The cliché of just how physical and aggressive the English Premier League is gets thrown around far too often, but there is a little bit of truth to it. Doing it on a wet Monday night in Stoke is easier said than done.
Because of that, we’ve seen plenty of players fail to make it in England, some of whom were among football’s biggest names at the time they arrived.
Fernando Torres, Alexis Sánchez and a few other players have been both stars and flops, but there are a group of players who will only ever be remembered poorly.
Here’s a look at 20 of the biggest players who failed to shine in the Premier League.
Juan Sebastián Verón
An Argentine international, Verón had excelled in Italy with both Parma and Lazio and looked destined to become one of the world’s best midfielders. So, as players in his situation usually do, he moved to Manchester United.
Unfortunately, his patient, methodical style of play did not translate to the Premier League. He wanted time on the ball but was given none of it, and ended up looking more like a chump than a champ.
Inexplicably, Chelsea decided it was a good idea to pay to sign Verón in 2003, and they acted surprised when the Argentine was still bad at football. The English game just wasn’t for him.
Falcao was once known as the most dangerous striker around. ‘El Tigre’ had dominated with both Porto and Atlético Madrid between 2009 and 2013, and his time with Monaco in the 2013/14 season started off pretty well. But then he got injured.
Manchester United took the plunge and gambled on Falcao rediscovering his form in 2014, but he managed just four goals in 26 appearances with the Red Devils. He had flopped in England and had convinced the world that he wasn’t worth signing anymore.
And yet somehow, Chelsea decided to sign Falcao on a big-money contract immediately. Their reward? One goal in ten games. Had they learned nothing from Verón?
Shevchenko could well be the biggest flop in Premier League history.
Brought to Chelsea by owner Roman Abramovich in 2006, his poor form and awkward fit at Stamford Bridge contributed to José Mourinho’s first departure, and his return of nine goals across two and a bit seasons was nowhere near what fans had expected.
After dominating Spain with Valencia, Roberto Soldado’s move to Tottenham Hotspur in 2013 was supposed to propel him towards best-in-the-world status. Safe to say it did the exact opposite.
Seven goals in 52 games did nothing but frustrate fans, and his poor performances nearly turned Spurs into a laughing stock.
Soldado’s form was so bad that Spurs had no choice to turn to this random young kid from the academy to save them. That kid turned out to be Harry Kane, whose career might not have taken off if Soldado had actually been good.
Ángel Di María
When you join United from Real Madrid for an English-record £59.7m, you’re supposed to actually be good at football, but clearly nobody told Ángel Di María.
The Argentine was handed the iconic number seven shirt, but proceeded to stink it up at Old Trafford, bagging just three goals in 27 games. A combination of injuries, off-field issues and beef with Louis van Gaal didn’t help, but there’s no denying that Di María was nowhere near good enough.
He was quickly shipped off to Paris Saint-Germain, where he has managed to rediscover his best form and show United fans what could have been.
During his time with Fiorentina, Cuadrado blossomed into one of the most exciting wingers in Serie A, and his performances with Colombia at the 2014 World Cup only boosted his profile even more. He was ready for the next step.
It was Chelsea who took the plunge and lured Cuadrado to England in early 2015, but things quickly fell apart. He failed to impress in his brief cameos, never looked worthy of starting games and made Chelsea worse when he was on the pitch. It was a disaster.
He managed just six months in England before being loaned out to Juventus, with whom he spent a total of two years on loan before permanently moving to Italy.
Mangala became the most expensive defender in league history when he sealed a £42m move to Manchester City in 2014 – a deal which actually seemed fine at the time. The Frenchman was a monster with former side Porto and looked like a real star.
City needed just two seasons to realise that they had fallen for a cruel trick. Mangala made more mistakes than useful contributions and looked like he was terrified of playing football at times.
After a few failed loan moves, Mangala was offloaded to Valencia on a free transfer in 2019, bringing an end to one of the most disappointing spells in England we have ever seen.
In 2019, then-Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri was adamant that he could turn an ageing Gonzalo Higuaín back into the superstar who had taken Italy by storm with Napoli. That did not happen.
During his six-month spell in England, Higuaín managed just five goals, and three of those came against sides who would go on to be relegated. His other two strikes came against sides who ended up in the bottom half of the table, which speaks volumes of the kind of ‘quality’ he brought to Stamford Bridge.
When Sarri was given his marching orders at the end of the season, Higuaín unsurprisingly followed.
Robinho’s time in England began when he told reporters that he was delighted to join Chelsea, despite it being Manchester City who had just shelled out £32.5m to sign him in 2008. Awkward.
Things started off pretty well, but Robinho soon forgot how to play football. He kept getting injured and being generally rubbish, so he was shipped out on loan to Santos in January 2010, having failed to live up expectations.
His form had Chelsea fans feeling as though they had dodged a bullet, but the Blues’ bazillion other failed transfers quickly had them crashing back to reality.
One of Croatia’s greatest exports, Šuker lit up La Liga for eight years between 1991 and 1999, in which he bagged a huge number of goals for Sevilla and Real Madrid. He also led Croatia to the 1998 World Cup semi-final, so it was clear he could hang.
