From Farcelona to Queens Park Strangers – Footballers who transformed their once stagnant careers

The Easter period is officially seen a time to reconcile on Christ’s resurrection whilst nowadays it is seen as more of a time to binge on chocolate eggs and similar sorts of treats. Similar to Christ, the following footballers have been able to resurrect their careers with the game with a few surprises along the way….

Mario Balotelli 

His colourful career started off brightly and came to fruition in sky blue, notching 13 goals in Man City’s first Premier League title capture in 2012. His form took a slight dip the following season and he fell out of favour with then City Boss, Roberto Mancini, which culminated in an £18 million transfer to AC Milan in January 2013.

His time with the Rossoneri was nothing short of magnificent, 26 goals in 41 games saw demand for his services increase and soon he was jetting back to the north of England, only this time it was Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool who were looking for that spark to get them across the line for their first ever Premier League title having come agonizingly close the season before. It was the perfect storm, Liverpool were looking to topple the team that had cast Balotelli out and he was coming off the back of two extremely impressive seasons in Italy. However, Liverpool had just sold the league’s top scorer, Suarez, so Balotelli had boots that even his ego may struggle to fill. That proved to be true with the Italian limping across the line with a solitary single league goal in his time with the reds. He was once again shipped back out to his native land with a season long loan to Milan, but he again failed to impress, and it was beginning to look as if he would never reach the heights his early career so promised.

Then stepped in Lucien Favre, the Nice manager snapped Balotelli up on a free in 2016 which had many a man calling 999 reporting a theft because it looked to be one of the steals of the century, he took to the French Riviera like a duck on water netting a handsome 15 goals in his first Ligue 1 campaign. It would be a bold statement to suggest that he has finally found his feet but with 20 goals and counting this season, Balotelli has shaken off the malaise of his past and is showing the world his true ability.

 

 

Kevin De Bruyne

When people think of Kevin De Bruyne, they rarely remember that he used to play for Chelsea. Obviously the Belgian talent has gone on to become one the best players of his generation but this article looks at his past and how he may not have started perfectly.

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With 7 goals and 15 assists this season. Kevin De Bruyne has been one of Manchester City’s best players. (Source: https://www.101greatgoals.com/news/kevin-de-bruyne-breaks-record/)

De Bruyne started his career at K.R.C Genk, a strong Belgian side that have a prestigious youth academy responsible for producing the likes of Yannick Carrasco, Thibaut Courtious and Divock Origi. He made his first team debut on 9th May 2009 and in 2011 scored 5 and made 16 goals in 32 games to help the club win their first title since 2002.

After catching the attention of Chelsea, he moved to the Blues on deadline day in January of 2012. The deal was rumoured to be in the region of £7m, however he stayed at Genk for the remainder of the season.

The next season he was sent on loan to Werder Bremen and had a fairly successful spell scoring 10 in 33 games. When he returned Jose Mourinho assured De Bruyne that he was part of his plans despite interest from teams such as Dortmund and Leverkusen.

However, Kevin injured his knee whilst scoring in a pre-season fixture and recovered to make his competitive debut on the opening day of 13/14 season in a 2-0 win over Hull City.

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Kevin’s first short, unsuccessful spell in England (Source Metro)

Despite the hype around the player, he was never really given a chance, playing only 3 games that season. As a result he never had a chance to show off his talent and struggled to settle in London.

That January the Belgian International signed for Wolfsburg for £18m and the season after scored 16 and made 27 goals in all competitions and was named 2015 Footballer of the Year in Germany.

After a summer of transfer speculation and about 8 transfer offers from Manchester City, he finally signed for a club record £55m making him the second most expensive transfer in British football behind Ángel Di María, and the rest is history.

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In 95 games since he joined the Citizens, he’s bagged 20 goals and 43 assists. The most assists of any player since 2015 and he doesn’t look like stopping anytime soon. With the Manchester Derby next week for them to potentially wrap up the title, Kevin De Bruyne has been instrumental in Pep Guardiola’s system.

