Ten wonderkids that failed to deliver

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There have been many players over the years that were destined for greatness from an early age. 

That player who fitted in and made an immediate impact, a catalyst for fans to expect and the media to obsess over.

One of the most recent examples is Neymar, the 21-year-old Brazilian international renowned throughout the world for his goal-scoring ability and flamboyant playing style. Like a young Wayne Rooney, a huge footballing nation rest their hopes and dreams upon the shoulders of Neymar ahead of the up-coming World Cup.

Many players have had to carry this burden, be it for club or country, with varying levels of success. Some, like Rooney, manage to deliver exhilarating performances for both Manchester United and the English national team.

But there are many who simply haven’t fulfilled this vast potential and are castigated for their inability to perform to their best. 

Here are ten who failed to live up to the hype and have since delved into the doldrums of mediocrity.

Chris Kirkland | Sheffield Wednesday

After securing a dream move to Liverpool in 2001 for a pricey £6 million (a British record for a goalkeeper at the time), things could not have been any better Kirkland. Gerard Houllier, Liverpool boss at the time, famously said: "Chris has the potential to reach the top level with England.”

But despite some stellar performances in front of the Kop faithful, injury prevented Kirkland from securing the number one jersey at Anfield, ruining any England hopes too. In fact, Kirkland only went on to play one half for England in a friendly against Greece in 2006.

Following spells at West Brom and Wigan, Kirkland has since established himself at Sheffield Wednesday and is rated as one of the best keepers in the Championship.

Underachievement rating: 7/10

Michael Johnson | Manchester City

The sad case of former Manchester City player Michael Johnson, who represented England at all levels between the U16 and U21 sides, but saw a catalogue of injuries and off-field problems disrupt his quest for greatness.

An industrious central midfielder with an eye for a pass, Johnson was being touted from a young age as a future Man City captain. However, injury was to strike Johnson down. After a fine start to the 2006/07 season in which he played a string of first team games, an abdominal injury forced Johnson to miss the rest of the season. A recurrence of this injury, coupled with a nasty knee injury, meant that Johnson only played 37 league games for Man City between 2006 and 2012.

Three drink-driving offences between February and June 2012, along with a lack of first team football, resulted in Johnson being released from the club. Former manager Sven Goran Eriksson, upon his release, said of him: "An excellent player...everyone thought he would become the next star for England".

Underachievement rating: 9/10

Javier Saviola | Malaga CF

The youngest member of Pélé's FIFA 100 list of the 125 greatest living footballers, Saviola was the brightest prospect in Argentinian football following an impressive haul of 45 goals in 86 appearances for his beloved River Plate side. All the more incredible considering he was still a teenager when he accomplished this.

Following a dream transfer saw him move to Barcelona for £15 million, Saviola managed to repay some of the fee with a stellar 17 goals in La Liga for the Catalan giants in his first season. However, following the arrival of Frank Rijkaard, Saviola fell down the pecking order behind Dutch striker Patrick Kluivert.  

Spells at Real Madrid and Benfica followed before a recent transfer to Qatari-backed Malaga, but Saviola has yet to re-kindle the magic that saw him win both player of the tournament and top goal-scorer at the 2001 FIFA U-20 World Cup.

Underachievement rating: 7.5/10

Robinho | AC Milan

Young Brazilian Robinho burst onto the scene, with outlandish skill and after an impressive goal tally of 61 goals in 147 league appearances for Santos, Europe came calling. 

Real Madrid chose to bring him to the Santiago Bernabeu, before Manchester City signed him for a British transfer record. After a loan spell back at Santos, Robinho secured a move to Milan.

Despite commanding over £80 million in transfer fees, Robinho has only shown brief sparks of the genius he possessed. Plenty of step-overs, flicks and fancy footwork, but ultimately not enough goals or big performances. Reminiscent of a young Cristiano Ronaldo, although unable to maximize his potential like the Portuguese star.

Underachievement rating: 7/10

Bojan | AC Milan

When a player breaks Lionel Messi's record of being the youngest player, at 17 years and 22 days, to appear in La Liga for Spanish giants Barcelona, football fans could be forgiven for thinking another world class player is about to be unveiled from the Catalan conveyor belt.

But Bojan, now 22 years old, has failed to reach the kind of standard expected of him, slipping under the radar. Currently on loan at Milan from Roma, he has a buy-back clause inserted into his contract from Barcelona.

