Football’s Lost Sons: A Tale Of Treasures Untapped

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Unfulfilled potential, is an expression we often use when discussing people from the world of sports. People who were the stars of the world at their seedling age, eventually evolving into a tree fallen, as their careers roll on. Every sport has them. From cricket to tennis to football, every game has had its fair share of lost sons. Sons who could have glittered their mother sport’s name, but instead failed to live up to their potential.

Football can boast a hefty share of such individuals. One often chooses to forget such identities, deeming them unworthy of recognition courtesy of their failure to fight. However, to every story, there is a lot more than just their lackadaisical approach towards fulfilling their ambitions. One often draws the conclusion that they shouldn’t be inducted to the pantheon of memory. We disagree as we take a look at some of the top stars of the world who never lived up to their fullest.

Ariel Ortega



A supremely skilled playmaker who should have been remembered for his unerring speed, control, dribbling, vision and skill, Ariel Ortega was instead remembered as the notoriously temperamental Argentine who never made it in Europe. An international at just 19 years of age and flying to 1994 USA, as a 20 year old, Ortega was touted for great things.

Coming out of the legendary River Plate academy, the Argentine plied his trade across Spain and Italy, playing for Valencia and Sampdoria among others. However, he was always mired with controversy, owing to his temperament and continual spats, ultimately leading to him being regarded as “just another Argentine footballer” in history.

Lee Sharpe



At the age of 20, Lee Sharpe was a Manchester United regular and a full England international. At the age of 32, he had been released by Bradford, Exeter and Grindavik, forcing him into retirement.

In 1992, with the emergence of Ryan Giggs, his left wing spot was usurped and the left back was already occupied by Denis Irwin. Shifting to the right wing, didn’t do him any favours, as a certain Beckham rose. No pushover, he moved on, to Leeds.



Injuries can hamper a player’s career worse than anything else. As was the case for the once bright England winger, who following a string of malicious injuries saw his talents shunned and with it, people’s hopes about him. He bid goodbye.

Darko Pancev



Having won the European Golden Boot in 1991, Darko Pancev had the world at his feet. A host of clubs were after the Ballon d’Or runner up including the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United. He chose Inter Milan instead, what he would go on to claim as the worst decision of his career.

The 84 goals in 91 games, once Red Star Belgrade goal machine was tagged as lazy in Italy, his work-rate often coming under scrutiny. In three years with the Nerazzuri, he played a total of 19 games. Retired at the age of 31, Pancev’s fall from grace still remains one of the most stark in the recent past.

Peter Marinello



A break-out star for Hibernian at the age of 18, Peter Marinello became Arsenal’s record signing when he joined the club at the age of 20 in 1970.

The British press labelled him the “next George Best”, and he scored against Manchester United in his Arsenal debut, fueling the hype surrounding the young Scot. What followed was, the player living up to his label, not by the playing standards but by the drinking and other follies that had plagued the mighty Best. Similar to his idol, Marinello led a celebrity lifestyle rather than the one of an athlete.



A heavy drinker, Marinello picked up a nasty knee injury early in his Gunners career. The indomitable combination of partying, heavy drinking and injury troubles soon put pay to Marinello’s hugely promising career.

Tomas Brolin



In the early 90s, Tomas Brolin was one of the most highly regarded prospects in Europe. After inspiring Sweden to virtuoso performances in the Euro 92 and World Cup of 1994, the Swede was touted for great things.

However, come November 1994, he broke his toe, a problem that would eventually shatter his career. 1995, saw him move to England to play for Leeds. Two years later, Tomas Brolin was rated as the worst signing in the history of Leeds and the second worst player in the history of the Premier League.



Humiliating enough for the once fourth best player in the world. Plagued by the persistant injury problems, Brolin retired at a tender age of 28.

Nil Lamptey



The tale of Nil Lamptey is a truly tragic one. Abused and neglected by his parents, his father was an alcoholic who would beat him regularly. Like all great tragedies, Lamptey’s story showed promise, hope and light at the end of the tunnel, only for that to be brutally crushed by naivety and the avarice of a greedy agent.

A Ghana international at the age of 16, beating the likes of Yeboah and Abedi Pele to the punch, Lamptey had also become a regular in the Anderlecht first team, becoming the youngest player in the Belgian League, a record that stands still today.