Whether Kevin De Bruyne stays at Manchester City or moves onto another club, he will definitely continue to perform at footballs highest and greatest levels. Many have dubbed him to win many personal and club accolades and become a star!

 

 

Radamel Falcao

Falcao celebrating his goals tonight

Captain. Scorer. Two Failed Loans. Legend. Credit: https://www.101greatgoals.com/101ggvideos/radamel-falcao-scores-2-goals-monaco-v-cska-moscow-video/

Radamel Falcao, the Colombian International who couldn’t quite adapt to the British game. Falcao had a very bright start to his career making his debut at 13. Yes, that’s right, 13 years of age, making him the youngest professional Colombian player to date. After impressing in his younger years, he was signed by River Plate for $500,000 where he went on to make 90 appearances for the Argentinian club, scoring 34 goals. Falcao then made a move to FC Porto where his impressive goal scoring tally captured the attention of Atletico Madrid, where he spent two years. It was Monaco, the next destination for the Columbian. He had a bright start to his Ligue 1 career up until an injury in January of the 2013/14 season which kept him sidelined until July. Fast forward to the 1st of September and Radamel Falcao had his dream move, playing in the Premier League with Manchester United. The deal was a season-long loan with the option to buy, however things just didn’t quite work out for the striker.

A rare sight. Falcao. United. Goal. Just doesn’t sound right, does it? Credit: https://www.sportskeeda.com/football/should-manchester-united-really-sign-falcao-permanently

Everyone was eager to see the performance of one of the world’s top finishers at the time and United looked like they had a star in their team, but it just didn’t work out. He made his Manchester United debut against QPR where he was brought on for Herrera in the 67th minute. In his opening four games he had one goal to his name and three assists. He really looked lively, then it went down hill, he had a four game spell out of the squad and he never really got back in to form. He finished the season with four goals in 33 appearances – this was one of the best strikers in the league and John Terry had more goals than him. It was obvious why Manchester United didn’t trigger the option to buy him at the end of the loan.

Chelsea signed Radamel Falcao on loan for free, according to alleged leaked contract

Radamel Falcao making a rare Chelsea appearance. Credit: http://www.skysports.com/football/news/11668/10143641/radamel-falcao-joined-chelsea-on-free-loan-according-to-leaked-document

 

His second attempt in the Premier League was even worse, 1 goal in ten games for Chelsea who wanted the Columbian on a loan with an option to buy him at any point throughout the loan. Falcao suffered a groin injury which kept him out of the team for a large proportion of the season, but it was already too late, his chances at making a name for himself (for the right reasons) in the Premier League were over.

He returned to Monaco and found his swagger. After two failed loans the Falcao we knew was back for good. He now captains both Monaco and Columbia, but it’s hard not to mention how his return to Monaco has given his career a much-needed lift. I am surprised the fans were warmed to him after wanting to leave the club on two separate occasions. He scored 21 goals in 29 appearances in Ligue 1 last year, and 17 so far in this years campaign. It’s important to remember that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, just ask Radamel.

 

 

Dax McCarty

Dax McCarty is one of the most underrated players in the whole of the MLS. A MLS veteran, McCarty has played for four teams in the league. Dax moved to D.C. United for the 2011 season.  Just four months into his tenure at DC, Dax was appointed the captain. Olsen played Dax in an attacking midfielder role, trying to convert the American international into that position however after failing to live up to his expectations, he was traded to rivals, New York Red Bulls, having played just thirteen times for DC United, spending less than a year in Washington. Olsen’s decision to try to convert a defensive midfielder into an attacking midfielder left his career in the airs.

