Football Features

These five ex-Premier League ‘flops’ are playing like UCL stars right now

By Ben Green

Published: 21:07, 21 October 2021

Putting Diego Forlan and Gerard Pique to one side, Dusan Tadic is perhaps the best ‘modern’ example of a player who proved exceptionally underwhelming in the Premier League before reinvigorating his career as a top-class footballer elsewhere.

Serbia’s scintillating shadow striker has now turned out 162 times for Ajax, matching the appearances (to the game) that he made for Southampton during a largely anti-climactic stint in the Premier League. But the two spells have proven poles apart, both in terms of his scoring output, and overall influence.

The 32-year-old netted 23 goals for the Saints in all competitions while at St Mary’s; you’d have to nearly quadruple that for Ajacied (80). He’s also mopped up a plethora of highly-reputable accolades in that time, made the 2018/19 Champions League Squad of the Season, and won Dutch titles aplenty.

Tadic is not the first to explode to life post-Premier League, nor will he be the last. In fact, there are a handful knocking about right now in Europe’s flagship tournament, from this season’s Champions League top goalscorer (so far), to Portugal’s ‘Best Player’ last campaign. Read on to find out who they are.

Champions League winner odds with William Hill:

  • Man City – 7/2
  • Bayern Munich – 4/1
  • PSG – 9/2
  • Liverpool – 13/2
  • Chelsea – 9/1
  • Man Utd – 14/1

18+ only. Be Gamble Aware. All odds in this article are correct at 16:00, 20/10/2021.

1. Sebastien Haller (Ajax)

Despite taking a huge financial hit on Sebastien Haller in January, West Ham fans couldn’t believe their luck when Ajax were willing to fork out around £20m for the struggling striker. He was seen as the saviour to West Ham’s frontline issues when they initially managed to prise him away from Eintracht Frankfurt in 2019, but the Ivory Coast international largely flattered to deceive, with his languid playing style and cumbersome gait a huge bone of contention among fans.

Haller simply didn’t suit David Moyes’ playing style as a lone striker. His back-to-goal role is almost diametrically at odds with the hustle-and-bustle of West Ham’s ever-energetic Michail Antonio, a juggernaut of a forward who encapsulates his manager’s muck-and-nettles methods, willing to strain every sinew for the cause. Haller’s more subtle, hold-the-ball-up approach clashed, stylistically, with the new brand developing in east London, and hence their short-lived collaboration.

However, for Ajax, Haller has transformed from lumbering to lethal, serving as the perfect attacking conduit for Erik ten Hag’s system. The ever-adaptable Dutchman has gone from False No.9 fluidity to utilising a more traditional centre-forward, and his side are flourishing as a result. Haller is already the Champions League’s top scorer this season with six goals, and was the ‘Hal’ everyone was talking about on Tuesday night: Haller was in the headlines, not Haaland.

You can get Sebastien Haller to finish as the top goalscorer in the Champions League at 5/1 with William Hill.

2. Sebastian Coates (Sporting)

It never really did work out for the towering centre-back in the Premier League. After helping Uruguay win the 2011 Copa America and sealing the tournament’s ‘Best Young Player’ award as a result, Coates traded boyhood club Nacional for the glittering lights of Anfield and the Premier League.

A traffic jam of talent at Liverpool ensured Coates was never able to nudge his way to the front of the pecking order, and he subsequently moved to Sunderland. There, he experienced similar issues, before Sam Allardyce decided against keeping the physically-robust centre-back around.

Coates ultimately upped sticks for Lisbon, and he has been the fulcrum of Sporting’s rise to the summit since. Now captain of Leoes, Coates was inspirational as Sporting usurped Tres Grandes rivals Porto and Benfica last season to win their first Primeira Liga title in 19 years, doing so having suffered just one defeat.

As a result, the 31-year-old was awarded the Primeira Liga Player of the Year accolade, joining the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Hulk and David Luiz as a recipient of the coveted prize, while his side also conceded just 20 goals, fewer than any club in Europe’s top five leagues plus Portugal’s top flight (with the best record per game too at 0.59). Oh, and he just netted a brace against Besiktas in the Champions League.

You can get Sporting to qualify from Group C of the Champions League at 6/1 with William Hill.

3. Steven Berghuis (Ajax)

There must be something in the water at the Johan Cruyff Arena, as they seem to take Premier League outcasts and turn them into world-beaters. Steven Berghuis (if you remember him) turned out nine times in the Premier League for Watford during the 2015/16 season, though you’d be hard-pressed to recollect his face.

The Netherlands international ultimately ventured to Feyenoord after failing to impress at Vicarage Road, and his stock immediately skyrocketed in Rotterdam, helping the club seal the 2016/17 Eredivisie title (Feyenoord’s first this century), while also winning the 2019/20 top scorer award in the Dutch top flight.

As a result, he crossed the Feyenoord-Ajax divide in the summer, sacrilege for some given the deep-seated bitterness and bad blood between the De Klassieker adversaries. But, the 29-year-old has continued to shine, already netting twice in the Champions League this season and registering six assists in just eight Eredivisie starts. He is also a mainstay in Louis van Gaal’s Oranje at international level.

You can get Ajax to win Group C of the Champions League at 1/4 with William Hill.

4. Pedro Goncalves (Sporting)

The Portuguese contingent at the Molineux is, of course, well documented owing to the club’s ties with super agent Jorge Mendes, and while most recruits from the Iberian Peninsula have worked out at Wolves, a few have slipped through the net, chiefly Pedro Goncalves, who was at the club for just two years.

Goncalves joined the club as a precocious tyro from Valencia but failed to make a Premier League appearance. Fans probably didn’t bat an eyelid when he quietly relocated to Famalicao in 2019. But, it was at the Estadio Municipal de Famalicao where Goncalves, or ‘Pote’, accelerated his growth.

A breakthrough campaign encouraged Sporting to move for his signature last summer and he finished 2020/21 as the Primeira Liga top scorer with 23 goals, got in the Team of the Year, and has already made an impression in the Champions League this term, assisting Paulinho as Leoes thrashed Besiktas on Tuesday night.

5. Chancel Mbemba (Porto)

When Porto knocked Juventus out of the Champions League last season Pepe stole the headlines, with the hard-nosed veteran laying his life down to keep the Old Lady under lock and key, but not too far from the Portugal international was Chancel Mbemba, who is now blossoming away from the North East of England.

Once considered the next Vincent Kompany during his nascent years at Anderlecht, Mbemba moved to Tyneside in a transfer that looked tidy business from a Magpies perspective. But it never really did work out for the defender at St James’ Park, and he ultimately left for the Estadio do Dragao three years ago, where he is now starting to shine as an intelligent tackler and excellent complement to Pepe.

Mbemba helped Porto keep clean sheets against AC Milan and Atletico Madrid, albeit picking up a harsh red card (some might say a harsh one) right at the death during the latter. Then again, this did spare him the indignity of taking part in that 5-1 defeat to Liverpool.


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