FA Cup wins it may seem harsh to write his career off as unfulfilled but it is a reflection of his early promise that you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t feel he could have been so much more.


Club appearances: 300

Club goals/assists: 137/37

International appearances: 48

International goals: 27

A cannon of a left foot and the ability and physicality to match. Adriano was touted as the successor to Ronaldo’s Brazilian throne. In the early 2000s Adriano looked every bit that player. First at Parma and then at Inter Milan he was scoring a wealth of goals and he won the first of his four consecutive Serie A titles with Inter in the 2005/06 season.

The man he was compared to, Ronaldo, had also played for Inter Milan and Adriano was to take on the berth of Brazil’s goal scorer when Ronaldo was ruled out of the 2004 Copa America.

Adriano flourished, guiding Brazil to the trophy and finishing top scorer of the competition along the way with seven goals. The following year he also finished top scorer in the FIFA Confederations Cup, scoring five goals on Brazil’s way to the title.

Adriano was scoring goals, winning titles and looking every bit the player his country hoped he would be, so what could derail this prodigy? Unfortunately, the death of his father. Adriano’s father passed away prematurely in 2004 and the effect on the striker was colossal.

Adriano - He was really, really good.

Adriano - He was really, really good.

Javier Zanetti, the Inter captain at the time, has since spoken about the effect that Adriano’s father’s death had on the Brazilian.

He recalls the scream of Adriano on the night he received the phone call to tell him of his father’s passing and states that failing to be able to help Adriano with the depression that followed as his greatest regret in his career.

He has publicly said that from that day on Adriano was never the same.

“Adriano played football for two reasons: to make his watching father proud and to earn money. “

With his father’s death and having more money than any normal person could dream of, where was his motivation to carry on for Adriano?

He continued to struggle and battled with alcoholism.

He gained weight and lost the desire to train and play. His Inter career was difficult in the years that followed and his contract was eventually terminated in 2009, with loan spells to his native Brazil included in that time.

He returned once more to Brazil in an attempt to rebuild his career and was an instant success, guiding Flamengo to the title.

Following his success in his homeland, Roma signed Adriano on a three-year deal in 2010.

This was to be the end of Adriano’s revival. After zero goals in eight appearances, Adriano’s contract was terminated just seven months later and Adriano drifted into football obscurity, making only five more professional appearances and retiring in 2016 aged 34.

A career robbed by his father’s death and the effects it had on the young striker. It was said that he lived in fear of becoming the man of the family and when his father’s passing forced him to take on this mantle he struggled.

In November 2014 he was cleared of a drug trafficking charge due to insufficient evidence and pictures have emerged of him involved in a gang in his homeland. Not an image befitting of a man who averaged better than a goal every other game for his country in his 47 appearances.

Bojan Krkic

Club appearances: 398

Club goals/assists: 81/37

International appearances: 1

International goals: 0

Despite being only three years his junior, Bojan was supposed to be the next Messi. A product of the world-renowned La Masia academy and of a similar stature to the diminutive Argentine, the reasons for the comparisons were clear to see.

However, at just 30 Bojan is now playing for Montreal Impact in the MLS having failed to make an impact at a string of clubs since his Barcelona departure in 2011.

Bojan made his La Liga debut aged just 17 years and 19 days, which saw him take the record previously held by Messi as the youngest player to play for Barcelona in the competition.

Three days later he broke another record by becoming Barcelona’s youngest player to feature in the Champions League when he came off the bench against Lyon in the Champions League group stages.

In this same season, 2007/08, Bojan would become the first player born in the 1990s to score in the Champions League.

The records kept on coming for the youngster, with his ten goals seeing him beat Raúl’s record of goals scored in a debut La Liga season.

Bojan Krkic best goals

However, the sad truth of Bojan’s career is that this debut season remains his most prolific of his career.

A forward whose best season in front of goal was his first, and 13 seasons on he has failed to reach double figures for league goals in a season since.

He left Barcelona for Roma in 2011 after finding game time increasingly hard to come by with Messi, David Villa and Pedro blocking his path to the team.

He scored seven goals in 33 appearances in Serie A for Roma in his solitary season at the club and was loaned to AC Milan for the 2012/13 season where he managed three league goals.

He was to get one last chance at a top European club the following year with a loan move to Ajax.

Four goals in 24 league games followed. Bojan’s career was slipping away from him already and a move to the Premier League with Stoke seemed very much a last chance saloon.

Five injury-hit seasons followed, with seven league goals in the 2015/16 season his best return in England.

Bojan’s career was one that started with such promise, his dribbling and technical ability seemed to be complemented by his eye for goal so where did it all go wrong for him?

Bojan struggled immensely with the comparisons to Messi, as almost any player would. To have so much hope on one young man’s shoulders would have felt like the weight of the world with Barcelona and Spain fans alike desperate for their newest prodigy to succeed.

Being able to deal with the pressure is so often the difference between a successful career and one that is unfulfilled.

Bojan often found it difficult to compete with his slight physique and struggled to adapt his game to allow himself to be heavily involved in play.

Too often on the periphery of games he found it difficult to make an impression on games, reflected by his goal tallies throughout his career.

It appears that the biggest factor in Bojan’s inability to reach the potential many felt his early years indicated was the mental side of the game.

Bojan was called up to the Spain senior side a number of times before he eventually earned his solitary cap in September 2008 against Armenia.

