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Every few years,  journalists, scouts, managers, the media all try to find the “next big thing”. The next Ronaldo or the next Messi. Most of these players are just coming out of school, and are being urged to sign pro contracts worth up to a few million dollars. They are seen as the next generation, yet it’s only a small margin. The others are shamefully cast aside, and regarded only as “what could have been”. This article will look at the 3 players who could have been the “next big thing”.

Joe Cole

Brought up in England, possessing both natural talent and hard work, Joe Cole was regarded as the future of English football, the next “Gazza”. He began his career playing for West Ham in the 90’s, where he attracted massive attention from all over the country. Crowds gathered just to watch a young Cole play. He was sold to Chelsea, where people expected him to lead the way and help Chelsea win titles.

Cole’s former teammate Lampard told the media that whatever Messi could do, Cole could do a hundred times better. Although playing under “The Special One”, Cole struggled to learn his place in the new system and was switched to the wing from his free-flowing attacking midfield role. Mourinho realized Cole would not be the ideal player for his team and was sold.

Cole signed with Liverpool, but he still struggled to fit in, and injuries held him back. He then went to play alongside Hazard at Lille. Cole wouldn’t astonish the crowds, but his short tenure at Lille convinced Liverpool to bring him back. In the next few years, the wonderkid from West Ham would play for Liverpool, Aston Villa, Coventry City, and Tampa Bay Rowdies and finished with 97 goals in his professional career. Joe Cole is an unfortunate tale of a young natural talent wasted, who never reached his potential.


From Pele, Ronaldo and Neymar, Brazil has produced its fair share of elite soccer players. But there was one, one who could have surpassed all those before him, and be the best, Adriano. No one had as many expectations rested on their shoulders ever before, and no one had ever generated the hype that Adriano had.

Playing in Brazil for the Flamengo youth team, Adriano was promoted to the professional team at just 17 years old. The comparisons started to fly between Adriano and Ronaldo, which brought even more pressure on the now 18-year old Brazilian. This earned him a move to Inter, for a staggering 14.5 million dollars. Adriano would quickly enchant everyone with his physique, long-range shooting, and his hunger for goals. Yet, he still couldn’t break into the Inter squad and was loaned out to Fiorentina.

Adriano improved drastically at Fiorentina and then was sold to AC Parma. Inter, recognizing their mistake of letting Adriano go, paid 26 million for the 24-year old, and at one point even offered legendary defender Fabio Cannavaro in exchange. The same year he was signed, Adriano’s life changed in an unprecedented way, as his father passed away.

Adriano had made it clear that all his efforts and dedication in soccer were for his father, and now with him gone, Adriano was not the same. Adriano’s performance started to become poor and was let go by Inter and he would play for several different clubs for the next 10 years. Adriano was supposed to help Brazil reclaim the World Cup, but his father’s death changed not only him but the future of Brazilian soccer.

Freddy Adu

This list of players who never reached their potential would be incomplete if one of the most talented and sought out player was not mentioned, American soccer talent Freddy Adu. While most 14-year olds are getting ready for their freshman year of high school and most have no idea what they want to do in the future, Freddy Adu was signing a pro contract with DC United in the MLS.

At this point, expectations were extremely high, unlike ever before for any player. Adu’s MLS career was atrocious, playing 133 games and scoring 19 goals with 11 assists to his name. Adu played for European clubs Benfica, Monaco, and Jagodina. The only person to blame was Adu, his family, and his agent to have wasted such a young and talented individual by rushing him into a pro contract. Although we never got to see a fully mature Adu play, it can be assumed that he would have been a nightmare for even the best defenses. Adu’s story is rather disastrous but an important lesson for young super talents of what not to do.

Cole, Adriano, and Adu are all players who will always be regarded as “what if’s” but they aren’t the only ones who have had such fate, and aren’t the last ones. With soccer still being suspended in several countries, the media is already looking for their “next big thing”.