Former Premier League flops thriving elsewhere
Sometimes a certain environment just doesn’t suit a player. Whether it’s the culture, style of play or difficulties in settling off the field, there are many reasons why a foreign footballer might struggle to make an impact in the Premier League. As the following examples demonstrate, it doesn’t always mean a lack of ability...
Luis Alberto (Lazio)
Liverpool supporters barely got a glimpse of Alberto, even though he was at the club for three years in total. The Spaniard made nine league appearances, all brief cameos as a substitute, before twice being sent on loan to his homeland.
Alberto played more frequently during year-long spells at Malaga and Deportivo, but was eventually sold to Lazio at a loss in August 2016. After a difficult first season of injury and uncertainty, this campaign has been the making of him: routinely playing just behind the prolific Ciro Immobile, Alberto has chipped in with 12 goals and 21 assists.
Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo)
Liverpool were chasing an equaliser against Chelsea in their unsuccessful title pursuit of 2013-14 when Aspas took arguably the worst corner in history to essentially set up the Blues’ second goal on the counter-attack. That moment cemented his reputation as a joke figure, and the forward was quickly discarded after one abject season at Anfield.
After being loaned to Sevilla for a year, Aspas was sold back to Celta in summer 2015. He’s scored 67 goals in 124 games since returning to his hometown club, and even broken into the Spain squad too.
Mario Balotelli (Nice)
Despite the support of his former Inter manager Roberto Mancini, Balotelli was used sparingly at Manchester City and caused the club plenty of headaches. The Italian contributed to an FA Cup success and league title win, but neither as a mainstay of the team. His spell at Liverpool was hugely disappointing, the striker scoring just once in 16 league games.
Thankfully for Balotelli, a move to Nice on the final day of the 2016 summer transfer window has revitalised hiss career. Focusing on football, he’s been pushing for a recall to the national team and is currently enjoying his most productive season as a professional, with 24 goals in all competitions.
Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord)
Berghuis’s spell at Watford was so brief as to be almost immediately forgotten about: the Dutch winger made just 11 appearances in his one full season before being loaned out to Feyenoord. He impressed sufficiently to make the move permanent last summer, and has been in excellent form since.
While Feyenoord have failed to retain the Eredivisie title, it hasn’t been for want of trying on Berghuis' part. He’s been a menace to opposition defences all season, racking up 23 goals and 17 assists in all competitions.
Memphis Depay (Lyon)
Much was expected of the pacy wide man when he arrived at Manchester United in 2014, but Depay failed to deliver. The Dutchman's days were numbered once Louis van Gaal was replaced by Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford, and he left for Lyon in January 2017.
Ligue 1 might be a less competitive environment in which to play football, but Depay has still shown his quality since crossing the Channel. He’s registered 16 goals and 12 assists in the league this term, as well as scoring in six consecutive games in 2018.
Serge Gnabry (Bayern Munich/Hoffenheim)
Gnabry joined Arsenal from Stuttgart as a fresh-faced 16-year-old. The winger was explosive in the Gunners' youth teams, which led to a first-team debut just over a year later against Coventry in the League Cup, and enjoyed a run of games at the start of the 2013-14 season.
Injury halted his progress, though, and he was sold to Werder Bremen in 2016 after rejecting a new deal at the Emirates. His impressive form for Werder earned him a move to Bayern, who then loaned him to Hoffenheim for 2017-18. Gnabry has scored 10 goals in 22 Bundesliga games this term, with Julian Nagelsmann’s side targeting a top-four finish.
There were plenty of jokes at Paulinho’s expense when he was unveiled at the Camp Nou in August 2017. His failure to perform more than a handful of keepy-uppies saw him mocked on social media – but then fancy footwork has never been his remit.
A forceful, driving presence in midfield, Paulinho has been a success at Barcelona. While the former Tottenham flop doesn’t always start amid some tough competition for midfield places, he’s been regularly involved throughout the campaign, making 49 appearances and chipping in with nine goals.
Benjamin Stambouli (Schalke)
French utility man Stambouli arrived at White Hart Lane in 2014 as part of a busy first transfer window for Mauricio Pochettino. This was no Poch success story, however, and he made more appearances in cup competitions than the Premier League during his single season as a Spurs player.
Stambouli was surprisingly sold to PSG for a profit, and won five trophies in just over a year back in France. He then joined Schalke, where his versatility has helped him to become a vital member of Domenico Tedesco’s exciting team. The Royal Blues are set to finish second in the Bundesliga behind runaway leaders Bayern Munich – their highest finish since 2009-10.
Florian Thauvin (Marseille)
Thauvin was a player who promised much but flattered to deceive at Newcastle. He was a quick and tricky winger who had impressed with Marseille and was regarded as a great prospect for the future, so a £15m fee was seen as a steal in 2015.
But after 16 forgettable games and just one goal, Thauvin was loaned back to Marseille before his move was made permanent last year. This season, though, he’s hit career-best form and scored 20 league goals. Together with Dimitri Payet, Thauvin’s skill and creativity have helped carry Rudi Garcia’s men to the Europa League final.
Jordan Veretout (Fiorentina)
Many Premier League observers will remember Veretout struggling to make an impression as Aston Villa were meekly relegated from the top flight two years ago. He rediscovered his mojo on loan at Saint-Etienne last season, before agreeing a permanent move to Serie A, where the 25-year-old has shown what he's really capable of.
Villa had hoped for much more from the talented former France youth international. He seemed to struggle with the pace and intensity of English football, but is thriving in Italy and has missed just one game all season.
After joining Benfica from Real Madrid in 2010, Rodrigo was immediately sent out on a season-long loan to Bolton, whose squad also boasted Gary Cahill, Marcos Alonso and Daniel Sturridge. The Brazil-born forward struggled to adapt to English football, though, with only four of his 17 Premier League appearances coming from the start of matches.
He returned to Benfica in summer 2011 and gradually established himself at the Estadio da Luz, before being sold to Valencia in 2014. Rodrigo took a while to find his feet in Spain but has exploded into life this term, scoring 19 goals in all competitions to help Los Che back into the Champions League.
Greg Lea is a freelance football journalist who's filled in wherever FourFourTwo needs him since 2014. He became a Crystal Palace fan after watching a 1-0 loss to Port Vale in 1998, and once got on the scoresheet in a primary school game against Wilfried Zaha's Whitehorse Manor (an own goal in an 8-0 defeat).
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