Football Features

Stoke to Bayern via PSG: Amazing and unusual footballer career paths

By Ben Green

Published: 11:51, 5 June 2021

In a 2020 summer transfer window dominated by Lionel Messi’s Barcelona fallout, and Manchester United fans waiting with bated breath on Jadon Sancho news, it was Bayern Munich who ended pulling off one of the most talked-about deals.

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who scored just five goals as Stoke crashed out of the Premier League in 2018, continued his illustrious tour of Europe’s super clubs by relocating to the Allianz Arena, following on from his two-year stint at PSG.

It’s been an odd few years for a player who, as it turns out, couldn’t really do it on a cold, wet Tuesday night in Stoke. His ascent is remarkable nonetheless, but yes, at the same time baffling for many of us, not least those in Staffordshire.

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But he’s not the only one to experience an unorthodox career path in football. These globetrotters below range from the unconventional to the downright absurd.

1. Paulinho

Career path: FC Vilnius, LKS Lodz, Pao de Acucar, Bragantino, Corinthians, Tottenham, Guangzhou Evergrande, Barcelona, Guangzhou Evergrande

You may consider Paulinho’s quite random leap from Tottenham to Guangzhou Evergrande to Barcelona as the ‘unusual’ part of his journey in football. In actual fact, his formative years are even more striking.

Born in Sao Paulo, Paulinho started his professional career at FC Vilnius in Lithuania before joining Polish outfit LKS Lodz and then returning home to Brazil. His nascent career was already off to a strange start and even more weirdness was to follow.

Having excelled at Corinthians, he joined Spurs in 2013 as part of their ‘Gareth Bale money’ investment. Paulinho ultimately proved inconsistent-to-poor in English football but somehow ended up signing for Barça in 2017, where he was actually pretty good.

2. Hulk

Career path: Vitoria, Kawasaki Frontale, Consadole Sapporo, Tokyo Verdy, Porto, Zenit Saint Petersburg, Shanghai SIPG, Atlético Mineiro

Another Brazilian who left South America for unconventional pastures. Hulk began his career at Vitoria in Bahia but would eventually transfer to the J1 League in Japan as a teenager. It soon became apparent that his talents were destined for bigger things, and Porto snapped him up.

The hulking forward went from strength to strength at the Estadio do Dragao but hopes of a move to one of Europe’s top five leagues has never materialised. Instead, this maverick has taken his football to Zenit Saint Petersburg, Shanghai SIP and is now strutting his stuff in Brazil for Atlético Mineiro.

3. Martin Braithwaite

Career path: Esbjerg, Toulouse, Middlesbrough, Bordeaux, Leganes, Barcelona

And Barcelona’s new No.9 is… Martin Braithwaite.

Great name but not quite up there with the Ronaldos, Luis Suarezs and Samuel Eto’os as far as former Barca No. 9s go. Similarly to Choupo-Moting, Braithwaite was underwhelming in English football.

Not even Tony Pulis could get the best out of him in the Championship, but then again (as absolutely no one needs reminding by now) that would also apply to Serge Gnabry.

Anyway, Barça obviously saw something in him, as they begged La Liga to allow him to sign from Leganes after the window had closed in February 2020 on an emergency signing. Somehow, their wish was granted and Leganes lost their talisman without a chance to replace him. And yes, Leganes did get relegated.

4. Xherdan Shaqiri

Career path: FC Basel, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Stoke, Liverpool

Shaqiri has played for some massive clubs: Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Liverpool… Stoke. His attacking teammates have ranged from Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, to Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, as well as Jonathan Walters and Peter Crouch. The pint-sized winger remains a threat on the flanks for Jurgen Klopp but has never really fulfilled his potential, when at one stage he was bordering on world-beater territory.

5. Kyle Lafferty

Career path: Burnley, Darlington, Rangers, Sion, Palermo, Norwich, Caykur Rizespor, Birmingham, Hearts, Rangers, Sarpsborg 08, Sunderland, Reggina, Kilmarnock

Lafferty’s nomadic odyssey of Europe has seen him line up with Paulo Dybala in Sicily, Steven Naismith in Edinburgh and Leonard Kweuke in Rize, Turkey. He has tussled with the Swiss Super League, the Norwegian Eliteserien and braved the Stadium of Light. A truly unconventional and cosmopolitan CV. He was most recently back in Scotland with Kilmarnock after spending time at Reggina, but is now a free agent.

6. Kamil Glik

Career path: WSP Wodzislaw Slaski, Horadada, Real Madrid, Piast Gliwice, Palermo, Bari, Torino, Monaco, Benevento

Since 2010, the Polish stalwart has had a relatively routine existence in football. There is not much to write home about with Palermo, Bari, Torino, Monaco and Benevento, but then again, perhaps Glik needed some stability in his life following his embryonic journey in football.

Having turned out for WSP Wodzislaw Slaski in his native Poland, Glik moved to Horadada in the Spanish fourth tier in 2006. From there a surprise move to Real Madrid followed, but he only represented their “C” team before returning to Poland. Los Blancos were right when they saw Glik’s potential, mind, as he went on to win Ligue 1 with Monaco in 2017.

7. Igor Coronado

Career path: MK Dons, Banbury United, Floriana, Trapani, Palermo, Sharjah

Ah yes, that famed MK Dons academy, producers of Dele Alli, George Baldock and… Igor Coronado. The Brazilian moved to Stadium MK in 2007 as a 15-year-old but failed to make the grade, resulting in his release and being snapped up by Grasshoppers in Switzerland.

