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10 players who came to the Premier League too early

What could have been? This lot failed to impress in England but went on to have fine careers

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Premier League history is littered with players who were in the right place at the wrong time.

Footballers who had all the necessary attributes to thrive in England's top flight but hadn’t quite worked out how to utilise them yet. But they would – just not in the Premier League...

Kevin-Prince Boateng (Tottenham)

Boateng arrived at Spurs in 2007 with a reputation as one of Germany’s most exciting young stars. He was just 20 at the time, and a lack of maturity led to his Tottenham career being derailed by a combination of excessive partying and a bad diet. Thankfully, Boateng knuckled down from there – so much that Barcelona signed him on a strange short-term loan in 2018/19 – and enjoyed success with a raft of clubs including Milan and Sassuolo.

John Dahl Tomasson (Newcastle)

Tomasson

Signed by Kenny Dalglish after impressing with Heerenveen, Tomasson was supposed to serve as a second striker behind Alan Shearer. But when the Toon legend was sidelined with a long-term injury, the Dane found himself playing centre-forward earlier than expected.

He lasted just one underwhelming season on Tyneside before moving to Feyenoord, where an upturn in form earned him a move to Milan. He's the joint-highest scorer in Danish national team history. 

Jerome Boateng (Manchester City)

“In England, you have to operate immediately,” Boateng once told Bild. “You actually need a period of settling in… but the English press doesn't give you any time for it.”

The half-brother of Kevin-Prince endured an inconsistent, injury-plagued single season with Manchester City in 2010/11, before an opportunistic Bayern Munich swooped with an €13.5 million offer for the defender. Suffice to say it was a fine career move: Boateng has won seven Bundesliga titles, the Champions League, and lifted the World Cup with Germany in 2014.  

Marco Materazzi (Everton)

Materazzi

One of only three players to have played for Everton and won the World Cup, Materazzi arrived from Perugia in 1998 and wasted little time in making an impact. Over the course of just one season at Goodison Park he scored twice and was sent off three times, before heading back to Perugia and eventually catching the attention of Inter Milan.

In 2009/10, he was a pillar of the Jose Mourinho-led Nerazzurri side that lifted the Champions League trophy.  

Diego Forlan (Manchester United)

Forlan only wound up at Manchester United after Alex Ferguson had hijacked the Uruguayan’s proposed move to Middlesbrough. A stint in the more forgiving surroundings of Teesside might have served the South American better.

Instead, he endured an eight-month, 27-game goalless run that almost wrecked a promising career – although United fans hold no ill feeling and still revere his two goals against Liverpool at Anfield in December 2002. Fortunately, a move to Spain and La Liga (first Villarreal, then Atletico Madrid) changed everything. In 2008/09, he scored an astonishing 32 league goals for the latter.

Anthony Modeste (Blackburn Rovers)

Modeste arrived at Blackburn in January 2012 with the club locked in a relegation battle and wilting under the ill-equipped Steve Kean. The Frenchman racked up nine goalless appearances and a red card for his troubles, but went on to enjoy prolific stints with Hoffenheim and Koln.

He has no regrets about his botched stint at Ewood, though, and later told Sud Ouest: "Going to Blackburn made me stronger."

Luis Alberto (Liverpool)

Luis Alberto

Brendan Rodgers compared Alberto to Philippe Coutinho following his arrival at Liverpool in June 2013. “Young Luis is exactly the same – a talented, very highly-rated young player,” he told reporters.

The £6.8m signing from Sevilla went on to make just nine appearances for the Reds, though his impressive form for current club Lazio suggests Rodgers wasn’t entirely wrong.

Valerian Ismael (Crystal Palace)

Eager to inject some much-needed defence grit into their relegation-threatened ranks, Palace paid a club-record £2.75m to bring highly-rated Strasbourg defender Ismael to south London in 1998. 

The Frenchman failed to prevent the Eagles from dropping into the second tier, though, and left after just 10 months. Ismael returned to France before going on to win back-to-back Bundesliga titles with Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich respectively. Not bad, really. 

Darko Kovacevic (Sheffield Wednesday)

Kovacevic

Initially hailed as the 'Serbian Les Ferdinand' at Wednesday, it says here – whatever the hell that actually means. Kovacevic nabbed two headed goals in a 4-2 win over Bolton early on in his time at the club, but scored just twice more before leaving for Real Sociedad that same season.

He soon emerged as a top targetman, moving on to Juventus and Lazio before returning to spearhead Sociedad’s unlikely title tilt in 2002/03.

Andrej Kramaric (Leicester)

Kramaric swapped Leicester for Hoffenheim midway through the Foxes’ shock Premier League title win. Despite his prolific record at Rijeka, Kramaric had failed to break into the Leicester team and moved to Germany where he soon rediscovered his scoring touch. 

"I don't regret anything,” he said. “I played in the Champions League, the World Cup and… I feel very comfortable with what I am doing."

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