The 10 best players at relegated clubs across Europe’s top five leagues who could get cherry-picked
Relegation is never good, but it isn’t always an indictment of quality.
Plenty of quality players have been relegated over the years, and across Europe’s top five leagues this season has been no exception. From the Premier League to Ligue 1, every team has had talent on it. But we’ve looked at all of the relegated sides and come up with 10 that are most likely to be cherry-picked by savvy sides.
Nathan Aké of Bournemouth and Sandro Tonali of Brescia are two players that are already on the verge of being snapped up by Manchester City and Inter Milan, so they have not been included in the 10 despite obviously having the talent for it.
Emi Buendia (Norwich City)
When you look at the numbers it’s hard to believe that a player as good as Emi Buendia actually managed to get relegated. That it is true speaks so poorly of the Norwich defence because my goodness the attack was something when Buendia was in full flight.
A wing-forward who was equally good at leading the press as he was creating chances as he was dribbling by defenders. Buendia’s skill-set and production belongs in the top four, not the bottom three.
Buendia was the only player in the Premier League to have 80+ tackles (82), take-ons (102) and chances created (83) this season. No one else even came close to matching it. Now, for sure, the way Daniel Farke had Norwich play helped him produce that well for sure. But there are many sides who play as intensely and ferociously as the Canaries, and one of them simply must sign Emi Buendia. He is a genius.
Mario Balotelli (Brescia)
Mario Balotelli began this decade tasting the impossible high of winning a treble as he was with Inter Milan. He’s been through various adventures since, but ends the decade feeling the low of relegation with Brescia. The Italian played 1,408 minutes this season and bagged five goals. He wasn’t Brescia’s top scorer but at the age of just 29 there’s still so much ability there for the right club to take advantage of. Remember it was as recently as 2018 when he bagged 18 goals in Ligue 1 for Nice. Someone just needs to take a chance.
David Brooks (Bournemouth)
Brooks missed most of 2019/20 because of a horrific injury suffered at the end of 2017/18. This no doubt contributed to Bournemouth’s relegation as they severely missed a player of his immense creative talents. Brooks can drive forward, moving the ball by opponents with dribbling and inventive passes whilst also possessing a goal threat. It’s possible he stays at Bournemouth in a bid to prove his fitness but any side willing to take a risk on a player who may take six months to re-find his best form will be rewarded by one of the most exciting young talents on these shores.
Ismaila Sarr (Watford)
Ismaila Sarr has always been a player of great potential. Sarr’s Senegal teammate Sadio Mane tried to warn everyone when Watford signed him last year.
“He’s rapid,” Mane told the Athletic. “I think defenders will struggle. Last time I was speaking to Robbo (Andy Robertson) I said ‘Watford have a really good player. I will need to help you more otherwise Ismaila Sarr will kill you, because he is a good dribbler and very, very fast’.”
And nowhere was that seen more than in Watford’s shocking win over Mane’s Liverpool in 2019/20. The Senegalese winger absolutely flew at Liverpool and tore at them the way you’d have expected Raheem Sterling or Marcus Rashford to have done. Sarr scored twice and created the other as the Hornets walked away with a massive 3-0 win. According to the Watford Observer, three Premier League clubs are interested in signing Sarr and Liverpool are one of them. The others are Wolves and Crystal Palace.
Ante Budimir (Mallorca)
Mallorca looked doomed from the start of the season, and yet whenever you’d watch them in games they always seemed to be able to compete and that was largely down to two men: Take Kubo and Ante Budimir. Kubo was only on loan but Budimir went down with the ship. He is a tall striker with the ability to hold the ball up, link play and most impressively score goals. Budimir’s 13 goals was the eighth-highest total in the division and accounted for a third of Mallorca’s entire total. He’s not a world-beater but if you want a solid goal-getter there’s a bargain to be had with the 29-year-old Serb.
Abdoulaye Doucoure (Watford)
Doucoure alternatively looks like a world-beater or a pedestrian. Still, the quality in his game cannot be denied. He completed 64 tackles, 40 dribbles and created 38 chances in the Premier League last season. He’s a true all-around talent who has game-changing potential if put into the right system. Watford’s relegation should lower his price and help him get a move back to the top tier of the game.
Marc Roca (Espanyol)
Espanyol got relegated and no one really has any idea how given the talent in the side. Marc Roca was one such shining star. A graduate of the club’s youth academy, he has become an integral part of their team. A classic Spanish midfielder he excels at passing; both threading through-balls and controlling the pace of games, but he’s no shrinking violet. With 82 tackles he ranked fifth amongst all players in La Liga. This is a genuinely special talent just waiting to be unleashed in a better team.
Max Aarons (Norwich City)
People were linking Max Aarons with a move away from Norwich before he’d even played a game in the Premier League. Now he’s been through an entire season and proven his quality but still won’t cost that much due to Norwich’s relegation you’d expect over half the teams to be beating down the Canaries’ door to get him. With the exceptions of Liverpool, Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal; every Premier League team could use Aarons. And that’s not including sides from abroad. No way he’s still at Norwich next season.
Raul de Tomas (Espanyol)
Espanyol signed Raul de Tomas in a desperate bid to avoid relegation and, at first, it looked like it was going to work. De Tomas was sensational to begin 2020, scoring five goals in his first five games. Espanyol won two of those games and drew another, so he genuinely looked like he’d have the goal power to keep them up.
But then a goalless run encompassing injury and the Covid-19 hiatus completely derailed him and he failed to score in his last 10 games. Still, part of that was the entropy of Espanyol themselves, and if he were put into a better side the potency he put on display in that first handful of games would come to the fore.
Todd Cantwell (Norwich City)
“Ten-Lung” Todd Cantwell with his rockstar hair and rock-and-roll style of play was a sensation in the Premier League this past season. The most emblematic player of Daniel Farke’s style of play, he was a perpetual motion machine in midfield. Attacking and defending with incredible energy and never seeming to tire or wear down. He could slot into any squad in the world and instantly make it better with his hard-work. Someone just has to buy this kid. He’s far too good.