Odd so far, but not quite outright barmy like some of the lads above. That is, until he signed for Banbury United, whose alumni includes a certain Gordon Ramsay, before he joined semi-professional Maltese side Floriana, Trapani in Italy, and eventually Palermo. He’s now in the UAE.

8. Dani Olmo

Career path: Espanyol, Barcelona, Dinamo Zagreb, RB Leipzig

The path from La Liga to Zagreb is well-trodden. Actually, I think it’s the other way around. The likes of Davor Suker, Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic have all ended up in Spain having started at Dinamo Zagreb, but to start in Spain and end up Dinamo Zagreb? Unthinkable.

That is until Dani Olmo took the brave decision to leave La Masia and try his luck in the capital of Croatia. The move was atypical but paid dividends as his performances caught the eye of most of Europe’s heavyweights, and he is now a fully-fledged Spain international turning out for RB Leipzig.

9. Nicolas Anelka

Career path: PSG, Arsenal, Real Madrid, PSG, Liverpool, Man City, Fenerbahce, Bolton, Chelsea, Shanghai Shenhua, Juventus, West Brom, Mumbai City

The career of Anelka was filled with plenty of peaks and valleys. At the age of 21 he had already turned out for PSG, Arsenal and Real Madrid, before returning to Paris. That early promise soon waned and despite a promising loan spell at Liverpool, he signed for Man City in 2002.

This was pre-Sheikh Mansour, but this move felt like a Galactico-inspired signing and offered fans a preview for what would be to come.

As for Anelka, he shone for City before moving to Fenerbahce, returning to England with Sam Allaryce’s Bolton, winning the Premier League with Chelsea, turning out in the Chinese Super League, making three appearances for Juventus, falling out with Steve Clarke at the Hawthorns, and eventually calling it a day in Mumbai. And…. breathe!

10. Ravel Morrison

Career path: Man Utd, West Ham, Birmingham, QPR, Cardiff, Lazio, QPR, Ostersund, Sheff Utd, Middlesbrough, ADO Den Haag

Don’t worry, this won’t be some spiel about how Morrison never fulfilled his potential. Though he didn’t really, did he? The West Ham fans among you will still wax lyrical over his goal against Spurs, while those who support Sheffield Utd may have forgotten he was actually at your club last season.

Between those spells in east London and South Yorkshire the former Man Utd ‘wonderkid’ played for Lazio in Italy, Atlas in Mexico and Ostersund in Sweden. Bramall Lane wasn’t the latest not to work out, that would be Eredivisie outfit ADO Den Haag where he recently just made four league appearances.

11. Gennaro Gattuso

Career path: Perugia, Rangers, Salernitana, AC Milan, Sion

We could have included Edgar Davids, who joined Crystal Palace at the end of his career. At 37 it was an amusing eye-raiser, but top players regularly wind down their careers at so-called ‘lower’ teams: Pep Guardiola and Dorados, Bobby Moore and Carolina Lightnin’, Jari Litmanen and Fulham. We’d be here all day.

But Gattuso to Rangers was an odd, if not inspired, signing by Walter Smith in 1997. There is nothing particularly bonkers about Gattuso’s overall career path, we just find it slightly amusing that his only venture outside of Italy was Glasgow for one season.

12. Colin Kazim-Richards

Career path: QPR, Arsenal, Bury, Brighton, Sheff Utd, Fenerbahce, Toulouse, Galatasaray, Blackburn, Bursaspor, Feyenoord, Celtic, Coritiba, Corinthians, Lobos BUAP, Veracruz, Pachuca, Derby County

The London-born Turkey international began his career like so many other youngsters in this country. He started out at Arsenal, before leaving to earn his stripes in the Football League, working his way back up the ladder and eventually finding himself in the Premier League for Sheff Utd.

A move to Fenerbahce in Turkey then followed and he has never really settled since. Spells in France, Greece, England again, the Netherlands and Scotland came next before he slipped across the pond to Coritiba and Corinthians in Brazil and Pachuca in Mexico before returning to Championship football at Derby County.

Between all of that, he had a random trial at West Ham in 2012, but Allardyce didn’t fancy him.

13. Leon Bailey

Career path: Phoenix All Stars Academy, Liefering, AS Trencin, Genk, Bayer Leverkusen

Now a Bayer Leverkusen first-teamer, the Jamaican began his career for Phoenix All Stars Academy in his country of birth before moving to Europe and enjoying stints at Liefering in Austria, AS Trencin in Slovakia and Genk in Belgium. It surely won’t be long before this talented winger is on the move yet again, with the 23-year-old perennially linked to every big club worth their salt most windows.

14. Royston Drenthe

Career path: Feyenoord, Real Madrid, Hercules, Everton, Alania Vladikavkaz, Reading, Sheff Wed, Kayseri Erciyesspor, Baniyas, Sparta Rotterdam, Kozakken Boys, Racing Murcia

There was a moment when Drenthe was appearing regularly for Real Madrid but by the time he was 26 and what should have been the prime years of his career, he was turning out for Reading in the Championship and spent a season on loan at Hillsborough in 2014/15. A fall from grace, but Drenthe enjoyed highs few players do. The one-time Netherlands international has seen his career range from Russia to Turkey, and he is now with Spanish outfit Racing Murcia.