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Ten wonderkids who didn't justify the hype

Matt Briggs and Ian Watson focus on 10 footballing wonderkids who failed to fulfill their potential on these shores.

Last Updated: 08/10/13 at 23:10 Post Comment   

Freddy Adu: Manchester United took a look

Freddy Adu: Manchester United took a look

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After Adnan Januzaj's stunning brace against Sunderland for Manchester United on his full league debut at the weekend, TEAMtalk takes a look at 10 starlets who promised so much but yet delivered so little.

Freddy Adu

Freddy Adu was widely regarded as the "next Pele" during his early teenage years, though it is unclear who first made the comparison. Given how the prediction turned out, it apparently wasn't Nostradamus.

Upon making his MLS debut at 14 years old, the Ghana-born American's physical attributes made him more than a match for his more senior opponents. Such strength came in handy, given he carried the expectation of the United States on his young shoulders.

He had already rejected the advances of European giants such as Inter Milan to remain in his adopted homeland, which, after an encouraging few years in the MLS, appeared a wise decision. Adu eventually did move to Europe, and it was then it started to go wrong.

The then-17-year-old had already spent time training with Manchester United before he joined Benfica. He played only 11 games, though, for the Lisbon side and was sent out on four loan periods in four different countries during his four years in the Portuguese capital.

Adu returned to MLS in 2011 with Philadelphia Union but his homecoming was not the success everyone hoped it would be. After 35 games in the City of Brotherly Love, Adu was deemed surplus to requirements, especially on the fat contract he had been handed, and was eventually packed off to Bahia in Brazil, with former Manchester United flop Kleberson heading in the opposite direction.

Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson was still on the books of Manchester City in 2012, but when a picture on Twitter of Johnson looking unfit and overweight emerged in January 2013 the club announced he had been released prior to December 2012.

He was a bright young talent and described as a Michael Ballack-type box-to-box midfielder capable of scoring spectacular goals and he did that with two brilliant goals, against Derby and then Aston Villa in 2007-08. That was his breakthrough season after making his debut for City in the previous campaign and comparisons with City legend Colin Bell had already started to be drawn.

He represented England at Under-21 level and his ability with ball made him a £10million target for Liverpool, but he only left City for a loan spell at Leicester and that was the end of his career.

The 25-year-old has since complained of mental health problems and has been under treatment in The Priory, in what can only be described as a sad end to the career of a maestro who took the Premier League by storm.

Federico Macheda

Despite failing to build on his stunning start in the first-team at Old Trafford, Macheda is fondly remembered at Old Trafford for the first two of his four goals in a United shirt.

Eight months after signing his first professional contract with the Red Devils, the 17-year-old was rewarded for his fine form in the reserves with a place on the bench against Aston Villa. With United and Liverpool going at it at the Premier League summit, United badly needed a win but were 2-1 down when Sir Alex Ferguson put his faith in youth. Danny Welbeck and Macheda were dispatched from the bench and, after Cristiano Ronaldo had hauled United level, Macheda made his name in added time with a stunning spin and curling finish at the Stretford End.

Macheda followed that up in his next appearance by taking less than a minute after his introduction to score another vital winner in a 2-1 victory at Sunderland. United went on to clinch the title and Macheda signed a four-year contract.

But that was basically it. Twenty-five senior appearances and two goals later, 19-year-old Macheda was sent back to Italy for a half-season loan at Sampdoria. By the end of the campaign, Macheda had notched only once and his club were relegated.

Subsequent loan spells at QPR and Stuttgart were equally as unsuccessful. Macheda found himself kicking his heels while his United contract wound down, before Doncaster took a punt on the 22-year-old earlier this season. Things were looking up for Macheda, who rewarded Rovers with three goals in five appearances. Injury, however, has already brought his brief spell in South Yorkshire to a premature end.

Cherno Samba

Cherno Samba rose to prominence as a 13-year-old and was snapped up by Millwall after blasting 132 goals in 32 games for his junior side.

The prolific striker even made the back pages of the Sunday tabloids and was reportedly the subject of a £2m bid from Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. The Gambian-born frontman represented England at Under-16s to Under-20s and was supposed to spearhead the Three Lions' 2006 World Cup bid, but he got nowhere near Sven-Goran Eriksson's party and two years later he pledged his allegiance to the country of his birth.

Agents were falling over themselves to get their claws into Samba with his father claiming he was offered £25,000 by an agent to take control of his son's affairs. He went on trial at Liverpool and a move to the Merseyside giants looked inevitable but a fee was never agreed and the player, who was once contacted personally by Michael Owen to persuade him to move north, slipped into oblivion.

The 27-year-old currently plays in the Norwegian Second Division with FK Tonsberg, probably still dreaming about World Cup 2006 and what could have been.

Francis Jeffers

Affectionately known as Franny, he was not one for Arsene Wenger's success stories. The striker was an £8million recruit by Wenger's Arsenal in June 2001 but the frontman did not live up to his 'fox in the box' tag.

WIth 20 goals in 60 games for Everton after making his debut as a 16-year-old in 1997 he impressed Wenger sufficiently to get his big move to the capital, but things went downhill from there to the extent where he was playing his football with League Two Accrington Stanley last season.

