Football’s nearly men

I thought I’d turn my hand to something a little less Lincoln City for a change. Football history is littered with players who hae been billed as ‘the next big thing’, only to fall from grace spectacularly. Some have even hit the heady heights, and fallen further than most. So for you this evening, he is my run-down of the top four ‘nearly men’ of the modern game.

Freddy Adu

I would wager at least two of these players will be more familiar to players of the popular computer game Championship Manager (or Football Manager as it is now), than they will be recognisable to the general public.

Adu played in the MLS at the age of 14, and despite his relative youth he was touted as a star of the future. He carried the hopes of the whole USA on his shoulders, a potential world superstar that could popularise the game of ‘soccer’ across the pond.

In order to make it in the world game he had to leave the shores of America, traditionally a country to harbour professionals at the end of their career. Adu made a high profile move to Europe and joined Benfica. Fans across the world sat back and waited.

Unfortunately that is where the fairy-tale ended for the .promising youngster. He simply couldn’t cope with the move abroad and the expectation heaped on him. He went out on loan, first of all still riding his reputation by joining Monaco. They even had an option to buy the wonder-kid at the end of the season. They declined.

adu

A superstar in the making

 

He then went to further down the  leagues in Portugal on loan with Belenenses but that didn’t work out. He went to Greece again on loan with Aris. That failed as well. Each move sullied his reputation as a future world beater.

These days he is back in the States, not at the end of a glittering career but instead with his tail between his legs.  His net contribution in seven years of football has been just 23 goals. At 27 he may still come good, but he hasn’t appeared for his country since 2011.

Nii Lampety

Now I know readers of a certain age will remember Nii Lampety. He was one of the first superstars of Championship Manager, a player rated so highly he would go on to be the African Pele. I’m sure many men in their late thirties spent some of their teenage years sat around a PC in their bedrooms cheering the young Lampety as he scored for them time and time again.

He wasn’t just a computer game wonder though. Pele himself hailed Lampety as his natural successor. He had caught the eye of scouts at youth tournaments that also featured players such as Alessandro Del Piero of Italy. He had a great season with Anderlecht and moved to PSV Eindhoven, where he was the clubs top scorer.

At the age of 19 with Ghana, he was the  Golden Ball winner at the U17 World Cup in Italy, he added an Olympic Bronze medal a year later in 1992, and then he was a runner-up in the 1993 U20 World Cup. The world sat firmly at the feet of one Nii Lampety.

He had a terrible upbringing, his body bore scars from cigarette burns from his father, and he was regularly beaten. Football was the poor young mans escape, but he had no guidance or help with his career. When he first came to Europe he couldn’t even communicate in English. Maybe the made his next destination perfect.

nii-odartey-lamptey-aston-villa-cromo

In 1996 he signed for Ron Atkinson’s Aston Villa. Having been linked with clubs like Real Madrid, a shady agent had effectively stolen his registration rights for himself. He sparked a bidding war which the Midlands club were at the head of. He left PSV, their star player and a far more successful club, to join Aston Villa.

Lampety struggled with the culture change, and he realised he had been duped by his agent. He scored on his Villa debut, but he fell away badly. The decline had begun. When Atkinson left for Coventry he took Lampety with him, doubtless having seen his potential. However it didn’t work out for him there either.

He found himself frozen out of the Ghana team after a sending off in the African Cup of Nations. As England basked in the glory of the Euro 96, Lampety’s promise was crumbling away in front of him.

In 1997 in a last ditch effort to revive his career he joined Union de Santa Fe, hoping that he could develop into the same type of player as one of his idols, Diego Maradona. Tragically after just a few months in Argentina, Lampety’s infant son was taken ill, and sadly passed away. Another series of moves followed, and he ended up in the German second division, where he lost another child and was subjected to racist abuse from team mates.

Nii Lampety is now a cattle farmer just out Accra, and real life victim of unscrupulous agents and poor management.

Gianlugi Lentini

The fall of Lentini was quick and concise. As a young man he conquered the football world, and rose to the top of the game. Outstanding performances at Torino alerted scouted from across the world He was a quick and fleet footed winger, he had a pin point cross as well. He was a man so skilled that clubs were willing to break the world record transfer fee.

It was AC Milan who won the race for his signature in 1992. The fee was indeed a new world record, £13m. The sublimely talented player was suddenly a household name in Italy.

Lentini had it all, as well as footballing ability he had model looks and he lived life to the full. He was every bit a modern day playboy with fast cars and super skills. His early performances for Milan were strong, and he forced his way into the Italian national team. It was hoped he would mature enough for the World Cup in 1994, which Italians felt was winnable.

lentini

 Just a year after signing for Milan,  Lentini crashed his sports car in an accident that would rob him of his football ability. He was driving home from a pre-season tournament in August of 1993, just twelve months ahead of USA 94 at which he was due to arrive on the world stage.

He spent two days in a coma and suffered multiple fractures of his eye socket and skull. He never fully recovered, and he never rediscovered those sensational skills and latent ability he had shown before the crash. He suffered blurred vision, memory loss and dizzy spells. He could still play football at a decent level, but he simply wasn’t the same player that cost £13m. In 1994 as Italy lost in the World Cup Final, Lentini was back in Italy watching on television, a broken man

Jean Francois-Larios

Larios is the player that France forgot, a man who was meant to usher in a brand new dawn for French football. Alongside Michel Platini he had formed a terrifying midfield for French Club St Etienne, and together they won the French League title in 1982.

Larios had come through the ranks at Saint Etienne, but had spent time out on loan at Bastia with devastating effect. He was a tough holding midfielder, a ma who could release flair players and be relied upon to protect the back four. When recalled, alongside Platini and Dutchman Jonny Rep, St Etienne dominated their domestic league. Only a cup final defeat by his old club Bastia prevented them from getting an unprecedented league and cup double.

The World Cup of 1982 was so close, and the St Etienne pair were carrying the hopes of a nation on their shoulders. They lost the first game of the tournament 3-1 to England, but it wasn’t a reflection of our superiority. It was a close game, and the French fully expected to kick on and progress in the tournament.

With that Larios was gone, and with him a vital part of a slick French team. Despite their on-pitch success a feud had been building between Platini and Larios. It was rumoured that Platini’s wife and Larios had an affair, and although the marriage survived, the friendship and partnership did not. Platini issued a ‘him or me’ ultimatum to the French manager, and Larios was gone.

larios-2

In the World Cup Semi-Final France led West Germany 3-1 shortly after the start of extra time. The hard working and industrious presence of Larios could have prevented them surrendering the two goal lead, and eventually going out on penalties. He might have made the difference.

Larios didn’t play for France again, and Platini left for Juventus. Larios had a move lined up with Barcelona, but it fell through and he remained at St Etienne. When his big move did come a year later it was to Athletico Madrid, but disaster struck and he suffered a serious knee injury shortly after joining. He didn’t make his debut after once again entering into a feud, this time with his club over the his treatment. From there his career petered out with a succession of one year spells at a variety of clubs in France.

Could the pairing of Platini and Larios have lifted the World Cup in 1982? Platini led France to Euro 84 success, but perhaps had the successful on-pitch formula been allowed to flourish in 1982 they would have been able to conquer even bigger height. Maybe.

Larios retired in 1988, very much the forgotten man of French football, nothing more than a sad footnote, a testament to how off-field behaviour can destroy a brilliant career.

 

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