20 players who have thrived after leaving England


These players, one from each Premier League club, may not have made much of an impression in England but have proven their worth elsewhere.

Arsenal – Kristoffer Olsson (Krasnodar) In two years at Arsenal the Swede appeared in one matchday squad and made it on to the pitch for 36 minutes of a League Cup tie at West Brom (scoring in the penalty shootout). He moved on, initially to Midtjylland in Denmark, and after a spell at AIK in Sweden he joined Krasnodar in January 2019. This season he has been a key player in midfield, with his team second in Russias Premier League.

Aston Villa – Pierluigi Gollini (Atalanta) A £4.25m signing from the Serie B side Hellas Verona in 2016, Gollini held down a first-team spot for barely four months before Steve Bruce brought in Mark Bunn, more than 10 years Gollinis senior, before Christmas. “Bunn gives you that bit of experience,” he said. “I just felt with young Pier, it was a bit too much for him. I find him very young.” The following month he joined Atalanta, initially on loan, and he has been their first-choice goalkeeper since March 2019. He has had an outstanding season and made his full international debut in November.

Bournemouth – Max Gradel (Toulouse) Not just an automatic first choice when fit but Toulouses captain, the Ivorian contributed 13 goals and 10 assists last season – his best statistics since the year at Saint-Étienne that convinced Bournemouth to sign him in the summer of 2015. He spent two seasons on the south coast, starting 11 league games in the first and none in the second. This season he has three goals and three assists in 21 appearances in Ligue 1.

Brighton – Mathias Normann (Rostov) The then 21-year-old Norwegian signed in the summer of 2017, swiftly departed again on loan to Ole Gunnar Solskjærs Molde. After returning for the first half of the following season he made a permanent move to Rostov in January 2019 without ever being considered worthy of a place in Brightons first-team squad. The defensive midfielder has been a regular ever since, starting all 18 league games he has been available for this season and finishing 17, scoring one (excellent) goal.

Burnley – Rouwen Hennings (Fortuna Düsseldorf) The German striker made only three league starts, scoring one goal, at Burnley during the 2015-16 season. “Were not expecting miracles out of him,” Sean Dyche said. “Hes shown signs and glimmers of what hes about and we think theres more to come.” There was, though nobody saw it until he had been sent back to Germany on a free transfer. He started this season spectacularly, scoring 10 league goals by the end of November and though he could not keep up that pace his tally of 11 puts him fifth in the Bundesliga scoring charts.

Chelsea – Marko Marin (al-Ahli) Chelsea spent around £7m to sign the then 23-year-old midfielder from Werder Bremen in 2012. He had already won 16 full caps and been a member of Germanys squad for the 2010 World Cup but the move did not work out: he made only two league starts and played a total of 142 league minutes before heading out on a series of loan deals. He eventually joined Olympiakos in 2016 for around £2.5m. Now 31 he moved to the Saudi club al-Ahli in January having captained Crvena Zvezda in the first half of the season, including every minute of the Serbian sides Champions League campaign (they lost 5-0 and 4-0 to Spurs, and 3-0 and 6-0 to Bayern Munich, but he set up two goals in their one victory, at home to Olympiakos).

Crystal Palace – Alexander Sørloth (Trabzonspor) The Norwegian praised “a big club with ambition, a good club who takes good care of its players” when he signed in January 2018 but after four games without a goal he was dropped, destined never to make another league start in England. But a player who scored only once in this country, against Swansea in the League Cup, has become the best marksman in Turkey, where he has scored 19 and created six in 26 appearances this season.

Everton – Joel Robles (Real Betis) Between August 2013 and May 2018 the Spaniard spent 140 Premier League games on Evertons bench and managed 39 starts. There were periods when he looked to have made the goalkeepers jersey his own but none was very long; signed for £3.6m, he left on a free transfer and after spending last season as back-up at Real Betis he has stepped up following Pau López moved to Roma last summer.

Leicester – Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim) The Croat became Leicesters record signing for £9.7m in January 2015. “Hes an extremely talented young footballer,” said Nigel Pearson of the then 23-year-old. “He is potentially a very important addition to us.” That potential was never realised: he started five of next seven games and continued to make regular substitute appearances but spent only 22 minutes on the pitch in 2015-16. He joined Hoffenheim, initially on loan, almost exactly a year after his arrival. His five goals helped keep the club up that season and he made the move permanent in the summer of 2016. He has never left their first team, has scored 45 league goals in his three complete seasons and despite suffering several injuries had seven to his name when play stopped in March.

Liverpool – Luis Alberto (Lazio) Liverpool spent £6.8m to sign the 20-year-old Spaniard, who could play across the forward line, in 2013, with Brendan Rodgers trilling “he has the correct footballing profile and mentality to be a Liverpool player”. He never started a league game, making nine substitute appearances, and never scored before joining Lazio three years later for £4.3m. He barely played in his first season but since 2017 has been a regular and this season, in a more withdrawn role at the base of midfield, has created 13 goals in 25 games – the most in Serie A – while scoring four of his own.

