13 players who enjoyed short but sweet PL spells: Larsson, Hierro, Litmanen…

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Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham are among the clubs to have benefitted from top-drawer players who spent only a short time in English football.

Despite the riches of the Premier League, there are many wonderful players we never get to see on these shores. Some arrive too late, after their best, while others light up the league only to quickly move on to pastures new.

Here, we remember some of those who left a lasting impression in a very short space of time.

Landon Donovan

Expected to join American team-mates at Fulham, LA Galaxy legend instead Donovan joined Everton on loan after the conclusion of the MLS season in 2010.

He won the club’s Player of the Month award in January and scored twice in 13 appearances before his parent club refused to extend his deal beyond the start of the American campaign.

Donovan returned to Goodison Park in 2012, making nine appearances and notching an impressive seven assists in another loan spell, but once again he returned to Galaxy in time for the MLS season.

He recently returned from retirement for a second time, making a handful of appearances for Mexican side Club Leon.

READ: Nine players who came out of retirement: Scholes, Lehmann, Cruyff…

Henrik Larsson

Similarly to Donovan, Larsson joined Manchester United on loan to coincide with the off-season in the Swedish Allsvenskan, having rejoined Helsingborg from Barcelona.

He scored three times in 13 appearances in all competitions, which sounds rather unimpressive, but Sir Alex Ferguson was gushing in his praise: “He’s been fantastic for us, his professionalism, his attitude, everything he’s done has been excellent. I would have done anything to keep him.”

Despite not featuring in the required minimum 10 matches to receive a Premier League winners’ medal, United requested special dispensation and Larsson was awarded a medal alongside Alan Smith, who spent most of the season out injured but made nine appearances.

Since retiring, Larsson has described leaving United as one of his biggest regrets, saying: “I should have stayed at United for longer because I had a great time there and everyone at the club was very keen to keep me.

“My time there was too short. Although I was 35 at the time, I still felt that I had some good football in me.”

Christophe Dugarry

Despite making just 30 Premier League appearances across a loan and permanent spell, Dugarry has been inducted into Birmingham’s hall of fame after single-handedly masterminding their rise to safety in 2003.

The French World Cup winner hit five goals in four games as the Blues rose from the relegation zone to 13th, forming the most unlikely of striking partnerships with Geoff Horsfield.

Signing a contract on the pitch ahead of the final game of the 2002-03 season, Birmingham fans will like to remember Dugarry up until that moment, as 14 appearances the following term yielded just one goal, and his two-year deal was cut short in 2004.

READ: An ode to Christophe Dugarry and his briefly wonderful time at Birmingham

Esteban Cambiasso

In an incredible transfer coup, newly-promoted Leicester City managed to sign Inter and Argentina legend Cambiasso on a free transfer after a desperate pursuit of the midfielder.

He was crowned Player of the Year as Nigel Pearson’s side finished 14th, with the 34-year-old scoring five times in 31 appearances.

Cambiasso was offered a new deal at Leicester but turned it down in favour of a move to Olympiacos, stating he would be “keeping you all forever in my heart”.

He might have regretted his decision the next season as the Foxes won the league.

George Weah

Regarded as one of the best players in the world in the 90s during his time at Monaco, PSG and AC Milan, Weah moved to Chelsea on loan in 2000.

He hit five goals in 15 appearances, including a debut winner against Tottenham as well as vital goals on the way to lifting the FA Cup, but despite endearing himself to supporters, manager Gianluca Vialli chose not to extend his stay at Stamford Bridge.

Weah moved to newly-promoted Manchester City and scored four goals in nine appearances but left after being frustrated at a lack of starting opportunities, seeing out his career at Marseille.

In 2018, he was incredibly appointed President of Liberia, winning nationals over by immediately reducing his salary as soon as he was sworn in.

