Big-club rejects who fought back
What do Mohamed Salah and Kevin de Bruyne have in common, aside from the fact they’ve been two of the Premier League’s standout performers in 2017/18? The answer: both players were let go by Chelsea earlier in their careers.
In this slideshow, we pick out 11 other examples of big-club rejects who later proved their old employers wrong.
11. Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund)
Reus was on Dortmund’s books for a decade between 1996 and 2006, first joining the club he represents today as a seven-year-old. He failed to make the grade at Signal Iduna Park the first time around, however, and instead began his senior career at Rot Weiss Ahlen.
Two years in the lower leagues served the forward well, and Reus made it to the big time when Bundesliga outfit Borussia Monchengladbach offered him a four-year contract in 2009. The German continued to progress and earned himself a move back to Dortmund three years later, as BVB shelled out €17.1m for their former youth player.
10. Gerard Pique (Man United)
“I am very happy to be back,” Pique told the Spanish press after re-joining boyhood club Barcelona in 2008. “I didn't think I would be here again but this is very good for me. Manchester United is a great club and I enjoyed winning things. To play with world-class players has helped me and now I want to continue this at Barça.”
Pique has had few problems doing just that after struggling to displace Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic at Manchester United between 2004 and 2008, a spell in which he was limited to just six Premier League starts.
9. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Milan)
Arsenal's new boy is a Gabon international who was born in France, but the first stop of Aubameyang's professional career was in Italy. Seven-time European champions Milan brought the forward to San Siro in 2007, but he didn't make a single appearance for the Rossoneri and was instead loaned out to Dijon, Lille, Monaco and Saint-Etienne.
Milan eventually agreed to let Aubameyang leave permanently in 2011, with Saint-Etienne spending just over £1.6m to capture the then-22-year-old. The Gabonese frontman later moved to Borussia Dortmund, where he was converted from a winger into a central striker, before joining Arsenal for £56m in January 2018.
8. Mats Hummels (Bayern Munich)
Thomas Muller isn’t the only member of Bayern Munich’s squad who came through the club’s youth system; although Hummels is still heavily associated with Borussia Dortmund after pulling on the yellow-and-black shirt over 300 times, he too was a graduate of the Bavarians’ academy.
The young centre-back only played twice for Bayern’s senior side, though, before a lack of first-team opportunities persuaded him to join Dortmund in 2008. He returned eight years later when die Roten paid £31.5m for his signature.
7. Thierry Henry (Juventus)
Having paid Monaco £10.5m for Henry in January 1999, it perhaps would have been worthwhile for Juventus to persevere with him for a little longer than seven months.
In fairness to the Old Lady, there was little in Henry’s performances to suggest he would make it at the highest level: the future Arsenal man mustered just three goals in 19 appearances and looked out of his depth at the top end of Serie A.
Juve’s loss was the Gunners’ gain, with Henry moving to Highbury in the summer and becoming one of Europe’s most dangerous strikers soon after.
6. Jerome Boateng (Man City)
Manchester City’s current centre-back partnership of John Stones and Aymeric Laporte set the club back £104.5m, but they probably wouldn’t have needed to splash out such sums had they not sold Boateng to Bayern Munich in 2011. Having joined Roberto Mancini's side from Hamburg just before his 22nd birthday, Boateng found himself behind Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, Kolo Toure and Micah Richards.
After a single season in which he played just 16 league games, he was airlifted back to Germany by Bayern for just €13.5m – a week after City had spent £15m on yet another centre-back in Stefan Savic. Since then, City have also signed stoppers Matija Nastasic, Martin Demichelis, Eliaquim Managala and Nicolas Otamendi; Boateng has won five Bundesliga titles, a Champions League and a World Cup.
5. Giorgio Chiellini (Roma)
Chiellini has been a key part of the Juventus team which has dominated Serie A for most of this decade, but things could have been so different had Roma not sold their share in the then-19-year-old to Livorno in 2004.
Two years before that, the Giallorossi had purchased half of his rights with a view to acquiring the rugged defender outright at a later date; instead, they allowed Livorno to pay €3m to secure 100% of Chiellini’s contract, with the Tuscans then selling him on to Juve in 2005. What’s the Italian for “egg on their face”?
4. Paul Pogba (Man United)
It’s fair to say Alex Ferguson got more things right than wrong during his time as Manchester United manager, but his handling of Pogba must go down as one of the biggest mistakes of his 26-year career at Old Trafford. The Frenchman joined United from Le Havre as a 16-year-old in 2009, before making his first-team debut in a League Cup tie with Leeds United in the 2011/12 campaign.
That was one of only seven outings in a United shirt, and Pogba’s frustration at the lack of opportunities culminated in him joining Juventus when his contract expired at the end of that season. After winning four league titles in Italy, he returned to Old Trafford in 2016. For €105m.
3. Samuel Eto’o (Real Madrid)
Luis Figo, Michael Laudrup, Luis Enrique and Ronaldo are among the few players who represented Real Madrid and Barcelona, and Eto’o is another big-name star who experienced life on both sides of the Clasico divide.
The Cameroonian, who joined Madrid’s youth academy aged 16 in 1996, pulled on the famous all-white kit only six times and was sold to Mallorca in 2000. It wasn't Madrid’s wisest move: Eto’o enjoyed a stellar career after leaving the Bernabeu, winning four league titles and three European Cups at Barça and Inter.
2. Andrea Pirlo (Inter)
When Milan let Pirlo join Juventus on a free transfer in 2011, they became the second club from Italy’s second city to allow the midfield metronome to exit prematurely.
It was a decade previously that Inter sanctioned the 22-year-old Pirlo’s departure from San Siro for the first time, the future World Cup winner deemed surplus to requirements and permitted to join the Nerazzurri’s dreaded rivals.
Pirlo, who turned out 22 times for Inter in Serie A, went on to claim two league titles, two Champions Leagues and a Coppa Italia with Milan, before they too made the exact same mistake.
1. Raul (Atletico Madrid)
Only Cristiano Ronaldo has scored more goals for Real Madrid than Raul, but things could have been very different for the Spanish giants had their city rivals not ran into financial difficulties in the early 1990s.
That’s because Atletico Madrid were a young Raul’s first club, before the Colchoneros were forced to close their academy in a bid to cut costs. Los Blancos duly swooped in to snap up the talented forward, who went on to score 323 times for Madrid’s first team, securing nine major honours along the way.
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