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13 players whose career paths were truly bizarre

Luca Toni

Paulinho

Topical, as Paulinho has just moved to the Camp Nou for €40m. This move is a career peak for the midfielder, at the age of 29, which came much to the surprise and dismay of many people - including, if reports are to be believed, some of Barcelona's biggest stars. His path to Catalonia has been one of the most bizarre in football history.

The 41-cap Brazil international arrived via FC Vilnius in Lithuania, LKS Lodz in Poland, three clubs in his native Brazil (two of which were, frankly, quite small), a poor spell in the Premier League with Spurs, and Guangzhou Evergrande in China. He now finds himself at one of the true goliaths of world football - and this is a man who previously failed to shine in his spells in Lithuania and Poland.

Adel Taarabt

Taarabt is an enigma. The Moroccan is undoubtedly talented, but flashes of brilliance have been overshadowed by a bad attitude, laziness and an inability to keep himself in shape.

Having started out in Lens' reserves, Taraabt earned a place in the French side's first team and attracted the interest of Tottenham. A loan move to White Hart Lane was followed by a permanent one – but it's all gone a bit crazy since then.

Taraabt failed to impress at Spurs and was loaned out twice to QPR, before earning a permanent move to Loftus Road. He put in some spectaular displays, and was easily the Championship's best player in 2010/11, but even the Rs grew frustrated with him (Harry Redknapp once claimed he was "three stone overweight"). Loan moves to Fulham and, rather inexplicably, Italian giants Milan followed.

The attacking midfielder scored four goals for the San Siro side and played in the Champions League knockout stages. But he didn’t earn a permanent deal, and eventually left QPR... for Benfica. He’s currently on loan at Genoa and has spent the summer getting himself in shape. Reportedly.

Hulk

The Brazilian beefcake’s career started off in perfectly normal fashion with Vitoria. But it quickly turned curious.

The forward, otherwise known as Givanildo Vieira de Sousa, moved to top Japanese side Kawasaki Frontale in 2005 when he was still a teenager. Loan moves to Japanese second tier sides Consadole Sapporo and Tokyo Verdy - who he went on to join permanently - soon followed, and it was in Japan's capital where he caught the attention of Portuguese giants Porto.

From that point on, Hulk's strange career path has been paved with gold. He moved to Russian giants Zenit in 2012, when the club was being heavily backed financially, and then to Shanghai SIPG in China in 2012.

Despite the relatively poor standards of the leagues Hulk has played in, he’s continued to be selected for Brazil - which is weird in itself. He's 31 now, and his next move - if there are any more - will surely be to any club that offers him a pay rise.

Colin Kazim-Richards

It was a culture shock for the straight-talking east Londoner when he pitched up at Bury aged 15 – but suffice to say, Kazim-Richards has never shied away from alien environments since. The Leystonstone-born attacker hit the headlines in 2005 after being signed by Brighton, who'd used the £250,000 won from a Coca-Cola competition to sign him.  

A £150,000 move to Premier League Sheffield United followed a year later, where he thrived under Neil Warnock and did enough to earn a surprise switch to Turkish giants Fenerbahce. He'd made his Turkey debut only days earlier, but this was the start of a whirlwind career – and with it, an unsettled one.

In 2010, Kazim-Richards was loaned out to Ligue 1 side Toulouse. By January 2011 he'd had his Fenerbahce contract terminated – so duly joined their fiercest rivals, Galatasaray. Loans at Olympiakos and Blackburn followed, before a permanent switch to Bursaspor in 2013. A contract dispute led to another temporary switch, this time to Eredivisie outfit Feyenoord, where he thrived and earned a permanent move.

But things weren't all plain sailing in Rotterdam: a dispute with a troublesome journalist put him in new manager Gio van Bronckhorst's bad books, so he wound up at Celtic in January 2016 for half a season. Naturally, Brazil was his next destination – his wife's country of birth – and after a fruitful spell at Coritiba, Kazim-Richards nabbed himself a move to giants Corinthians in January 2017. 

Asamoah Gyan

Ghana international striker Gyan quickly made a name in his homeland with Liberty Professionals, and moved to Udinese in Italy when he was just 17. That's a fairly typical thing for a top young African talent to do – but his career path from that point onward has been anything but normal.

After dropping down a division during a loan spell with Modena, Gyan found himself in France with Rennes, where he spent two years before moving to the Premier League with Sunderland. After a full season in England he was loaned out to Al Ain in the UAE, for whom he signed permanently the following season.

