For some players, life in football started with a quick explosion of instant success but for others, it’s a long and arduous road to the top.
The likes of Wayne Rooney and, more recently, Kylian Mbappe made their statements as fresh-faced teenagers, tearing defences apart from an early age and never looking back.
But there are a number of top-class stars plying their trade right now who were originally considered flops, struggling to truly show just what they’re capable of. Take Raheem Sterling, for example, who seemed on the edge of world-class for years but lacked end product and was considered an overpriced waste of talent.
Well, over 62 goals and two league titles for Manchester City later – as well as eight goals in eight caps for England in 2019 – it’s safe to say those accusations have now been put to bed.
So, who else has had to overcome some rather unwanted pressure from pundits and members of the media to become integral players for their clubs and national teams?
Here are five examples.
1. Memphis Depay
Memphis Depay signed for Manchester United for £25m back in 2015 after spending the previous three-and-a-half years tearing the Eredivisie apart with PSV and making his breakthrough with the Netherlands senior side.
Expectations were huge but as we all know, Depay struggled terribly to fit in at Old Trafford, scoring just seven goals in 53 appearances and spending an unnerving amount of time playing reserve team football for a player of his calibre. And never one to mince his words, then-manager Louis van Gaal had some rather unusual but scathing criticism of his compatriot at the time.
“He needs to be corrected. He must realise that he is a member in a football team, that he is not just an individual, a 100-metre sprinter like Usain Bolt,” he said.
“He arrived as a Peruvian pan flute player at [Netherlands’ team hotel for a game against Iceland]. If you are a young boy and still have not done anything, do not play dress up as you report to the coach. [Cristiano] Ronaldo does that, but at least he is proven.”
Depay left United in January 2017 for a chance of redemption at French side, Lyon. Things couldn’t have gone much better for the 25-year-old since, with Depay scoring 50 goals in 130 games so far and cementing his place as Ronald Koeman’s starting false 9 for the Netherlands, for whom he’s bagged 14 goals in 24 caps since joining Lyon.
Depay has scored eight goals in his last seven appearances for club and country and, as a result, his valuation on the Football Index stock market has seen a sharp increase, with shares costing a pretty £4.54 each at the time of writing – this leaves him 12th in their top 200 players.
2. Martin Odegaard
It’s hard to think of a player with bigger expectations placed upon them at such a young age as Martin Odegaard. But such is the pressure of joining Real Madrid, which was the reality for the Norwegian after his £2.3m move at just 16 years of age in 2015.
Since that move, Odegaard has played a grand total two games for the Los Blancos first team and just a year after his move to the Bernabeu, Carlo Ancelotti described the transfer as nothing more than a “PR exercise”.
Now 20, Odegaard has had loan spells in Holland with Heerenveen and Vitesse to varying levels of success, but it’s back in Spain with Real Sociedad where the playmaker has finally started to turn heads once again.
His time with the Basque club has yielded two goals and three assists so far and while a run of just one assist in four games, combined with injury, has seen his value with Football Index drop slightly to £3.63 at the time of writing, he had been riding the crest of a wave which saw him directly involved in four goals in eight games for club and country until the end of October.
Odegaard still dreams of playing for Real Madrid and seems to have rediscovered his confidence. Now might be the perfect time to pick up some shares.
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3. Serge Gnabry
This might just be one of the most remarkable footballing turnarounds in recent memory.
“Serge has come here to play games but he just hasn’t been for me, at the moment, at that level to play the games.”
Those were the words of former West Brom boss Tony Pulis when asked why Serge Gnabry hadn’t been given a chance while on loan at the Baggies from Arsenal.
Well, having not been good enough for West Brom or the Gunners, Gnabry is now tearing it up with Bayern Munich, scoring 21 goals in 58 games for the Bundesliga giants since the start of last season, reaching double figures in each of his loan spells at fellow German sides Werder Bremen and Hoffenheim, and becoming a crucial figure for the national team, with 10 goals in just 11 caps.
Oh, and did we mention his four goals during Bayern’s 7-2 rout away at Tottenham in the Champions League earlier this season?
Gnabry now ranks at 33rd in Football Index’s top 200 players with shares priced at £3.05 each at the time of writing, while Pulis was left eating his words against that remarkable performance against the Lilywhites.
“You could knock me over with a feather having worked with him at West Brom and seen him there to what he’s done is absolutely amazing,” he said.
Jorginho tops the lot at Chelsea in terms of successful passes (765) and interceptions (23) in the Premier League so far this season and is doing a wonderful job at the base of Frank Lampard’s midfield. However, it wasn’t so long ago that he was being written off at Stamford Bridge, shortly after joining Maurizio Sarri from Napoli in 2018.
Throughout last season, Jorginho was booed by his own fans and had to put up with the likes of Paul Merson comparing him to Liverpool flop Alberto Aquilani, while Rio Ferdinand was critical of the Italian’s lack of productivity in the final third.
“How many assists has he got this season? Around 2,000 passes, no assists,” he said. “He’s not a great defender. He can’t run.”
But Jorginho’s role in the Chelsea side was massively misunderstood and now, finally, he’s getting the credit he deserves and is thriving under Lampard. As a result, his value on the Football Index stock market has been steadily increasing throughout the 2019/20 season so far.
5. Florian Thauvin
It takes quite a career turnaround to go from on the fringes of a relegated Newcastle United to a France international and World Cup winner in just a few years. But that’s exactly what has happened to Florian Thauvin.
The Orleans-born forward cost the Magpies a reported £15m when he moved from Marseille in 2015 but his career at St James’ Park yielded just one goal in 16 games across all competitions.
Thauvin was loaned back to Marseille in January 2016 and the rest, as they say, is history: 63 goals in 152 appearances, 10 caps for France and a 2018 World Cup winner’s medal.
The 26-year-old has since revealed his move to the North East was too rushed for his liking, and that he just wasn’t ready for the physical demands of the Premier League back then.
“The league is completely different. It’s far more physical,” Thauvin explained.
“There’s a lot more contact. You need to be ready, you have to put on muscle before going to the Premier League.
“It was too early for me. It’s a transfer that happened quickly. Normally, you take your time, you think about it, but for me, it all happened too quickly.”