7 Premier League greats who bounced back from a bad start
Robert Pires (Arsenal)
Pires is the perfect example of a foreign player needing at least a season before coming good. When the Frenchman was signed from Metz in 2000, he initially took time to get used to the Premier League. He even said that the league was too physical for him, as he registered four goals and seven assists in 33 league games.
It was the following season where Arsene Wenger’s faith in him paid off. Pires scored nine times and assisted another six in 28 league appearances, eventually helping Arsenal to a league double. So good were his performances, in fact, that despite suffering a season-ending cruciate ligament injury in March, he was still named both the Football Writers' and Arsenal's Player of the Year.
Pires went on to score double-digit figures in the league over the following three seasons.
Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
It might seem weird to have Suarez in this list, but it’s easy to forget that he didn’t have an explosive start at Anfield when he signed in the 2011 January transfer window. Although he netted on his league debut against Stoke City and displayed flashes of brilliance, he only netted 15 goals in his first 44 league games for the club.
But it was from the 2012/13 season where he truly started to shine as a world-class player. The Uruguayan scored 23 and assisted 11 more in 33 league games that season, before following it up with 31 goals and 17 assists in a stunning 2013/14. Barcelona didn't hesitate to shell out €82.3 million for him that summer.
Thierry Henry (Arsenal)
If there’s one player to point at when a big signing starts slow, it’s Thierry Henry. Signed for a not-insignificant £11m from Juventus in 1999, Henry only scored his first league goal eight games into the new season. He had to wait another four games to net his first brace, as his flitted between playing up front and playing in his more comfortable role out wide.
From December onwards, though, the goals flowed with far greater ease; despite his slow start, the Frenchman still managed to cap his league debut season with 17 goals and eight assists in 31 appearances. What followed was somewhat better: another 157 league goals in 233 games over seven-and-a-half seasons to become the greatest foreign import in Premier League history.
Dennis Bergkamp (Arsenal)
Fellow Arsenal and Premier League legend Bergkamp also had a slow start to life in England following a big-money move from Inter Milan in 1995. After all, the Dutchman required seven league games to score his first goal for the club in a brace against Southampton. Such was his start that a newspaper even ran with one headline: “Bergy’s a waste of money.”
However, it was in 1997/98 – Arsene Wenger's first full season – where the Ice Man really started to display his brilliance. He scored 16 goals and assisted 11 more in 28 league games, as the Gunners went on to secure the double. The former Ajax star went on to become a centurion for the club, winning a further two league titles and three FA Cups.
David de Gea (Manchester United)
De Gea’s overall body of work for Manchester United will earn him status as one of the greatest Premier League goalkeepers of all time. But it wasn’t smooth sailing at first.
The Spaniard endured a torrid start to life at Old Trafford after being signed for £18.3m from Atletico Madrid in 2011. He made some crucial mistakes early on, while many questioned his physique and whether he was ready for the Premier League. There were even calls for De Gea to be dropped in favour of second-choice keeper Anders Lindegaard at one point.
One defining moment – as picked out by De Gea himself – changed everything. After pulling off an incredible save to deny Juan Mata’s free-kick in a 3-3 draw with Chelsea that same season, United's goalkeeper slowly established himself among the Premier League's best. "It might have been the defining moment of my United career," he recalled. "From there, it got better and better."
David Silva (Manchester City)
Like De Gea, Silva’s physique was also questioned when he endured a slow start with Manchester City, after signing for £26 million from Valencia in 2010. The Spaniard only started once in City’s first four league games, prompting many fans to wonder whether he might struggle in the league.
Silva even publicly insisted that he would get better as he adapted – and oh, how he was right.
After four goals and eight assists in his debut league season, Silva inspired City to their first-ever Premier League title in 2011/12, contributing six goals and 17 assists in 36 games. He's now in his final season at the Etihad Stadium, having won three more league titles and six domestic cups to cement his position as one of the best foreigners – or players, full stop – in Premier League history.
Didier Drogba (Chelsea)
Drogba signed at Chelsea from Marseille in a £24 million deal in 2004, but didn’t hit the ground running right away. He only scored twice in his first eight league games for the club, before injury kept him out for six matches. His final tally of 10 goals in 26 league appearances wasn't awful, but a little underwhelming and overshadowed by some unsavoury play antics which turned off neutrals.
The Ivorian boosted his league haul to 12 the following season, before reaching the 20-goal mark in 2006/07 as a Golden Boot winner. He later scored a career-high 29 Premier League goals in 2009/10, but goals were only ever a partial element of his dominance up front. Drogba allowed his managers to deploy players elsewhere, such was his comfort playing as a lone striker, and went on to inspire Chelsea to every honour going.
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