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Sports stars that failed to hit the ground running

Ben Blackmore March 18, 2011
Fernando Torres has not scored in his first six games for Chelsea © Getty Images

Fernando Torres' Chelsea career is most definitely too raw to start casting aspersions about the £50 million man being a 'flop', but he has undoubtedly made a slow start to life at Stamford Bridge. Five games without a goal led to El Nino being 'rested' for the midweek clash with FC Copenhagen, prompting ESPN to look at 10 others who have struggled to hit the ground running.

Peter Crouch
It was a Liverpool arrival, not departee, struggling to open the floodgates at the start of the 2005/06 season, as Peter Crouch became the butt of all footballing jokes following his £7 million switch to Anfield. For 18 excruciating games the lanky forward failed to find the net for Liverpool, a spell that looked like it might never end when he missed a penalty in his 15th appearance at home to Portsmouth. Even when he did finally break the curse Crouch faced question marks over his breakthrough against Wigan, when a long-range effort deflected high into the air and was then flapped into the net by keeper Mike Pollitt. Fortunately, for Crouch, he lofted a second over Pollitt just to dispel any doubts.

Bruno Senna
"If you think I'm good, wait until you see my nephew Bruno," said the great Ayrton Senna back in 1993. Growing up in the shadow of his late uncle, the three-time Formula One world champion, much was expected of the young Brazilian when he made his F1 debut in 2010 driving for the newly-formed HRT (briefly known as Campos). While the car never threatened to challenge the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull, Bruno failed to set the sport alight; retiring from nine races, he failed to pick up a single point, with 14th in Korea his best result. Having struggled to make an impression during his rookie season, Senna failed to secure a race seat for the 2011 season and will have to be content with being Renault's reserve driver.

Tiger Woods
Prior to the extra-marital affairs confessed by Tiger Woods in April 2010, the American was fully set to become golf's greatest ever player, having won 14 majors, five short of setting a new record. The then-world No. 1 had not failed to win at least one World Golf Championship per year in 11 seasons, and had not missed out on a PGA Tour title in 14. Yet following his return from an enforced absence from the game, which saw him get divorced on August 23, 2010, Woods has gone through an almighty dry spell. There have been no PGA Tour triumphs in 2010 or 2011, no WGC victories since his 2009 success at the Bridgestone Invitational, and even the Ryder Cup eluded him.

Audley Harrison's loss to David Haye summed up his professional career © PA Photos

Audley Harrison
Audley Harrison entered professional boxing with a huge reputation as the 2000 Olympic super-heavyweight champion, and after three years of non-stop victories in the pro ranks, was tipped to become a dominant force by Ring Magazine. However, as soon as Harrison began fighting anybody of note, the name Audley suddenly became "Fraudly" or "Audinary". In 2004 he struggled past Julius Francis, only truly throwing punches in the final round, and then a year later he lost his first big chance at a significant title, crumbling to a split decision loss to Danny Williams. That was followed by defeat to Dominick Guinn as Harrison continued to stutter against mediocre fighters, and there was more disappointment when he got knocked out in an EBU-EU heavyweight title fight with Michael Sprott. Nearly two years later it was the little-known Martin Rogan claiming Harrison's overhyped scalp. "A-Force" did recover to win the Prizefighter tournament and claim a lucky KO of Sprott just seconds before he would have lost a decision, but then he encapsulated his entire professional career in a WBA world heavyweight title showdown with David Haye, when he threw one punch in five minutes before getting comprehensively cleaned out.

Kevin Pietersen
Kevin Pietersen labelled England's decision to drop him from the 2010 Twenty20 series against Pakistan a "f*** up" after he had starred in their World Twenty20 triumph earlier in the year. Tweeting the news to his followers, KP wrote: "Done for the summer. Man of the World Cup T20 and dropped from the T20 side. It's a f*** up!" However, the bigger embarrassment was still to come, when the out-of-form Pietersen returned to county action with new side Surrey, falling for a second-ball duck on debut in the County Championship.

