F365's Top Ten Wasted Talents...

The number one on this list is obvious, but who are the nine other great wasted talents of our time? One played for country before club, one crapped on Lawro's kit, many just p**sed their talent away...

Last Updated: 12/10/10 at 15:34 Post Comment

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10 - Ryan Green
Most Wolves fans were only vaguely aware of a 17-year-old right-back called Green when Bobby Gould called him up to the Welsh squad in 1998. Remarkably, Green would make his senior Wales debut (at that time, becoming the youngest player to ever appear for the country) before he even played for the Wolves first team, and on his Molineux bow the crowd discovered what all the fuss was about. However, the next 18 months were spent in and out of the treatment room with an array of non-specific injuries, and when he finally found his fitness again, he had regressed. Green has spent the intervening years kicking around the lower rungs of the Football League (he's now at Hereford), and while the 'Looked brilliant, turned out to be pony' story is a common one, few rises and falls could be as stark.

9 - Joe Cole
Here is a man who has been promising for the past decade. Around 15 years ago, you didn't exactly have to be 'in the know' to hear about this kid at West Ham. Every time Alex Ferguson (sans the 'Sir' back then) would meet Harry Redknapp, the opening gambit would not be 'Hello Harry' or 'Wine?', but 'How's that Cole boy?' This was going to be the kid who would change English football, the flair merchant we'd been missing since Gazza's prime. As it turns out, Cole has burned brightly but sporadically, starring on occasion for Chelsea but never being particularly reliable. That he never seemed to finish a game while at Stamford Bridge tells you a lot. Cole will point to his impressive medal collection, but we expected so much more.

8 - Robin Friday
The original remit of this column was to keep things relatively recent, but it would be remiss of us not to include the cover star of the Super Furry Animals single 'The Man Don't Give A F**k'. Predictably, Friday is portrayed flicking the Vs at a prone goalkeeper after scoring a goal. For those that aren't familiar with his work, Friday was an outrageous talent who never made it beyond the Third Division (playing for Reading and Cardiff), but whose skill was only matched by his capacity for, erm, 'off-the-field' distractions. If nothing else, notable for taking a dump in Mark Lawrenson's kitbag after being irritated by the future pundit extraordinaire while playing Brighton. Charming. As was perhaps inevitable, Friday was found dead in his flat aged 38.

7 - Billy Kenny
Those that saw him say he was a peerless giant, a midfield maestro who would go on to dominate the Premier League for years, possessing the skill of Gascoigne and the toughness of Bremner. The trouble is, those that saw him could probably gather in a modest pub function room to discuss his talent. Kenny made only 17 appearances for Everton, before self-destructing. "Some mornings I got home at four or five, had a couple of lines of cocaine, slept for an hour and then went to training," he reflected, after ending his professional career aged just 21. A sad story? Or was it in fact a blessing that Kenny's career ended so quickly, saving us and him from 18 years of car-crash tragedy?

6 - Winston Bogarde
Bogarde was a beast, a battering ram of a defender who could just as easily boot you in the air as play a cultured pass into the midfield. You might suggest that a player who won the Champions League once and four league titles can hardly be described as a waste, but Bogarde arguably wasted the prime of his career. As a centre-half, 29 is possibly the key age - you have experience and nous without losing your pace. That's when Bogarde signed for Chelsea (on a free from Barcelona with legendarily hilarious wages), but he made a grand total of four starts, before Claudio Ranieri arrived and decided he wasn't much to look at. A move to another club then? Not on your nelly. As you'll know, Bogarde spent the next three years in the Chelsea stiffs, counting his money. "Why should I throw fifteen million euros away when it is already mine? At the moment I signed it was in fact my money, my contract," was his justification, when asked to take a move on lesser wages. Brilliantly, his autobiography is entitled 'This Negro Bows for No One'.

5 - Carlo Cudicini
It's slightly curious that Bogarde has such a bad reptuation while Cudicini is generally seen as a pretty good guy despite both spending large portions of their career on the Chelsea bench with no prospect of making the first team. For a spell, Chelsea were regarded as having the best two keepers in the Premier League on their books, but with Petr Cech so far ahead, the Italian was always going to be second best. Still, that didn't stop him from sitting quite happily on the sidelines, even signing a new contract, until he swapped one bench for another with a move to understudy Heurelho Gomes at Spurs.