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Dax McCarty playing for DC United

McCarty became an instant starter for the Red Bulls, back in his traditional role of a defensive midfielder. After a breakout season in 2012, he was regarded as one of the best in the team. A year later, under the new head coach, Mike Petke, he helped the team win the Supporters Shield, clinching the first trophy in the franchise’s 18 year history. His impressive performance, and his heart and desire whilst on the field earned McCarty a new multi-year contract extension.  After the departure of captain Thierry Henry before the 2015 season Dax was appointed the new captain of the Red Bulls by the new head coach, Jesse Marsch.  Many fans and pundits didn’t even predict the Red Bulls to make the play offs that season.

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Dax was described as “the heart and soul of the club”

The team, and the management, proved everyone wrong – as they started the season eight unbeaten, and went onto win the Supporters Shield, and just one goal away from the MLS Cup. McCarty’s partnership with new signings, Sacha Kljestan and Felipe formed one of the strongest midfields in the league and was a pivotal part of the franchise winning the Supporters Shield.  Dax’s strong performances throughout the season saw him selected for the MLS All Star Game, and the Best XI.

After a mixed 2016 season, he was traded to Chicago Fire before the 2017 season but not  before scoring a brace (the first time McCarty had scored a brace in his career) in the 7-0 win over rivals NYCFC, and also becoming New York Red Bulls’ all time leading appearance maker, taking the record off his former head coach, Mike Petke. McCarty currently ranks second in all time appearances after Luis Robles took the record in the 2017 season

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McCarty was captain of the team from the 2015 to 2016 seasons, having previously captained the side on various occasions before.

Dax’s six seasons in New Jersey were memorable and successful. He was part of the most successful time for the Red Bulls, winning two trophies, and twice nearly getting the MLS Cup. He’s considered a legend at Red Bull Arena.

When he returned with new team Chicago Fire, he stayed after the game signing autographs for the New York fans for a whole hour, thanking them for their support and saying a proper goodbye.

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Dax stayed an hour after to sign autographs for the fans, and to say goodbye to the fans

From being shipped out after less than a year at DC to becoming a club legend at the Red Bulls, and helping them to their most successful years on the pitch, everything turned out well in the end for the Ginger Ninja.

 

 

Michael Owen

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Michael Owen celebrating a goal for Liverpool

Michael Owen has had an interesting career, when he first came on the scene he was regarded as the next ‘Robbie Fowler’. He was Liverpool’s top scorer for  4 seasons, he was on fire for England, scoring against the likes of Argentina and Germany.

But by 2008, he was relegated with Newcastle after a long battle with injuries, however Manchester United took him off Newcastle’s hands and while he only scored 5 goals for United, he was successful in helping them win the league in the 2010/2011 season. Owen joined Stoke in 2012, and only scored 1 goal.

So what went wrong? In this section we’ll be having a look on why.

He started playing for the first team in the 1996/1997 season, Liverpool back then were serious title contenders. They had to beat Wimbledon to stand a chance of still competing against United, on the hour mark, Owen made his debut and was quickly proven to be trouble for ‘The Dons’. On the 74th minute, Owen found himself one on one vs the keeper, and he scored!

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Owen scoring his first goal for Liverpool!

And from there, Owen quickly found himself scoring nearly every week  It wasn’t long until he was called up for England. With Shearer getting to the end of his international career,

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Michael Owen celebrating his goal at World Cup  98

England needed someone to replace him, and Owen was absolutely amazing for England during his early years, scoring a fantastic solo goal against Argentina at the World Cup.

Many people think the Argentina game was his best game, but for me the Germany game in 2001 was the best. We absolutely tore them apart and Owen was absolutely brilliant. He scored a hat-trick and helped England win 5-1.

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Owen celebrating scoring against Germany.

But by 2003, he was looking for new pastures, Liverpool hadn’t really challenged for the title in a while and he (Owen) was looking for a team that would give him Champions League football. In the summer of 2004, he moved to Real Madrid for £8 million, and for me that could have possibly been one of the few things that he did wrong in his career.

He was only at Madrid for one reason and he was often on the bench at the beginning and many Spanish pundits didn’t think he was all that. But by October he really came into form, he ended up scoring 16 goals that season. In the summer of 2005, Robinho and Julio Baptista were signed by Madrid and Owen’s days seemed numbered.

