Just because you’ve got an almost limitless vat of funds doesn’t mean you should throw all your dosh at the latest fresh faced fad. While Premier League clubs are guilty of signing to excess, many have also let supremely talented players slip through their grasp with barely a second thought.
Whether leading the race for the European Golden Boot, closing in on a first league title since 1999 or simply proving to your old employers that they made a mistake letting you go, there are countless players thriving on the continent after being released, flogged or farmed out by Premier League clubs.
Well, we say countless. We’re limiting ourselves to a Top 50.
1) Edin Dzeko
Somewhat harshly let go by Manchester City despite playing a major part in two title successes, the surprisingly technical Bosnian has flourished into a truly world-class hitman at Roma. With 30 goals to his name this season, it’s worth remembering that Wilfried Bony forced him out of the Etihad.
2) Steven N’Zonzi
An underrated yet somewhat cumbersome midfielder at Blackburn and Stoke, N’Zonzi has seized Sergio Busquett’s crown as La Liga’s finest defensive midfielder. Though maybe that’s doing the uncapped Frenchman a disservice. Only Real Sociedad's Asier Illarramendi has more passes than N’Zonzi this season.
3) Radamel Falcao
El Tigre looked an endangered species at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge but the wounded animal has become a fierce predator once more in the principality. Falcao has chipped, thumped and stroked 24 goals in 30 games in all competitions, that remarkable lob against Manchester City the highlight.
4) Samir Nasri
The brains behind a well-oiled Sevilla machine, Nasri stated that he wanted to swap Manchester for Southern Spain to kick-start his stalling career and his decision has been more than vindicated. Ironically, he now looks a perfect fit for Pep Guardiola’s midfield.
5) Anthony Modeste
The Frenchman couldn’t strike a barn door with a banjo let alone a net with a ball during a short term loan with Blackburn. These days, however, he’s behind only Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the Bundesliga scoring charts, spearheading unfashionable Cologne’s European hopes.
Released by Liverpool after falling out of favour under Brendan Rodgers, the scheming Spaniard is now the star man of an AC Milan team aiming to put four years of purgatory behind them by reaching the Champions League again. A two-footed, intuitive playmaker, the Spanish national team beckons.
7) Bafetimbi Gomis
Thank god Fernando Llorente is banging them in for Swansea City. Because, without the iron-headed Spaniard, the decision to let Gomis leave on loan for Marseille would come under severe scrutiny. He’s already netted more this season (16) than in both of his campaigns in South Wales combined.
8) Iago Aspas
The diminutive forward’s brief stint at Anfield may have been summed up by one infamous corner but the Barca-bullying Celta Vigo talisman is now on of La Liga’s most lethal strikers. His well-taken equaliser in an international friendly with England cruelly reminded Liverpool what they’d missed.
9) Javier Hernandez
Why Manchester United, or more specifically Louis Van Gaal, let Chicharito leave for peanuts is anyone’s guess. With Jose Mourinho gallingly reliant on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Hernandez has netted almost a goal every other game for Bayer Leverkusen, reinforcing his reputation as one of the world’s most instinctive poachers.
10) Mo Salah
You get the feeling that Chelsea’s scouting of the Egyptian stemmed as far as his two goalscoring performances against them for Basel in the Champions League. Barely given a sniff at Stamford Bridge, Salah’s direct running and improving end product has made him one of the most thrilling attackers in Serie A as one half of a lethal partnership with Dzeko at Roma.
11) Filipe Luis
Like Salah, it remains a mystery why Felipe Luis was completely undervalued by Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge. Returning to Atletico after just one season, it was like he’d never been away. The purists may point towards Marcelo, but the combative, technically superb Luis is the finest left-back in Madrid.
12) Nikola Kalinic
As if passing up the chance to keep Modeste at Ewood Park wasn’t bad enough, Kalinic continues to show Blackburn Rovers what they were missing with a prolific goalscoring record at Fiorentina. He’s hit 18 in all competitions already for a side performing way below expectations.
