Luka Modric has spent a lot of time on the bench since signing for Real Madrid
Ahead of Arsenal’s game with Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend, Arsene Wenger had claimed that Gareth Bale didn’t need to go abroad to fulfill his potential, and most players regret leaving the spotlight and excitement of the Premier League.
"Everyone wants to come to England, so I don't see why the English players should have to go abroad," he said.
"We have the best League in the world here. All the players who have gone abroad, when I speak to them, they want to come back."
In the 21 years of the Premier League, which players have made the biggest mistake in leaving England for a new start in Europe?
Michael Owen lasted for just one season at Real Madrid
In the summer of 2004, when Michael Owen was unveiled at the Bernabeu, he spoke about how honoured he was to be wearing the white shirt of Real Madrid, but just a year later he was so desperate to escape he settled for a clear demotion by joining Newcastle United.
It is easy to understand the lure of Madrid, but by leaving Liverpool, Owen missed out on Rafa Benitez’s new regime at Anfield, and winning the Champions League in Istanbul at the end of his first season in May 2005. His career has been in a slow decline ever since.
“My time in Madrid was better than most people make out,” Owen has said, and it’s true he managed a more than respectable effort of 13 goals in 34 La Liga appearances, but in almost half of those he started on the bench and never did enough to convince the Real Madrid hierarchy to keep him.
After returning to the Premier League in a surprising £17 million move to Newcastle, Owen endured four injury-plagued seasons at St .James' Park, before three years at Manchester United, where he hardly started a game (just once in the Premier League in his final two seasons), and now he’s struggling to make an impression at Stoke City, having scored just once this season.
Jonathan Woodgate scored an own goal and was sent off on his Real Madrid debut
There is a theme developing here: Englishmen struggling at Real Madrid. In the summer of 2004, there were three at the Bernabeu, Owen, David Beckham, and Jonathan Woodgate, who joined from Newcastle United for £13.4 million.
While Beckham’s time in Madrid was a success, Woodgate, like Owen’s, was most definitely not.
A persistent thigh injury meant the central defender didn’t play a single game in his first season in Spain, before he eventually made his debut in September 2005, 13 months after his arrival, only for it to get a lot worse for him.
In this first game against Athletic Bilbao, Woodgate scored an own goal and then was sent off after receiving two yellow cards.
A year later, after playing only 14 games, Woodgate was shipped out on loan to Middlesbrough, and he never returned.
"The club where there is the biggest 'what if' is obviously Real Madrid, but I cannot dwell on that and I have to put that out of my mind," Woodgate has said. "I do not even like talking about Real Madrid and all that ****. It does my head in. I was there years ago. I was at Stoke last season. In my mind, let's just forget about all that. I get embarrassed about it to be honest."
Woodgate was rather harshly voted the worst signing of the entire 21st century in a poll on the Spanish website marca.com, according to Reuters.
Injuries have continued to blight his career in spells at Middlesbrough, Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City, and now this season he’s back playing with Middlesorough again in the Championship.
Alexander Hleb in a rare piece of action for Barcelona in the Champions League
Remember Alexander Hleb? A highly skilful and attractive player for Arsenal over the course of three seasons, the Belarusian left for Barcelona in the summer of 2008 and has since been forced to watch his career go in to a steep and irretrievable decline.
At the end of his first season at Barcelona, Hleb had won the treble of La Liga, Copa Del Ray and the Champions League, the only problem was he had watched most of it happen from the bench, only starting eight La Liga games and contributing no goals.
Hleb soon realised he had made a huge mistake, and admitted, “I regret my move from London, but unfortunately, nothing can be done about it now.”
Indeed nothing could, and he saw out his four-year Barcelona contract with a series of loan spells at Stuttgart and Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga and back in England with Birmingham City.
Still only 31 years old, he is currently playing at BATE Borislov in his native Belarus, consumed with regret that he didn’t remain in the Premier League with Arsenal.
Darius Vassell has not played football since appearing for Leicester City in October 2011
In the summer of 2009 when Darius Vassell arrived in Turkey to sign for Ankaragücü, he was unexpectedly greeted by 3,000 fans at the airport and scenes of mass hysteria.
Formerly England’s first-choice striker next to Michael Owen, Vassell’s career in the Premier League had ground to a halt with Manchester City and he was fleeing to Turkey to restart it.
But, sadly for Vassell it never happened for him, with only four goals from 22 games, while off the pitch he wrote about his deep unhappiness in an unusually honest blog.
The blog detailed Vassell’s loneliness, his struggle to settle in Turkey, his shock at being evicted from his hotel when Ankaragücü failed to pay his bills, and his pursuit of unpaid wages.
Vassell never played in the Premier League again. He returned to England in October 2010 to play in the Championship with Leicester City, but has not kicked a football since rupturing his cruciate ligament a year later. Still only 32, he is currently without a club.
The Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho has expressed his frustration at Luka Modric's inconsistency this season.
For four years, Luka Modric was feted as one of the Premier League’s leading players, but since earning what should have been a career-defining move to Real Madrid last summer, he has become the forgotten man of European football.
The Croatian playmaker was signed by the reigning Spanish champions for £25 million from Tottenham Hotspur, but he has only started half their games in La Liga and managed just one goal this season.
Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho has bemoaned Modric's inability to play consistently in consecutive games, while the Madrid fans have apparently lost all patience with him and overwhelmingly voted him the worst signing of the season.
Modric has admitted he struggling to impose himself on games. "This is Real Madrid. I understand there is great pressure for new signings to succeed. I'm not making excuses, I am not that kind of person, but it is very challenging to adapt to life at a big club like Madrid. I have had a few good performances, if not in every game, but I believe that I can prove I have something to offer."