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9 Premier League rejects who went on to thrive in Europe

Jerome Boateng (Manchester City)

It’s easy to forget that Boateng ever played for Manchester City. Arguably one of the best centre-backs in the world for the past few seasons, the German joined City for £10m as a 22-year-old from Hamburg on a five-year deal in 2010.

His spell in Manchester started badly, however: a week before kick-off for the 2010/11 season he injured his knee on international duty, and make it worse after a collision with an airline drinks trolley on the way home.

Boateng found entry into the team difficult following his return. The youngster was rarely trusted ahead of Joleon Lescott, Micah Richards and Vincent Kompany at centre-back, and was often deployed by Roberto Mancini at either right- or left-back.

After one year and just 24 appearances, he joined Bayern Munich for €13.5m – profit for City, on a player who wasn’t automatic first choice. "It was important to me that Bayern had me marked in for a specific position,” said Boateng. “I believe it will end up with me playing at centre-back for the national team more often."

Turns out he was quite right.

Nikola Kalinic (Blackburn)

Kalinic arrived at Ewood Park with a burgeoning reputation from Hajduk Split, having netted 30 goals for the Croatian side before his 20th birthday. He was a regular for the U21s too, for whom he ended up with four goals in nine caps.

But the young striker found life difficult in the Premier League after his £6m move. Steve Kean showed Kalinic the door after two seasons and just seven league goals, when he was moved on to Ukrainian club Dnipro.

It was here where the targetman really pulled it together. Kalinic was a key component of the side that reached the 2015 Europa League Final, having netted six times on their road to Warsaw. He opened their scoring in the final against Sevilla, before Dnipro went down 3-2.

Kalinic signed for Fiorentina in a €5m deal that summer, and the Croatian has since delivered the kind of form he always promised. A hat-trick at the San Siro against Inter in his first season was a particular highlight, among 27 league goals he netted over two fruitful seasons that led to his loan (and eventual €25m transfer) to Milan this summer.

Borja Valero (West Brom)

Valero joined promoted West Brom in 2008, having been signed by Tony Mowbray for €7m. His time in English football was odd, however, and the Spaniard found himself relegated to the Championship after his first season at The Hawthorns.

Initially the midfielder suggested that he would remain loyal to the Baggies, declaring: “I still have a three-year contract here and would like to be true to that. For sure playing in the second division is not ideal. But if I have to put up with it then I’m going to put up with it.”

Yet, by the new season, that promise had gone out of the window and Valero had rejoined his old club on loan. “I prefer to play in Mallorca and not to be in the second division in England,” he shrugged.  

Another loan followed at Villarreal in 2010/11, where he won the Don Balon – the award for La Liga’s best Spanish player. Valero eventually joined Fiorentina, from whom he has just signed for his biggest club yet in Inter. Boing boing. 

Marco Materazzi (Everton)

The man who helped win Italy a World Cup by getting nutted by Zinedine Zidane. Materazzi spent a year at Everton during the 1998/99 season, signed by Walter Smith – the Scot’s first arrival no less – from Perugia for £2.8m.

In this solitary year at Goodison Park, though, the hardened Italian amassed three red cards in 33 appearances (and another eight yellows on top). After his final sending-off against Coventry, following what Materazzi described as a “dive” by Darren Huckerby, he sat on the advertising hoardings and cried.

The stopper returned to Perugia for two more seasons, before joining Inter in 2011 to begin the most successful stint of his colourful career. He was loved by the Nerazzurri for a decade, winning Serie A’s Defender of the Year award in 2006/07, the Champions League in 2010 and amassing over 300 appearances for the club.

Diego Forlan (Man United)

“Diego, wooaoh, Diego, wooaoh; he came from Uruguay, he made the Scousers cry.” It’s a song still sung in the Stretford End to this day. The game in question was a 2-1 win for Manchester United at Anfield in 2002, when Forlan bagged a brace against the flappy hands of Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek.

Although a cult hero to many, the man signed from Independiente only managed 17 goals in three years and 98 appearances at Old Trafford (one 2003 miss in a friendly against Juventus will live long in the memory). Forlan often played second fiddle to Ruud van Nistelrooy, and was eventually sold to Villarreal by Alex Ferguson in 2004.