James Blake
When James Blake burst onto the world tennis scene, inevitable comparisons were made between him and the great African American Arthur Ashe. With Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi coming to the end of their careers, Blake and Andy Roddick were hailed as the future of American tennis. But while Roddick has been a consistent member of the top ten for the best part of a decade, Blake has struggled to live up to the expectations of the American public. A popular player on and off the court, Blake has suffered more than his fair share of injuries - including a freak accident during practice where he fractured vertebrae in his neck after colliding with the net post. After recovering from an illness that caused temporary paralysis on one side of his face, Blake went on to win five titles in 2006 - second only to Roger Federer (equal to Rafael Nadal and Nikolay Davydenko) as he reached a career-high of world No. 4. On his day, Blake was capable of beating the best - he knocked Federer out of the Beijing Olympics, but even when fully fit, Blake struggled for consistency, with three quarter-final appearances his best at a grand slam.

Gavin Henson won't be rushed into the history annals of Saracens © PA Photos

Gavin Henson
When Saracens announced the signing of Gavin Henson on October 28, the farcical nature of the deal could not be ignored. Henson had been out of rugby for a year, he was tied to terrestrial TV show Strictly Come Dancing and could not pull on his boots before he was voted off the programme. One could not help but imagine a similar scenario of Sir Alex Ferguson signing Wayne Rooney, only to then be forced to wait until the striker was kicked off a popular entertainment show. Henson finally debuted nearly two months later on Boxing Day, contributing to a win over Wasps, before instantly declaring himself unhappy at outside-centre. He also stated his aim to return to the Wales fold, only to then declare that appearing on Strictly Come Dancing was a greater thrill than winning the Grand Slam with Wales. By February 3 Henson had announced his intention to leave Sarries for Toulon, bringing to an end a three-month career that never got going at Vicarage Road.

Jonathan Woodgate
Jonathan Woodgate's Real Madrid debut was extremely overdue by the time it arrived. The former Leeds United defender had not pulled on the famous Madrid jersey despite making the switch from Newcastle well over a year previously. Injuries had curtailed Woodgate's involvement, but finally he was named as a starter in a home clash with Athletic Bilbao. Unfortunately, Woodgate's dream debut turned into a nightmare worse than any he probably imagined, first scoring an own goal with a diving header and then receiving a red card for two bookable offences. Fortunately for Woodgate, Madrid still won thanks to a brace from Raul and another from Robinho, but the injury-prone defender confessed: "It was not the best start in the world. I couldn't believe it. I went to try to block the ball and it just skimmed off my head. Obviously, I did not want to get an own goal. I just can't believe I got sent off. I didn't think the second yellow card was right, but it's the referee's decision."

Mark Lewis-Francis
As a youngster Mark Lewis-Francis was dubbed the future of British athletics, with good reason. A gold medallist at the 2000 World Junior Championships at the age of 18, Lewis-Francis then ran 9.97s at the World Championships the following year, which would have gone down as a world junior record but for a wind gauge malfunction. Nevertheless, he soon become established as Britain's top sprinter, but Lewis-Francis has largely been in decline ever since. He failed to make the final of the 2004 Olympics, and his only individual medal came in 2010 when he won European silver, in an unimpressive time of 10.18s. It appears the crowning moment of Lewis-Francis' career will always remain in a team event, when he led Britain to 4x100m gold by holding off former Olympic champion Maurice Greene.

Andy Farrell
When Andy Farrell left rugby league, he did so as an absolute legend of the sport. Handed an OBE for his services to the game, Farrell's points tally for England ranked him second on the all-time list and he was Great Britain's youngest ever captain at the age of 21. At club level he was Wigan's record points scorer and won five championships and four Challenge Cups, leading to his naming as the world's best player in 2004. However, his switch to rugby union failed to live up to the hype, with Farrell's fee commanding more headlines than his achievements. Saracens were the club to take Farrell on, but they clashed with England over his best position, with Sarries opting for flanker whereas England preferred inside-centre. It was Farrell who played at fly-half in England's thumping World Cup defeat to South Africa in the 2007 group stages, and his international career finished after only eight caps.

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Ben Blackmore is deputy editor of ESPN.co.uk