13) Serge Gnabry
Apparently, Arsene Wenger was not too happy about losing Germany’s Rio Olympics star. And with good reason. If Werder Bremen retain their Bundesliga status, they will owe a huge debt out gratitude to the former West Brom loanee who, in addition to 10 German top flight strikes, netted a hat-trick on his international debut (albeit against San Marino).
14) Memphis Depay
Manchester United obviously believe there’s still time for Memphis to channel his immense potential into consistent quality. There’s a reason they included a buy-back clause in his January move to Lyon. And, with five goals in six starts in Ligue 1, Depay is already on the road to redemption. A goal from the centre circle against Toulouse doesn’t do him any harm.
15) Federico Fazio
Even Per Mertesacker would fancy his chances in a foot race with the truck-dragging Argentine. Ill-suited to the pacy nature of English football or Mauricio Pochettino’s high defensive line, Fazio’s faultless performances on loan at Roma have offered a timely reminder why Spurs bought him in the first place.
16) Wojciech Szczesny
Forced out when Petr Cech swapped made the short trip across the capital, Szczesny has buckled down and improved beyond all recognition at the Stadio Olimpico. The Pole has arguably been Serie A’s most impressive goalkeeper this season, though Gianluigi Buffon may have something to say about that.
17) Juan Cuadrado
Wondergoal winner against Inter Milan aside, Cuadrado has not exactly been a regular in his first season on loan at Juventus from Chelsea. He’s only started 13 Serie A games though his speed and versatility makes him an excellent asset to Max Allegri’s squad.
18) Peter Gulacsi
The Hungarian goalkeeper made more appearences on loan at Hereford and Tranmere than he managed during six years on Liverpool’s books. Though, while Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius have undermined The Reds progress, RB Leipzig stopper Gulacsi is set for the Champions League next season.
19) Jerome Boateng
Lacking in both fitness and form, it hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for GQ’s 2015 Best Dressed Man. Yet, on his day, the former Manchester City youngster is the world’s most complete defender, his extraordinary passing range meaning he can double up as a deep lying playmaker for Bayern Munich.
20) Stevan Jovetic
A la Nasri, one-time City flop Jovetic made the pilgrimage so many gifted footballers resort to when their career takes a downward turn. And inevitably, a matter of days after joining Sevilla from Inter, the Montenegrin forward netted against Real Madrid in both the league and cup, snapping Zinedine Zidane’s 40 game unbeaten run in the process.
21) Stefan Savic
Jovetic’s Montenegrin team-mate, and fellow Manchester City disaster, is not an automatic starter for Atletico Madrid but the fact Diego Simeone was so keen to sign him from Fiorentina shows just how much his defensive awareness has improved since his short-lived spell in Lancashire.
22) Dirk Kuyt
It seemed like the end of the line when fans favourite Kuyt bid farewell to Liverpool in 2012. Five years on, however, the 36-year-old is as energetic and tenacious as ever, leading boyhood club Feyernoord to their first Eredivisie title in the 21st century while continuing to contribute goals at reliable rate.
23) Pepe Reina
If you haven’t bared witness to Pepe Reina’s gravity-defying, Matrix-impersonating, one-handed save against Roma, fire up the old YouTube immediately. Beyond that isolated moment of genius, however, the former Liverpool keeper has endured a difficult campaign at Napoli, his performances blotted by a number of uncharacteristic errors.
24) Andreas Christensen
The young Dane made only three appearances for Chelsea before being shipped out on a two-year loan to Borussia Monchengladbach. Though Christensen is proving that he should not be judged on that fabled 4-2 FA Cup defeat to Bradford, holding together a combustible Foals defence.
25) Iago Falque
Let go by Tottenham Hotspur with barely a first-team appearances to his name, Falque has embarked on something of a nomadic career thus far. However, after failing to make the grade at Roma, the 27-year-old is finally showing what all the fuss was about with his most consistent campaign to date at Torino.
