Ever since I wrote this piece on Joe Cole I've been given a lot of thought to those players who were tipped to stride the world like goliaths but, in the end, fell short of their own dreams.
Sometimes the problem is that we hyped a player too much and they fall short. There are others who genuinely could have been greater.
Both groups are important. The first group because we should be very careful when we hype young players because that hyping can be hugely problematic. It is also true that players progress at different rates. The genius at 13 might not be a genius at 18 (as Sonny Pike or Owen Price testify).
The second group because we do not produce enough superb footballers and we should endeavour to make sure we get the most from each one we do. (My views on the first group are covered - tangentially - in this piece on Raheem Sterling.)
The first group might cover the likes of Francis ''Fox in The Box'' Jeffers, John ''Future England Captain'' Curtis and - perhaps - Stephen ''The New Liam Brady'' McPhail. The latter might cover everyone from Paul Lake to Paul Gascoigne.
Researching this piece was depressing reading. So many youngsters twinkled brightly and briefly. The likes of Gascoigne, Owen and Cole all had superb careers even if the lingering feeling remains that they could have achieved so much more.
The most famous of these, in England, is Paul Gascoigne. It should be a matter of national hand-wringing that Phil Neville played more times for England than, arguably, our most naturally gifted ever player. A player who could do this.
Whilst Gascoigne's ill-fated tackle on Gary Charles in the 1991 FA Cup Final undoubtedly undermined his ability there is always the nagging thought that he was always destined to self-destruct. Perhaps had he moved to Manchester United, where Ferguson might have shepherded him better, then he would have written history but one gets the feeling that the name Gascoigne was always destined to ache in the hearts of men.
There are others, however, who would have killed to have the careers of Gascoigne. Some of those suffered injuries, some slipped off the rails or could not deal with the nature of being a footballer.
Kevin Beattie - a man labelled by Sir Bobby Robson as a player as gifted as Duncan Edwards, others insisted he was more reminiscent of Bobby Moore, others still Sir Bobby Charlton- played only 9 times for England.
Norman Whiteside was a behemoth of a player but retired aged 25 after a succession of injuries. Ferguson said of him ''I felt the excitement that is felt by watching a player of the highest class.... As a player, he was close to the genius territory''.
Paul Lake was, arguably, as good as Gascoigne but never played for England. He was extremely close to an England call-up in 1990 and one wonders what a fit and firing midfield of Rocastle, Lake and Gascoigne could have done for England at Euro 1992 or if they could have propelled us to qualification to World Cup 1994. All three - without injuries - would have been in their pomp at Euro 1996.
Ian Durrant, in many ways, was the Scottish Gascoigne. A player of power and purpose whose injury in a game against Aberdeen meant he never fulfilled his undoubted potential.It is questionable how many caps Gary Neville would have got if Rob Jones hadn't suffered from shin splints or if we would be obsessing over John Terry to this day if Ledley King knees hadn't been so problematic.
And the roll call goes on and on... Alex Watson, the younger brother of Dave Watson, was a huge hope at Liverpool but his career was all but ended by a tackle by John Fashanu in the 1988 Charity Shield. Having broken into - arguably - the best Liverpool side in history he never played for the club again. Wayne Harrison - for a while the world's most expensive teenager - never played for Liverpool after a grinding succession of injuries. Matt Jansen was on the brink of an England call-up, and a move to either Wenger's Arsenal or Ferguson's Manchester United, when a car-crash changed his world. Michael Bridges, a silkily skilled striker, suffered a succession of injuries and those of us who swoon at silky strikers wonder what might have been.
If one were to design the perfect centre-forward you might come up with Stan Collymore. A player of immense talent - strong, quick, powerful and with two fine feet. A combustible combination of indiscipline, immaturity, and a propensity to clash with team-mates and managers led to a long, sad decline. Football - and most sports - is bad at dealing with depression and other forms of mental illness.
Laughable as it may seem, Emile Heskey was a behemoth as a youngster. How he went from a player that terrified defences to one who seemed almost terrified to score is a whole other article. He will be forever remembered as a striker who couldn't score when we should be wondering why he lost that frightening ability.
Lee Sharpe, a huge talent for Manchester United, combined a series of injuries with a lifestyle incompatible with Ferguson's 1990s regime at Old Trafford. England, for many years, dreamed for a left-winger. Like the teenage girls that helped catapult him onto the front of magazines, we spent much of the 1990s pining for Lee Sharpe.
Not all players in this category didn't fulfil their potential because of injuries - or at least purely because of injuries - Billy Kenny, of Everton, was tipped as the next Gascoigne. This was remarkably accurate. Kenny was one of the great talents of the 1990s but barely played a game for Everton. His life turned to drink and drugs and England was robbed of a potentially world-class player.Jermaine Pennant - a player who shone in a Champions League Final - was, for a time, Britain's most expensive teenager but bar a twinkle here and a shimmer there he has never shown his potential often enough. His consistent off-the-field problems undermined his potential.
Kenny, Pennant and Gascoigne - are names that echo when we see Raheem Sterling or Ravel Morrison. We don't want to lose another player. Many of us are worried that Ravel Morrison will end up as a quiz question.
So what can we learn?
Medical advances mean that injuries such as those suffered by Lake and Gascoigne are less likely to end or seriously undermine a career. Lake would, these days, have been flown immediately to the USA and not been flown back (after cruciate ligament surgery) in Economy Class.
The story that rings through many of those above is injury. Injuries happen to good players and bad. They are a fact of life in football. However, how we manage injuries is hugely important. Kenny, Sharpe, Dyer and others went off the rails after their injuries. One would hope that the changes to the laws of the game on reckless challenges means the sort of injuries that Alex Watson and Ian Durrant suffered are less likely to occur.
The growing awareness, and understanding, of depression in sport mean that a player like Collymore might achieve more today. We are unlikely - I hope - to claim that a 13-year-old is the ''saviour of English football'' like some did with Sonny Pike. The boy suffered a mental breakdown and gave up the game whilst still a teenager. Work still needs to be done in this area though - not just in football but across the sporting world.
And clubs have improved in how they handle youngsters. They understand better - although not fully - that these players are huge potential assets and have usually had a lot of investment.It is important to remember that most players - including the five in the preceding sentence - come from poor backgrounds and go, very quickly, to wealth beyond anyone's dreams. Young players who make the game look easy, who are tipped for greatness often struggle with the facts of the game. The media scrutiny, being dropped, being subbed, being out-classed are often more difficult for the most talented players.
We need to ensure we lose fewer players. Clubs need to play a part in that - looking after them as teenagers, managing their returns from injuries - but we can all play a part in that. None of us likes playing ''what might have been?''.