Gyan has since moved to China with Shanghai SIPG, from whom he was loaned to the UAE again with Al-Ahli Dubai. He’s now 31 and back in Europe, trying his luck in Turkey with Kayserispor.  

Michel Bastos

Brazilian winger Bastos earned 10 caps for his country and currently plies his trade back home with Palmeiras, but before that his Phileas Fogg-like travels took him all over the world.

Having started his career in Brazil with Pelotas, Bastos moved to the Netherlands with Feyenoord, from whom he was loaned to Excelsior in the same division.

The wideman then returned to Brazil, signing with Atletico Paranaense for three years, during which time he was also loaned out to both Gremio and Figuerense. Since then he's been on something of a world tour.

He moved to Lille in France in 2006, and Lyon three years later. He was loaned out to Schalke in 2013, then sold to Al Ain. Bastos's one year in the UAE was interrupted by another loan spell, this time with Roma, before he returned home to play for Sao Paulo in 2014. It was from there that he joined current club Palmeiras at the age of 34. Phew.

Luca Toni

Toni's career was weird, in the sense that it felt like several rolled into one. First he was a journeyman, hopping between small and medium-sized Italian clubs for the first 11 years of his career - Modena, Empoli, Fiorenzuola, Lodigiani, Treviso, Vicenza, Brescia and Palermo.

Then, having impressed for Palermo in 2004/05 following their promotion to Serie A, he got his first move to a big club with Fiorentina. There he became a star of Italian football, top scoring in Serie A with 31 goals. He was 28 at the time.

His form for the Viola earned him an even bigger move – to Bayern Munich, who signed the 30-year-old. He was Bundesliga top scorer in his first season, but he later fell out with boss Louis van Gaal and was loaned to Roma, before returning to Italy permanently with Genoa and then Juventus.

Aged 34, he moved to the UAE with Al-Nasr for what seemed like one final hurrah. But after a single season he re-signed for Fiorentina, then spent his final three campaigns in Serie A with Verona. Toni was remarkably prolific, even finishing as Serie A’s top scorer again in 2014/15 with 22 goals, before retiring at the end of the following season aged 39.

Jozy Altidore

The third-highest scorer in U.S. men's national team history began his career at MLS club New York Red Bulls in 2006. Having performed relatively well for the the Big Apple side, he earned a move to La Liga with Villarreal. Altidore couldn't break into the team, so was loaned out to Xerez in the Segunda Division (where he never played thanks to injury), Hull in the Premier League (two goals in 30 apps), then Bursaspor in Turkey (one goal in 12).

The American was eventually sold to AZ Alkmaar. Altidore found his feet in the Eredivisie and scored 39 league goals in two seasons, which earned him a second shot at Premier League football with Sunderland... where he infamously managed just a single league goal in two years.

Altidore moved back to MLS to sign for Toronto in 2015, as part of the part-exchange deal that saw Jermain Defoe move in the other direction. Still only 27, Altidore is enjoying his football once more, having plundered 32 goals in 68 MLS appearances for the Canadian side.  

Lassana Diarra

You can't help but think that Diarra could have achieved even more. The France international has managed a lot – including a Liga title, two FA Cups and a League Cup - but his ability has surely warranted more.

Having started out with Le Havre in 2004, Diarra moved to England, spending three years on the fringes of the first teams at Chelsea and Arsenal respectively, before impressing as a first-team regular for a season at Portsmouth.

Diarra did so well at Fratton Park that he earned a €20m move to the biggest club in the world in Real Madrid. He spent three years at the Bernabeu before opting for a move to mega-rich Anzhi Makhachkala in Russia. It didn't last long: budget cuts meant he was sold to Lokomotiv Moscow, where he spent another year before moving back to France with Marseille.

Diarra enjoyed a brief career resurgence with Les Olympiens - even being recalled to the France side for the first time in five years - but plumped for another odd move to Al-Jazira in the UAE earlier this year.

Henrik Larsson

Imagine being a prolific striker, almost 33, and the biggest clubs you’ve played for are Feyenoord and Celtic. No shame in that. But you’d probably imagine that playing for sides like Barcelona or Manchester United would be a long-gone dream. Well, maybe not: because that's the age Henrik Larsson was before going on to play for both of them.

