12 kids who decided to leave big clubs early – and were much better off

Nathan Ake Bournemouth

Nathan Ake faces ex-club Chelsea for the first time this weeekend, having left the Blues permanently to join Bournemouth in the summer. Kristan Heneage takes a look at a dozen other stars who discovered the grass really was greener after waving goobye to the big boys

Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund)

Marco Reus

Reus spent three years at Borussia Monchengladbach after being let go by Dortmund as a kid

One of the few Borussia Dortmund players that Bayern Munich haven’t sought to pinch, Reus has remained at Signal Iduna Park despite regular links with a move elsewhere – mostly thanks to a patchy injury record.

The forward was actually let go by BVB after being considered too skinny in 2006, but he soon demonstrated that a lithe physique isn't necessarily a bad thing – first at Rot Weiss Ahlen and then Borussia Monchengladbach, where Dortmund re-signed him from for €17m in 2011.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (PSV)

The Dutchman's quest for regular football saw him join Heerenveen on a permanent basis in 2004

He may be a fan favourite at Ajax, but Huntelaar actually began his career at fierce rivals PSV. Signed in 2000, the striker made his senior bow (and only appearance) under Guus Hiddink before heading out on loan to De Graafschap and AGOVV.

The Dutchman's quest for regular football led him to Heerenveen on a permanent basis in 2004, and 39 goals in 60 games persuaded Ajax to fork out €9m for his services two years later.

Juan Mata (Real Madrid)

Mata is best associated with Valencia in Spain, so it's easy to forget that his senior league debut came with Real Madrid Castilla in 2006. Ten goals in 39 matches sparked interest from Valencia, who signed the playmaker by triggering a release clause in his contract.

Mata then swapped Spain for England in 2011, joining Chelsea for £23.5m.

Ron-Robert Zieler (Man United)

Ron-Robert Zieler

Zieler didn't make an appearance for United's senior side during his two years at the club

Looking back now, Manchester United may regret their decision to let Zieler leave Old Trafford in 2010 – though in reality, he was unlikely to ever oust or subsequently succeed Edwin van der Sar. The German goalkeeper joined Hannover after failing to make the breakthrough under Sir Alex Ferguson, and two loan appearances for Northampton were all he had to show for his time in England.

Zieler went on to play almost 200 times in the Bundesliga, before joining Leicester in summer 2016. After failing to snatch the No.1 shirt from Kasper Schmeichel, however, he went back to the Bundesliga with Stuttgart and his enjoying regular football once more.