Past their primes
Premier League fans have been lucky enough to witness some of the greatest players on the planet strutting their stuff over the years.
Unfortunately, they’ve also had to see some once-wonderful players take to the pitch when they were clearly past their sell-by dates. What might have been...
What happened to the Milan great when he landed in England remains one of the great mysteries of the Premier League era, as one of Serie A’s deadliest marksmen appeared to be past his best as soon as he arrived at Chelsea.
Sheva’s time at Stamford Bridge is often the subject of mockery and his tally of nine goals in 48 league appearances wasn’t what you’d expect from a club record signing. Would it have been a different story had he arrived a couple of years earlier?
The Finnish great arrived at Liverpool in 2001 after clinching the Champions League with Ajax before a spell at Barcelona.
Although the Anfield faithful did see flashes of his undoubted ability, injuries crippled his progression in English football and he returned to Ajax after one-and-a-half seasons on Merseyside that yielded nine goals in 43 games.
Before arriving at Bolton, Jardel’s spells with Porto, Galatasaray and Sporting CP had yielded 269 goals in 275 games. Not bad.
But when he arrived at Sam Allardyce’s side the Brazilian was a bloated shadow of his former self as he struggled with depression, injuries and substance abuse. He scored two League Cup goals but was soon sent on loan to Ancona in Serie A – where he picked up the moniker ‘Lardel’.
A Ballon d’Or winner, league champion in Italy and France and now the President of Liberia. It's remarkable that Weah’s time in England wasn’t more of a success.
The striker joined Chelsea on loan from Milan in January 2000 and instantly made an impression with a winner against Spurs on his debut. Although past his prime, Weah impressed in his half-season at Stamford Bridge and joined Manchester City that summer, but lasted just over two months at the club before walking out after growing tired of manager Joe Royle leaving him on the bench.
In January 2001, the 36-year-old striker ended his hugely successful spell at Lazio to head for the East Midlands, where he failed to score or get through 90 minutes in five appearances.
His time was cut short when he was offered the job of Fiorentina coach. But he certainly had an impact on Robbie Savage, at least. "When Roberto walked through the door I still couldn't believe it," the former Foxes midfielder recalled. "I was used to watching him on Italian football on TV. To just get changed in the same dressing room as him was an unbelievable feeling and an honour."
The Swede’s seven-year spell at Celtic defined his career and ensured him legend status for eternity in the east end of Glasgow. But the three months he spent on loan at Manchester United from Helsingborg at the start of 2007 showed that class is permanent, as the 35-year-old striker netted on his debut against Aston Villa before adding Premier League and Champions League strikes.
Alex Ferguson wanted to extend his stay, but Larsson said he had made a promise to his family and Helsingborg, and refused. Like we said, class is permanent.
Helveg’s success in Italy with Udinese, Inter and Milan helped him establish a reputation as a reliable and classy operator, and his arrival at newly-promoted Norwich was regarded as a coup in 2004.
However, the Dane struggled to replicate his Serie A form in England and soon lost his place in the Canaries' team before suffering with injuries. He did improve as the season went on, finishing the campaign as Norwich’s starting right-back, but the defender left upon relegation after showing just hints of his ability.
A two-time La Liga winner with Valencia, centre-back Pellegrino joined Liverpool in January 2005 after falling out of favour under Claudio Ranieri at the Mestalla.
He was brought in on a six-month contract as Rafa Benitez kept a close eye on his progress, but the Argentina international didn’t do enough over his 12 Premier League outings to convince the Reds to hand him a longer-term deal.
Don’t get us wrong – Zlatan’s memorable spell with Manchester United was far from a failure. The iconic Swede won the Europa League and the League Cup at Old Trafford, as well as being shortlisted for PFA Player of the Year after scoring 17 league goals in his debut campaign.
If that’s what he can achieve after signing at the age of 34, just imagine the damage he'd have made on English defences during his peak years. ..
There’s no doubt that Real Madrid saw the best of Morientes, the club with whom he won the Champions League three times and La Liga twice.
