5 big-name players who stepped down a level and failed spectacularly

John Terry Aston Villa

John Terry and Aston Villa be warned: when an ageing star drops down a level, it can go badly wrong

We are part of The Trust Project What is it?

The prospect of John Terry leading and organising Aston Villa's defence with the same natural authority that made him such a fine player at Chelsea naturally provoked optimism in the West Midlands. Then came the shaky start. 

Regardless of the fact he’s 36 years old, Terry’s reliable reading of the game, positional sense and physicality were long expected to remain strengths until he retired. Yet it might just transpire that, even in the absence of a transfer fee, Terry's arrival simply won't prove the coup Villa and Steve Bruce hope.

After all, previous footballers of Terry's calibre have struggled to adapt after moving to a new club and environment - even when the step down in class has appeared kind.

1. Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United to QPR, 2014)

Rio Ferdinand

A head-scratcher: Ferdinand to QPR looked good on paper

In recruiting the then-35-year-old Ferdinand, QPR had reunited him with Harry Redknapp, the manager who gave him his senior debut at West Ham. Only a year earlier, Ferdinand had contributed so much to Manchester United winning the Premier League title.

Glenn Hoddle, the England manager who once thought so highly of Ferdinand and handed him his England debut in 1997, was also on Redknapp's coaching staff; meanwhile, the promising Steven Caulker had been signed to play alongside the club's experienced new sweeper. It looked an ideal arrangement.

After a poor start to the season, however, Redknapp quickly abandoned the idea of a Ferdinand-led 3-5-2. The stopper participated in only two victories (both against Sunderland) from his 12 appearances, in what was the final season of his decorated career. It shouldn't be overlooked, however, that this was a harrowing time for Ferdinand, owing to his wife Rebecca's diagnosis with and eventual death from breast cancer.

2. Robbie Fowler (Liverpool to Cardiff, 2007)

Robbie Fowler Steve Gerrard

"I'm not sure blue really suits you, Robbie..."

Though far from the lethal striker he was at his peak, Fowler demonstrated that he retained the finishing ability and predatory instinct that had once made him so prolific in his 18-month, second spell at Liverpool.

His appearances at least justified a squad place, having scored goals for a side that finished third in the league and reached a Champions League final, suggesting he could excel elsewhere. It even seems likely that had Rafael Benitez received the increased budget temporarily given to him by new club owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett earlier, the then-32-year-old striker's contract would have been extended and he'd have retained a similar role.

Instead, Fowler joined Championship club Cardiff. Only three seasons earlier, a veteran Teddy Sheringham had contributed much to West Ham achieving promotion - but if Cardiff had expected similar impetus from Fowler, they were proved wrong. Unlike fellow veteran arrival Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, the forward struggled and injuries hampered him from December onwards. After one season and just four league goals in 13 games for Cardiff, he left for Blackburn – but was never a regular in English football again.

3. Andrea Pirlo (Juventus to New York City, 2015)

Andrea Pirlo

Pirlo can still point... just not run

The success of the Italian great's transfer to New York seemed guaranteed by the way he continued to excel at Juve into his mid-30s.

Beyond even the level displayed by Fowler or Terry, so much of Pirlo's success came from his unrivalled football intelligence, which made the transition to Major League Soccer - where other European greats had already impressed - appear even more seamless.

Two years on from what seemed such a coup, the bitter reality is that Pirlo's greatest strengths have proved unable to compensate in a league where speed and athleticism are key.

He may be one of the finest midfielders of the modern era, who reinvented himself from a trequartista into a regista and made a mockery of Milan's decision to allow him to join one of their greatest rivals at 31. But what seemed an appealing semi-retirement in MLS has transformed into boos from his own fans and involved a 7-0 loss to local rivals New York Red Bulls. Ouch.

New York Red Bulls

New York Red Bulls mock their, erm, historic rivals