Wednesday, 8 June 2011



Now that the sports season is running to a close, life is getting really uninspiring. What to do with weekends? Not forgetting all the time we fanatics spend discussing, dissecting and arguing about past games; or predicting future ones, with varying degrees of success. So, this is the point that we get to reminiscing. I have decided to start a nostalgia-inducing series to help fill this gaping void.

Once in a while child prodigies come along, that have everyone in the soccer world waiting with bated breath for true genius to be unleashed. This is the motivation for soccer pundits to look out for the new Pele, Maradona, Zidane, Platini...the list is endless. Inevitably, many of these go on to have solid careers, a few become very decent, fewer still(only Messi in the recent past), live up to the hype. However you get the spectacular flops that leave all of us in disbelief! Don’t you ever catch yourself asking “I wonder what happened to that guy Denilson?” This list, from bad to worse to worst, is based on: the enormity of expectation, and the “spectacular-ness” of the flop

  1. MASSIMO TAIBI – The Blind Venetian

                                                 You can see! He is actually blind

During the 90s, foreigners in the English Premier League were considered too expensive and soft for English football. Chelsea tried to change the trend but that didn’t work out too well; considering that their most expensive, 9m pound, signing Pierluigi Casseragi didn’t play a competitive game for two seasons, and the other foreigners hadn’t even gotten a sniff at the title. In came Arsene Wenger who won the title with a contingent of continental players, albeit with an English defence. That, plus the earlier success of Eric Cantona at United opened eyes around the league. All of a sudden, it was open season.

Massimo Taibi arrived at Old Trafford, with the fanfare we’ve come to expect from Sir Alex. He couldn’t speak a word of English.  He cost 4.5m. For a goalkeeper, at the time, that could as well be 20m. On his debut, against Liverpool, his howler allowed Sámi Hyppia to score. United came back to win the game 3-2 behind a string of fine saves from Taibi. He was named man of the Match. Fergie had done it again! Another howler against Southampton brought him the title of “The Blind Venetian”.

In all, he played, 4 games for United. In his last game for the club, he shipped in 6 against Chelsea at OT including the tamest header I’ve seen in my life, from Gus Poyet. He promptly went back to Italy...and anonymity. Retired without as much fanfare as that winter day in Manchester.

8. ANDY VAN DER MEYDE – when it rains, it falls

                                                   Maybe the meltdown was infectious. This is the day Sol got it.

You know that lasting impression you’ll always have of a footballer, that one image that always stands out when that player crosses your mind? In the 03/04 season Van der Meyde, then with Inter, lashed  a fierce left footed effort into the Arsenal net and proceeded to celebrate by shooting an imaginary Uzi into the Highbury night sky. Inter won that game 3-0. The gun celebration is my enduring image of Andy van der Meyde. We all thought we were witnessing the beginning of brilliance. How mistaken.

Van der Meyde started his career at the famed academy at The Amsterdam Arena, with Ajax. He came through at the same time as Steven Pienaar, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sneijder, van der Vaart and Christian Chivu. The inevitable move to Inter came. He fell out of favour quickly and was shipped to Everton. The shit hit the proverbial fan! A spiked drink in a Liverpool club landed him in hospital. He was later fired by Everton for indiscipline .i.e. missing training and so on. As testament to the saying “when it rains, it falls”, the week he was fired, his Ferrari and dog were stolen! Retired from football in Feb 2011, aged 32.

7. JAVIER SAVIOLA – The Time magazine man.

Saviola was an integral part of The Argentine U-20 squad that won the World Cup in 2001, along with Fabio Collocini and D’allesandro. He was the tournament MVP.  He has gone on to have a mildly successful career, turning out for Barca, Real Madrid and AS Monaco, before finally finding a home at Benfica.

The biggest problem is that he was named in Time Magazine as one of the emerging forces, in sports, to look out for in the new millennium. That was how much hype he had! Americans knew about him! A mildly successful career isn’t good enough.

6. JOSE ANTONIO REYES – Tricked by a Radio DJ.

                                                Never overcelebrate against Mourinho. It is a curse

I’ll begin by saying “Reyes” is Spanish for “king” or “royalty”. Reyes debuted for Sevilla at age 16. His talent got the notoriously miserly Arsene Wenger to spend a record transfer fee of about 15m pounds to get him to Arsenal. He scored a sumptuous goal against Chelsea to knock them out of the FA Cup, and was part of the “Invincibles”.

In the 59th  game of their unbeaten stretch, Arsenal met Man U at Old Trafford in a league fixture. This proved to be the last time Reyes believed in himself as a footballer. A couple of particularly harsh tackles form Gary Neville seemed to break his footballing soul. Then came the famous prank call: A radio DJ called Reyes and his agent, posing as Emilio Butragueno, Real Madrid’s then sporting director. He inquired about the possibility of getting Jose to Real. Jose talked about how sad he was in London and how he’d welcome a move.  The dream move eventually came( on loan). It goes without saying that didn’t work, with the likes of Raul, Ronaldo and Morientes. From there, it was Benfica on loan, then finally back to Athletico, where Kun Aguerro and Diego Forlan had even stolen the affections of the returning hometown hero.

5. MATEJA KEZMAN – Of the famed Batman and Robin duo

                                                               One of seven times!

