Many footballers are pushed into the limelight early on in their careers, with great talent, great expectations and the world at your feet. However, along with great talent comes great responsibility, and sometimes many of these responsibilities have a huge price tag attached to it in the name of a transfer fee.
Ravel Morrisson, Jack Rodwell, Robinho and Michael Johnson are some of the players from the 2000s to the 2010s, who were pipped for greatness but proved otherwise. And while it’s quite late for most of these players, the following five are still young and can make a decent career for themselves, even if they cannot reach the heights expected:
Thomas Lemar (Atletico Madrid)
The 2016-17 season saw the rise of many top stars like Bernardo Silva, Kylian Mbappe and Fabinho for AS Monaco. And another player who was key to their Ligue 1 campaign was French international Thomas Lemar.
Spending three seasons at the club, he really blossomed in his second season, scoring nine goals and assisting 12 others on the way to his club’s record-breaking season in Ligue 1. With interest high in his services, and many of his teammates having secured expensive moves away from the club, Thomas Lemar spent another season with Monaco, before moving to Spanish giants, Atletico Madrid.
However, the French international has failed to live up to the reported 70 million euros paid for his services. Marred by injuries and the facing stiff competition from the likes of Vitolo and Yannick Carrasco, Thomas Lemar has found game time limited. Since his debut season at the club, he has made only 48 La Liga appearances, while scoring two goals and assisting three others. He is yet to score or assist this season.
Malcom (Zenit St. Petersburg)
Malcom was once one of the hottest properties in the transfer market, after a magical season with Bordeaux. He spent three seasons at the French club, with the final season turning out to be more prolific than the rest. In 35 Ligue 1 appearances, he scored 12 goals and assisted seven others as his side finished sixth in the Ligue 1 table.
The Brazilian’s strong performances earned him a move to Barcelona for a reported 41 million euros, where he was pipped to be the successor of Neymar. However, the youngster could not make a place for himself in the starting XI. He made just 15 La Liga appearances, scoring a solitary goal in the league for the Blaugrana.
Malcom will always be known for scoring the equalizer for Barcelona in the first leg of the semi-final of the 2019 Copa del Rey against Real Madrid. However, the lack of minutes saw him make a move to Russian side Zenit St. Petersburg, who couped up 40 million euros for Malcom.
Injury constraints have seen him make just five league appearances for the side. He, however, did show the glimpses of his former self right before the league was called off due to the global pandemic when he scored and assisted - his only contribution for Zenit - in a 7-1 home win against Ural Yekaterinburg.
Still just 23, a lot more might be in store for the winger if he manages to keep up his fitness and consistency.
Alen Halilovic (SC Heerenveen on loan from AC Milan)
Croatia is always known for producing some of the greatest talents in the world such as Ivica Olic, Niko Kovac, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. Alen Halilovic was once dubbed as the Croatian Lionel Messi after impressing for Dinamo Zagreb at the young age of 16. His stock kept on rising as he became the youngest ever scorer in the Croatian league, Zagreb’s youngest Champions League player and the second-youngest player in the history of the competition.
His talented persona did not go unnoticed and after two seasons with Dinamo Zagreb, he made a move to Barcelona to play for their famed La Masia. However, he could not fulfil his potential at the club, making 30 appearances for Barcelona B before moving to Sporting Gijon on loan for the 2015-16 season. He found his lost form there, scoring five goals and assisting another five to help his side prevent relegation but that wasn’t enough to prevent Barcelona from moving him on.
Since leaving the Camp Nou, he has played for Hamburger SV in the German Bundesliga, and then came back to Spain, playing for Las Palmas on loan. After two unsuccessful seasons in both Germany and Spain, he made a move to Italy to join AC Milan after being released by Hamburger. He could only muster three appearances at San Siro, before moving to Belgian side Standard Liege and then Dutch side Heerenveen, his eighth club before he even turns 24.
Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad)
When David Moyes took over as the manager of Manchester United from Sir Alex Ferguson, one player from the United academy was primed to do great things with the club. Cut to seven seasons later and Adnan Januzaj is plying his trade with the Spanish La Liga mid-table club Real Sociedad, while Manchester United are yet to reclaim the former glory days.
Januzaj made his debut as an 18-year-old. He scored twice on his debut against Sunderland, helping his side to a comeback victory, and looked like the spark Moyes needed to ignite his United career. Since then, Januzaj has moved on to three other clubs while United have had four different managers. He made just 63 across all competitions for United in three seasons before moving to Borussia Dortmund and then Sunderland.
Januzaj was pipped as the next ‘Ryan Giggs’ for the Red Devils, but his low work rate and difficult mentality has struggled to help him achieve the greatness people expected of him. At the age of 25, he has experienced three moderately successful seasons at Real Sociedad, where he has made 81 appearances and scored 12 goals, while assisting 14 others. He might have made a decent career for himself since leaving the shine and glamour of Old Trafford, but many pundits were left to wonder what might have been and what might still be.
Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona)
Dembele is the third 23-year-old player to feature in this list and can be considered as the primary reason this list even exists. The French international, who is now contracted to Barcelona since the 2017-18 season, has managed to make only 51 appearances for the Blaugrana over three seasons, scoring a meagre 12 goals in La Liga. These stats are surprising considering he was brought in for a reported 145 million euros as a replacement of Neymar Jr.
Dembele broke through at French side Stade Rennais FC during the 2015-16 season, where he managed 12 goals and five assists in just 26 appearances. After just a season at the club, he made the move to Germany, turning out for Thomas Tuchel’s Borussia Dortmund where he made 32 appearances in Bundesliga and set up a strong partnership with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He scored six goals and assisted another 13, with his strong performances and young age earning him a big-money move to Barcelona just a season later.
He is yet to hit his stride at the Camp Nou, with his biggest enemy being his injury problems. He showed glimpses of his talent in the 2018-19 season, scoring eight goals and assisted another five in 29 La Liga appearances while scoring three in eight Champions League games. However, off-field problems have not helped his injury-ridden career as well, with Dembele having been warned several times by the club about his lengthy video game sessions, and his late entries for training.
Another hamstring injury on his return from injury ensured he might not feature again this year, but Dembele has spoken about his intentions to perform for the club after many transfer rumours have been circling. With Barcelona interested in Lautaro Martinez, Dembele might have already seen the end of his Barcelona career. But at 23, he still has a lot more to prove to his fans and critics alike.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Ben Stansall, Pau Barrena