10 players we wished had played in the Premier League (but didn't)

They teased us from afar, but could never quite be captured by Premier League clubs. Seb Stafford-Bloor recalls a clutch of stars who regrettably never made it to England

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1. Oliver Kahn

Kahn's three most high-profile encounters with English sides (Euro 2000, 1999 Champions League Final, and Germany's 5-1 defeat in 2001) all ended in failure. Personally as well as collectively, too, because he was oddly off-colour in all three games.

However, has there been a European goalkeeper more suited to the Premier League in the last 20 years? Imposing, barrel-chested and a lover of the limelight; not only would he have suited – and thrived within – the sporting landscape, he would likely also have taken naturally to the burgeoning celebrity culture. Goalkeepers are prone to bending under the weight of scrutiny, but Kahn invited it. Actually, he craved that attention and fed off it; it may be a dislikeable trait, but it was a precious attribute in a big club keeper. 

It would take a long search to find three better penalty saves than the ones he made in the 2001 Champions League Final shootout, and he was typically a superb shot-stopper, but it was that aloof aura that was so fascinating. He seemed invulnerable to any situation, and that would have been fascinating to watch first hand. 

2. Ronaldinho

It nearly happened: Manchester United tried to sign him from PSG before, later in his career as told to FourFourTwo, Chelsea also attempted to bring him to the Premier League.

By the time Ronaldinho's career peaked, Spanish football had become so visible in England that it didn't really matter that he never made it. He was the quintessential big game player and so his best moments typically occurred on the biggest stages: the whole world was watching when he shimmied across Milan's box and leathered the ball into Dida's top corner and, likewise, the games he routinely lit up were beamed live to hundreds of different countries.

We all saw the flicks, the tricks, and that infectious smile for ourselves. His 2005 performance in the Santiago Bernabeu for instance, which saw him applauded off the field by home supporters, was so ubiquitously shown as to have happened in Britain anyway. 

So the intrigue lies in how he might have adjusted to the Premier League. He would almost certainly have been brilliant, but at what cost? Would his winking cheek have survived the experience or, over time, would his appetite for the game have been eroded by the physical attention he would almost certainly have received?

3. Stefan Effenberg

As a pure footballer, Effenberg was glorious. Equipped with a passing range to die for, he recognised attacking opportunity quicker than anybody on the pitch and moved the ball with such elaborate class. He didn't age particularly well and, as time wore on, sightings of him bursting forward with that leggy stride grew few and far between. But a young Effenberg playing in the mid-1990s Premier League? Take all the best elements of Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard, and David Beckham and that, perhaps, is what it might have looked like. 

"He recognised attacking opportunity quicker than anybody on the pitch and moved the ball with such elaborate class."

He was also about as close to the denigrating British stereotype of a German footballer as it was possible to get. Arrogant, aloof and – irritatingly – really, really good. Imagine the back-and-forward between him, the crowds, and the tabloid press. It's maybe a response to the sterile nature of the modern game, but in retrospect Effenberg might have been a breath of fresh air.

This was a player sent home from the 1994 World Cup for aiming a middle-finger at his own supporters, who dedicated a chapter of his autobiography to belittling Lothar Mathaus's knowledge of the game (by leaving it blank), and who, in a Playboy interview, claimed that unemployed people "don't have any desire to get up early each morning and go to work".

4. Christian Vieri

A regular debate in English football concerns Andy Carroll, and what he might have been able to achieve had he not been quite so fragile. If he stayed clear of injury, what would all of his power, aerial ability and finish technique have allowed him to become? The answer is probably Christian Vieri.

The Italian was polarising in this country for a long time, probably because he was prone to looking quite clumsy. He wasn't, but his big body and slightly ungainly running style gave that impression.

As well as he may have used those physical gifts, he wasn't entirely reliant upon them and, actually, a lot of his goals (particularly during his post-Millennium peak at Inter) involved deft touches, craft and imagination. He could probably have been described as both an old-fashioned targetman and as an ultra-modern complete forward; the chances are that a 28-year-old Vieri would have been highly effective in any era – and particularly so in British football. 

Consider also the centre-backs who guarded in the Premier League back then: Sol Campbell, Jaap Stam and, later, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Sami Hyppia. Vieri was mightily successful in Italy and Spain, so to have watched him duel with England's finest would have been enthralling.