Manchester City – Olarenwaju Kayode (Gaziantep) A curious one, this. The Nigerian had been Austrias top scorer before City snapped up the then 24-year-old from Austria Vienna in the summer of 2017 for £3.5m. But he never played for the club, instead moving immediately on loan to Girona. After starting two league games and scoring no goals he was sent back again in January 2018, saw a move to Amiens collapse for “administrative reasons” and had a disappointing spell at Shakhtar Donetsk. He is now shining in Turkey, where he has nine goals and six assists this season.

Manchester United – Guillermo Varela (Copenhagen) After signing in 2013 aged 20 Varela had to wait two years for a chance but under Louis van Gaal in 2015-16 the Uruguayan was integrated into the first-team, making regular appearances in league and cups. “Hes performing like hes been playing for 10 years,” Juan Mata said. “Hes a very competitive guy, hes good for the team so we are very happy for him.” Then he started against Liverpool in the Europa League, did too little to stop Philippe Coutinhos run as he scored a brilliant goal just before half-time, was taken off at the break and never played again. He went on loan to Eintracht Frankfurt in 2016-17 but when a tattoo engraved against club instructions became infected before the cup final he was dropped, fined and sent back in disgrace. In 2017 he returned to his first club, Peñarol, but came back to Europe in January 2019 to join Copenhagen and was enjoying the best season of his career before play was suspended in March.

Newcastle – Mikel Merino (Real Sociedad) During Merinos single season at Newcastle his ability was evident but Rafael Benítez was not fully convinced by his Spanish compatriot. He managed only two league starts between the end of 2017 and the end of the campaign, because he was unable to dislodge Jonjo Shelvey and Mo Diamé in central midfield. He started 24 of 38 league games last season but 25 of 26 this year as Real Sociedad unexpectedly rose to fourth in the table.

Norwich City – Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe (Gent) Norwich spent around £4.5m to sign the 25-year-old Belgium midfielder in the summer of 2014. He started only one league game as Norwich won promotion in his first year and three in the Premier League the following season before being allowed to join Legia Warsaw on a free transfer. He was Polands player of the following season but after one year moved to Olympiakos, where he experienced a chaotic campaign featuring three managers. In April was told by the clubs chairman – and owner of Nottingham Forest – Evangelos Marinakis that he had no future there. He joined Gent in the summer of 2018 and became the captain this season. He had scored three goals and created eight when play was suspended.

Southampton – Martín Cáceres (Fiorentina) Cáceres had already played for Juventus andBarcelona, as well as winning 68 caps for Uruguay, before he joined the Saints as a free agent in February 2017. Of the 13 league games between his arrival and the end of the season he started 12 on the bench, finished 12 on the bench, and actually appeared only once, in a 2-1 victory at Middlesbrough that May. He has since been passed around Serie A clubs – from Hellas Verona to Lazio, to Juventus, and then last summer to Fiorentina, where has has started 20 of the 22 league games he has been available for. He turned 33 this month (7 April).

Tottenham – Milos Veljkovic (Werder Bremen) Spurs spotted Veljkovic when the Serb was a 15-year-old at Basle and signed him a few weeks before his 16th birthday in 2011. He was at the club for nearly five years in which time he made three appearances, of two, 28 and four minutes duration respectively. Loan moves to Charlton and Middlesbrough were unproductive and in January 2016 he left for Werder Bremen, who paid around £500,000. He has made 97 league appearances there and is once again a mainstay in defence after recovering from a broken toe that kept him out of the first five games.

Sheffield United – Aymen Tahar (Panetolikos) The Sheffield-born midfielder of Algerian extraction came through the clubs youth system but left in the summer of 2010 having made the first-team squad once and played a single minute of senior football in an FA Cup defeat by Hull City. When he joined Staveley Miners Welfare a future of globetrotting success seemed unlikely but a move to the Romanian side Gaz Metan Medias proved successful. He has since played for Steaua Bucharest (where he made three Champions League appearances, albeit in the qualifying rounds) and Boavista. He left Portugal last summer to join Panetolikos in Greeces top division and he has been involved in 20 of their 23 league games this season, all but three as a starter.

Watford – Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord) The Dutch winger lasted one season at Watford, arriving at the age of 23, before moving to Feyenoord, initially on loan. Of 38 Premier League games he was in the squad for only 16, made appearances in nine and started none. This season he is the Eredivisies joint top scorer and joint third on the list of assists.

West Ham – Pablo Barrera (Pumas) Barrera signed for £4m in the summer of 2010 having impressed for Mexico at the World Cup, promising to “give 100% and to play better than I have ever played before”. He barely played at all, making six league starts in his one full season. Half a decent season on loan at Real Zaragoza followed (there were just five substitute appearances in the second half) before he returned to Mexico to join Cruz Azul. Now back at Pumas, his first club, where he won the title in 2009, and a regular in their first team.

Wolves – Silvio (Vitoria Setúbal) One year, four starts and four managers was the extent of Silvios experience in England but he has gone on to become a key player with Setúbal in his native Portugal: this season he has missed one match through illness and played every minute of the other 23.