He pulled out of what would have been his maiden senior call up and then asked to be left out of the Euro 2008 squad for his country citing personal reasons.

Spain won Euro 2008 thanks to a 1-0 win over Germany in the final. Bojan would more than likely have made the squad and this can’t have been easy to watch.

However, the issues surrounding this were revealed in an interview with The Guardian in 2018 where Bojan spoke of the anxiety and panic attacks he struggled within the early years of his career.

This, he said, led to him making up excuses to prevent him from joining up with the national side.

Bojan’s story is one with sad undertones to it. A player with so much potential, who broke through so young, but due to his mental struggles he failed to live up to his huge potential.

His career drifted by and although he is still only 30 it is difficult to envisage him playing at the top level again. Burdened by the label of the next Messi, Bojan could not deal with the pressure of being Barcelona’s newest star.

Hatem Ben Arfa

Club appearances: 395

Club goals/assists: 73/58

International appearances: 15

International goals: 2

Hatem Ben Arfa is a mercurial talent. His close control and dribbling ability are his biggest strengths and when his head is in the right place and he’s on form he is unplayable.

The problem with Ben Arfa’s career is the majority of the time his head isn’t in the right place and he looks disinterested.

In 1999, as a 12-year-old, Ben Arfa was selected to attend the Clairefontaine academy.

The Clairefontaine academy is France’s National football centre and young players who are identified as possessing a lot of talent are selected to attend, with the likes of Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka and Kylian Mbappe all having passed through.

Ben Arfa spent three years at the academy before being picked up by Lyon who had just won their first Ligue 1 title.

In his time at Clairefontaine, he was recorded having a heated dispute with Abou Diaby in a documentary following France’s young stars.

This proved to be a sign of things to come with Ben Arfa regularly falling out with fellow players and staff throughout his career.

Hatem Ben Arfa - Outrageous Skills

Ben Arfa had been labelled a prodigy when he was signed by Lyon at 15 and two years later he was promoted to the first team alongside Karim Benzema.

Ben Arfa’s success at Lyon was overshadowed by Benzema and there were rumours of bad blood between the pair, although the board acted to squash this when Ben Arfa signed a new contract.

However, he would not last long at Lyon, with a training ground bust-up with Sébastien Squillaci a key factor as he left the club in 2008. Due to their career starting in similar manners at the same club it is easy to draw comparisons between Ben Arfa and Benzema.

One has spent over a decade as Real Madrid’s main striker and one has bounced from club to club, failing to live up to his potential.

Ben Arfa joined Lyon’s bitter rivals, Marseille, in the summer of 2008 in a transfer shrouded in controversy.

Ben Arfa claimed he had signed for Marseille but Lyon disputed this and the transfer was decided by the board of Ligue 1. Ben Arfa spoke publicly and accused his former club of lacking class.

It took 15 days at his new club for Ben Arfa to be involved in a training ground dispute, this time with Djibril Cissé.

During the warm-up for a Champions League tie against Liverpool Ben Arfa once again found reason to fight with a team mate, Cameroon international Modeste M’bami this time.

Seemingly constant disagreements followed, and the final straw came when Ben Arfa claimed that his relationship with manager Didier Deschamps, who has since guided France to World Cup glory, had turned sour and was damaged beyond repair.

A move to England materialised in 2010, with Newcastle his destination on a year-long loan. Despite the Frenchman spending a significant portion of the season out injured with a broken tibia and fibula, Newcastle has seen enough to sign him permanently.

Moments of brilliance followed but also many periods where fans wanted so much more from the talented free spirit.

There is no doubt that Ben Arfa’s time in England is best remembered for his fantastic solo goal against Bolton Wanderers where he picked up the ball in his own half and beat four Bolton players before slotting home.

Unfortunately, injuries hampered his time in England and an unsuccessful loan spell at Hull in 2014, in which Steve Bruce admitted he did not know where Ben Arfa was after he had stopped turning up to training, led to Newcastle cancelling his contract on January 2015.

Nice took a risk and signed Ben Arfa as a free agent and after six months of being unable to play due to featuring for both Newcastle under-23s and Hull that season, he was able to play at the start of the 2015/16 season.

He rewarded them with the best season of his career with a return of 17 league goals in 34 games.

This saw him move to PSG, where he struggled to make an impact in his two years.

Ben Arfa’s talent has never been in question but his application and attitude all too often have.

He played 15 times for his country scoring 2 goals and has five Ligue 1 winners medals but his career could have been so much more given the early promise he showed in the Clairefontaine and then Lyon academies.

One look at his long list of employers show that his clubs reflect his lack of consistency.

Other than his solitary season at Nice, he was never able to maintain form throughout a season and his moments of brilliance were countered by his constant arguments with teammates and staff alike.

A player with so much ability whose attitude deprived him of the career he should have had.

Talent Alone Is Not Enough:

Through these four players, you can see that there is so much to a successful career than talent alone.

Numerous factors can prevent a player from reaching the top level despite their obvious ability. Injuries, bad luck, anxiety, and attitude problems to name just a few.

As football has developed there are more support mechanisms in place to help young players cope with the pressure that their talents bring, but there will always be players who struggle to fulfil their potential.

Walcott, Bojan, Adriano and Ben Arfa are all prime examples of players who should have done it all but all, for one reason or another, never quite cut it at the top.

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