He then proceeded to tear up La Liga with the Yellow Submarine and then Atletico Madrid, who he joined in 2007 and formed a brilliant partnership with Sergio Aguero. Forlan won the Pichichi trophy for his 32 goals in 2008/09, then claimed the Golden Ball at World Cup 2010 as Uruguay reached the semi-finals. These days you’ll find him at Mumbai City in India.

Anthony Modeste (Blackburn)

The new Tianjin Quanjian striker spent half a season on loan at Blackburn during their disastrous campaign of 2011/12. This time Rovers were relegated having escaped the drop in a woeful 2010/11, when Sam Allardyce was sacked for no good reason and the club failed to land Ronaldinho.

In January 2012, former France U21 international Modeste was a 23-year-old chucked in at the deep end. The Bordeaux loanee failed to score in his nine Premier League appearances, and was sent off in a troubling 3-0 defeat to West Brom at The Hawthorns.

After his Ewood Park nightmare, however, Modeste picked himself up and went about accelerating his career. After a successful stint at Bastia he joined Hoffenheim, where two fine campaigns convinced Cologne to land him on a four-year contract.

He needed only two of those seasons to prove his value, plundering 40 league goals in 66 appearances and attracting attention from the likes of Dortmund and West Ham. In the end he plumped for Tianjin Quanjian in the Chinese Super League – and the Bundesliga is all the worse for it.

Serge Gnabry (Arsenal)

Wrong place, wrong time? At one point, Gnabry looked well placed to force his way into Arsenal's team over the long term. In 2013/14, he made 14 appearances for Arsene Wenger's side, and netted a first Premier League goal against Swansea that helped the Gunners extend their lead at the top of the Premier League (oh, halcyon days). 

At the end of the season, a new five-year contract seemed the inevitable result of an exciting ascent – Gnabry had been the outstanding talent coming through Arsenal's youth ranks, and merely looked to be continuing his trajectory.

But then came the downfall: a serious knee injury that kept him out for over a year, and was followed by a disastrous five-month loan spell at West Brom that was mutually terminated after Tony Pulis had only played the young tyro three times in all competitions. Coming back to Arsenal mid-season did him no favours so, in search of first-team football, he joined Werder Bremen that summer for a cut-price £5m. 

It proved a good call: Gnabry played 27 Bundesliga games in 2016/17, scoring 11 goals as Bremen finished eighth. This summer he transferred to Bayern Munich, who loaned him out to last season's surprise package Hoffenheim for 2017/18. Not bad, Serge. 

Giuseppe Rossi (Man United, Newcastle)

Another striker to not quite make it under Sir Alex at Old Trafford. The New Jersey-born Rossi was considered a huge talent akin to a young Michael Owen when he came through the ranks at Carrington, but with Van Nistelrooy so prolific there were few opportunities for the Italian to get into United’s first team.

In 2006 he was loaned to Newcastle, but he only scored once in 13 matches for the Magpies. Then things changed. After a fine loan spell at Parma, he followed Forlan in joining Villarreal, where he spent four hugely successful seasons and regularly earned caps for Italy before injuries bit.

But bite they did – and hard: first an ACL injury that ruled him out for six months in October 2011, and then a recurrence of the same knee knack in April 2012 which sidelined him for 11 painful months. In January 2013, he joined Fiorentina for almost €12m, but managed only 33 league appearances (21 of them in 2013/14, when he netted 16 Serie A goals) in two-and-a-half seasons as niggles hampered him once more.

He’s currently without a club after loan spells at Levante and Celta Vigo.  

Stefan Savic (Manchester City)

The Montenegro international signed for Manchester City from Partizan Belgrade in 2011, and was understandably excited by his move to the Etihad. “I watch the Premier League all the time and I know it's the place to be, so I am looking forward to helping this club achieve great things,” beamed the defender.

Sadly for Savic it wasn’t the place to be, and he soon found his place in the starting XI less than certain. He was moved on after just one season and 11 appearances, joining Fiorentina in a swap deal for Matija Nastasic (who ended up having a horrid time in Manchester himself).

Savic flourished in Serie A, however, with a strong three seasons in Florence convincing Atletico Madrid to snare him in 2015. The 26-year-old has since become a solid defensive partner for Diego Godin, and the first Montenegrin to play in a Champions League final in the 21st century.

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