Jeffers, who was capped once by England, appeared in court earlier this year after being found outside his father-in-law's flat brandishing a broomstick, and that pretty much sums up the striker's 16-year career.

After leaving Goodison Park, a move which created uproar amongst Everton fans, he was destined to go on to much greater things but it never really happened for Jeffers.

Anthony Le Tallec

Anthony Le Tallec believed he could have had a career similar to that of Carlos Tevez or Fernando Torres, but instead he ended up in Ligue 1 playing for Valenciennes.

The French youngster arrived at Liverpool along with his cousin Florent Sinama-Pongolle for a combined fee of £6million from Le Harve in 2001 after leading France to under-17 World Cup glory.

Gerard Houllier was the man who brought the pair to Anfield and although he wasn't the one to describe Le Tallec as the new 'Zinedine Zidane' he would have expected more than the 20-odd appearances he made for the Reds in six years.

He did get shipped out on loan several times but it's safe to say, the player who was bought as a playmaker with an eye for a killer pass and a man capable of individual brilliance - he did not deliver. And there's no surprise the 29-year-old admits to having regrets after making a real mess of his time on Merseyside.

John Curtis

Curtis was touted as a future England captain while on the books at Manchester United, which was not unreasonable, given the defender had skippered the Three Lions at every youth level up to Under-20.

Curtis attended Lilleshall as a youngster and was part of the FA Youth Cup winning side in 1995, alongside Phil Neville. Perhaps it was the other Neville, however, who blocked Curtis' route to becoming a United regular.

After stagnating at Old Trafford, Curtis took a step back in joining Barnsley on loan, but never made the two steps forward he hoped he might.

Curtis became a Football League journeyman, representing Blackburn, Sheffield United, Leicester, Portsmouth, Preston, Nottingham Forest, QPR, Wrexham and Northampton, before moving to Gold Coast United in Australia. At 35, he is now coaching in USA.

Michael Woods and Tom Taiwo

The Leeds Academy duo were poached by Chelsea in 2006 with the Blues eventually forced to pay £5million in compensation.

Leeds chairman at the time Ken Bates was furious when Chelsea offered £200,000, but slightly more content when Chelsea were forced to up their offering and he will have been even more happy to see the highly-rated duo disappear into the abyss, with £5million in the bank.

Midfielder Taiwo is currently at Hibs, while fellow midfielder Woods is plying his trade for non-league Harrogate Town. They are both in a world away from what could have been.

The 23-year-old duo might well have been badly advised by money-grabbing agents because the pair were on the verge of the Leeds first team before they decided to chase the money in the capital.

Woods made his debut for Chelsea in 2007 but in another four years, until he was released in 2011, he only ever made one other senior appearance and his impact at the Bridge was far from what had been expected of the player who represented England from Under-16 to Under-20 levels.

Pudsey-born playmaker Taiwo was also acknowledged as a star in the making, but he failed to make the grade at Chelsea and did not appear for the first team in his four-year spell - another promising career down the drain.

Sonny Pike

The story of Sonny Pike should serve as a warning to anyone responsible for the welfare of a young talent.

Pike was training at Leyton Orient when he was taken on by Dutch giants Ajax. Immediately, he was billed as a future superstar, but those around him appeared reluctant to wait. Before he was a teenager, the curly-haired kid had an agent and was on TV almost as often as Paul Gascoigne.

Sadly and perhaps unsurprisingly, like Gazza, the youngster struggled to cope with the attention and demands placed on him. He suffered a nervous breakdown while still at Ajax, while his parents' marriage was also ended by the strain suffered by their son.

Pike later admitted: "I couldn't take it, and I got ill, really screwed up. I stopped going to training and stuff, because I was so screwed up I couldn't hack it. Looking back, it's amazing how low I was."

After leaving Ajax, Pike returned to England and attempted to rediscover his enjoyment of the game at non-league level. He also went to university with the aim of becoming a sports psychologist.

Billy Kenny

When he christened Kenny the "Goodison Gazza", Peter Beardsley probably did not realise just how prophetic his remark would be.

Like Gascoigne, Kenny was a fearless midfielder, with an eye for a pass and, despite his youth, the confidence to play it. Only, also similarly to Gazza, Kenny failed to deal with the attention off the field quite as well as he did on it.

Kenny put up no resistance to the temptations of drink and drugs and Everton eventually gave up on the England Under-21 one-cap wonder. Former Everton striker Graeme Sharp, then manager of Oldham, offered Kenny the chance to rebuild his fledging career away from Goodison Park. Four games later, however, Kenny had been fired again.

Kenny had only himself to blame, but he accepted that: "I was completely hooked on coke. I needed it just to get by. I was an addict and a complete mess. It got so bad that I wasn't even interested in whether Everton were winning or losing. Some Monday mornings, I got home at four or five o'clock, had a couple of lines of coke, slept for an hour or so, then got a cab to the training ground. I looked a real mess."

You can follow Matt and Ian on Twitter and get in touch if you think they missed anybody from the list.

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