by Kevin Henning
Fans of all teams have had experiences with players who they believed would be the answer to all their problems, only for a young starlet, expensive foreign import or record signing to end up plodding around the second tier of English football trying to kick-start their careers. The following team of nearly men had the world at their feet, they just couldn’t control it.
1. Chris Kirkland
Chris Kirkland was going to be the answer to England’s goalkeeping problem for many years to come. He’d come through the ranks at Coventry City and broken into the first team looking for all the world like he had every attribute necessary to monopolise the national number one shirt. A big money move to Liverpool seemed to have given Kirkland the opportunity to shine at the highest level. Jersy Dudek’s mistakes against Manchester United gave the young keeper the opportunity to claim the number 1 slot and six clean sheets in fourteen appearances meant Kirkland looked like he would take it.
However, an ankle injury robbed Kirkland of the remaining five months of the season and he has been injury prone ever since. Liverpool sent him out on loan spells to West Brom, Yeovil and Wigan in an attempt to nurture him back to full fitness but the arrival of Pepe Reina saw Liverpool pass the problem of Kirkland’s injuries on permanently to the Latics in 2006.
Kirkland has subsequently been loaned out to Leicester and most recently Doncaster Rovers in attempts to get a once promising career back on track.
2. John O’Shea
John O’Shea marched into Manchester United’s first team in 2002 and set about becoming the most versatile defender at the club. The Irishman looked equally comfortable whether deployed at centre back, left back or right back and his barnstorming runs down the wing to support the attack added an extra dimension to United’s already formidable attack.
O’Shea was already becoming a cult hero and the fans willed him on. Unfortunately, as time wore on, he seemed to become less reliable and never progressed as he would have liked. The Stretford End began to lose their faith in O’Shea and it is apparent when you consider he made only 256 appearances in nine seasons, that he struggled to fulfil his early promise. A summer move to Sunderland has shown that John O’Shea may have realised that he isn’t up to the job at the very highest level.
3. Wayne Bridge
After arriving on the scene at Southampton and was touted as one of the best left-backs around for a while. He even made the England squad for the 2002 World Cup. Unbelievably part of the glut of signings at both Chelsea and Manchester City during each clubs’ revolutions, the perma-red-faced left-back must do something to catch the eye of numerous managers including Sven Goran Eriksson, Claudio Ranieri and Mark Hughes. Wayne certainly was given all the chances he could have hoped for but will be ultimately remembered for not shaking someone’s hand rather than his footballing prowess. All I ever see is a full-back who is regularly caught out of position and reacts to the ball at his feet rather like a subbuteo corner kicker – head back, a swing of the left boot and a mighty punt with no control over the direction of the ball.
Part of the group of exciting signing at unfashionable Middlesbrough, Emerson arrived from FC Porto and looked like he could dazzle the Premier League with his day-glo hairstyle and samba skills.
Unfortunately for Boro fans, the abiding memory of Emerson is of him strolling around the Elland Road pitch watching the game that sealed the club’s relegation taking place without him.
5. Jaap Stam
I admit that this may be a controversial choice, Stam at times appeared to be a one-man defensive unit, but can you imagine the big Dutchman staying at Old Trafford for a decade rather than the three seasons he managed?
The problem was Stam wasn’t his football ability nor his fitness. It wasn’t his attitude nor a burning desire to leave rainy Manchester. No, the thing that ultimately led to Jaap Stam’s premature departure from Manchester United was his amazing ability to judge a character. In his autobiography, Jaap used all of his vast vocabulary to perfectly describe the Neville brothers as “a busy pair of c*nts”. Alex Ferguson made some noise about Stam losing a yard of pace but the fact that after leaving United he went on to play for Lazio and AC Milan suggests that he was still in his prime.
Never before has a player been cast out for telling the world what it already suspected. Not one to complain though, I have to say I was rather delighted when Stam left Old Trafford and was replaced by Laurent Blanc.
