From George Weah to Radamel Falcao, 10 aces who arrived in the English league with formidable reputations only for things to go drastically wrong
1. George Weah: Chelsea: January 2000 – May 2000 (15 games, 5 goals). Manchester City: August 2000 – October 2000 (9 games, 4 goals)
Africa’s only Ballon d’Or winner joined Chelsea on loan from AC Milan in January 2000. In Italy, Weah established himself as one of the game’s finest marksmen, scoring 58 goals in 147 games across five seasons, and was crowned the planet’s best player in 1995.
Things began brilliantly for him in England, marking his Chelsea debut against Tottenham with a goal to seal a 1-0 win. But at 34, the Liberian was in the twilight of his career and time was starting to have its way.
He managed only two more Premier League goals and netted two others in FA Cup victories over Leicester and Gillingham. He joined newly promoted Manchester City on a two-year deal, where, he only mustered one goal in England’s top flight in a 3-2 defeat by Liverpool.
His other three came in League Cup games against Gillingham. Within two months at City, starting roles were getting harder to come by and he fell out with manager Joe Royle.
2. Mario Jardel: Bolton: August 2003 – January 2004 – 12 games, three goals
Before arriving in England, Brazil striker Mario Jardel had a scoring record that could put Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the shade. Yet the story of his time in England is arguably a microcosm of his attempts to hit the very pinnacle of the game – a case of what could have been.
In Brazil, he hit 26 in 50 at Vasco de Gama from 1991-96, before 67 in 73 at Gremio during an 18-month loan, where he won the Copa Libertadores.
3. Radamel Falcao: Manchester United: 29 games, four goals (2014-15). Chelsea: 12 games, one goal (2015-16)
The Colombian signed for Manchester United in the most fitting manner possible for present-day football – a deadline-day deal. United spent £6m just to have him on loan from Monaco for the 2014-15 season, agreeing they could make the deal permanent the following summer for £46m while paying £280,000-a-week wages in the meantime.
4. Branco: Middlesbrough, 1996-97: 11 games, 2 goals.
The Brazil full-back arrived on the Riverside in 1996 as one of the most established names in football. He had 72 Brazil caps, a 1994 World Cup winners medal and as well as flourishing in Brazil, had also enjoyed spells in Italy and Portugal.
It was a particularly exciting signing too when considered alongside the success his compatriot Juninho was having. But there was nothing Branco or Boro fans enjoyed about his short-lived time in the north east.
His contract was scrapped after only 11 matches, with eight months remaining on his deal. His fitness – some fans would say weight – issues prevented him from breaking into the first team and making a spot his own.
5. Juan Sebastian Veron: Manchester United 2001-2003: 83 games, 11 goals Chelsea 2003-04: 15 games, one goal.
Argentina midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron arrived at Manchester United in 2002 after six outstanding years in Italy. His displays at the 1998 World Cup convinced Parma to sign him from Sampdoria and he won the UEFA Cup and Coppa Italia in his first and only season there.
Sven Goran Eriksson’s Lazio swooped and he was the driving force under the Swede. Just as comfortable as an attacking midfielder or deep-lying playmaker, he inspired Lazio to the Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Super Cup. He arrived at Old Trafford in 2001 with Man United fans wondering, with immense anticipation, how Sir Alex Ferguson would combine Veron with Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs in midfield. He chose to deploy Scholes in behind Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Veron began strongly, hitting two goals in his first five games – but it was clear by Christmas that Veron found the Premier League different. He was struggling to shine in a more physical league and also, one could argue, it was difficult to stand out alongside such illustrious peers.
United won the league in 2003 but Ferguson was happy to sell Veron to rivals Chelsea afterwards – who had just been bought by Roman Abramovich. But injuries restricted him to 15 appearances at Chelsea and in 2004, he sealed a return to Italy with Inter Milan.
6. Andriy Shevchenko: Chelsea: 2006-2009: 76 games, 22 goals
The Ukraine striker arrived in west London in 2006 after seven electrifying years in Italy with AC Milan, scoring 173 goals and winning the Champions League and Coppa Italia in 2003 and Serie A in 2004.
