Several well-known footballers who shone a few years ago have lost the spotlight before even reaching 30 years old.
Modern football can be harsh on players. The number of games and the pressure to win are rising. However, they are expected to maintain their good form to remain at the top and even maximise their peak years, or simply just to keep getting a nod in the lineup.
Some players have remained consistent at the highest levels for more than ten or fifteen years. Few players, including Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Zlatan Ibrahimović, are capable of doing so. Meanwhile, some others have been struggling for consistency in their supposedly golden years.
Footballers also have limitations because they must deal with personal issues, physical fitness, and mental health. Long-term injuries remain the most daunting for players. They could be going under the radar should they be sidelined for too long. Once they return to the pitch, they are bound to cope with the huge pressure to bounce back to their top form, especially in major leagues. Otherwise, the spotlight will shift away from them. Brazil’s Neymar is an excellent example of this phenomenon.
Sadly, some well-known names who seemed to be on the way to their peak form a few years ago have found themselves in a similar situation to the former Barcelona and PSG stars. They might be losing their stardom, or worse, forced to retire early, should they fail to bounce back immediately.
The former England international is still 27 years old, but his chances of returning to the top level appear to be slim. The current Everton player was a promising star for the Three Lions alongside Harry Kane in the mid-2010s. He was included in the EURO 2016 squad and became a key player in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, scoring once in the quarterfinals to help England reach the semifinals for the first time in 22 years.
Dele was also a prominent figure at Spurs under Mauricio Pochettino. Alongside Harry Kane and Son Heung Min, he brought Spurs to the UEFA Champions League final in 2019 before losing to Liverpool. His doom began in 2019/20 when Pocchettino was dismissed. Dele picked up injuries again and again, failed to make an instant impact in his return, and faced constant managerial changes from Mourinho, Nuno Espirito Santo, and Antonio Conte.
The former MK Dons player may have missed his chance to recapture his peak years at Goodison Park this season because he needs to undergo another surgery. This would keep him sidelined until the end of the season, when his contract expires. Dele has only played 13 matches for The Toffees and has not played since his brief, disappointing loan spell in Beşiktaş.
The 23-year-old attacking midfielder stole the show in EURO 2020 as he netted twice, provided one assist, and helped Denmark advance to the semifinal. He seemed to be on the right track to becoming the next star. However, the table is turning the opposite way. Damsgaard has struggled with his fitness and recovery more than he has contributed on the pitch.
His move to Brentford has not been as fruitful, with only one assist in 40 games thus far. This is even worse than his time with Sampdoria, where he still managed to score two goals and four assists in 49 matches. The versatile midfielder has not even received a call-up for international fixtures since last summer. Damsgaard must regain his fitness soon and bounce back to his top form before it is too late.
Another Danish star seems to be falling out of favour at the top level, despite his incredible kickstart. The 26-year-old forward had an impressive spell at Ajax and Nice, where he bagged 45 and 24 goals, respectively. He also netted three goals in EURO 2020 while crushing Wales and the Czech Republic.
Unfortunately, Dolberg was unable to maintain his goalscoring prowess with the Ligue 1 side over the last two seasons, resulting in a loan to Sevilla and TSG Hoffenheim in the 2022–23 campaign. However, neither of his stints worked out for the Danish international.
The frontman with 43 international caps eventually had to move away from major European leagues to revive his career by signing for Belgian giant Anderlecht. Dolberg has contributed 10 goals and three assists this season. It is doubtful as to whether he can resurrect his form at the top level again, implying that the big stage may no longer be for him.
The Colombian international was deemed one of the most talented figures on the backline in 2016. His great form at Palmeiras attracted Barcelona to sign him in 2017. His spell in Catalonia was unsuccessful, but he made the right decision when he switched sides to Everton after the 2018 World Cup. Mina carried on his World Cup top performance in Goodison Park. However, the 29-year-old defender suffered long-term injuries in his last two seasons with the Toffees, which mostly kept him off the pitch.
Last summer, he decided to ply his trade to Italian Serie A side Fiorentina on a free transfer. Yet, once again, he struggled to regain his fitness there. Mina only featured in seven games for La Viola. His spell in Florence was surprisingly cut short in January, and Mina opted to join the relegation strugglers, Cagliari, during the winter transfer window.
The 26-year-old winger impressed AS Roma and Barcelona in 2018. The latter finally managed to secure his signature after hijacking his move to Serie A. Unfortunately, the Brazilian forward barely made regular starts despite scoring four goals and two assists, including one goal against Inter Milan in the UEFA Champions League back in 2018/19 and another one in El Clásico in the Copa del Rey semifinal.
Malcom then signed with Zenit St. Petersburg in 2019 and had a trophy-laden stint there, winning nine domestic titles and four league trophies in four years. He was also named the top scorer in Russia’s top flight last season, with 23 goals.
Nevertheless, the former Bordeaux man chose to leave Europe last summer instead of moving to the major European leagues. He joined Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal despite Liverpool’s and PSG’s interest. The São Paulo-born striker who netted the winning goal for the Brazil U23 team in football at the 2020 Summer Olympics final seems to prefer going off the radar.