6. Roque Junior
A defender who’d won the World Cup with Brazil came to Elland Road with a decent reputation but it became obvious within weeks that Roque Junior was never going to cope with the pace of the Premier League. He often looked like he’d experienced some Frank Spencer-esque calamity prior to kick-off and was regularly left in the wake of a striker. Hair a riot of weeds, shirt out and socks heading south, Roque Junior was the ‘Stig of the Dump’ of his time in English football.
7. Karel Poborsky
A glorious scooped effort during the Euro’96 tournament saw this Czech international winger become a much coveted asset across the continent and Alex Ferguson was persuaded to part with £3.5 million to acquire his services.
The girly named, girly haired Poborsky couldn’t have timed his move worse though. It coincided with the emergence of a certain David Beckham who went on to become a major part of United’s success meaning limited chances for the Czech.
Karel actually went on to have a decent career at clubs such as Benfica, Lazio and Sparta Prague but the player United fans thought they were getting never materialised.
8. Garry Flitcroft
A product of Manchester City’s youth set-up, Garry with two ‘R’s looked set to boss the Citizens’ midfield throughout his career. He was part of manager Peter Reid’s hard to beat team that looked like it could go far until chairman Francis Lee decided to have a clear out and players such as Tony Coton, Keith Curle and Niall Quinn were moved on.
The floppy haired Flitcroft decided that his international ambitions would be better met at Blackburn Rovers and left City for Ewood Park, going on to earn an incredible zero caps for his country.
To this day Flitcroft remains second only to Shaun Wright Phillips on the list of players I wish had never left Manchester City.
9. Stan Collymore
Stanley looked like the real deal when he shot Nottingham Forest back to the top-flight and terrorised Premier League defences during a stunning first campaign. A big-money move to Liverpool was the next step but unable to resist the lure of being a ‘Spice Boy’, Collymore’s career never reached the heights it had promised.
A series of high profile incidents saw his career take a downward spiral and from Liverpool, he had spells at Aston Villa, Leicester City, Fulham, Real Oviedo and Bradford City.
Constantly struggling with depression, Stan the Man has been involved with some bizarre episodes including a run in with Ulrika Johnsson, a spot of dogging, appearances in both Basic Instinct 2 and the Jeremy Kyle show as well as attempting to rile the entire nation every Saturday evening on his TalkSport radio show.
10. Francis Jeffers
Described by Arsene Wenger as a “fox in the box”, the big eared scouser was signed from Everton in 2001 when the French philosopher felt his side needed more of a cutting edge. That it never worked out that way is possibly the reason why Arsenal teams to this day are accused of trying to pass the ball into the net. Maybe the selective sighted Wenger doesn’t actually trust a player who simply scores goals.
Four goals in 22 appearances led to Jeffers being loaned back to Goodison Park before he embarked on a tour of British clubs. Currently playing for Newcastle (no, not that one, the Jets in Australia) Jeffers is probably still attempting to justify his solitary England call up.
11. Harry Kewell
I’m not a fan of Liverpool Football Club, in fact I positively dislike them. The fact that my Grandad was a fan and persuaded my Mam to name me Kevin in tribute to Keegan never once tempted me to follow the fortunes of the Merseysiders. However, when Harry Kewell joined the Scouse club in 2003, even I was quite excited at the prospect of an already capable team being strengthened by the arrival of this young wing wizard. The way I saw it at the time was that the Aussie was the final piece of the Anfield jigsaw.
A player who was the shining light of the exciting Leeds United team who went all the way to the Champions League semi-final, Kewell never made the grade at Liverpool. Admittedly injuries played their part, Harry was restricted to 93 appearances in five seasons, but whenever I saw him in a red shirt he seemed a shadow of the player that I remembered from his Leeds days. Kewell left in 2008 for Galatasaray and another player that was going to fire Liverpool to Premier League glory had failed to deliver.