The summer of 1994, saw him move to Aston Villa, a transfer that raised some eyebrows as it was later revealed that his agent had pocketed a hefty 25% off the deal. Lamptey never quite made his mark in England and never bounced back. In a career which seemed destined for greatness, Lamptey was stalled by naivety, the death of two of his three children and the racism he experienced in some parts of Europe.

Harald Nielsen



Harald Nielsen was one of the most gifted natural goalscorers that the game has seen. At the age of 18, he had been the top scorer of the Denmark Second Division. At 19, he was on top of Denmark, topping the scoring charts of the First Division.

At the age of 22, he had almost singlehandedly fired Bologna to the title and himself been the Serie A top scorer. The world was at his feet, and nothing could stop him. What followed was a spectacular fall from grace. At the age of 25, he moved to Inter Milan, where he failed to make a mark. Ultimately retiring at the age of 29, sees him as a stark example of not coping with pressures of stardom and losing one’s way.

Billy Kenny

William Kenny, better known as Billy Kenny, was the the most highly rated young English player in the early 1990s. Dynamic, tough, tireless, skillful and with an eye for a pass, Kenny seemed to be a complete midfielder. Having already broken into the Everton and England U21 teams, Kenny had already shown mettles of being one of the world’s best, often putting in virtuoso performances for the Merseyside blues, one of his best coming against their fierce rivals, when he had bested a Liverpool defence featuring the likes of John Barnes, Steve McManaman and Jamie Redknapp. Such high were the expectations on him that was often called the “Goodison Gazza”.

Life has an uncanny tendency of cutting blooming flowers at their roots often. A shin injury took shape as the brilliant Englishman was sidelined for a considerable period of time as depression, alcoholism and drug addiction took over his life. At the age of 20 he was sacked by Everton for gross misconduct, a year later he was sacked by Oldham for the same reason. At 21, Kenny retired. One of the most famous stories of potential could have beens, till date.

Dragan Stojkovic



Piksi, as he was lovably called, remains one of the greatest tales of unrealised abilities. The long standing captain of Yugoslavia, Stojkovic is considered one of the greatest Serbian footballers of all time.

A part of the 1990 World Cup All Star Team and captaining his side in the 1998 World Cup, he was a player who is widely considered as one who never lived up to his full potential. He is one of the five players to be awarded the title Star of the Red Star. A diminutive playmaker with an eye for goal, injuries prevented him from achieving the hiatus he was destined for Plying most of his trade with Marseille and in Japan, even after achieving enough heights for a player’s career, he remains a case of a resource not fully utilised. Such were the expectations about his abilities.



To this day, he remains one of football’s most favourite cases of players who never reached the greatness they were destined for.

Paul Gascoigne



Perhaps the most obvious and guessable name on this list, Paul Gascoigne remains the most vivid example in the history of the beautiful game, as to have never achieved the glory he was set for Gazza, as he was more popularly known as, did arguably realize his incredible potential, but only briefly and still probably did not fully tap into the genuine ability he had.

After impressing at Newcastle as a teenager; Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham were all after Gazza. He joined Spurs for a British record transfer fee, before moves to Lazio, Rangers, Middlesbrough, Everton, Burnley, Gansu Tianma and Boston. Gascoigne was exceptional at the 1990 World Cup, as England reached the semi-finals, and wowed as England reached the same stage in the 1996 Euros. However, when it comes to demons, Gazza had them all.



Bulimia, OCD, bipolar, alcoholism, cocaine, chain-smoking, gambling and junk food all plagued his career; it is some indication of his natural ability that he still forged a career despite a lifestyle featuring the list above.

Notable Mention

Adrien Doherty

The Class of ’92, as they have become known, is the name given to the group of players who emerged out of the Manchester United Academy in remarkable fashion. Giggs, Scholes, Beckham, Butt and the Nevilles being the most notable. However, when the crop of players played together in their teens, it was Adrian Doherty who was the most highly regarded. However, aged 16, days before his scheduled Manchester United debut, he suffered a cruciate ligament injury to his knee.

Even today the injury can end careers and for the most promising player in English football, it did just that. After almost two years sidelined he was no longer the same player, moving Derry City, where he played three times before retiring in his teens. Aged 26, Doherty moved to Amsterdam where he slipped into the canal; after a month in a coma, he died a day before his 27th birthday.

A tear rolled down, as the sport lost one of its most beautiful sons. We mourn, not just for him, but for all those who lost their way. The game, already beautiful as it is today, imagine how it would have been, had these individuals lived to tell a different tale.