14 Prem ‘flops’ who proved themselves elsewhere: Paulinho, Forlan, Aspas…

Quick Reads

Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool are among the Premier League clubs to have willingly sold players that have gone on to prove their class elsewhere.

There have been plenty examples of the years of quality players who have moved to the Premier League with big reputations only to struggle on these shores. Some of them simply made the move too late for English fans to see the best of them.

There are also several examples of players who were let go by Premier League clubs as youngsters or even during their supposed peak years only to go on and impress elsewhere. Such as this lot…


Plenty of eyebrows were raised when Barcelona announced the €40million signing of former Tottenham midfielder Paulinho from Guangzhou Evergrande.

Paulinho arrived at White Hart Lane in 2013 with an impressive reputation but failed to live up to the hype and was sold on two years later at a loss.

However, the 29-year-old regained his best form in China, scored a hat-trick for Brazil against Uruguay in 2017, and was a regular during his first season with Barcelona.

He was even praised by Ronaldinho: “Everyone in Brazil already knew [what he could do] due to the excellent work he did at Corinthians. He really stood out. Everyone knows about his quality, and he’s showing that once again.”

Mohamed Salah

Salah isn’t the only player in the Premier League to fail to impress Jose Mourinho – he’s not even the only player in this list – but he has joined the likes of Kevin de Bruyne in leaving England to rebuild a promising reputation before returning with the bit between his teeth.

It’s fair to say his performances for Liverpool in 2017-18 have left Chelsea fans wondering what might have been.

Diego Forlan

Whether or not Forlan deserves to be considered a flop at Manchester United is questionable, with his efforts always appreciated by the Old Trafford faithful despite a lack of goals – but he can be found on plenty of lists looking back at the Premier League’s worst signings.

Yet the Uruguayan proved his class on the continent, sharing the European Golden Boot with Thierry Henry in 2005 while at Villarreal, winning the Europa League and UEFA Super Cup at Atletico Madrid, and being named the best player at the 2010 World Cup.

READ: How Diego Forlan fought to become a Manchester United cult hero

Juan Cuadrado

Chelsea‘s purchase of Cuadrado two years ago had plenty of people scratching their head, with questions raised as to whether he was the kind of player to flourish under Jose Mourinho.

Those doubts proved correct, but there was still some surprise Cuadrado was never afforded a chance under Antonio Conte.

Cuadrado went on to win two doubles back in Italy with Juventus, who he also helped reach the Champions League final.

Gerard Pique

Given he was still only 21 by the time he left Manchester United, calling Pique a flop might be slightly harsh, but Sir Alex Ferguson had seen enough of the defender to deem he was not suitable to English football following a defeat at Bolton in 2007.

Rejoining his boyhood club Barcelona, Pique has gone on to win pretty much every available honour for club and country.

That defeat at the Reebok Stadium feels like a very long time ago…

Iago Aspas

Mention Aspas’ name at Anfield and you’re likely to get the same mention of ‘that corner’ from every fan. ‘That corner’, when Liverpool were trailing Chelsea as their title hopes unravelled, was admittedly dreadful, but it should not mask Aspas’ revival in La Liga.

Already a hero at Celta Vigo for the goals which helped them avoid extinction in his first spell at the club, the attacker has returned to Galicia and become a full Spain international, scoring against England at Wembley on his debut.

Borja Valero

Only four days after joining Tony Mowbray’s West Brom, Valero made his debut in a 3-1 League Cup defeat at Hartlepool, and in hindsight the writing was on the wall from that point on.

The Baggies, ultimately unsuccessful in their battle against relegation under Mowbray, were probably not the ideal home for a cultured midfielder in the mould of Valero, but he has since shone at Villarreal and Fiorentina, winning Best Spanish Player in 2010 and being named in Serie A’s Team of the Season in 2013.

In the summer of 2017 he signed for Inter.

Radamel Falcao

Seeing Falcao and his knackered knees struggle in the Premier League was a genuinely sad sight, a brittle body failing a brilliant footballer under the weight of expectation and extortionate wages.

Thankfully, the striker has enjoyed a renaissance at Monaco, scoring 30 goals in all competitions and flourishing as a senior player in their remarkable title triumph in 2016-17.

Angel Di Maria

Signing Di Maria represented a huge coup for Manchester United in 2014, but despite a promising start, it soon became apparent the £60million transfer was not going to work out – injury problems and his house being burgled certainly didn’t make for a smooth transition to English football either.

The Argentina international’s quality was never in doubt, however, and a move to PSG has rekindled his career.


“I arrived very much as a boy and I have learned a lot. I have grown, but I have not noticed a lot of trust in me,” Suso said upon leaving Liverpool in 2015, and you can understand his point – in five seasons with the club he made only 21 appearances across all competitions.

AC Milan loaned out the winger to Genoa a year later, but the 23-year-old has earned the trust of the Rossoneri, scoring seven goals in 36 appearances in 2016-17 and catching the eye with a number of exciting displays.

Anthony Modeste

We can’t really tell you much about Modeste’s loan spell at Blackburn other than it resulted in no goals, a red card, one relegation and a lot of fans happy to see the back of the striker.

What we can tell you about Modeste is that in two seasons at Cologne he scored 45 goals to earn a big-money move to the Chinese Super League. Football is weird.

Nikola Kalinic

Compared to Modeste, Kalinic was prolific at Blackburn, scoring a grand total of seven Premier League goals across two seasons, but few Rovers fans would have expected the Croatian to be on the verge of a move to AC Milan six years after leaving Ewood Park.

Kalinic helped Dnipro reach the Europa League final two years ago and has caught the eye of San Siro chiefs in two productive campaigns at Fiorentina.

Jerome Boateng

In the summer of 2011, City allowed Boateng – who has been widely regarded as one of the best defenders in world football throughout the time City have been throwing cash at the likes of Eliaquim Mangala – to join Bayern Munich for a fee in the region of £15million.

Just think of the amount of money, and headaches, in the blue half of Manchester which could have been saved.

Emanuele Giaccherini

In truth, Giaccherini’s talents have often been just as underappreciated in Serie A as they were during his spell at Sunderland in the Premier League, but he was always a favourite of Antonio Conte’s when the Chelsea boss was in charge of the Italy national team.

“If he was called Giaccherinho he would be much more appreciated,” Sam Allardyce Conte once said about the attacker, whose CV boasts two Serie A titles and 29 caps for Italy.

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