From the moment Eric Cantona first flipped up his collar, England’s top flight became a popular destination for exotic overseas talent.
Over the past 27 years we’ve seen some of the very best the planet has to offer, often in the prime years of their career.
In football, timing is everything, and below are five players who could have been among the best to ever grace the Premier League, if only they weren’t already past it.
This was the man who had lit up weekends on Gazzetta Football Italia. Golazo after magnificent f*cking golazo.
Upon bringing him to Chelsea from Milan in 2006, Blues’ boss Jose Mourinho proclaimed him a “Champion”. Unfortunately, he didn’t know the Ukrainian was locked in a dogfight with the ageing process, and Old Father Time was giving him a proper shoe-ing.
Despite a goal on his debut in the Charity Shield, it soon became clear that this was no longer the Sheva of old, and he found himself making occasional appearances from the bench.
To his credit he didn’t just sit idly by and pick up his enormous wage packet for doing nothing. Besides, Winston Bogarde had that particular market sewn up.
At one stage he even employed GB athlete Darren Campbell to help him rediscover former glories. Unfortunately, while Campbell was an incredibly able 100 metre sprinter, he wasn’t a genetic scientist.
Shevchenko arrived with a £30million price tag. Sadly, he left his pace and his shooting boots at the San Siro. Still, it was nice to see him.
If being an overweight, cumbersome sidekick to a star player was a viable position in football, then Jimmy Five Bellies would have won 50+ England caps.
Friendship seemed to be the only logical reason for Branco’s arrival in Teesside in 1996. As Juninho struggled to adapt to the harsh climate, Middlesbrough boss Bryan Robson decided a warm smile from an old team-mate might help his superstar midfielder battle the elements.
Thus, in came former Brazilian international full-back Branco, a familiar face with a very unfamiliar waistline. A World Cup winner, he hadn’t played regular football for two seasons due to ongoing injury issues. It’s hard to know what kind of treatment he received at Corinthians, but he looked like he’d been receiving regular injections of Wagon Wheels.
He huffed and puffed, managed two goals in the League Cup (against Hereford) and then headed home with a nice severance cheque in his pocket. Nice work if you can get it.
Sir Alex Ferguson may have been the greatest manager in recent history, but in among all the trophies and fanfare, there was the occasional clanger. Step forward Laurent Blanc, the replacement for Jaap Stam in 2001.
The dominant Dutchman was sold after controversy surrounding his autobiography, which revealed he’d been the subject of an illegal approach by Manchester United. Ferguson denied the book had any influence, insisting instead that his star centre half had lost a yard of pace.
This explanation made Blanc’s arrival all the more mystifying. At 35, and never having been particularly blessed with the gift of speed, the French World Cup winner would have lost a footrace to a tortoise in flip-flops.
There were occasional glimpses of the statesmanlike aplomb he’d bought to back lines throughout the years, and then there were days when he was given the runaround by Michael Ricketts. Overall, his spell at Old Trafford was a fairly dismal chapter in an otherwise storied career.
In the early 90s, Brolin was the bright young thing of European football.
Fast, fearless and full of guile, he’d played his part in a fantastically bonkers Parma side that also featured Gianfranco Zola and Tino Asprilla. On the international scene, he’d masterminded Sweden’s unlikely rise to semi-finalists at both Euro 92 and USA 94.
He arrived at Leeds in 1995 with the trademark blonde hair and blue eyes, but it was the mid-section that caught the eye. They used to say the same about Samantha Fox.
Brolin had a stinker at Elland Road, then moved to a chaotic Crystal Palace where his reward for being overpaid, unfit and ineffective was to become assistant player-manager to Attilio Lombardo.
The Swede’s lowest ebb at Selhurst Park came against former club Leeds when a nasty collision left him with multiple stitches and a blood-soaked headband. He ran chaotically around the pitch like a wasp who’s spent the afternoon swimming face-first in a pint of Stella.
Clearly suffering from concussion, it was uncomfortable viewing, except for Rodney Marsh in the Sky Studio, who giggled uncontrollably like he was watching the Morecambe and Wise Christmas special.
Within weeks Brolin had left Palace – and professional football – forever. Since then he’s made a mint playing professional poker and selling hoovers. Life comes at you fast.
In 1996, Kluivert was the hottest young talent in European football, having scored the winner for Ajax in the 1995 Champions League Final aged just 18.
Fast forward to 2004, and Kluivert was being bombed out of Barcelona on a free transfer after six successful seasons at the Camp Nou.
There were rumours that his ego had grown exponentially, he’d argued with team-mates, and his marriage was on the rocks due to his love of champagne and the fairer sex. Ah well, that never stopped Oliver Reed.
Naturally when your personal and professional life is in disarray, the most logical destination is Newcastle United. During his sole season at St James’ Park, Bobby Robson was sacked, Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer had a bundle on the pitch and new boss Graeme Souness tried to chin Craig Bellamy in training.
Kluivert (six goals in 25 league games) placed the blame for his failure at Newcastle at the feet of Alan Shearer, who apparently should have stepped aside for the Dutchman.
After leaving Newcastle, Kluivert played three more seasons and scored eight league goals. Maybe Souness was onto something after all.
Thankfully Newcastle soon learned their lesson. They wouldn’t be wasting any more money on expensive, over-the-hill strikers who couldn’t get on with their talismanic No.9.
Later that summer they signed Michael Owen.
By Sid Lambert