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Michael Owen unveiled at Newcastle

He eventually joined Newcastle for £16.8 million and that’s where his career really sort of went downhill. He was at Newcastle between 2005-2009 and only managed to score 23 goals. He started off alright but after picking up a horrific injury against Blackburn, it resulted in him having a turbulent 18 months on and off the pitch .

A majority of Newcastle fans disliked Owen because of the attitude he had at the club, for example during their relegation run in he refused to play incase he got injured and ruined his chances of getting a new club in the summer. It’s such a shame to see one of the young, hungry players that England had have his attitude turn to more about the money and joining another Premier league club, rather than focusing on the one he was at.

However, he signed for Manchester United in 2009, and while he wasn’t banging the goals in like he was at Liverpool, he was a vital member of the title-winning squad of 2010-2011. He also scored a very memorable goal against Manchester City in the dying seconds of the Manchester Derby, the season before.

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Celebrating the winning goal against Manchester City

 

While Owen never really hit the same heights as he did at Liverpool, I think going to United was a good decision, and he gave really good performances for United. The low points in his career were certainly for me Madrid and Newcastle, on paper they seemed alright but really underwhelming for someone like Owen. It’s a real shame because he could have been so much more if it wasn’t for injuries and a bad attitude at Newcastle.

 

Bradley-Wright Phillips

At the end of the 2012-13 season Bradley Wright-Phillips found himself out of contract with Charlton Athletic and made the tough decision to move from London all the way to New Jersey and sign for the New York Red Bulls.

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In BWP’s last season in English football he was loaned out to Brentford where he scored 5 goals in 15 games. His career was at a point where it was make or break, and this decision would certainly make it. Joining the Red Bulls in the later part of the season, BWP helped them to their first ever silverware winning the Supporters Shield.

In Bradley’s first full season with the MLS team he scored 27 league goals which set a new record for regular season goals by one player in an MLS season. Also in this season he scored goals against Arsenal and Bayern Munich during some mid-season friendlies, which brought international interest in the player according to the clubs sporting director at the time. Most people thought that BWP wouldn’t be a massive success in the MLS but he started to prove people wrong. In 2015, BWP was signed to a designated player contract which was another reward for he’s terrific start to his career at the Red Bulls. Another Supporters Shield followed in the season but missing out on the MLS Cup once again. Now in his 5th season with Red Bulls he is the all time top scorer for them which is a true testament to how much hard work has been put in by BWP over in the states.

 

 

Mohammed Salah

Mohammed Salah has turned into arguably the best player in the Premier League this season following a summer move from AS Roma to Liverpool. Yet if you look back to a few years ago you would have been fairly assured he wasn’t going to amount to much. After bursting onto the senior scene at El Mokawloon scoring 11 goals in 38 appearances as a 17-year-old, and also being the star in the U20 Egyptian team where he scored the only goal as Egypt went out to Argentina 2-1 in the round of 16, he was then monitored by several clubs including Shakhtar Donetsk and Hamburg, but it was when Egypt arranged a friendly with FC Basel in order to prepare for the 2012 Olympic games that the Swiss side made an approach to sign him. Following a 4-3 win for the Pharaohs and a Salah brace he went on trial and signed in 2012.

DTG_salah_1

(Omar Niyazi. (2014). In Pictures: The Rise of Chelsea’s Pharaoh – Mohamed Salah. Available: https://www.kingfut.com/2014/01/26/chelsea-pharaoh-mohamed-salah/. Last accessed 30/3/18.)

