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5 past PFA Young Player of the Year winners who never fully fulfilled their potential

Michael Owen and other footballers who failed to sustain their excellent early career form.

THE PFA AWARDS take place tonight, with Harry Kane, Eden Hazard and David De Gea among the nominees for the Young Player of the Year prize.

The likes of Kane will be bidding to become part of an illustrious list of past winners, including Gareth Bale, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.

However, for every Cesc Fabregas and other players who go on to achieve bigger and better things, there is also the occasional footballer who fails to sustain such brilliance into their late 20s and early 30s, as these five examples below illustrate…

1. Jermaine Jenas

Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal - White Hart Lane Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

MADE HIS first-team debut with Nottingham Forest aged just 17 and was soon sold for £5million to Newcastle, where his meteoric rise continued, as he won the PFA Young Player of the Year award in his first season at the club. However, Jenas failed to recapture this early excellence with the Magpies thereafter, and was eventually sold to Tottenham for £7 million.

He initially performed relatively well at Spurs, establishing himself as a first-team regular and becoming the club’s vice-captain in 2008. A year later though, he fell out of favour at White Hart Lane, and a series of disappointing loan spells followed, before Jenas moved to QPR, making 38 appearances in an injury-ridden 18 months, before the club eventually opted not to renew his contract. Now 32, Jenas is a free agent and is starting to establish himself as a pundit on shows such as Match of the Day.

2. Harry Kewell

Soccer - FA Carling Premiership - Leeds United v Newcastle United Source: EMPICS Sport

Looked phenomenal at times as part of the David O’Leary-managed Leeds side that reached the semi-final of the Champions League, having made his first-team debut at just 17. He left the Yorkshire-based club in 2003 and his stock was still high enough to the point that clubs such as Man United, Milan and Chelsea were all being linked with the player.

Kewell eventually joined Liverpool for £5million and though he had a decent first season at the club, scoring seven goals, injuries restricted his playing time thereafter, and despite featuring briefly in Liverpool’s famous Champions League win, his stint at Anfield is generally considered a disappointment. Kewell’s career already appeared to be winding down at the age of 30, when he left the club to join Galatasaray, and the winger later retired after playing a couple of seasons in his native Australia.

3. Lee Sharpe

Soccer - Nationwide League Division One - Crystal Palace v Bradford City Source: EMPICS Sport

One of Alex Ferguson’s earliest signings as Man United manager, Sharpe joined the club in 1988, and went on to make 193 appearances at Old Trafford, winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award in 1991. However, injuries and the emergence of talented youngsters such as Ryan Giggs and David Beckham meant his first-team opportunities became increasingly limited, and he ultimately left Old Trafford after just turning 25.

Spells at Leeds, Bradford, Exeter City, Grindavík and Garforth Town followed, as Sharpe swiftly faded into obscurity. In a sense therefore, he is almost the anti-Ryan Giggs — a player who shined brightly briefly, but failed to thrive in era in which football was changing rapidly, with the increasing prominence of foreign players and excessive funds being pumped into the game meaning there was less room for talented British players in the top flight.

4. Nicolas Anelka

Soccer - AXA FA Cup - Sixth Round - Arsenal v Derby County Source: EMPICS Sport

Granted, he didn’t have a bad career by any means, as the acquisition of two Premier League titles and one Champions League crown would suggest, but Anelka undoubtedly had the talent to achieve even more. After 28 goals in 90 appearances for Arsenal, the French striker was bought for £22.3 million by Real Madrid at the age of just 20. However, his periods at both Real and then PSG were overshadowed by off-field problems and disputes with both clubs’ management, and he never really settled at either team as a result.

Anelka still enjoyed some success during further spells at Man City, Fenerbahce, Bolton, Chelsea and West Brom among others, but will perhaps always be most fondly remembered for those early days at Arsenal, when he played a key role in Arsene Wenger’s side’s first Premier League title win.

5. Michael Owen

Soccer - FA Carling Premiership - Manchester United v Liverpool Source: EMPICS Sport

A prodigy who took the Premier League by storm, he won the Premier League Golden Boot and was awarded the PFA Young Player of the Year award in his first season as a regular in the Liverpool team. He went on to play a starring role for England in the 1998 World Cup and followed that up by claiming the Golden Boot for a second successive season.

To put into perspective how highly he was rated, while still only 22, he was named European Footballer of the Year (also known as the Ballon d’Or) in 2001. However, by the age of 25, it was already starting to look like his best days were behind him. A series of injuries, perhaps owing to too much playing time as a youngster, meant his lightning pace was no longer quite as evident.

Owen moved to Real Madrid in 2004 but despite 13 goals, never fully established himself as a first-team regular, and soon was back in England with Newcastle, where his decline became increasingly noticeable. There were still some memorable moments — his last-minute winner in the famous 4-3 Manchester Derby perhaps being the most notable example — but it was clear he was no longer the same player after a succession of serious injuries. Owen consequently retired at the age of 33 having made only eight appearances following a short, unsuccessful spell at Stoke.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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