26) Borja Valero
Not too many players can boast both West Brom and Real Madrid on their CV. That did not stop the former Los Blancos youth lasting just one season at The Hawthorns though. The Baggies loss, however, has been Fiorentina’s game with the intuitive playmaker still a vital part of La Viola’s pretty passing gameplan.
27) Fernando Torres
We may never witness the fabled ‘Torres of old’ streaking in defences in a bleached-blonde blur but the modern interpretation is still a pretty useful centre-forward. A hard-working channel runner rather than a jet-heeled goal machine these days, don’t be surprised if the Spaniard earns another new deal at Atletico.
28) Mario Balotelli
The troubled hitman started life in Nice with a bang but, this time, for all the right reasons. A prolific start to life in Ligue 1, however, has subsided with Mario regressing once again into slope-shouldered petulance. His 11 goals in 15 starts reads well. Three red cards does not.
29) Andrej Kramaric
Barely given a sniff at Leicester City despite a prolific scoring record in his native Croatia, Kramaric has nonetheless adapted his game in the Bundesliga. He’s not merely a taker of chances but a creator too, providing eight goals and seven assists to spearhead Hoffenheim’s Champions League charge.
30) Carlos Vela
The Mexican striker appeared to have wasted his final chance after skipping training to attend a Chris Brown concert last season. However, while his commitment can be questionable, his ability is not. The one-time Arsenal prodigy has looked back to his best at times this season as the ace in Real Sociedad’s Champions League chasing pack.
31) Thorgan Hazard
Little brother Horgan may not possess the world-beating ability of his older sibling Eden but, as weary Bundesliga backlines have discovered in recent months, that elusive dribbling and mesmeric close control runs in the family. Hazard has been the bright spark in a largely disappointing domestic season for Borussia Monchengladbach.
32) Brad Jones
No one is suggesting Liverpool made a mistake cutting ties with Brad Jones, even with Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius flattering to deceive. Yet, if Feyenoord lift the Eredivisie title this season, the Australian, voted the league’s best goalkeeper in 2016, will have played a major part.
33) Jeremain Lens
The Dutchman was supposed to take Sunderland to the next level when he arrived last summer but, after Dick Advocaat was replaced by the disciplinarian Sam Allardyce, Lens was out on his ear and on loan to Fenerbache. Though an impressive season in Turkey has not improved his mood. He recently stated that he wanted Sunderland to go down so he would have a better chance of securing a move away.
34) Marco Borriello
If Zlatan Ibrahimovic is ageing like a fine wine, Borriello is like mid-range prosecco. At the age of 34, the wily Italian is enjoying one of the finest seasons of his long career with 12 goals in a struggling Cagliari side. That forgettable, two-game loan spell at West Ham is merely a sidenote in a nomadic 15 years at the top.
35) Marko Van Ginkel
Still contracted to Chelsea would you believe, the 24-year-old is currently embarking on a fourth loan spell away at Stamford Bridge and a second at PSV. And while he’s unlikely to repeat last season’s Eredivisie title success, his four goals in seven games since arriving in January have offered a timely reminder of his qualities.
36) John Guidetti
The Swedish frontman appeared to dine off that prolific loan spell with Feyenoord for years. Five years on, however, via erratic stints at Stoke City and Celtic, the former Manchester City loanee is finally showing what all the fuss was about. He may not be first choice for Celta Vigo, Iago Aspas has made sure of that, but he usually performs when called upon.
37) Salomon Kalou
Hertha Berlin continue to perform above expectations in the Bundesliga despite Kalou enduring one of the driest seasons of his career. Injuries haven’t helped and, with the Ivorian out of contract in June, there’s time still for the 31-year-old to put his quick-feet and expert finishing to good use.
38) Lukas Podolski
Germany’s third highest all-time goalscorer may not have blessed Arsenal with the kind of lethal finishing that has lit up many a major tournament but he’s a firm favourite with Galatasaray despite a scoring record best described as ‘modest’. He did net five times in one cup game against 24 Erzincanspor in January, however.
