1. Luis Jimenez
as a youngster at Fiorentina, Jimenez made some eye catching displays as a youth product and was proclaimed a teenage sensation in the early-mid 2000's whilst on loan at Serie B side Ternana. Fiorentina stormed back from oblivion to Serie A and things went horribly wrong for him the moment Ternana purchased 50% of the player in a co-ownership deal. He had one season with Fiorentina in Serie A, less than 20 games without causing a stir and was promptly returned to Ternana who owned the players registration. Lazio took him on loan for a season where he played 16 times, mainly from the bench, with complaints of impetulance.
In 2007 Inter Milan signed him for a nominal fee where he'd make just 21 appearances in two seasons. Also in late 2007 new Chile coach Marcelo Biesla declared that Jimenez would never be picked for the national side while he was in charge, saying immediately after a 3-0 home loss to Paraguay "I don't know where his head is, but it doesn't belong on a football pitch". Furthermore Inter coach Roberto Mancini promptly made his services available in the summer of 2008 saying he was the most unprofessional player he has ever worked with. After a season largely in Inter's reserves he was loaned to West Ham for the 2009 season where he has made little impact thus far as the londoners struggle at the foot of the english premier league. Few would argue that at 25 Jimenez's career is over long before it should have, with less than 60 appearances in the last 4 seasons.
2. Javier Portillo
When Portillo made his way to Real Madrid's first team in 2002 at the age of 20, he was unanimously declared to be the next Raul. The young striker scored at will as a substitute in his first season, netting five goals in 10 league games, and eight in the Copa del Rey. When he rose from the bench to warm up, the whole Bernabeu chanted his name. He was a Madrid idol in the making.
However, the sacking of coach, Vicente del Bosque, in the summer of 2003 practically killed the dream that was about to become a reality. Portillo scored just once in his second season, was loaned out to Fiorentina, then to Brugge, and was never wanted back. His self-confidence shattered beyond repair, Portillo became a bench player at Osasuna, almost unable to score and wasting all his chances. Last month he moved on loan to Hercules Alicante in the Segunda division. At the age of 27, his career looks as good as over.
3. Freddy Adu
Ghanaian-born American Adu was touted as one of the greatest prodigies ever. Numerous Italian clubs wanted him before he was 12. At 14, he became the youngest athlete in over 100 years to sign a professional contract at DC United. He scored his first MLS goal before he was 15, but the media circus might have killed Adu’s talent.
Overexposed to critics at the very young age, he was never going to meet unrealistic expectations, with some comparing him to Pele. The transfer to Benfica in 2007 never worked out, and when Adu was loaned to Monaco a year later, he was already a “has-been”. This season he started on loan to Belenenses, and barely featured in a very poor team ranked last in the Portuguese league. When the new coach made it clear in December that Adu was no longer wanted, the “next big thing” reached a new nadir, and one wonders if his career is finished... at the age of 20.
4. Fabian Carini
Carini is the eternal “great goalkeeping prospect”. The Uruguayan came to prominence in 1999, at the age of 19, helping his country to the Copa America final with some absolutely stunning displays, especially in penalty shoot-outs against Paraguay and Chile. He was immediately snapped up by Juventus, and waited on the bench for two years without getting a game. A successful spell at Standard Liege made Inter sign him in 2004, and Carini, still thought to be a 'keeper of great promise, spent three years at San Siro, with almost no game practice.
Even a loan stint at Cagliari didn’t help, and when Carini finally decided to move to a smaller team, it was too late. He lost everything he had promised, and was a substitute even at Spanish minnows Murcia. Now aged 30, he moved back to South America to play at Atletico Mineiro, probably never to return to Europe.
5. Stefano Fiore
Fiore never got a decent chance at a fabulous Parma side at the beginning of his career, but a move to Udinese in 1999 made him one of the most talked about players in Serie A. An elegant player of fantastic vision and pin-point passes, he was so highly rated that Dino Zoff changed the whole strategy of the Italian national team, pushed Francesco Totti into a more attacking position and benched Alessandro Del Piero, in order to find a place for the new-found jewel.
Fiore was in his prime at Euro 2000, scoring against Belgium, calling the shots in midfield and guiding Italy to the final. Then, in the summer of 2001, he decided to sign for Lazio who paid €20 million for his services. From there, it was all down hill. Alberto Zaccheroni played him out of position, new Azzurri boss Giovanni Trapattoni didn’t trust him, and a disastrous move to Valencia in 2004 cooked his goose. Fiore’s international career was over after Euro 2004, and loan spells back in Italy did little to make him regain his form. Now aged 34, he is playing in third division for Cosenza, wondering what went wrong on his way to becoming a superstar.
