20 Players Who Need to Play in a New League
Every now and again, when watching a Europa League game, an Eredivisie encounter between PSV and Ajax or simply reading through the gossip pages of the national newspapers or popular websites, it seems it is always possible to identify players who should be playing elsewhere.
Be they young players whose star is rising or perhaps older players who decided to follow the money in a weaker league rather than tough it out at the top for another season or two, there are certainly players playing in leagues not fit for their talent or stature.
So in no particular order, here are 20 players I think should be playing in a new league.
Jermain Defoe, Toronto FC
I said in no particular order, but I had to start with this one as I think most football fans would agree that England international Jermain Defoe left the Premier League too soon to join ambitious MLS outfit Toronto FC.
Although now 31, the livewire striker was pivotal to the revival of Tottenham Hotspur over the last few years, and it came as a surprise to many when he was deemed surplus to requirements at White Hart Lane earlier this year.
Defoe immediately proved his quality with three goals in two games before injury struck in his third game, and depending on the severity of it, if Defoe keeps up his current strike rate, he will have to come back into the thinking of England manager Roy Hodgson ahead of this summer’s World Cup.
Viktor Fischer, Ajax
The Danish winger made his Ajax debut as a 17-year-old in 2012 and has impressed with his confidence and maturity, primarily on the left wing.
Now 19, Fischer has become a mainstay in manager Frank de Boer’s line-up and has already broken into the senior Danish national set-up having shone in the underage divisions for his country, particularly at U-17 level where he netted 20 times in 30 games.
It seems that if he continues his current trajectory, one of Europe’s top sides will be knocking on Ajax’s door to secure his services.
Ryan Gauld, Dundee United
Every now and again, there are rumblings from Scotland about the "New Kenny Dalglish" or the "New Graeme Souness." However, 18-year-old Gauld has been dubbed the "Scottish Messi" or "Baby Messi" after some mesmerising displays for Dundee United.
After making his debut in 2012, the attacking midfielder has impressed with his eye for a pass, dribbling ability and composure on the ball.
Standing 5'5", and with an assured poise on the ball, it is easy to see why he has been likened to the talismanic Messi, and a move to a bigger club or more demanding league would surely help maximise this talented player’s progress.
Leandro Damiao, Santos
The Brazilian striker came to international prominence after impressing as top scorer at the 2012 Olympics in London with six goals in five games as Brazil claimed the silver medal.
Long associated with a move to Tottenham Hotspur, he had been touted for a lucrative move to Europe for many months before finally completing his switch to Santos in January from Porto Alegre outfit Internacional.
However, with his 25th birthday on the horizon in July, it would appear he is running out of time if he is to secure a move to one of Europe’s top leagues.
Four names? Four legends of the modern era? Four, essentially, one-club men? Bear with me, please.
While all four are firmly established as legendary figures at their respective clubs, it is fair to say that all four are nearing the end of what have been spectacularly successful careers.
So what now for this quartet? My wish, and hope, would be that one or more of these icons would cross the Atlantic for one final challenge in the MLS and assume the role vacated by David Beckham in terms of promotion and marketing for a league whose star is very much on the rise.
Could it happen? Why not?
Ganso, Sao Paulo
The tall Brazilian midfielder has been on the radar of many of Europe’s top clubs for some time now after an impressive breakthrough year with Santos in 2009.
Another couple of impressive seasons followed before the now-24-year-old playmaker made the controversial switch to close rivals Sao Paulo in 2012.
He has continued to impress, and many believe his vision, technique and composure would lend itself to a higher level.
Wesley Sneijder, Galatasaray
The Dutch midfielder was deservedly regarded as one of the world’s best when he led Jose Mourinho’s unfancied Inter Milan to an unheralded treble in 2010.
Sneijder played a pivotal role in Inter’s domestic league and cup double and a stunning UEFA Champions League victory over Bayern Munich to confirm his place amongst the game’s modern greats.
He followed that up with several man-of-the-match awards and scored five goals as the Netherlands marched to the final of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
However, contractual issues saw him lose his place at Inter, and he was eventually sold for just over £6 million to Turkish giants Galatasaray in 2013. It is hard to believe that Sneijder did not have more to offer one of Europe’s more fashionable clubs, in a more competitive league, if the right offer had been made.
He turns 30 in June, so maybe there is still time for one last hurrah for the former Ajax and Real Madrid man.
Hulk, Zenit St Petersburg
The aptly-named powerful Brazilian winger is another of those in-demand players, like Sneijder, who was linked with most of Europe’s top clubs before ultimately signing for a relatively unfashionable side.
The former Porto attacker averaged more than a goal every two games for the Portuguese powerhouse to attract the attention of the likes of Chelsea back in 2012.
However, after much ado, Zenit announced his signing in September of that year to end the possibility of any switch to one of the four main European leagues, but at 27, you’d imagine there may be at least one more transfer in his future.
Stefan Medina, Atletico Nacional
Young South American defenders rarely catch the eye, but Colombia’s Stefan Medina has been earning rave reviews for some mature displays for his side Atletico Nacional.
Medina has been compared to Colombian legend Andres Escobar for his clean and efficient tackling, while there are also flashes of David Luiz from a man who plays mainly in the centre of defence but has also played right-back and right-wing.
