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Top 10 promising football talents that flopped

Top 10 promising football talents that flopped

Promising football talents are usually well sought after, just as every other field of endeavour seeks gifted individuals.

Many football clubs usually invest big in some upcoming young players they believe would be a great addition to their team.

However, on numerous occasions, this has turned out to be a gamble which didn’t work out, as such players ended up becoming flops.

Top 10 promising football talents that have flopped

10. Florent Sinama Pongolle

Florent Sinama Pongolle
Sinama Pongolle Credit: Daily Post

I was only a little boy in 2001 when French footballer, Florent Sinama Pongolle stole all the headlines at the FIFA U-17 world cup in Trinidad and Tobago, notching nine goals to lead the young blues to the trophy.

I remember vividly because Nigeria had beaten the French team in the group stages, but Sinama Pongolle was the tournament’s star, and he scored the first goal in the final against my darling country.

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Fresh from his exploits at the tournament, which birthed the likes of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Torres, the 16-year-old was signed by Liverpool, but he couldn’t break into the first team at Anfield. Spells in Spanish clubsides like Recreativo, Atlético Madrid, and Zaragoza could not revive his career.

9. Giovani Dos Santos

Giovani Dos Santos
Dos Santos Credit: MARCA

Dos Santos is a product of the highly-rated Barcelona academy, La Masia, and he was tipped to achieve great things in his football career from a young age.

In 2005, Dos Santos won the U-17 World Cup with Mexico and received the Silver ball after being named the tournament’s second-best player. Also, in 2017, World Soccer Magazine named the Mexican as one of the top 50 most exciting teen footballers.

However, the forward did not reach those heights expected of someone with his talents. He switched Nou Camp for White Hart Lane in 2008, where he spent four years (majorly sent out on loans).

8. Robinho


Robinho was well-known for his sublime dribbling skills, which saw him dubbed the “new Pele” during his time at Brazilian club, Santos.

A poor attitude and lack of consistency contributed to what prevented him from fulfilling the enormous potential and talent that he had.

Robinho showed flashes of his abilities at Real Madrid and was a nightmare for defenders, especially Barcelona captain, Carlos Puyol, but the Brazilian never established himself as a fan favourite or of his coaches.

When he moved to Manchester City, his attitude remained a problem, and he couldn’t quite reach the heights he had the talents for. He moved back home in 2010 on loan.

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Former Santos and Brazil winger, Edu said, “I really expected Robinho to become the best player in the world, but, unfortunately, along with a lot of people, I was wrong. He’s coming back to Brazilian football at a moment when his prestige is low.”

7. Alexandre Pato

Alexandre Pato
Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Alexandre Pato was untouchable during his time at Italian giant AC Milan, and he was privileged to play alongside one of Milan’s best squads. He had everything he needed to become a world-beater.

The forward had an eye for goal with a brilliant pace to match. However, a series of injuries and some indiscipline were the undoings of a promising career.

During the 2006 Club World Cup, 17-year-old Pato was in imperious form, even breaking Pelé’s record at the time for the youngest scorer in a FIFA competition, and in 2009, he won the golden boy as the best young player in Europe.

Pato later revealed that he allowed the hype to get to him, which affected his career. He said, “I loved the attention. I wanted to be talked about. But you know what happened? I began dreaming too much. Even though I was still working hard, my imagination was taking me to all kinds of places. In my head, I was already holding the Ballon d’Or. You can’t help it, man. It’s very hard not to get affected.”

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A loan spell at Chelsea in 2016 was not enough to revive Pato’s career, and the 33-year-old now adorns the colours of Major League Soccer (MLS) football club side, Orlando City.

6. Bojan Krkic

Bojan Krkic

Barcelona thought they had discovered the heir apparent to Lionel Messi after he broke the record set by the Argentine to become Barcelona’s youngest debutant.

The Spaniard impressed during his early days at the Nou Camp club with his trickery and flair, but before long, he fizzled out. After going out on loans and a second spell at Barcelona, the signs were clear that he wasn’t cut for the top. English club, Stoke City signed Bojan in 2014, and from there, he flew into oblivion.

5. Federico Macheda

Federico Macheda
Macheda Credit: Getty Image

Manchester United signed Macheda, and after he netted a winner to keep the club’s title hopes alive in 2009, the expectation was quite high. Many expected him to flourish under legendary manager, Sir Alex Ferguson.

After the Italian striker scored a debut wonder goal against Aston Villa in 2009, Federico Macheda soon faded out, and the 31-year-old now plies his trade with Turkish Süper Lig club Ankaragücü.

4. Ryan Babel

Ryan Babel
Ryan Babel

Ryan Babel was a lethal weapon in the arsenal of former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez after being snapped up from Ajax in 2007 for £11.5 million after winning two Dutch titles and starring at the 2007 Euro U-21 championships.

Benitez utilised the Dutchman as a super sub, and Babel always came off the bench to provide goals during his time at the Merseyside club. However, things didn’t go according to plan for him after he left the Anfield club.

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Disciplinary problems marred his best years, and Liverpool lost patience with him after four years at Anfield, and he was sold to Hoffenheim, where he didn’t impress.

3. Ibrahim Afellay

Ibrahim Afellay
Ibrahim Afellay Credit: Ibrahim Afellay on Instagram

Afellay’s talent shone so much that he joined the PSV youth team at age 10, and made his debut in 2004 for the team, and Barcelona came calling in 2011 after the Dutchman had spent eight years in his native land.

However, the forward couldn’t find a place amongst the stars at the Nou Camp, and he struggled for game time and was sent out on loan to Schalke 04 and Olympiacos before returning to Barcelona.

After five seasons at the La Liga clubside without much impact, largely due to injuries, he was sold to Stoke City, where he spent three seasons. He returned to his boyhood club, PSV, where he ended his career in 2021 at age 34.

2. Quincy Owusu-Abeyie

Quincy Owusu-Abeyie

Arsenal signed 16-year-old Quincy Owusu-Abeyie from Ajax in 2002 because the club believed he had a promising career ahead of him.

However, the Gunners’ investment in the young man went down the drain as he couldn’t break into the first team and was shipped to Spartak Moscow in 2006. Several loan spells in other English club sides didn’t do much to revive his career, and it became clearer by the day that he didn’t have what it takes to be a top-level player. After his retirement, he became a rapper in 2020.

1. Freddy Adu

Freddy Adu

At only 14 years of age, Freddy Adu was being compared to the legendary Pele when he signed for D.C United, and Americans looked up to him as the one to finally lift their football team.

Unfortunately, Adu didn’t quite live up to expectations, probably because of the enormous weight on his young shoulders at such a tender age.

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After he left D.C. United in 2006, Freddy Adu became a journeyman, moving from club to club and not being able to establish himself anywhere; he ended up playing for 15 different teams in nine countries which cut across the US, Portugal, Monaco, Greece, Turkey, Brazil, Serbia, Finland, and Sweden.

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