Top Tenner: Faded stars

Posted by Nick Miller

Michael Johnson was originally hailed as a promising talent after emerging from the academyGettyImagesMichael Johnson was originally hailed as a promising talent after emerging from the academy

Top Tenner picks out a selection of players who shone brightly early in their careers, but have since faded into insignificance.

10 - Michael Johnson

In the days before they used 50-pound notes to line the club's rabbit hutch, Manchester City's youth set-up had a purpose. Indeed, it produced some notable talents, not least Johnson, a driving midfielder whose early performances after his debut in 2006 drew comparisons to Steven Gerrard. However, a series of injuries saw him drift away from the first-team, and his chances of a return diminished partly after the arrival of Sheikh Mansour meant millions were spent on expensive and glamorous talent, but also because of an alarming weight gain. Just imagine Yaya Toure alongside the player Johnson could have been, and tremble.

9 - Kerlon

The player of the tournament at the 2005 South American under-17 championship was, for a spell, probably the most famous player you'd never seen play. Properly play, that is, rather than just a couple of pseudo circus tricks -- Kerlon's notoriety was down to his famous "seal dribble," where he juggled the ball on his forehead to dash past defenders, something many didn't take kindly to. Signed by Internazionale in 2008, Kerlon never actually played for the Nerazzurri, spending time on loan at assorted clubs and suffering a series of knee injuries that would curtail his career. He was last spotted playing for Fujieda MYFC in the Japanese third tier.

8 - Federico Macheda

The very epitome of the cautionary tale for Adnan Januzaj. It's barely possible to even imagine a more dramatic debut for Macheda: a Hail Mary attempt by Sir Alex Ferguson as Manchester United went 2-1 down to Aston Villa, needing a win to overhaul Liverpool at the top of the 2008-09 Premier League. The 17-year-old Macheda of course scored the injury-time winner, and indeed bagged another goal in United's next game at Sunderland. However, after that Macheda scored just three more times for United, then not at all during loan spells at Sampdoria, Stuttgart and QPR. There's still time for him, as he seems to be rebuilding some confidence on loan at Doncaster, but he will surely never reach the heights of emotion and drama of his first game.

7 - Billy Kenny

There aren't many who saw Billy Kenny play for Everton, but those who did speak of a potential great, a midfield talent to rival anything that England has produced in generations. Making his Everton debut in 1992 at 19, Kenny immediately looked more than at home, controlling matches with the authority of a much older man, combining skill and strength in a manner that suggested nothing could stop him, except himself. Of course, that's what happened, and Kenny was sacked by Everton, then Oldham after repeated transgressions, including but not limited to showing up for training on the back of no sleep but plenty of cocaine. He retired aged 21.

6 - Javier Portillo

By 2002, Raul was already a Real Madrid legend. However, coming through the ranks was a player many thought would beat him -- Javier Portillo had 150 goals to his name at assorted youth levels, breaking records previously held by Raul, and seemed to be the perfect candidate for Florentino Perez's infamous 'Zidanes y Pavones' transfer policy. However, Portillo actually embodied why it was such a flawed system, finding his path to the first-team blocked by Raul, Ronaldo and Fernando Morientes and later Michael Owen. Portillo was loaned out to Fiorentina and Club Brugge with little success, and has spent the intervening years on a tour of the lower lights of Spanish football, never really settling anywhere.

5 - Carlos Alberto

Jose Mourinho isn't known for throwing youngsters into his teams early on in their careers, but he clearly saw something in Alberto. Recruited from Fluminense in January 2004, the 19-year-old not only started Porto's Champions League final against Monaco, but scored the first goal in their 3-0 win. After Mourinho's departure he found himself on the bench, and in a fit of pique and frustration that would come to characterise his career, left for Corinthians, where he was again initially successful, winning the 2005 Brasileirao, before a fall-out with coach Emerson Leao led to another move. Since then, he has played for seven clubs in six years, showing occasional flashes of brilliance but nothing to match his initial promise.

4 - Peter Marinello

In 1970, Spurs had just broken the British transfer record, paying 200,000 pounds for World Cup winner Martin Peters. Arsenal paid 100,000 pounds for Marinello, a 19-year-old with 45 appearances for Hibs under his belt. This, combined with comparisons to George Best, meant great things were expected of the youngster, expectations that were increased when he scored on his debut against Manchester United. However, a combination of over-cautious management, Marinello's own impatience (he, in his own words "made the mistake of chasing the money" by moving to Portsmouth), his wife's depression and myriad other personal problems, meant his potential was never fulfilled.

3 - Freddy Adu

He's still only 24. So who knows? He may yet turn out to be the unparalleled genius that some made him out to be in his teenage years. Fast-tracked into the U.S. draft system aged just 14, Adu was a boy treated like a man from a very early age. Still, for a while he played like a man, scoring his first goal in his third game, but suffered from some typical teenage petulance when the amount of time he spent on the pitch wasn't to his liking. He spent a couple of weeks training with Manchester United, but was soon traded to Real Salt Lake, and from that point he has never really settled, moving to Benfica then being loaned out to assorted clubs before returning to the U.S. and Philadelphia Union. He's now playing, occasionally, for Bahia in Brazil.

2 - Adrian Mutu

One of the sadder tales of talents wasted. After brilliant beginnings at Dinamo Bucharest led to a move to Italy, where he excelled for Verona and Parma, Mutu was bought in the first tranche of money-splurging by Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, and started superbly. However, everything unravelled after some disagreements with Jose Mourinho, then he was sacked after failing a drugs test, and Chelsea sought compensation for breach of contract, which they are still chasing. Mutu showed flashes of his talent during spells at Juventus and Fiorentina, but further "incidents" -- including another drugs ban in 2010 and earning an international suspension following a night out drinking while on Romania duty -- have overshadowed and arguably defined what could've been a brilliant career.

1 - Nii Lamptey

The idea of a disappointing career in football being the biggest tragedy in Lamptey's life seems ludicrous. Declared by Pele to be his heir after an astonishing performance at the 1991 under-17 World Cup, Lamptey was so good that when Anderlecht signed him aged 16, the Belgian FA changed their rules so he could make his debut at such a young age. However, tragedy after tragedy befell him, from abuse at the hands of both parents as a child, to being conned and exploited by a series of agents, to two of his children dying from the same lung disease. His unfulfilled talent somehow now seems secondary. These days he seems more contented, after setting up a school in his home country Ghana for disadvantaged children designed to give them the help he didn't have. "It all comes to education," he said. "That's why I decided to use my money for this school. This school makes me happy."

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