Chelsea paid £30million – a British transfer record – for Shevchenko and Blues boss Jose Mourinho described his arrival as ‘a day when the dream became reality. Andriy has always been my first choice for Chelsea since I arrived.’
He notched an underwhelming total of 14 in 51 in all competitions for Chelsea in his first season and in the second, eight in 25. It had unquestionably been a huge statement from Chelsea to pry Shevchenko from Milan but in hindsight, it was £30m for a player who arrived two months shy of 30 years old. Not the shrewdest move.
7. Davor Suker: Arsenal 1999-2000: 40 games, 11 goals. West Ham 2000-2001: 14 games, three goals
Nicolas Anelka’s £22m move to Real Madrid from Arsenal in 1999 saw Davor Suker head to north London in exchange for £3.5m. The striker was arguably most fondly known in England for his form on the international stage.
He hit three in four for Croatia in Euro 96 in England and at the 1998 World Cup in France, he won the golden boot with six goals. At club level, his form was just as eye-catching. Five years at Sevilla, from 1991-96, saw Suker blast in 76 in 153, an average of almost one-in-two.
He moved to Madrid after Euro 96 and hit 38 in 86 over three seasons, winning La Liga in 1997 and the Champions League in 1998.
Suker marked his first start with a brace in a 3-1 win over Aston Villa but the majority of his appearances came off the bench that season and he only mustered 11 goals in 40. After one season, Wenger accepted an offer from West Ham but Suker’s struggles continued there.
He only played 14 times the following season, getting three goals. He departed in the November of the following campaign – without a further appearance for the Hammers that season – for Germany with 1860 Munich.
8. Angel Di Maria: Manchester United 2014-15, 31 games, four goals
If Falcao’s arrival in 2014 ignited predictions of an immediate return to glory at Manchester United, the arrival of Angel Di Maria made many believe United could contend in Europe again once a return to the Champions League was sealed.
Di Maria’s signature was arguably as much of a coup for United as any transfer they have managed in recent history. There were few signs Di Maria would struggle in England in his early United matches, even if the team itself was not that convincing.
He scored three goals in his first five games – including an exquisite chip in a 5-3 loss at Leicester – but his form dramatically plateaued from there. He scored only once more for United, against Yeovil in the FA Cup and ended the season with four goals in 31 games. He joined Paris Saint-Germain after one season in England.
9. Fernando Morientes: Liverpool 2005-06: 61 games, 12 goals
The forward arrived at Anfield in January 2005, following the likes of Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia as a piece in Rafa Benitez’s Spanish revolution. He was a three-time Champions League winner at Real Madrid where alongside Raul, he formed one of the most successful strike partnerships the club has had.
The £5.5m move was hailed as a masterstroke – the 28-year-old Morientes was tall, strong and powerful in the air, attributes that served most forwards well in the Premier League.
In his only full season at Liverpool he found regular starts harder to come by, especially with Peter Crouch providing extra competition. He scored nine goals in 46 in 2005-06 and got an FA Cup winners medal but left that summer, returning to Spain with Valencia.
10. Maicon: Manchester City, 2012-13: 13 games
Roberto Mancini brought Maicon in at City in 2012 to provide cover and competition to Pablo Zabaleta at right-back. The City boss had worked with Maicon in his time at Inter Milan and despite the Brazil international having a rather harrowing experience with Gareth Bale against Tottenham in the Champions League, he was spoken of by Mancini as ‘one top player’.
He arrived at City with 66 Brazil caps to his name but there were concerns in Italy that Maicon’s best days as a dynamic attacking full-back were behind him due to injuries.
Those concerns proved to be correct. Fitness issues restricted him from cementing a place in City’s team and by the end of his only season in England, he seemed to be third choice at right back, falling behind Micah Richards. Mancini was sacked by City in May 2013 and his successor, Manuel Pellegrini, allowed him to leave for Roma on a free transfer.