10 players we wished had played in the Premier League (but didn't)
8. Juan Román Riquelme
It would be easier to include Roberto Baggio, Rivaldo or Zinedine Zidane on this list, because they were less of a mystery to English supporters. All three enjoyed fabulous careers and each one would almost certainly have conquered the British game.
But the essence of Riquelme was always more opaque. To this day, he retains a rather cultish appeal and there are still those who insist that, at the peak of his powers, he was the finest player in South America. Given who else would be in that conversation circa 2004 to 2007, that's a very bold claim.
His career – particularly the European chapter – had a hazy air which meant that he escaped definitive judgement. While his legacy is embellished by long-range goals and obvious highlights, his greatness really lay in his mood; he played with a calm method and slow feet at a time when dazzlingly quick dribbling and flashing step-overs were becoming the hallmark of the elite. By contrast, he didn't really have a set of distinguishable traits or patented moves. He felt the game around him and reacted to it. That, along with his contrary career choices, gave him an alluring mystique.
To see him on an English pitch, then, would have been to put him under a microscope and examine one of the game's great curiosities.
9. Iván de la Peña
This will take some justifying...
First, the honest points: no, De la Peña wasn't a great athlete and neither did he seem particularly weighed down by defensive responsibility. That he fell out with Johan Cruyff and Louis van Gaal at Barcelona is partly illustrative of that, as ultimately was his career's subsequent trajectory. He was unfulfilled promise and there's really no way of denying that.
However, if he was to have played in 2017, at a time when appreciation for line-cutting distribution is arguably at its apex, far greater focus would be placed on what he could do instead of what he couldn't. And he could pass a football like nobody else: with touch, with disguise, over defences and through them. It may sound like a daft exaggeration given the club's recent history, but he's still one of the best pure distributors Barcelona have ever produced. When he had the ball – all 5ft 6in of him – there was always a vertical pass available.
Whether he would have sufficiently bought into the required conditioning programmes or been physically durable enough for English football is highly debatable, but his raw ingredients were rich enough for someone to have taken a risk. Great careers tend to be circumstantial and rely on a player being managed by the right coach and placed in the right team. De La Peña must bear the responsibility for his failure to become what he should have been but, had his stars aligned properly things could have been very different.
Imagine, for instance, what Arsene Wenger might have been able to make out of him.
10. Alessandro Del Piero
The crown prince of 1990s Italian football. He was never going anywhere and there never seemed the slightest possibility of him leaving Juventus – even after the Calciopoli sanctions were handed down, he famously remained as the club climbed out of Serie B.
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There was certainly a before and after point in his career, separated by the knee injury sustained in November 1998. That never really dimmed his appeal, though, because we – those who wanted to see him in England – lusted after the aesthetic he represented as much as anything else. Del Piero was a big bundle of ball-striking, free-kick-bending, artisan craft and his appeal was probably more physical than sporting.
For instance, nobody ever theorised that he could help an English side achieve objectives X or Y, or that he was capable of filling a vacant role in any team; rather they craved the general gloss that he represented. Like watching Prince in concert or seeing Led Zeppelin live, the going and watching would have been more important than what actually happened once you were there.