Arsenal pounced to lure him away from Madrid, but they were soon wishing they hadn’t. The former Ballon d’Or runner-up scored in just five league games (racking up eight goals), and he was allowed to leave for West Ham after just one season.
With the Hammers, he spent most of his time injured and added just two more goals before he was shipped off to Germany.
It’s perhaps a little harsh to include Patrick Kluivert on this list, given he was past his best when he joined Newcastle United in 2004, but there’s no doubting that the Dutchman failed to live up to expectations.
Once seen as one of Europe’s deadliest strikers during his time with Barcelona, Kluivert bagged just six goals in 25 league appearances that year. That’s not too bad, but the fact that he scored five in six UEFA Cup games had fans asking for a little more domestically.
He was 28 by the time the season ended, so he still had a few more years in the tank, but Newcastle declined to extend his contract and let him walk away for free after seeing him fail to set the league on fire.
Optimistically (and foolishly) touted as the hier to Cristiano Ronaldo’s throne at Old Trafford, Manchester United signed Memphis Depay for £25m in 2015, and they hoped they had found the next global superstar.
It was a slow start for Depay, who claimed to be struggling with both fitness issues and the physicality of the Premier League, and he was soon demoted to the bench. Unfortunately for Depay, he never really recovered.
He managed two goals and one assist in his debut season, before being restricted to just 20 minutes of action in the first half of the 2016/17 campaign. It was obvious that his time in England was over, so Lyon swooped in and brought him to France.
Chelsea needed a prolific star striker to replace Diego Costa in 2017 and they settled on Álvaro Morata, whose £60m move from Real Madrid was a club record at the time. He came into the season on the back off bagging 20 goals in the previous season, so Blues fans were feeling optimistic.
After he bagged six goals in his first six games, that optimism grew even more. However, things quickly fell apart as Morata started picking up injuries and drawing cries of ‘my grandma could’ve scored that’ from fans. He couldn’t hit a barn door.
Fans were soon begging for him to be dropped from the lineup, and he was eventually discarded back to Spain in early 2019, when the equally awful Higuaín arrived to take over. Proper Chels.
You might not even have realised that Jérôme Boateng even played in the Premier League, which tells you everything you need to know about how ineffective he was.
A £10m-signing for Manchester City in 2010, Boateng was largely played out of position in Manchester, spending most of his time as a right-back instead of a centre-back, and that didn’t exactly help him show his best.
It wasn’t always his fault, but Boateng looked to be an awkward fit in England, so he was sold to Bayern Munich after just one year, and he went on to become one of Europe’s best centre-backs. It’s crazy what happens when you play a player in their actual position.
Speaking of underwhelming Manchester City defenders, it would be rude not to give a shout-out to Maicon.
The former Inter star was no longer the player who was seen as one of the best right-backs in the world when he joined in 2012, but he was still supposed to be pretty good. However, he looked a shadow of his former self and rarely even made the bench.
Maicon made just nine appearances, including four starts, and was swiftly sent packing.
Chelsea hate left-backs. Ever since Ashley Cole left in 2014, the Blues have never had a reliable option in the position, and Filipe Luís is just one of several players who failed to impress.
Before his £16m move to Stamford Bridge, Luís proved himself as one of La Liga’s best defenders with Atlético Madrid, and he looked like the perfect person to replace Cole. On paper, it all made sense, but it turned out that Luís was nowhere near the player Chelsea expected him to be.
Having made his name as a part of Jürgen Klopp’s overwhelmingly popular Borussia Dortmund side, Kagawa was tipped for big things when he joined Manchester United for an initial £12m in 2012. Given he only lasted two years, you can take a good guess at how it went.
Amid claims that he was being used out of position, Kagawa blew hot and cold at Old Trafford. He was by no means the biggest flop on this list, but it’s fair to say that almost everyone expected more from the Japan international.
United took a loss by sending him back to Dortmund two years later, when their search for any form of creativity in midfield continued.
Like Kagawa, Diego Forlán was by no means a major failure in England. With United, Forlán scored some bangers between 2002 and 2004, but he didn’t really look like a dominant force. If anything, he looked like a reasonably reliable second-choice striker.
He was sold to Valencia ahead of the 2004/05 season, with whom Forlán proceeded to fire home 25 goals and win the European Golden Shoe award. That form earned him a move to Atlético Madrid, and the Uruguayan added yet another Golden Shoe a few years later.
Where was that form when he was in England?
Schweinsteiger was another player who arrived in England a little too late. He has starred in Germany during his prime, but his reputation took a bit of a blow after his two-year spell with United between 2015 and 2017.
The 30-year-old simply couldn’t keep up with the pace of the Premier League, and he even managed to get himself demoted to the reserves by José Mourinho, who decided that he was fed up with Schweinsteiger after just one year.
One of the deadliest strikers in Champions League history, Fernando Morientes looked like a bargain when he sealed a €9m move to Liverpool in 2005.
Unfortunately, Morientes looked nowhere near as prolific at Anfield. He managed eight goals in his 41 league outings, which was nowhere near what anyone expected. Liverpool had to turn to Peter Crouch and an ageing Robbie Fowler in search of their goals.
Morientes was gone after just two seasons, and the fact that he rediscovered some of his best form after leaving made it even more painful for Liverpool fans.
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Edited by Tiyani wa ka Mabasa