Arsenal's Arshavin & Football's Greatest Enigmas

For every twinkle-toed footballer who sets the world alight, there are another 100 who fall short...
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Arsenal's Arshavin & Football's Greatest Enigmas

The Collins English Dictionary defines an Enigma as a person, thing, or situation that is mysterious, puzzling, or ambiguous. Something or someone, who is perplexing, or difficult to understand. Football has long been filled with a whole host of curious enigmas.

There are loads players who should have achieved much, much more in the game than they actually did. The seemingly average players who produced occasional spurts of genius. And the players who did actually achieve it all, before somehow falling completely off the football radar.

They have come in various shapes and sizes over the years, but each has proven to be as frustrating, mysterious and as perplexing as the last.

Here we look at some of the biggest enigmas in football history...

Paul McGrath

Is there a bigger enigma in all of British sport than Paul McGrath? The Irish legend is one of the greatest defenders to ever to grace the British game – yet, tragically, also one of the most troubled.

With a poise and sublime reading of the game which out him streets ahead of most other defenders in his day, McGrath was massively let down by chronic knees, and a penchant for a booze-up.

His career famously reached a point where he never even trained - hitting the bottle all week - before somehow putting in a faultless shift on a Saturday afternoon.

Just how good he could have been with knees that weren't held together by chewing gum, and a teetotal lifestyle, will now sadly never be known.

Adel Taarabt

There was a collective thud heard around English football back in January, as thousands of football fans fell off their chairs in unison at the news of Adel Taarabt's move from AC Milan.

Now, there's no doubt that Taarabt possesses the kind of silky skills and innate ability that most can only dream of - but his attitude stinks, and that's always been his problem.

Back in 2010/11, he took the Championship to pieces as his QPR side romped their way to promotion, but he's never quite managed to hit those heights consistently at the top level - and after Fulham failed to revive a dwindling career, the Rossineri came calling.

Gianluigi Lentini

When you think of the world's most expensive footballers, you go: Zidane, Crespo, Figo, Ronaldo.

Don't forget Gianluigi Lentini. Who, you say? Gianluigi Lentini was Italy's hottest property back in 1992, when AC Milan forked out a staggering £13 million to bring the winger to the San Siro from Torino.

But from one of the most momentous transfers of the early 90's, it was all downhill, as Lentini ended up in a coma following a near-fatal car smash, suffering injuries that threatened not only his career, but also his life.

Miraculously returning to the game some 18 months later, he was never the same player again - and whether he could have lived up to his tag of the world's most expensive football will forever be a mystery.

Laurent Robert

As a Newcastle fan, I used to watch Laurent Robert do some truly staggering things with a football. Trouble is, he didn't do a lot without it.

I sat in the stands open-mouthed as he walloped in 40-yard volleys, overhead back heels, and 'knuckleball' free kicks long before Cristiano Ronaldo ever did. That left foot truly was a thing of beauty.

He was a typical winger - which had its pros and cons. He loved dribbling, he loved running at defenders, and he loved scoring goals, but he loathed tracking back, and he was allergic to hard graft.

In summary, Robert had the raw ability to be as good as a Robbern, a Ribery, or even a Bale - but the truth was, he just couldn't be arsed.


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Stan Collymore

Don't get me wrong - Stan actually enjoyed a pretty successful club career, but as far as I'm concerned, he should have achieved so much more.

One of the great British unfulfilled talents, Stan had the complete package - power, speed, strength, athleticism and dribbling ability - and he could score every type of goal. He was like the ultimate Top Trump.

With those attributes, he could have, and should have, gone down in the history books as an England legend. But sadly, his off-the-pitch issues dominated his career to such a degree that we can now only look back on Stan in his prime and imagine just how good he, and England, could have been.

If Stan had possessed the professionalism and determination of a Beckham, a Lampard, or even an Owen, it could well have been a different story.

Juan Román Riquelme

If ever there was a reluctant superstar it was Juan Román Riquelme. As a player he won 53 Argentina caps, was crowned Argentinian Player of the Year 4 times and collected numerous domestic and international honours – but, as one of the most gifted playmakers of his generation, it should have been so much more.

With an incredible ability to control games single-handedly, and at his own pace, his phenomenal vision and passing skill was up there with the best of them.

Weirdly, he always seemed to struggle with the high-pressure demands of top flight football. Many will point to the kidnapping of his brother by angry Boca fans, along with a disastrous move to Barcelona, as the main reasons behind his notoriously reticent nature.

Des Walker

The curious case of Des Walker is one that has baffled football fans for years. Back in the early nineties, Des was England’s best defender since Bobby Moore, and well on the way to becoming the best English defender of his generation.

Then in 1992, at the age of 26, the inevitable big money move to Italy, and more specifically, Sampdoria, arrived. He was expected to improve even further, but within a year he had inexplicably lost his way, and came back with his tail between his legs to sign for Sheffield Wednesday after just one season abroad.

But it was too late for his England career. A series of under-par performances, including being torn apart at the hands of a young Marc Overmars at Wembley, meant that by late 1993, his stint in the Three Lions backline was all but over - at just 27 years old.

Mario Balotelli

A bit obvious maybe, but an enigma nonetheless. It's crazy to think that he's only 23, already a household name, and having demanded transfer fees totalling well over £43m -yet, we are still to see Mario actually fulfil his true potential.

From young, prodigal upstart at Inter, to squad player at Manchester City, it took Mario a while to show us what he was truly capable of, and, in glimpses, he did just that.

It did look like Mario was finally starting to come of age at the 2012 Euros, yet despite regular football at AC Milan, he’s still to show that electric form on a regular basis.

His mental antics will always be a topic of interest for the press, but it has now reached a point with Mario where he needs to be hitting the back page headlines, rather than the front.

Andrei Arshavin

Andrei Arshavin frustrates me. He frustrates me because I genuinely believe that he is one of the great unfulfilled talents of modern day football.

Back in 2009, Andrei was one of the hottest properties in European football. The Russian playmaker arrived at the Emirates with the world at his feet and started like a house on fire - most memorably with an incredible four goal haul in a stunning performance for Arsenal at Anfield.

Sadly for Andrei, that night in Liverpool was as good as it got. In the years following, his performances gradually got worse - and then worse still - and he was nothing more than a bit-part, water boy by the time he quietly departed Arsenal in 2013.

Hatem Ben Arfa

In over two decades as a Newcastle season ticket holder, I can say hand on heart that Hatem Ben Arfa is the most talented player I have ever seen pull on a black and white shirt. He’s the sort of player you pay to watch, the one who can produce moments of pure genius when it really matters most.

Hatem has one major flaw however. Like Robert before him, Ben Arfa just doesn’t work hard enough for the team. If he can eventually learn to be part of a team, realising that a 40-yard sprint back to cover the full-back is equally as important as a 40-yard jinking run toward goal, then maybe he might just fulfil his limitless potential and become the great player that he is truly capable of being.