Football has witnessed so many incredible talents but not all are fortunate enough to fulfill their immense potential.
Here, we’ve assembled an XI of players who were destined for great – or even greater – things only for injuries to limit their accomplishments.
GK: CHRIS KIRKLAND
Once the most expensive goalkeeper in British transfer history when he moved from Coventry City to Liverpool, Chris Kirkland showed plenty of promise.
The highly-rated 20-year-old replaced Jerzy Dudek as the Reds’ first-choice stopper in his second season but persistent injuries blighted his time at Anfield where he even considered retirement.
Injuries followed him on his loan to West Brom before his transfer to Wigan sustained his career in the Premier League with 122 appearances in six years. However, his opportunity at one of Europe’s biggest clubs had come and gone.
CB: LEDLEY KING
A knee injury in the very beginning for Ledley King set the tone for his entire career. On pure talent, he was unparalleled and his ability on the ball rendered the exemplary centre-back proficient even in midfield.
Chronic knee problems meant that he almost never took part in training later in his career, focusing on his fitness individually through the week before leading the team out on the weekend.
His ability to perform at the high standards of the Premier League with little to no regular training prompted Harry Redknapp to label him “an absolute freak.”
Despite never coming near his full potential, the one-club man is remembered as one of Tottenham’s finest.
CB: JONATHAN WOODGATE
After emerging as a bright young talent at Leeds, Jonathan Woodgate’s move to Newcastle United saw him become one of the finest defenders in the Premier League despite early injuries.
Such was his quality that Real Madrid snapped him up in 2004 even though he suffered a serious injury in his last appearance for the Magpies that sidelined him for the entirety of his first year in the Spanish capital.
Injuries continued to haunt him and he featured only 14 times in three years for Los Blancos.
He returned to England with Middlesbrough and also played for Tottenham and Stoke City in the next seven seasons. However, frequent muscle injuries meant he only appeared on 30 occasions in that time, even missing the entire 2010/11 season.
CB: PHIL JONES
Phil Jones is perhaps the most controversial inclusion in this XI given that he’s been subjected to such ridicule in recent times. But it’s easy to forget that before the countless injuries seemingly restricted his very range of motion, never mind pace or agility, the Manchester United centre-back was tipped for great things.
In 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson backed him to become the greatest player in the club’s history while Sir Bobby Charlton even likened him to legend Duncan Edwards. In 2011, Fabio Capello compared him to Franco Baresi and Fernando Hierro.
Those remarks seem ludicrous now but for a brief moment in time, during his final season at Blackburn and his first at United – Jones’ pace, power and bravery made him seem like the real deal.
RM: HATEM BEN ARFA
“Ben Arfa has as much quality as Messi,” former Lyon and France team-mate Karim Benzema famously stated in 2017. And he’s not the only one to liken the two either – Papiss Cisse, among others, made similar comparisons.
Given the phenomenal close control Ben Arfa possesses and exhibited in solo goals against Bolton and Blackburn during his time with Newcastle, you can see where those comparisons come from.
He’s grossly underachieved with injuries delivering regular setbacks. That said, his disciplinary issues have played a part as well.
CM: OWEN HARGREAVES
With four Bundesliga titles and a Champions League crown with Bayern Munich by the age of 25, Manchester United signed one of the best in the business when Owen Hargreaves arrived at Old Trafford in 2007.
The midfielder had a stellar first season as the Red Devils won the league and Champions League double but then discovered he had patellar tendonitis – a knee condition.
United thought they finally had a fitting replacement for Roy Keane in Hargreaves and along with Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick, one of the best midfields in Europe.
However, despite intense and prolonged treatment, he was never the same again, making just four league appearances over the next three seasons.
CM: JACK WILSHERE
He was meant to be England’s answer to Andres Iniesta but football only ever witnessed a glimpse of what Jack Wilshere is capable of.
A teenage sensation at Arsenal, he impressed in the Champions League against Barcelona and was hailed as one of the most creative and technically proficient midfielders around.
Persistent knee and ankle injuries led to a number of surgeries, rendering Wilshere a shadow of the player he looked destined to be. After a couple of loan spells, he joined West Ham in 2018 where he’s continued to fight for fitness.
LM: MARCO REUS
Marco Reus is phenomenally gifted and one of the most intelligent players in the final third. He’s among the best when fit but injuries have limited his impact on the football circuit though he’s still made a significant mark.
He was cruelly sidelined from Germany’s 2014 World Cup triumph, injuring himself just before the tournament, while similar misfortune befell him ahead of Euro 2016 as well.
He’s still managed to hit double figures for goals in all but one season with Borussia Dortmund and is poised to do so again with nine in 19 appearances so far this term.
CF: ROBERTO BAGGIO
Regarded as one of the greatest players of all-time, one can only imagine what Roberto Baggio would’ve accomplished had he not spent his career in agony.
The Italian has stated that he asked his mother to kill him after his first knee operation while he recalls struggling to walk for two days after a match during his time with Brescia and playing every Sunday filled with painkillers.
In spite of the injury nightmares, Il Divin Codino (The Divine Ponytail) still played in three World Cups, won two Serie A titles and a Ballon d’Or.
ST: ROBIN VAN PERSIE
One of the most elegant and deadly strikers to grace the Premier League, Robin van Persie should’ve set records the likes of Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer and Sergio Aguero have managed.
A variety of injuries marred the Dutchman’s eight seasons at Arsenal though but his final 18 months with them proved how effective he could be.
He scored a club record 35 goals for the Gunners in the 2011/12 season, winning the Golden Boot in the league before his switch to rivals Manchester United where he would continue his form, finish top scorer again and finally win the title.
No one married explosive speed, sublime skill, frightening strength and lethal finishing quite like the original Ronaldo. At his best, he was unparalleled but at only 21 he suffered his first serious knee injury which would lead to a recurring issue that robbed him of his powerful pace defenders simply couldn’t live with.
Of course, he still went on to lift the 2002 World Cup as top scorer and enjoy success at Inter Milan and Real Madrid but El Fenomeno was compromised.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have stunned us with incredible stats in recent years but Ronaldo scored 47 goals in 49 games during his only season with Barcelona back in 1996/97. And he wasn’t even at his peak – he was 19.
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