8 ageing footballers who arrived late to light up the Premier League
1. Ruud Gullit (Chelsea)
Part of the first wave of foreign stars to the newly moneyed Premier League, Gullit swanned over to Stamford Bridge in 1995 having won a clean sweep of trophies at club level with Feyenoord, PSV and Milan, not to mention played his fair share of swaggering totalvoetbal with the Dutch national team too.
Glenn Hoddle, who likely saw the blithely refined Gullit as something of an avatar for himself, played the Dutchman as a free-roaming sweeper at Chelsea, a move almost designed to accentuate both men’s continental sophistication.
Gullit – who turned 33 in the September of his debut season – certainly added plenty of that to a squad containing Jody Morris and Gavin Peacock. He was beaten only by Eric Cantona for the footballer of the year award in 1995/96, before taking to the dugout himself that summer and promptly bringing home an FA Cup.
2. Jurgen Klinsmann (Tottenham)
As far as heroic cameo seasons go, few can better Klinsmann’s time at Tottenham (not least because he went on to repeat the trick). His first arrival came in 1994, when he was snapped up by a pre-showbiz Alan Sugar and welcomed to Britain by a hostile press whose aversion to his theatrics was aggravated by a thinly veiled xenophobia, and Klinsmann’s involvement in England’s nearly-but-not-quite World Cup campaign of 1990.
Which is to say that everything was in place for Klinsmann to play out the role of dead-eyed hate figure. Instead, the 30-year-old striker confounded everyone by proving himself a fun-loving goofball, getting the ball rolling on his debut with that diving goal celebration, a cheerily iconic moment which quickly went down in the annals of Premier League history.
So did the man himself, as Klinsmann’s 30 goals in his season-long stop-off saw him voted the football writers’ player of the year. He left for two years, but returned for a six-month stint in 1997/98, where the 33-year-old scored nine goals in 15 games (and four in one, against Wimbledon), to effectively rescue Spurs from relegation.
3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United)
With his extraordinary talent now well and truly beyond doubt in this country, England’s scepticism of Ibrahimovic is now told as a self-deprecating story: the parochial islanders dumbly refusing to respect a player whose achievements had come elsewhere.
The 35-year-old produced a season that almost defied logic in terms of input and output
In fact, English viewers had good reason to doubt Ibrahimovic. With the exception of a brace against Arsenal, his encounters against English sides in the Champions League had given the impression of a slow, cumbersome and wasteful centre-forward – a judgment vindicated by his involvement in Pep Guardiola’s epoch-defining Barcelona side, which effectively amounted to rejection and failure.
The last 12 months have put paid to all that, of course. Not only has the 35-year-old produced a season that almost defied logic in terms of input (only Paul Pogba had clocked up more outfield minutes than him at the time of his season-ending injury) and output (28 goals across all competitions), but he did it all playing for a team who, quite frankly, weren’t all that good. Bravo all round.
4. Youri Djorkaeff (Bolton)
Just before Djorkaeff was winning the World Cup in France in 1998, Michael Ricketts had been trundling around up front for a Walsall, scoring one goal in 24 outings for a side that finished 19th in the brutalist confines of English football’s third tier.
The 34-year-old joined a newly promoted Wanderers side halfway through the 2001/02 campaign and injected guile and finesse
Three-and-a-half seasons later, the pair were playing up front together for Sam Allardyce’s magnificently patchwork Bolton side, the Frenchman trailblazing the mini-tradition of worldly foreign superstars who would preface a hard-earned retirement with a year or two spent alongside Kevin Nolan & Co. at the Reebok Stadium.
Djorkaeff contributed more than most, though. The 34-year-old joined a newly promoted Wanderers side halfway through the 2001/02 campaign and injected the guile and finesse that, allied with the bludgeoning straightforwardness of a free-scoring Ricketts, ultimately kept Bolton in the Premier League. Two more years in the north-west helped steer Bolton into what hindsight has firmly established as a golden age for the club.