Football Features

Nine Premier League ‘flops’ who weren’t actually as bad as everyone says

By Harry Edwards

Published: 18:26, 7 January 2021

For many fans, the Premier League is the biggest and best league in the world, capable of attracting some of the biggest stars.

Those same people may also use the Premier League — or just English football in general — as a bar for talent. For example, is Lionel Messi really the best player ever if he’s not tested himself on a cold, rainy night in Stoke?

While it makes for a funny conversation at times, idolising the Premier League has often led to blinkered opinions on certain players. Whether it be players that struggled for certain reasons in the Premier League but were world-beaters elsewhere, or those who are remembered more for a bad spell than their great moments.

But who are these players? We’ve picked out nine so-called Premier League flops that we believe weren’t actually as bad as fans made them out to be.


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1. Diego Forlan

Manchester United’s Diego Forlan

 

Premier League club: Manchester United
Premier League appearances: 63

Wherever you look, a list of Premier League flops is likely to include Diego Forlan. But that isn’t completely fair. Yes, he may have waited 24 games for his first goal in the division, but there weren’t many players that worked harder for Manchester United than Forlan did. Finishing with 10 goals and seven assists in his 63 appearances, United fans will always remember him fondly for his double against Liverpool in December 2002.

But Forlan really found form after leaving Manchester United, first joining Villarreal in 2004. There, the Uruguayan scored 58 goals in 121 games across three years, earning him another move, though sticking in Spain with Atletico Madrid. It was there that Forlan had arguably his best spell, scoring 96 goals in 198 games, and winning the 2009/10 Europa League — scoring both goals in Atletico’s 2-1 win over Fulham.

2. Andriy Shevchenko

Premier League club: Chelsea
Premier League appearances: 48

When Andriy Shevchenko signed for Chelsea from AC Milan in 2006 for a Premier League-record £30.8m, there was a lot of excitement at Stamford Bridge — expectations were incredibly high. Unfortunately for the Ukrainian, he failed to live up to the hype and transfer fee, scoring just nine Premier League goals, eventually leaving in 2009.

Although Shevchenko did have his positive moments at Chelsea, he was regarded as a flop and his time in England will forever be marred. But it also made some people forget about just how good Shevchenko was before he moved to the Premier League. This was a player who scored 175 goals for AC Milan and won the Ballon d’Or in 2004 and shone at Dynamo Kyiv, including a first-half hat-trick in the Champions League at the Nou Camp against Barcelona.

3. Angel Di Maria

Premier League club:Manchester United
Premier League appearances: 27

Angel Di Maria wasted little time in justifying why Man Utd broke the Premier League transfer record for him in 2014, scoring three goals and recording three assists in his first five games — including that lovely chip against Leicester City. Following those three goals, the Argentinian failed to add to his tally before leaving for Paris Saint-Germain the following summer — sold at a loss of around £15m and his place as a ‘flop’ cemented. Only, he wasn’t really.

Although Di Maria didn’t score more than three goals, he continued to assist for Man Utd, ending the Premier League campaign with 10 — only Cesc Fabregas and Santi Cazorla recorded more that season. And it must be taken into account that he was playing for a Man Utd team without a real identity, with many players struggling to stand out or make a positive change.

Since joining PSG, Di Maria has reminded everyone just why Man Utd spent big on him in the first place, looking more like the player that once graced the wings for Real Madrid, helping the Parisian club dominate France.

4. Juan Sebastian Veron

Premier League clubs:Manchester United, Chelsea
Premier League appearances: 58

When Sir Alex Ferguson hints that a player isn’t good enough for the Premier League, it’s pretty hard to recover. That was the case for Juan Sebastian Veron, who joined Manchester United for £28.1m in 2001 and was sold to Chelsea for £15m two years later.

“Juan Veron was capable of exceptional football and was talented. But, at times, he found the Premiership a bit difficult,” Ferguson said of Veron shortly after his departure.

“He was a European player and that was where we got our best form from him. He didn’t want to go. His agent was speaking to Chelsea and he knew it was happening.

“We had to look at the long-term view and, overall, the package we received was too good to turn down.”

