Lots of players are expected to have big futures but never justify the hype. Cris Freddi profiles some of the game's biggest underachievers
Edu, (Jonas Eduardo Américo)
The first ‘new Pelé’, he scored in his second international and became an immediately controversial figure by being included in the 1966 World Cup squad at the age of 16 but not playing a match while Brazil picked a string of knackered veterans. A skilful winger, he played in the 1970 & 1974 finals, but only against the weakest opposition (Romania & Zaire), and was always a peripheral figure despite winning 42 caps.
A 19-year-old outside left, the only player to win his first cap in a World Cup final in 1950, he wasn’t mentioned in dispatches as Uruguay shocked the favourites Brazil (both goals came from the other wing) – and won only one more cap, three years later.
Talented forward who should have been Maradona’s No 2 throughout the Eighties but was a huge disappointment instead. Scored the winner in the final of the 1979 World Youth Cup and with a tremendous shot against Brazil in the 1982 World Cup, but Argentina were already 3-0 down and on their way out. Signed by Napoli before Maradona, his time there bore no comparison.
Goalscorer for Ajax at 17, capped at 19, he should have gone on to become one of the names of the Nineties. Instead, after a reasonable 1994 World Cup and a successful partnership with Collymore (justifying Frank Clark’s expenditure of virtually his entire budget), he started only 8 League matches for Forest last season and hasn’t played for Holland since early 1995.
A powerful young striker, often John Charles’ partner at Juventus, he made an immediate impression by scoring twice on his debut for Italy (1958 v France) at the age of 18. Then the youthful oomph declined and there wasn’t enough ball skill to compensate. He captained Italy at the age of 21 but played only 8 times in all without adding to those two debut goals.
That goal on his Scotland debut said it all, flicking the ball from one foot to the other in mid air before volleying in from long range. There were 48 others in 74 league games for Celtic before the move to Arsenal in 1983, followed by the Champagne Charlie tag, the girlie photos, the two goals in the League Cup final and not really much else. Sold to Aberdeen after just 34 league goals in over four seasons, he was still good enough in 1993 to play for Celtic in the Scottish League Cup final – but the previous decade hadn’t delivered. Only 20 caps for someone who’d looked one of the best young players in Europe.
Another Scottish disappearance at Highbury. When Arsenal bought him in 1970, it looked an attempt to polish up their traditional image, signing a slim, baby-faced 19-year-old with outstanding dribbling skills. For whatever reason – inexperience, physical fragility, London nightlife – he didn’t make it, missing that famous televised chance against Ajax and playing only 32 league matches in three years while Arsenal were winning the Double. Then a transfer to Portsmouth and oblivion.
No, don’t laugh. He and Butcher were Ipswich Town’s youthful central defensive partnership, and Bobby Robson was clearly grooming them in the same roles for England – then the roof fell in for Osman, against Spain, Switzerland, Norway: 2-1 defeats camouflaging appalling defensive displays. His last international saw Denmark qualify for the-Euro finals at England’s expense.
Eighteen-year-old goalscorer in the 1964 FA Cup final, star of the Cup-Winners’ final on the same pitch the following year, he won 10 Under-23 caps spread over five seasons but according to Bobby Moore he “never got any better… Ron Greenwood was still calling him ‘young John’ when he was twenty-five.” His brilliance in training kept him in the West Ham team, but “come the Saturday afternoon, nothing. He was a thoroughbred who never matured.”
Edmund Samuel Currey
No-one got found out more quickly than ES. A hefty inside-forward still at Oxford University, he scored twice and hit the post in his first international (against Wales in 1890) but was found out (and ‘fagged out,’ said the Athletic News) in his second a month later and never came close to playing in a third.
For various reasons and for what it’s worth, I went to watch England for the first time because Laurie Cunningham was making his debut, against Wales in 1979. Overshadowed by another first cap, Kenny Sansom, marked out of it by Byron Stevenson, his career was already slightly disappointing after the early flashes with Orient. He won only six caps, making no impression, and had a mixed time at Real Madrid, who fined him for being in a disco instead of nursing a broken foot. Then the early death in a car crash. A genuine sense of waste.
Once a promising young striker – though don’t tell them that at West Ham. Still quite a regular goalscorer, even in internationals, he’s never lived up to his opening flourishes: a hat-trick for Walsall in a promotion play-off final, another in his first match for the Republic of Ireland back in 1987.
Stocky young centre-forward who scored 9 goals in his first three internationals (1929), including two as Spain became the first foreign team to beat England – then none in his fourth match, which put an end to his international career at the age of 21.
The most promising keeper of his generation, he kept a clean sheet in the 1975 FA Cup final at the age of 19 and won five Under-23 caps before the form and confidence suddenly and visibly dried up. West Ham were relegated and he moved to Orient in 1979.
Probably top of the list of those who had too much too soon. Signed by Anderlecht at 16, final of the African Nations Cup at 17, captain of Ghana in the 1993 World Youth Cup Final. If anyone was the obvious symbol of Africa’s rise to world prominence… Instead he’s lasted barely a season at each new club: one match as sub in his second year with Anderlecht, a decent little scoring record with PSV, six League games with Aston Villa, the same number with Coventry alongside another under-achieving superboy, Peter Ndlovu. Meanwhile Ghana dropped him during the 1994 African finals and picked him only as sub in 1996, when he was sent off in the semi-final. Anderlecht’s Jean Dockx said it, for all the young dudes: “He couldn’t carry the burden of success… if we had looked after him better off the pitch, maybe he wouldn’t have fallen off the track.” He’s still only 22, a year younger than Barmby, so maybe there’s still time to get back on it.
From WSC 129 November 1997. What was happening this month