 

It wasn’t until 2013 that the larger European clubs took notice, the reason for this was Salah scoring his first Europa League goal which took their game against Tottenham to penalties which Basel then won. Following this victory they were placed against Chelsea in the Semi-Final, his future employers, and scored a goal which wasn’t enough and saw Basel bow out following a 5-2 aggregate loss to the eventual winners of the tournament. The season after he scored again against Chelsea in a 2-1 win for Basel as he was quickly becoming a must have young player for clubs like Chelsea, Dortmund and Liverpool. In 2014 he signed for Chelsea but was given limited chances despite promise after playing 8 games after his January move to the club. Yet on the next January window it was announced he would be loaned out to Fiorentina to give him game time with Juan Cuadrado moving to Chelsea which many saw as the end of his time at the club. During this time he appeared 16 times and scored 6 which seemed decent form for a young player but he then refused to stay for the last 6 months of his loan and he moved to Roma for a loan of €5 million with the option to sign for a fee of €15 million. In this loan spell he scored 14 times in 34 appearances and Roma agreed to sign him. At the end of the Season he was named as Roma’s Player of the Season and Top Goal scorer for the club. The season after he only played 31 times and scored 15 goals but again he was named Roma’s player of the season, given the award of Best Arab player in the Globe Soccer awards beating Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani and also won goal of the year for Roma. Then on 22nd June 2017 Salah signed for Liverpool in a transfer coming to €42 million and he has since shown Mourinho what he has missed out on.

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(Mark Jones. (2017). Liverpool ace Mohamed Salah wins Premier League Player of the Month award for November. Available: https://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/liverpool-ace-mohamed-salah-wins-11700168. Last accessed 30/3/18.)

 

 

And finally a couple of players who transformed their careers in different ways and met ‘The Game’

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Stuart Tomlinson 

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Picture from skysports.com

Tomlinson is a lower league goalkeeper whose career started in 2003 with Crewe Alexandra, where he made 20 appearances over a 6 year period before making 119 further combined appearance for Barrow, Port Vale and Burton Albion. A competent goalkeeper, but he was never able to really establish himself within a first team environment. Unfortunately in July 2013, Tomlinson was forced to retire due to a serious knee injury. He had done some modelling in his time, and so had this to fall back on, but his next career turn was one that very few people saw coming.

After appearing on the cover of Men’s Health magazine due to his impressive physique, Tomlinson caught the eye of talent scouts at the base of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and was contacted about a tryout. Tomlinson attended the tryout at one of the WWE’s UK tour TV tapings, and was offered a developmental contract with WWE’s development facility, NXT. After training at the WWE’s state of the art Performance Centre he made his in-ring debut at an NXT Live Event in November of 2014 under his ring name of Hugo Knox.

Despite making several appearances at live events and taking part in a couple of multi-man matches and enhancement matches, he never made an official TV appearance and was released from his contract in September 2016. He has since returned to football with Altrincham.

 

Hugo Knox

picture from wrestlingforum.com

 

Tim Wiese

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Picture from alchetron.com

Tomlinson was not the only goalkeeper to transition to the Squared Circle, as German keeper Tim Wiese also made the jump, having gained some serious muscle mass after his retirement from football in 2014. Few would argue that Wiese had a bad career, having made 308 career league appearances for the likes of Fortuna Koln, Kaiserslautern and Werder Bremen as well as 6 appearances for the national side, but when he was offered the opportunity by WWE COO and founder of NXT, Paul Levesque, otherwise known as Triple H, he appeared as a special guest for the WWE at a number of Live Events in his home country prior to signing with and reporting to NXT in September of 2016.

He then made his in-ring debut at a WWE Live Event in Munich on November 3rd 2016, teaming with the now current Raw Tag Team Champions, Sheamus and Cesaro under his new moniker “The Machine”. Wiese was able to get the win for his team as they beat Primo & Epico Colon and Bo Dallas in a 6 man tag team match. Little has been heard of his future in professional wrestling since, but he did make a brief return to football for SSV Dillingen in the 8th tier of German Football.

 

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Picture from wrestlingnews.co

Whilst you’re here, why not check out some of our other articles?

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4 thoughts on “From Farcelona to Queens Park Strangers – Footballers who transformed their once stagnant careers

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