Still only 21, he has already played for the national side, and it seems inevitable that he will not remain in his native country for too much longer.
Sardar Azmoun, Rubin Kazan
Iranian teenager Azmoun has come to the attention of Arsenal and AC Milan in recent weeks, and it is surely only a matter of time before he moves on from struggling Kazan.
The 19-year-old striker may have only scored three goals in 10 appearances this season, but he has shown enough quality in a short space of time to suggest his future lies away from the Russian League.
John Souttar, Dundee United
What’s this? Another Dundee United player on the list? There aren’t too many players plying their trade in the Scottish Premier League that you could identify as "world class" or even "one for the future."
However, while Ryan Gauld has been attracting praise in United’s attack, 17-year-old Souttar has excelled in defence with a maturity beyond his tender years.
He is the youngest United player ever, and at 6'1", he is perfectly built to cope with the demands of the modern game. A move south, perhaps alongside Gauld, is sure to follow.
Damien Duff/Richard Dunne, Fulham/QPR
For purely selfish and patriotic reasons, I would like to suggest that two or more of Ireland’s finest exports should return to the land of their birth for a season or two before gracefully retiring in peace.
As a follower of the League of Ireland all my life, it amazes me how few of the players who have forged successful careers in the UK return home to enjoy another year or two at a decent level before hanging up their boots for good.
Dubliners Damien Duff and Richard Dunne have reportedly talked about the possibility of playing for an Irish club, and I think the boost it would give the league as a whole makes the prospect a very exciting one for all football fans in the Emerald Isle.
Leandro Paredes, Boca Juniors
Although the Argentine is currently on loan with Italian Serie A side Chievo, the 19-year-old attacking midfielder’s contract still lies with Boca Juniors.
He has yet to play for the Verona-based side, but his performances for Boca since making his debut in November 2010 have earmarked him as a star of the future.
If he can make an impression in Serie A, a permanent move to Europe will surely result.
Burak Yilmaz, Galatasaray
The Turkish striker has played his entire career in his native land and is at his seventh club since his move to Galatasaray from Trabzonspor in 2012.
An impressive 58 goals in 77 appearances for Trabs prompted his £4.1million move, and the goals and honours have continued to come at his current club.
None more so than in 2012/13 when he set the Champions League alight with six goals, including a winner against Manchester United, as he firmly announced his arrival at the top table of European football.
Despite rumours of interest from around Europe, the 28-year-old is still banging in the goals for the Istanbul giants.
Douglas Costa, Shakhtar Donetsk
Douglas is one of a small army of Brazilians impressing at the Ukrainian giants, making well over 100 appearances for the club since his £4.5 million transfer from Gremio in 2010.
The attacking midfielder has been instrumental in Shakhtar's domestic dominance as they claimed the double in each of the last three seasons.
The 23-year-old left-footer is best employed coming from deep, preferably on the wing, and possesses a devastating shot, especially from free-kicks.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, Anderlecht
The Serbian striker was the Belgian club’s record signing when he joined from Partizan Belgrade last year for £4.1 million.
The 6'2.5" frontman hit the ground running for his new club while the 19-year-old also scored his first goal for the national side in a 1-1 draw with Croatia in September.
Anderlecht have been praised for the wealth of talent they have developed over the last few years, and it seems Mitrovic may be the next gem they have uncovered.
Yet another young Brazilian to make the list, Leandro burst on to the scene in 2011 with Brazilian club Gremio before going out on loan to Sao Paulo giants Palmeiras in 2013, where he has impressed with a goal every two games.
The 20-year-old also made his international bow in 2013, and if he continues to find the net with his current regularity, then he is sure to catch the eye of European suitors.
Ezequiel Garay, Benfica
Argentinian international centre-back Garay has been on the radar of many of Europe’s top clubs after stellar performances for the Lisbon giants both at home and in Europe.
Despite failing to make the grade in three seasons at Real Madrid, the stylish 27-year-old has matured into a top defender since joining Benfica in 2011.
Manchester United and Tottenham are just two of the clubs rumoured to be looking at Garay, and there is no doubt his talents would fit in well in the Premier League. Expect to see some movement this summer.
Luke Shaw, Southampton
Of the current crop of young English talent coming through, the composed, attack-minded Shaw is perhaps best equipped to make the transition to a more technical league such as La Liga or Serie A.
While the 18-year-old is being courted by England’s top sides, Real Madrid are also interested in the marauding left-back according to Darren Lewis of the Daily Mirror, and it will come as no surprise if he succeeds on foreign soil.
English players are often criticised for their lack of adventure in terms of playing abroad, but perhaps Shaw and maybe even the likes of Jack Wilshere or Raheem Sterling might take up the challenge elsewhere in the future.
Carlos Tevez, Juventus
Last but certainly not least, I’m going to include a certain Carlos Tevez on this list for one simple reason: homesickness.
The former West Ham United, Manchester United and Manchester City forward has been a mercurial figure at every club he has played for, but it seems he has longed to return to his Argentinian homeland almost since the day he arrived in England.
Certainly Manchester was not a city that endeared itself to Tevez, when he admitted to Argentinian talk show host Susana Gimenez, per the Daily Mirror, that "I don’t even leave my house. When my contract ends I will not return to Manchester ever – not even on holiday."