I first came across him in Soccerlife magazine in 2001, right after Ruud van Nisteelrooy had left PSV Eindhoven for Manchester. The headline of the article was “Ruud van who?”  The gist of the article was that the Eindhoven club had found someone better.
He started out at FK Partizan in Serbia and Montenegro. He was the league’s top scorer in 99/00, aged 19.  In 2000, he moved to PSV and was immediately the Dutch League top scorer. He has a unique record in Holland as the only top scorer who has ever scored more goals over a season than games played.! He formed a devastating partnership with Arjen Robben which was nick-named Batman and Robin. Then he was lured by Roman’s millions. He joined Chelsea in the summer of 2004, re-joining Robben. He scored a paltry 7 goals in all competitions, including penalties in already decided games.

From Chelsea, his career has taken him to among others, Athletico Madrid, Fenerbache, PSG, Zenit St Petersburg and South China FC ( Hong Kong). Never one to stay at a club longer than a season. He was last seen among a group of hooligans protesting the extradition of Ratko Mladic to the ICC.

4. NIL LAMPTEY – The Great Black Hype

Possibly the greatest African hope of the 90s. He has also become a lesson for administrators and young players that the weight of expectation, snd questionable decisions can kill careers.

With divorced parents and an alcoholic father, who abused and beat him as a child, he didn’t seem to be destined for great things. At 15, he participated in the 1991 U-17 WC, along the Juan Veron and Allesandro del Piero, where he was the MVP. He was called the next Pele by the man himself!(at the time, no one realized anointment by Pele was a curse). He was signed by Anderlecht in Belgium at age 16. he was so good the league changed the rules to enable him register at that age! He was A Black Star at age 17, along with greats Abedi “Pele” Ayew and Tony Yeboah. They reached the 1992 African Cup of Nations where they lost to the Ivory Coast on penalties.

                                                                This will make sense later

An unscrupulous agent he’d hired, in teenage naivety, sold him to the highest bidder         ( Aston Villa) in 1994 so that he( the agent) could get 25% of the transfer fee. He never settled in England! He moved to Coventry City, then on to Venezia in Italy to no avail. Then on to Turkey and Portugal, before moving to SpVgg Grenther Furth ( German 2nd Division). Here a teammate once refused to share a hotel room with him because he was black. The loss of two children didn’t help much. He moved on to China, then Al-Nasr in Saudi Arabia, before re-joining Asante Ekotto back in his homeland. His final stop was Jomo Cosmos in South Africa in 2007.

He is currently a cattle keeper in his native Ghana.

3. DENILSON – Dribbling isn’t everything you excitable Spanish clubs

Who doesn’t remember the mesmeric step-overs that left us all in awe? Epileptics weren’t allowed to see this man in action. He is a 2002 World Cup winner (his biggest contribution being running down the clock in the final against Germany) He moved to Real Betis in Spain for a then world record fee of 21.5m pounds, from Sao Paolo. In 1998.

He was a disappointment from the get go and Betis were relegated in the 99/00 season.
Here’s a list of clubs he’s played for since; Bordeaux, Al-Nasr, FC Dallas, Palmeiras, Itumbiara, Xi Mang Hai, FC Phong( he quit this one after 3 wks), AO Kavala( released after 3 months, no games played). None of these names are made up!

Incredibly, he won the Copa del Rey, The World Cup, Confederations Cup 1997 and Copa America. Talk about having good teammates.

2. ADRIANO – You’re a millionaire, get your stomach stapled

                                 Dude, I am seriously! Respect my authority! I am not 100kg, Kylie put you up to this!

What can I say? I watched him play a Champions League game in 2004, when he was with Inter, against Valencia. He single handedly dismantled the Spaniards with a virtuoso performance capped with a mesmeric run during which he beat a couple of Valencia players, did the famous “Zidane roulette”, beat the keeper and hit the side netting. Mind you he scored two brilliant goals as well. At some point, he threatened to become a hybrid of Ronaldinho and Zizou in their primes, coupled with Zlatan-esque size! He was meant to be as unfair to basketball as LeBron is to basketball.

Let’s not get into the lifestyle! Everyone knows about that. What is amusing is that last season AS ROMA handed him a lifeline. They gave a performance, and weight related contract. He arrived in Rome weighing in at 112 kg (according to club doctors) and 109kg (according to himself!). Wwe, perhaps!

1. FREDDY ADU – Americans should stick to cricket for rednecks aka baseball

All budding youngsters should get super injunctions against Pele

Freddy Adu was born in 1989. That makes him 22.... It seems like we have had him around forever. He was born in Ghana, but his mum won a Green card lottery and they moved to America. It seems luck was in abundance early on.

He is the youngest sportsman in American professional sports to evr sign a pro contract, with DC United, at the age of 14. He skipped two years of high school to get into college so he could get into the draft! He was the No. 1 pick by the way. He did an advert with Pele – who needs to stop endorsing his successors, or telling us his picks to win any tournament for that matter.   Inter supremo Massimo Moratti considered a six figure deal for him aged 15!

0 Pause! Seriously, if you are a budding talent, get a superinjunction against Pele. He’s notoriously a bad luck charm. You get the feeling he actually doesn’t want anyone to be as great as he was.

All I know is DC United sold him...rather traded him(silly Americans!) to Real Salt Lake who let him go to Benfica. Benfica has loaned him out to Monaco, Beleneses, Aris and currently Caykur Rizespor in Turkey. All these are real football clubs, with obviously very good scouts! At least the cash people at these clubs are smart enough not to give him permanent deal. As the Yanks say, it’s an untradeable contract!



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