39) Steven Berghuis
One of the most gifted playmakers in the Eredivisie during his time at AZ Alkmaar, why the two-footed Dutchman barely touched the turf at Vicarage Road is anyone’s guess. While his former club toil in mid-table, Burghuis is another Premier League reject thriving at Feyenoord.
40) Bertrand Traore
Breaking into the first-team with a flurry of goals last season, Bertrand Traore looked to be the new posterboy for Chelsea’s budding next generation. Until Antonio Conte shipped him off to Ajax that is. And while the speedy forward is unlikely to match his tally of 17 on loan at Vitesse in 2014/15, his impressive performances in the capital will only have heightened his chances of first-team football at the Bridge. Or added a few pounds onto his asking price.
41) Sebastien Coates
Disappointing at Liverpool and not much better at Sunderland, the sight of Coates playing Champions League football against Real Madrid will have raised a few puzzled expressions on the banks of the Wear and the Mersey. Yet, the Uruguayan is a key player at Sporting Lisbon and appears to be finally fulfilling his potential.
42) Hatem Ben Arfa
From vine-worthy flicks to dazzling solo goals, Hatem Ben Arfa transformed from the ultimate erratic winger into a bonafide world-beater at Nice last season. Yet, he hasn’t quite enjoyed the same freedom at PSG with Unai Emery’s demands for discipline and hard-work meshing with the Frenchman’s free spirit. He’s started just five Ligue 1 games all season.
43) Lewis Holtby
The Merseyside-born playmaker couldn’t quite cut it at Tottenham. He was subtle, yes, but almost too subtle; pretty yet vacuous flicks becoming his forte rather than goals or assists. And, if truth be told, he’s not exactly standing out in the Bundesliga either in a rather average Hamburg side.
44) Florian Lejeune
We don’t expect too many of you to have heard of Florian Lejeune, let alone be aware that he is professionally contracted to Manchester City. Not that the 25-year-old has ever played a single minute of football for the Sky Blues. Instead, the centre-back is helping Eibar, La Liga’s smallest club, fight for Europe. Although, if rumours are to believed, he could finally make an impact in England next season with Arsenal.
45) Kevin-Prince Boateng
The one-time Tottenham and Portsmouth midfielder’s shock move to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands appeared destined to fall into the categories of masterstroke or madness. After a somewhat OK first season in La Liga, however, Boateng has rather slipped under the radar despite one stunning volley against Villarreal.
46) Ricardo Quaresma
The 33-year-old may have played just four games in an ill-fated yet infamous loan spell at Chelsea under Luis Felipe Scolari but, after a long and winding career comprising of spells with Barcelona, Inter and Porto, he’s finally reached cult hero status in Turkey with Besiktas. And, yes, the Rabona never gets old.
47) Felipe Caicedo
Linked with West Brom in January, former Manchester City striker Caicedo appears every inch the typical Tony Pulis forward; powerful, quick and not entirely prolific. The Ecuadorian international has scored just twice for Espanyol in La Liga this season with a move to China seemingly on the horizon.
48) Nabil El Zhar
It’s fair to say the career of Nabil El Zhar has passed by in a flash. Tentatively breaking through at Liverpool under Rafael Benitez, the attacker has hit 30 years of age without ever really nailing down his flag. Even an impressive start to the season with neutral’s favourites Las Palmas resulted only in a January exit to strugglers Leganes.
49) Matt Derbyshire
Not many players make the transition from Rotherham United to the Cypriot first division. Nonetheless, former Blackburn Rovers graduate Matt Derbyshire adapted to new surrounds with ease, netting 20 times in 27 appearences in domestic competition. How Blackburn could do with a striker with such statistics.
50) Andreas Cornelius
The Danish targetman may have cost Cardiff City £8 million in 2013 but, clearly, money does not always guarantee success. Cornelius played just eight times in the Premier League before being shipped off back to his homeland. Fortunately, things are going far better at Copenhagen with a Europa League quarter-final potentially on the horizon.
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