Up until then, the only extraordinary thing about Larsson's career was the amount of goals he'd scored. The Swede had started his career with Helsingborg before earning a move to Feyenoord. He averaged slightly better than a goal every four games in the Eredivisie and was almost 26 when he headed to Scotland with Celtic in 1997 - which is when his career really took off.

In seven seasons Larsson bagged 174 league goals (242 in all competitions), which eventually led him to Frank Rijkaard's Barcelona. He spent two seasons at the Camp Nou - coming off the bench in the 2006 Champions League Final, assisting both Barça goals and changing the game – before returning home to play for Helsingborg. You'd think that would have signalled the end of Larsson's career at the very top – but he wasn't quite done yet.

Manchester United came calling, and Larsson enjoyed a short but sweet spell on loan at Old Trafford in 2007, during the Swedish off-season. He made such an impact that Alex Ferguson was keen for him to extend his stay. He didn’t – and regretted it – but did do enough to contribute to United's Premier League victory that season.

Larsson returned to Helsingborg, then ended his career in Sweden with very brief spells at Raa and his first club Hogaborg.

Rohan Ricketts

Ricketts has played in 12 countries, and appears to have had a Nicolas Cage-like approach to selecting his next projects – just say yes.

The midfielder came through at Arsenal and made one appearance for the Gunners before hot-footing it to Tottenham – for whom he made 24 Premier League appearances in 2003/04. We'll skip through the next part quickly: loans at Coventry and Wolves, a permanent move to Molineux in 2005, a loan to QPR in 2007, then another permanent switch to Barnsley. Aged 24, it's all so far, so normal. 

But after a year at Barnsley comes the globe-trotting. Deep breath, and all of these are full transfers: Ricketts spends a season with Toronto in MLS, then joins Hungarian side Diósgyőri VTK after a move to Aberdeen breaks down. Another year later he moves to Moldovan side Dacia Chişinău, who don't pay him properly, so he leaves after three months. German club Wilhelmshaven come next in January 2011; at the end of the season he spends time on trial at Stevenage, which is a "shock to his body".

So next up on Ricketts' Magical Mystery Tour were Shamrock Rovers in Ireland, followed by Exeter, Dempo (India), Deportivo Quevedo (Ecuador) PTT Rayong (Thailand), Eastern Sports Club (Hong Kong), Abahani Limited Dhaka (Bangladesh), then finally... er, Jimmy Bullard's Leatherhead. Of course.

Juninho

Ah, Juninho. The diminutive Brazilian remains one of the most exciting players to have graced the Premier League. He also had one of the most back-and-forth career paths. As well as three spells at Middlesbrough, he constantly yo-yo'd between Brazil and four other countries.

Starting off with hometown club Sao Paulo, Juninho headed to the Riverside Stadium for the first time in 1995. After a two-year spell in the north-east, the twinkle-toed playmaker moved to Spain with Atletico Madrid, before being loaned back to Boro for a second spell on Teesside.

The Brazilian returned to Brazil for the first time since he'd left, taking in loan spells with Vasco da Gama and Flamengo. Then, in 2002, Juninho returned to Middlesbrough for his third and final spell with the club, then decided on one final stint in Europe with Scottish giants Celtic.

Then it was back to Brazil, first with Palmeiras and then a second spell with Flamengo, before he scooted to the other side of the world for a short stint with Sydney in 2007. After a season he announced his retirement from professional football – but he wasn't done just yet.

In 2010, Juninho came out of retirement for one last hurrah, back to Brazil as player-president of Ituano. He played only twice for the Sao Paulo club, but scored two goals – including one in a come-from-behind victory that saved them from relegation. What a way to go out. 

George Best

Everyone remembers Best for his time at Manchester United. But the Northern Ireland international went on to play competitively for 10 years after he left Old Trafford, aged 28.

He was well gone by then, though, and by 1974 was being loaned out to obscure South African club Jewish Guild, and non-league Dunstable Town.

Best went on to play for a number of other English clubs including Fulham, and Third Division Bournemouth in 1983. He also played in Ireland for Cork Celtic, for several clubs in the USA, for Hibs in Scotland, two clubs in Hong Kong, two clubs in Australia, and finally Tobermore United in his native Northern Ireland.

Best's career was one of an infamously troubled man who loved playing football and did so wherever he could. But it’s still one of the strangest, as he transitioned from one-club legend in the first decade of his career to wandering journeyman in the second.

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