Andriy Shevchenko: A great player who never adapted to English football.
When trying to think of Premier League players who would adapt better to playing elsewhere, the temptation is to go for those at Arsenal or Swansea. Both of these clubs are known for replicating the “Spanish way” of possession-based play and quick inter-changing triangles moving the ball around at speed—a far cry from the methods employed at Stoke City or West Ham.
In some respects, it appears easier to choose a group of foreign-based players who would suit the Premier League, due to the way that the EPL incorporates styles brought from all around the world, depending on which teams you look at.
There are a large number of players who were a success elsewhere and flopped in England (Shevchenko, Veron, Robinho anyone?), but most of those have already moved on. In this we will look at five players who are still playing in England’s top division, but may find that the grass is greener on the other side of Channel.
Berbatov has scored plenty of goals in England, but would he have done better playing a slower game?
Dimitar Berbatov (who bizarrely lost out on Bulgaria’s Player of the Year 2011 award to then Prime Minister Boyko Borisov) could not be accused of lacking goals since arriving at Tottenham Hotspur from Bayer Leverkusen in 2006, but his languid style often comes under criticism.
Both at Spurs and then Manchester United he turned in impressive goal tallies, including sharing the 2011 Premier League Golden Boot on 20 goals, but, especially at United, often found the dynamic to be beyond him.
Now at Fulham he is the star player, a role that not even the Golden Boot could give him at United, and has 13 goals in 25 appearances.
One of the most composed men on the ball I have ever seen, with a natural technique to match, Berbatov would perhaps benefit from a spell in Spain or Portugal.
The deft flicks and delicate touch would be suited to La Liga teams’ tendency to hold up on the opponent’s 18-yard line, waiting for a gap to thread the ball through. His relaxed style of play (which has actually got more vigorous since signing for Fulham) would also fit in to the pass and move system; he has never been the 40-yard ball chaser type of player.
His size and strength would also give him an advantage over the generally slighter opponents found in La Liga.
Eyes on the ball: Giroud has performed consistently just under par since arriving at Arsenal.
Giroud, who arrived at Arsenal in the summer from Montpellier, has not really reached the standards set by his predecessor, one Robin van Persie. And by really, I mean has not gotten anywhere near.
In French Ligue 1, which is seeing the start of a renaissance with Paris Saint-Germain but still far from the quality of the EPL, La Liga or Bundesliga, Giroud scored a commendable 39 goals in 86 appearances.
That form (about 1:2.2) has in a way carried through, with the Frenchman notching 10 for Arsenal in 30 appearances as well as four assists, but Arsene Wenger will not yet be at the point of making peace with the loss of Van Persie.
One of Giroud’s main assets appears to be his height, with seven of his 18 club and country goals for the season coming from headers, but it seems that in the rough-and-tumble of the Premier League, he is muscled off the ball too easily.
That, or he gets under the cross and sends it irritatingly over. One thing is for certain; good headers of the ball are not in short supply in the English game.
Of course he is improving, but there will probably not be sufficient development to persuade Wenger that he doesn’t need to buy a quality striker this summer, at which point Giroud’s appearances may start to dwindle.
My advice would be for him to go back to France, where he is far more suited to the game and the level it is played at. Excepting Ibrahimovich, of course.
Torres during a rare highlight of his Chelsea career.
How the mighty have fallen. While admittedly a little overrated, there is no denying that a combination of pace, confidence and intelligence made El Nino one of the most feared strikers in the Premier League for two years, scoring 29 league goals in the 2007-08 season). Of course, having the genius of Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard at his prime behind you wouldn’t hurt.
And that is what I believe sparked the beginning of Torres’ demise—the departure of Alonso to Real Madrid in 2009. Whilst still scoring, he didn’t have the verve of the his previous seasons, and this drop in confidence was compounded by the pressure of a £50 million transfer to Chelsea in January 2011.
A run of 14 games before his first Chelsea goal--which was received rather tongue-in-cheek by the fans—didn’t help, and he has since become known as one of the biggest wastes of money in football history.
Perhaps a trip back to Spain, particularly the club where he made his name, Atletico Madrid, might get him back on track. Considering it has been at least three years since he was playing like the Torres of old, a change of scenery could be the only remaining solution.
One aspect of his game Torres has struggled with since moving to Chelsea is the speed at which he makes decisions; over in Spain, where they play at a slower tempo could be where he finds his rebirth. More than that, he could get away from the pressure of being “Torres the £50 million flop,” which would surely only benefit him.
Garcia has found himself on the periphery in east Manchester.
Javi Garcia should know that he was simply a knee-jerk signing after Manchester City failed to entice Daniele De Rossi from AS Roma. Even if he doesn’t, he has certainly been playing like one.
In his 19 appearances for City since arriving from Benfica last summer, Garcia has failed to control the game or even have a bearing on it.
Often caught dwelling on the ball and not exactly possessing the vision of Paul Scholes, his strength appears to be in the air, but that is too little and not often enough.
He has also found it hard to hold a first-team place—however, when considering that this is Manchester City and he has Milner, Barry, Toure and Rodwell to contend with, it is a) not surprising, and b) even harder to comprehend why he went there in the first place.
But the biggest problem has to be the time taken getting the ball out from his feet. Getting caught in possession may not matter too much in Spain or Portugal, but in England it can often cost you the game. That, and Garcia doesn’t seem to be quite up for it—at Benfica, I believe he was at the right place.
The Belgian international has had a drop in form since 2012.
During the 2011-12 season, it looked as though Thomas Vermaelen was becoming the real deal. Commanding and composed at the back; strong tackler; he was turning into the next Nemanja Vidic, and was rewarded in the close season with the Arsenal captaincy.
Sadly, whether it was the new responsibility or something else, he hasn’t replicated those performances since.
Despite his ability when going forward and being one of the more diverse players in the Arsenal back line, able to also play at left-back, the Belgian international has been missing.
Having Per Mertesacker partnering you would put undue pressure on anybody, but Vermaelen has let his form slip so far that he is finding himself second-choice behind Laurent Koscielny.
When looking at Arsenal’s defence, the flaws are so deep that it is hard to identify any one player whose absence would help matters, and Vermaelen is not a bad player. However, it seems his susceptibility on the turn would not be as easily exploited in France or Italy, or even Spain.
Vermaelen’s problem is that he is rarely on the half-turn when the ball is played in behind him; rather, he is rooted facing up the pitch, and therefore has yards to make up on strikers who are generally faster than him.
Perhaps on foreign soil with less emphasis on slide-rule passes, he will find himself backtracking less.