The Spaniard may not have been so prolific once he arrived at Liverpool in January 2005, scoring just eight Premier League goals over one-and-a-half seasons, but he did enjoy success there by winning the FA Cup and UEFA Super Cup – although he was cup-tied for the Reds’ miraculous night in Istanbul against Milan.
A star for France in their triumphs at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, Djorkaeff’s decision to sign for Bolton in 2002 took many by surprise.
His combination with Jay-Jay Okocha and Ivan Campo brought a touch of worldly class to the side and the Frenchman impressed during his time in England, despite being 33 at the time of his arrival.
"Eddie Gillam, our trainer, had given him the No.16 shirt and got it thrown back in his face," Harry Redknapp recalled in his autobiography when remembering Futre’s spell at West Ham.
The Portuguese was furious not to be handed the No.10 shirt but got his hands on it eventually when John Moncur agreed to exchange it for two weeks at Futre’s luxury villa in the Algarve. Sadly, he didn’t do it justice it on the pitch as chronic injuries had clearly taken their toll and he featured just nine times for the Hammers.
Maicon never fully recovered from Gareth Bale tearing him apart in Tottenham’s famous 3-1 win over Inter, but that didn’t stop his old boss Roberto Mancini taking him to Manchester City to provide backup to Pablo Zabaleta.
The Brazilian was a flop, though, limping through a disappointing and injury-ravaged campaign before having similar results at Roma.
A key part of the Uruguay team that reached the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup and triumphed in the 2011 Copa America, Lugano arrived at West Brom regarded as one of the best South American centre-backs around.
Unfortunately, that was the Fenerbahce-era Lugano. The defender's legs had since started to creak and he looked off the pace during his time at The Hawthorns, leaving one year into his two-year deal.
Helmer arrived at Sunderland on a free transfer in 1999 after a trophy-laden spell at Bayern Munich, having turned down an offer from Liverpool.
Black Cats boss Peter Reid wasn’t convinced by the German, though, and after just two games sent him on loan to Hertha Berlin – where the centre-back starred in Champions League wins over Chelsea and Milan. Reid later said “his legs had gone” after he was bought out of his Sunderland contract.
Blanc arrived at Old Trafford at the age of 35 tasked with filling the void left by Jaap Stam, but faced early struggles as United went on a run of five league defeats and were knocked out of the FA Cup.
The Frenchman did help the Red Devils win the league title a year later but it was scant consolation for the loss of Stam.
Tristan spearheaded the Deportivo La Coruna side that challenged Europe's established elite in the early 2000s.
However, a love of big nights out led to him falling out of favour with the La Liga side, and he had spells at Mallorca and Livorno before signing for Gianfranco Zola’s West Ham. It proved to be a largely forgettable period other than his wonderful free-kick against Stoke.
Nakata was still just 29 when he joined Bolton from cash-strapped Fiorentina in 2005, following eye-catching spells pulling the strings for Perugia, Roma and Parma.
Something had changed, though. The Japan international scored one goal in 21 games but had fallen out of love with the sport and retired at the end of the season. "I decided half a year ago that I would retire from the world of professional soccer after the World Cup in Germany," he said after the Blue Samurai finished bottom of their group with a point.
Real Madrid legend Hierro probably didn’t expect to end his career at Bolton, but that’s exactly what happened in 2005 after a memorable campaign in the Premier League where he led Wanderers into Europe for the first time.
The veteran Spaniard teamed up with his former Merengues team-mate Ivan Campo at the Reebok, and boss Sam Allardyce was keen for him to extend before he announced his decision to hang up his boots.
Kluivert’s pedigree of leading the line for Ajax, Milan and Barcelona ensured that his signing got a big response from the Newcastle faithful in 2004.
However, despite scoring a selection of crucial strikes in the league, FA Cup and UEFA Cup for the Magpies – resulting in a debut season haul of 13 goals – the Dutchman was released at the end of the season.
Get the best features, fun and footballing frolics straight to your inbox every week.
Thank you for signing up to Four Four Two. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.