Yes, there is still potential there but at the moment it seems Bojan may end up as a disappointment simply because of his overwhelming billing as a youngster. He has failed to get enough game time to develop as a superstar, and with Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaaraway Milan’s first-choice strikers, it seems he may well be spending much of the season on the bench. 

Underachievement rating: 8/10

El Hadji Diouf | Leeds United

Another player who found himself on Pélé's FIFA 100 list, like Saviola, Diouf never quite turned into one of the all-time greats. Although possessing a lot of talent, his off-the-field problems often cast a shadow over his gifted ability.

After leading Senegal to a place in the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, Diouf secured a place in the team of the tournament. Subsequently, Houllier signed him from RC Lens for a hefty £10 million in 2002. Liverpool great Phil Thompson said of him: "He has got great potential. What has warmed him to everyone is his work-rate. It is astonishing"

But Diouf's career took a turn for the worse when he was filmed spitting on a fan during a UEFA Cup game with Celtic. Diouf's reputation in Britain was tarnished, as he became disliked by fans across the Premier League. His previously decent form dissipated and now Diouf is playing Championship football for Leeds United, under Neil Warnock who had previously been attributed to a rant in which he called Diouf a "sewer rat".

Underachievement rating: 7.5/10

Freddy Adu | Philadelphia Union

If anyone was looking for the stereotypical wonderkid-turned-flop, Freddy Adu is your man. The Ghanaian-American is now 23 years old and is back in the MLS, a scenario that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. 

From the age of 12, Adu was hailed as the next big thing while playing his trade for DC United. Gossip pages linked him weekly with moves to the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Real Madrid.

However, Adu chose S.L. Benfica and this was a move that should have seen Adu showcase his talents to the world. Instead, 2 goals in 11 appearances between 2007 and 2011, along with four loan moves out to the lower echelons of European football, reinforced Adu's place as a major disappointment. Philadelphia Union, following his return to the MLS in 2011, have recently placed Adu on the transfer list.

Underachievement rating: 10/10

Giovani Dos Santos | Real Mallorca

Seemingly destined for great things at Barcelona, Dos Santos' career has stalled to a stand-still. 

After scoring a hat trick on his last game for Barcelona, a move to Tottenham Hotspur saw him tipped as a future superstar, but this never materialised.

Loan spell after loan spell meant Dos Santos never got a chance to gather any momentum. Harry Redknapp, Spurs manager at the time, famously warned Dos Santos about his antics in the London nightlife, lamenting his lack of punctuality on a Monday morning. In the summer of 2012, Dos Santos left Spurs for Mallorca.

Despite this, Dos Santos has enjoyed an impressive international career with Mexico, with the highlight being a gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Underachievement rating: 6/10

Jonathan Woodgate | Middlesbrough

A player known as the "jewel in the crown" during his Leeds United days, Woodgate has graced a number of clubs in England and even was a marquee signing for Real Madrid. His talent was undoubted, but it was his injury problems that have over-shadowed his career and prevented him from accumulating more than his eight caps for the English national side.

Woodgate's career has been blighted by long-standing back and groin problems. Yet, when he was fit, he was a regular starter at Real Madrid, an outstanding performer at Newcastle United and the scorer of the winning goal in the 2008 Carling Cup final for Tottenham Hotspur.

Now he is back playing for his hometown club Middlesbrough, it's no surprise to see them riding high in sixth place in the Championship table. But supporters at the club can not be overly-complacent when it comes to Woodgate, a man known for spending more time on the injury table rather than the football pitch.

Underachievement rating: 7/10

James Vaughan | Huddersfield Town

The Premiership's youngest scorer at the tender age of 16 years and 271 days, this was a player blessed with exhilarating pace and good finishing ability. However, injuries to Vaughan stalled his progress at the club and meant that his future career prospects were downgraded.

Loan spells at Derby County, Leicester City and Crystal Palace all preceded a move to Norwich City. However, Vaughan was injured early in his first season at the club and has since been shipped on loan to Huddersfield Town.

The man who eclipsed the feat by Wayne Rooney and James Milner in being the youngest scorer in Premiership history, his career since then has been decidedly unremarkable and now at the age of 24, Vaughan's chance to prove his doubters wrong is beginning to fade.

Underachievement rating: 8/10


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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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