4 - Adriano
To step away from these shores for a moment, this piece would feel incomplete without mentioning Adriano. When he arrived in Europe back in 2001, Adriano looked genuinely unstoppable. Signed by Inter but loaned out to Fiorentina, then dual-owned by Parma (where he partnered fellow waste Mutu), the Brazilian scored goals in the notoriously tough Serie A for fun. The problem was, he wasn't having fun at all. A classic case of a kid taken away too soon (he was 19 when Inter bought him), one senses that Adriano has never really grown up. He had problems with turning up to training, which led to problems with his weight, and he was sent back to Brazil to get his head right twice, before Inter finally gave up in 2009. A good spell with Flamengo was enough to persuade Roma to take the mother of all chances and bring him back to Italy this summer, but he promptly got injured and missed the start of the season. A sign of things to come? Unfortunately, it looks likely.

3 - Adrian Mutu
The purchase of a relatively little-known Romanian for £15million was almost lost in the projectile vomit of cash that sprayed from Chelsea in 2003. Mutu, owned by Inter but loaned out, was a glorious talent who starred in a Verona team full of such talents (Mauro Camoranesi, Alberto Gilardino, Sebastian Frey, Massimo Oddo) in the early 2000s, before moving to Parma and eventually London. He started off fantastically, scoring goals in his early games, but it did not last. The malaise led to the cocaine incident that defines his career. If you thought Chelsea sacking a man with apparent problems was harsh, how about suing him for breach of contract and insisting he pay £22million in damages? Mutu was eventually ordered to pay around £14.8million, and is still wading through the swamp of the appeal courts. One could say Mutu has never recovered, despite occasional flashes of his promise for Fiorentina and Juventus, and failed another doping test last year. Incidentally, his ban for that one is up on October 29.

2 - Stan Collymore
This might be slightly skewed by your correspondent watching Collymore most weeks for the two years he was at Nottingham Forest, but by God he was special. If you were to design a perfect centre-forward, Collymore would be what you'd come up with. Tall, strong, lightning quick, two-footed (he famously scored against Manchester United with his right foot, after United scouts informed Pallister, Bruce et al he was all left foot, and defended accordingly), a brilliant touch and could score from anywhere. His only slight weakness was in the air, which is perhaps appropriate given that all of his problems came from his head. A move to Liverpool followed (where he didn't get on with anyone), then Villa (ditto), then a series of false dawns and starts at Fulham, Leicester, Bradford and Real Oviedo. Read his book if you want a full account of the demons, but had his head been in the right place, Collymore could genuinely have been one of the greatest strikers in the world.

1 - Paul Gascoigne
What could've been done about Gazza? Was there any manager who could've turned the raw genius into a functioning footballer, but more importantly a functioning human being? A couple of years ago, Sir Alex Ferguson gave an interview in which he suggested he could've been that man. United had a promise from Gascoigne that he would sign for them, but he changed his mind at the last and moved to Spurs. "We had Bryan Robson, a Geordie, Steve Bruce, a Geordie, Gary Pallister, from Middlesbrough," said Ferguson. "We had a structure of players who could have helped him and it could have given him some discipline."

Danny Baker once said the young Gascoigne was the best footballer in the world, because he made crowds gasp, in a way that they hadn't in years. Some blame Baker, Chris Evans and Jimmy Five Bellies (now down to just the two bellies, if you've seen pictures of him recently) for leading him astray, but one suspects/fears that even if they'd abstained, Gazza would've found someone to join him on the lash. Read the section in Baker's latest book about Gazza, and you feel genuine affection for the man.

Every time I see the name 'Paul Gascoigne' in the news, I recoil, because I fear the day it's going to be followed by '...was found dead'. It's almost a relief to hear he's just been arrested for being pissed again. It's hard to see how he can be helped - he has a perfect storm of illnesses that are tragically only pointing one way.

Any other nominations? Leave them in the comments section below, or mail theeditor@football365.com.

Nick Miller, with a little help from the good folk of the F365 Forum. Sign up here.

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