‘Yeah he’s good, but can he do it in the Premier League?’
It’s a line we hear all too often and a benchmark that is, truthfully, rather skewed in deciding just how good a footballer really is.
While the Premier League is quite possibly the greatest league in the footballing world, players can reach dizzying heights of success without stepping foot into the English top flight. Shocking, we know.
And while it would be nice to see how the Lionel Messi‘s and the Neymar’s of football would hold up in the Premier League, their exploits elsewhere are good enough to certify them as ballers in their own right, without having to have been kicked to death by the Craig Dawson’s and Jonjo Shelvey’s of the football world.
Okay, there are many who come to England with a reputation and face a humbling culture shock before leaving with their tail between their legs, but there is also the other side of the fence which gets overlooked.
Some players are just square pegs in a round, Premier League-shaped hole.
A move abroad can make an okay player look like a top player once again, and leave onlookers scratching their heads as to where that was in the years previous.
That happens a lot more than we think, and it’s a reality that has been the case for a number of very recognisable stars over the years.
So, in order to play down the concept that a player must be good in the Premier League to earn their flowers, we at URBANNEWSGH have pulled together 10 examples of players who couldn’t hack it in England, but unlocked new levels when moving away.
10. Alexander Sorloth
Crystal Palace parted with some £9 million to sign Sorloth in January 2018, a player who not many had heard of. He very quickly looked like a fish out of water, not scoring his first goal for the club until August that year.
He left on a two-year loan to Trabzonspor just over a year after signing for the Eagles. And while the Turkish Super Lig is where Premier League flops go to hide away, the Norwegian striker blossomed and found a prolific edge that prompted RB Leipzig to snap him up in 2020.
9. Iago Aspas
Remembered most famously by Liverpool fans for taking the corner against Chelsea that led to a goal in a game that cost them the 2013/14 Premier League, Aspas’ stock very quickly hit rock bottom in England.
Since leaving and returning to La Liga in 2015, though, the tricky Spaniard has built a fine career for himself. Aspas has become Celta Vigo’s all-time top scorer and managed to bag 100 La Liga goals from 209 games; only four players since the Spanish Civil War achieved the feat quicker than him.
8. Moise Kean
Everton shelled out £27.5m in total to pry a 19-year-old Kean away from Juventus after he emerged as one of Europe’s next top strikers, but it was very quickly apparent that leading the line for the Toffees was too big a task for him.
He looked a complete waste of time for Everton, but immediately looked like a top class prospect once again during a loan spell to Paris Saint-Germain in 2020/21.
Everton shipped him back to Juventus in 2021 on loan with an option to buy, and the Italian looks to have found his groove once again.
7. Kieran Trippier
He’s a strange one, is Trippier. Very much considered a ‘nearly’ man in the Premier League, he showed hints of being world class for Tottenham, but was never fully trusted by Mauricio Pochettino despite his scintillating form for England.
A 2019 move to Atletico Madrid saw the right back rewrite the script, however, as he became an integral piece of the puzzle in Diego Simeone’s side and won La Liga in 2020/21, before returning to England with Newcastle in 2022.
6. Juan Cuadrado
Signing for Chelsea in January 2015 off the back of an extraordinary display at the 2014 World Cup with Colombia, Cuadrado never seemed to get going in England, and was shipped away before he could find a groove.
He was back in Serie A after half a season at Stamford Bridge, this time with Juventus, and immediately looked a world beater once again.
The move became permanent in 2017, and the wing back has been a fine servant to the Old Lady ever since, winning five Scudetti.
5. Memphis Depay
The hype was real when Depay signed for United ahead of the 2015/16 season. However, the hype very quickly died out when too much was expected of the Dutchman, who was still just a youngster at the time.
An ill-fated two years in Manchester ended in 2017 with Depay carrying a damaged reputation with him to Lyon.
It was there, though, that we saw exactly what it was that United were expecting to get out of him. The winger looked unstoppable, prompting a transfer to Barcelona in 2021.
4. Diego Forlan
Forlan earned cult hero status among Manchester United fans when he bagged a quickfire brace at Anfield to ensure United beat Liverpool in 2002, but his spell was otherwise underwhelming.
He left Old Trafford in 2004 and rebuilt his reputation from there, firstly with Villarreal, but most famously with Atletico Madrid, where he unlocked truly world class levels and scored the winner in the 2010 Europa League final.
3. Chris Smalling
It’s hard to call Smalling a ‘flop’ considering he represented Manchester United for 10 years and won the Premier League among other honours. But beyond those first few seasons as a youngster, the Englishman very quickly started to grow stale and absolutely outstayed his welcome.
Regularly subjected to criticism and often the butt of the joke in England, Smalling has looked an entirely different player since leaving for Serie A in 2020 and becoming the experienced head at the back for Roma.
He looks much more assured in Italy and is given much more respect, and has most recently won the inaugural Europa Conference League.
2. Jerome Boateng
Boateng spent just one season with Manchester City following his 2010 transfer from Hamburg, where it became very quickly apparent that he wasn’t ready for the English top flight, as he struggled to become a regular.
The opportunity to move to Bayern Munich arose the following summer and the German defender got his wish.
Following that move, he became one of the best defenders in the world and integral to Bayern’s domestic dominance, also winning two Champions Leagues during an incredible tenure.
A talented young winger blossoming in Arsenal‘s academy, everyone remembers Gnabry’s failed loan spell at West Brom in 2015/16, where Tony Pulis infamously stated he wasn’t at at a good enough level to play for the Baggies.
Gnabry quit Arsenal and England altogether as a result, returning to Germany with Wolfsburg in 2016. A season later, he had been snapped up by Bayern Munich and, after a spell on loan at Hoffenheim, Gnabry blossomed into a mainstay in Bayern’s first team.
Now 26, he is among the most talented wingers in Europe, a treble winner and has been capped 34 times by Germany. It’s fair to say Pulis was wrong.