6. Gaizka Mendieta
Mendieta was quite simply unstoppable at the beginning of the decade. A player who started his career at Valencia at left-back, he developed into an outstanding all-round midfielder thanks to Claudio Ranieri. Under Hector Cuper, he was the biggest star of a team that reached the Champions League final twice in succession. His magical passing and shooting, rare creativity and endless energy won him two UEFA Best Midfielder of the Season honours, and made some pundits to consider him a legitimate candidate to become the best player in the world.
Barcelona and Real Madrid did all they possibly could to get his signature, but Valencia sent him on his way to Lazio instead, with the Romans paying Los Che €48 million in 2001, making him the sixth most expensive player at the time. That’s where the story of Gaizka ended. He never settled in Italy, didn't play for Spain since 2002, had a hugely disappointing loan spell at Barca in 2002-2003, and was shipped to Middlesbrough in 2003. Two years after being destined to be the decade’s greatest player, he turned out to be an injury-prone also-ran at the Riverside. There were almost no headlines when he retired in 2008.
7. Michael Ricketts
Cast your mind back to the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons and you'll recall the two top scoring english strikers at that time being James Beattie of Southampton (still cutting it at Stoke) and a certain Michael Ricketts. Bolton forward Ricketts earnt a debut call up from new England coach Sven Goran Eriksson for a friendly against Holland, playing 45 minutes. It went downhill from that point, he fell out with Sam Allardyce, was sold to Middlesbrough for 4 million where he was a huge flop, and then again at Leeds United for two seasons. In those three Premier League seasons he managed just three goals in 57 appearaces. His club roll call since reads Stoke, Cardiff, Burnley, Southend, Preston, Oldham, Walsall. Walsall released him in summer 2009 and Ricketts didnt impress at a trial with MLS outfit Columbus Crew. He was most recently seen chuffing on a pie outside Tranmere Rovers' Prenton Park hoping to get a contract with them. Quite possibly the worst player ever to play for England.
8. Gianni Comandini
In the late 90s Comandini was the undoubted star of an Italy Under 21 side that also boasted Francesco Totti and Andrea Pirlo. How the careers of the three would take different paths. Comandini scored 40 league goals in 100 games as an under 21 star with both Cesena and then Vicenza. This led to giants AC Milan paying 20 million lire for his services in the summer of 2000. He lasted just a single season at Milan with 13 appearances and 2 goals. He was promptly sold to Atalanta for a nominal fee in 2001 where he would go on to make just 46 starts in 3 seasons (most of those in the first). In 2004 he was signed on a free by struggling Serie B side Genoa where he made just 10 starts, with club officials stating a lack of fitness for him not appearing. In 2005 he was loaned to Serie C side Ternana making just 7 appearances. in 2006 Commandini retired from professional football at the age of 29 without so much of a jot in a newspaper, He now runs a restaurant with his father and plays for local amateur side Pro Patria in the 5th tier in Italy whilst Totti and Pirlo have become legends of the game.
9. Francesco Pavon
The stopper’s place in the history is assured, his name famously becoming part of the “Zidanes y Pavones” philosophy of Florentino Perez during his first stint as Real Madrid president. “Zidanes” meant the galacticos bought for outrageous amounts of money, “Pavones” stood for local boys graduated from the Castilla academy. Young Paco Pavon, promoted to the first team in 2001, was supposed to be the new Fernando Hierro, and got almost unlimited credit at the beginning of his Bernabeu career. However, mistakes were occurring more and more often, and coaches started to lose confidence in his abilities. By 2004 he was on the bench, and a year later lost his course completely.
Real Zaragoza signed him in 2007, but even there he is not the first-choice option. When he does play, one wonders whether this error-prone defender was really a great white hope at Madrid just a few years ago.
10. Richard Knopper
Remember ever hearing of him? At the beginning of the century, Knopper was the brightest talent at Ajax, touted to be the successor to Dennis Bergkamp and the direct heir to Jari Litmanen, whose play he was trying to emulate. A deep-lying playmaker of great vision, Knopper had an uncanny ability to send the ball to the top corner from great distances, and was undoubtedly one of the most promising players in Europe in 2000.
Disaster struck later that year, as an injury forced him to miss almost the entire season, and new manager Co Adriaanse never put his faith in him after. After loan spells at Aris Saloniki and Heerenveen, he was sold to Vitesse, and since 2006 has been playing for Den Haag. More disappointingly, Knopper, now aged 33, doesn’t have a single international cap to his name. Given his undoubtedly outrageous talent, that’s a great shame.