Balotelli, Griezmann, Keane: 10 footballers who were written off early in their careers

Hal Robson-Kanu scores for Wales

Wales cult hero Hal Robson-Kanu has revealed that his ambitions of becoming a professional footballer were written off during an intriguing episode of the High Performance Podcast. 

Injuries, and particularly cruciate ligament injuries, carry the potential to shape a player’s entire career. 

The forces of fate and fortune play decisive roles in determining how high a player can rise in the game. For many aspiring footballers, a bad injury can be the difference between success and failure in the bid to earn a professional contract. 

Robson-Kanu was unfortunate enough to suffer two cruciate ligament injuries during the formative stages of his development, and his chances of making it at the top level were written off by his surgeon.

Like so many high-profile professionals, including Lionel Messi, concerns over his height also forced some to write off the 32-year-old prior to his career-threatening injuries.

“I was written off as a footballer at 14 and 15 because I was too small,” said Robson-Kanu to the High Performance Podcast.

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“Physically, I wasn’t going to be equipped to play at the professional level. I was then written off at 17, 18 after two knee cruciate ligament injuries, where the surgeon told my father that I would never play at the level that I thought I would because of the physical debilitation that the injuries gave me.”

That he managed to overcome the physical challenges presented in his youth and play at the highest level, which eventually led to him scoring one of the most famous goals in Wales’ history, is a matter of immense personal pride. 

“Being able to come through that and still play at the very top of the game, in the top leagues, in the top competitions in the world for me was was a massive success and something which I’m immensely proud of.

“As I said, it was I was very aware very early on that this was my journey and I was experiencing it. And I was open to continuing the journey.”

Robson-Kanu’s triumph in the face of adversity is a commendable story of the power of determination and discipline in the ultra competitive journey into the professional game. 

But he is certainly not alone in enjoying a successful career despite being told he’d never make it as a youngster. 

With that in mind, GIVEMESPORT look back at nine other first-class players who were almost written off before they got started in the game. 

Let’s take a look: 

Antoine Griezmann 


Antoine Griezmann is a star in France’s World Cup winning squad and has enjoyed a scintillating career at club level, but he initially struggled to earn a professional contract in his younger days due to concerns over his slender build.

Mario Balotelli 

Barcelona handed teenage prodigy Mario Balotelli a trial back in 2006 but, to the shock of absolutely nobody, concerns over his attitude prevented the Catalan giants from offering a deal despite his return of five goals. 

Roy Keane 

How’s this for an emasculation of Irish football’s hardest man. As a 15-year-old Roy Keane was rejected by Brighton & Hove Albion just one day before his trial due to concerns over his height.

Javier Zanetti 


As a youngster Independiente’s youth academy told Javier Zanetti that he lacked the physical attributes to succeed in football. His 868 appearances for Inter Milan would suggest otherwise. 

Franco Baresi 

Regarded as one of the greatest defenders of all time, Franco Baresi was rejected Inter Milan as a 14-year-old due to concerns about his size. His solution: join AC Milan instead and write his named into club history during a 20-year stint at the San Siro in which he made 719 appearances.

Jamie Vardy 

Jamie Vardy’s journey to the top is the epitome of a rags-to-riches tale. The pulsating striker was released by Sheffield Wednesday as a 15-year-old because, you guessed it, of his size. It wasn’t until he reached his mid-twenties when he finally realised his exceptional potential. 

Riyad Mahrez 


Riyad Mahrez is one of the slightest players in the game but his physique gives him an almost unplayable level of agility. However, one of his most valuable assets proved to be his kryptonite as a youngster, with a multitude of French clubs unwilling to take a chance on him due to his diminutive presence.

Marco Reus 

Borussia Dortmund is Marco Reus’ hometown club but they eventually re-signed him for €17.1m from Borussia Monchengladbach having released him due to his size as a youngster. 

Andrew Robertson


Once again, Andrew Robertson was a victim of being too small and was released by Celtic at just 15 years of age. 

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