Looking at his time in the Premier League alone, yes, Veron wasn’t great for either Man Utd or Chelsea, but his quality outside of England shouldn’t be forgotten. In Italy, Veron was key to Lazio’s league and cup double in 1999/00 having already won the Coppa Italia and Uefa Cup with Parma the year before. He’d also go on to win Serie A again with Inter Milan and retired with two more league titles, this time in Argentina, being named as Argentinian footballer of the year in 2009. A legend in his own right.

5. Paulinho

Premier League club: Tottenham Hotspur
Premier League appearances: 45

Paulinho arrived at Tottenham alongside a bunch of other signings made using the money earned from Gareth Bale’s sale to Real Madrid in 2013. But like the majority of the group, Paulinho struggled to make a real impact at White Hart Lane. That wasn’t to say he didn’t have qualities, but a rough time saw the Brazilian’s confidence take a huge hit and he left London in 2015 a shadow of the player that arrived two years earlier.

China was the haven for him and the place for the Brazilian to get his career back on track. The views of him as a Premier League flop meant that when Paulinho was signed by Barcelona in 2017, there was shock. However, the midfielder was a useful player for the Blaugrana as they won La Liga, before returning to China a year later. We’re not saying he became a world-beater, but he was definitely more than the flop tag suggests.

6. Iago Aspas

Premier League club: Liverpool
Premier League appearances: 14

Unfortunately for Iago Aspas, the Spaniard’s poor spell at Liverpool coincided with the growth of social media in football. His corner in a 2-0 defeat against Chelsea in 2014 — yes, THAT one — went viral as it went straight to Willian on the edge of the box. Twitter accounts were made in honour of the moment and Aspas never really recovered, destined to be a flop.

But since leaving Liverpool, first on loan in 2014 (during which he won the Europa League with Sevilla) before permanently a year later, Aspas has revived his career and is now a hero at Celta Vigo. In 345 games for the club, Aspas has scored 152 goals and earned his Spain debut — making 18 appearances for La Roja, scoring six times. Now 33, Aspas should be winding down his career but is still firing in the goals.

7. Memphis Depay

Premier League club: Manchester United
Premier League appearances: 33

Another Man Utd signing during the Louis van Gaal era, Memphis Depay arrived at Old Trafford with a lot of potential, but also high expectations. At the time of his move, Depay was still only 21 and not ready to take on the responsibility of turning things around at Man Utd. Like Di Maria, Depay was perhaps the right signing for Man Utd, just at the wrong time.

Depay left Man Utd a flop in January 2017, joining Lyon, and to say he’s turned things around is a slight understatement. In 155 games for Lyon, Depay has been directly involved in over 100 goals, both scoring and setting up teammates with regularity. He has also become the man for the Netherlands national team, being at the head of Ronald Koeman’s revolution. Now 26, Depay finally looks like the star he had promised to be.

8. Stefan Savic

Premier League club: Manchester City
Premier League appearances: 11

One season was all Stefan Savic had at Manchester City following his £6m move, meant to last four years. Although the price did not bring high expectations, many felt let down by the performances of Savic and Man City allowed him to leave for Fiorentina in 2012 — as part of the deal that brought Matija Nastasic to the Etihad.

But following the year of struggles in Manchester, Savic grew to become one of the top centre-backs in Europe, albeit somewhat under-appreciated. Three years with Fiorentina were brought to an end when Savic joined Atletico Madrid and he has since become key to a Diego Simeone side which prides itself on its defending. Savic was even linked with a move back to Man City not too long ago.

9. Radamel Falcao

Premier League clubs: Manchester United, Chelsea
Premier League appearances: 36

There was a time when Radamel Falcao was the most-feared striker in Europe but many often forget that thanks to his dreadful two years in the Premier League. Long-linked with a move to England, Falcao joined Man Utd on loan for the 2014/15 season, after a year at Monaco that been severely interrupted due to injury. Falcao never really looked himself while at Man Utd, which made his loan move to Chelsea the following season even more bizarre.

But after his return to Monaco in 2016, Falcao rediscovered his feet and was instrumental in the club winning Ligue 1. Now in Turkey with Galatasaray, Falcao is still a danger, though his injury problems have popped up once more. And to remind everyone just why Falcao isn’t a flop, let’s just look at his record pre-Premier League. At Porto, 72 goals in 87 games; 70 goals in 91 matches at Atletico Madrid and 83 in 140 either side for Monaco.