READ: A forensic analysis of George Weah’s solo goal against Verona

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Joining the club on a free transfer in 2016, Ibrahimovic became the saving grace of Jose Mourinho’s first season in charge at Old Trafford, netting 17 goals in 28 Premier League appearances as United limped to a sixth-placed finish.

He also lifted his first European title as the club won the Europa League, though Ibrahimovic was released after suffering a serious injury.

The striker returned for a handful of appearances the following campaign but was eventually released and allowed to join LA Galaxy on a free transfer.

Jurgen Klinsmann

Klinsmann managed the impressive feat of not only being brilliant in one short spell at Tottenham but in two.

He surprised fans and the media when moving to England in 1994, but his humour and all-action style quickly won over English supporters as he scored 30 times in 50 games before joining Bayern Munich.

Klinsmann returned to Spurs on loan in the second half of the 1997-98 season, scoring nine goals in 18 appearances and playing a key role as the side avoided relegation, though his final appearance in 1998 would be his last as a top-level professional.

READ: A celebration of Jurgen Klinsmann & a signing that changed English football

Taribo West

Joining Derby County on loan in November 2000, West’s debut coincided with the Rams’ first win of the season, a 2-0 victory over fellow strugglers Bradford City.

The Nigerian defender had his loan deal extended, and played a huge role in Derby’s push to avoid relegation, with the side picking up 31 out of 42 possible points from games he started.

He left the club in May 2001 due to his “international commitments”, after missing a number of late-season games playing for Nigeria – much to the frustration of manager Jim Smith, who thought his side could have pushed higher up the table while West “took his time getting back”.

Asamoah Gyan

On deadline day in August 2010, Gyan moved to Sunderland for a club-record fee of £13million after winning fans’ hearts at the South Africa World Cup earlier that summer.

He scored 11 goals in 33 appearances for the Black Cats, including a memorable 94th-minute equaliser against rivals Newcastle, before moving initially on loan to Abu Dhabi-based club Al Ain, reportedly earning four times his wage.

READ: Asamoah Gyan: A career of heartbreak, controversy – and lots of goals

Vincenzo Montella

Montella was coming to the end of a prolific career when Roma sent him on loan to Fulham, having scored 84 times in Serie A for the Italian giants.

Nicknamed L’Aeroplanino, he moved to Chris Coleman’s side in January 2007, scoring a handful of league and cup goals ultimately inspiring a rise to avoid relegation.

However, neither Coleman or replacement Lawrie Sanchez answered pleas to start the Italian, and he returned to Rome despite fans’ desires to keep him.

Amr Zaki

In his second spell at Egyptian club Zamalek, Zaki was flying and his international goals saw FIFA rank him as the best striker in the world.

Steve Bruce was “convinced this boy can do the business”, and in 22 Premier League starts he did, netting 10 goals including a belting overhead kick at Anfield, with Wigan owner Dave Whelan likening him to Alan Shearer.

However, then, he literally did disappear. In April 2009 he failed to return from a World Cup qualifier, and soon after his loan was terminated. A brief spell at Hull did follow, but Zaki returned to Egypt after just six appearances.

Fernando Hierro

A year after being forced out of Real Madrid following Vicente Del Bosque’s departure, having made 610 appearances and netted 127 goals for Los Blancos, Hierro landed in England to join Big Sam’s Bolton Wanderers.

“It’s a privilege to play in the same team as such a good player and a good guy,” said the late Gary Speed as Bolton fans revelled in witnessing such a top-drawer player pull on their shirt, but despite the club’s pleas, Hierro opted to retire at the end of the 2004-05 campaign.

Jari Litmanen

“We called him “The Professor,” because you could ask anything about football, and he would know the answer,” said Litmanen’s former Ajax manager, David Endt, when the talented midfielder was signed by the Dutch giants.

Nine years later, after an unsuccessful spell at Barcelona, Litmanen moved to Liverpool, and though injury problems hindered him, he still showed supporters his best, including a belting goal against Tottenham and a memorable assist against Manchester City which will live long in the memories at Anfield.


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