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10 Big-Name Football Players on Teams You Can't Watch

Tony MabertContributor ISeptember 20, 2011

10 Big-Name Football Players on Teams You Can't Watch

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    These days it is possible to watch almost any football game you want anywhere in the world. Fixtures in the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and the other top European leagues attract big audiences across the globe, while club matches in Brazil and Argentina are also available on cable. You may also be able to stream certain games online.

    However, there are still plenty of championships around the world which are very difficult to follow live, if at all, unless you're in the region. This is a shame, because there is a great deal of talent to watch in some of the world's less traditional football powerhouses.

Samuel Eto'o (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia)

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    The Cameroonian superstar's move to Russia this summer certainly raised a few eyebrows, not just because of his chosen destination but also due to the eye-watering contract he signed.

    Most people had not even heard of the North Caucasus region of Dagestan a few months ago, but Anzhi's capture of Eto'o has certainly put it on the map. That was the exact intention of billionaire oligarch Suleiman Kerimov when he sanctioned the signing of the three-time Champions League winner from Inter Milan for £22 million and a deal worth around £18 million a year. That's £18 million after tax, by the way, a salary that easily dwarfs those of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. It was sure enough to tempt the 30-year-old striker away from the top of the European football tree.

    Eto'o, who has other well-known teammates at Anzhi—former Chelsea midfielder Yuri Zhirkov and Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos—has his career in Russia off to a good start, scoring twice in his first two games for the club.

    This player is quite an investment for the war-torn region of Cameroon, especially considering that the squad lives and trains in Moscow and makes a 1,500-mile round trip for each home game. However, if Eto'o is the first of several global star signings for the club, then we may see Eto'o back in the Champions League soon.

Asamoah Gyan (Al-Ain, United Arab Emirates)

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    Things looked rosy at the start of the season for Sunderland. Manager Steve Bruce had used the capital raised from the £20 million sale of midfielder Jordan Henderson to make several decent signings in every area of the pitch. Bruce was looking to build on the club's strong start to the last campaign and avoid a repeat of the woeful post-Christmas run which saw them dragged to the periphery of the relegation battle.

    A deadline day rumour that star striker Asamoah Gyan could be on his way out never came to fruition, and the Black Cats made it to September with their record signing still on the books. But 10 days later they were suddenly robbed of the Ghanaian national when he upped sticks and moved to the United Arab Emirates on a season-long loan to Al-Ain.

    Bruce criticised the player for "having his head turned" by his advisors,. They forced the move through and secured their client a lucrative contract and a £6 million payout to Sunderland, a world record for a loan deal.

    Gyan has since tried to justify his decision to leave, saying: "I did not have any problem with Steve Bruce. He is a great coach and he has always supported me. People say I moved because of money. You need to be happy, although I'm not saying I wasn't happy at Sunderland or I wasn't happy in the Premier League. I had to decide with my family and everything and they were alright with my decision so I had to just move."

    The downside is that Premier League audiences all over the world are denied a further chance to see the 25 year old in action on a weekly basis, at least until next season, but most likely forever. 

Mohamed Aboutrika (Al-Ahly, Egypt)

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    The Egyptian forward has often been described as African football's biggest secret. He's a mercurial, elegant attacker who has thrived in his homeland and abroad representing his country but has never made the leap into the big leagues of Europe.

    What hasn't the 32-year-old Aboutrika ever left Egypt to see if he could be as big a fish in a larger pond?

    Maybe it's because he did not take his professional football career seriously until he had finished his degree in philosophy. Perhaps clubs in the Premier League, Serie A and the Bundesliga et al. were put off taking a punt on a player from Egypt; Egyptians Hossam Ghaly, Amr Zaki and Mohamed Zidan all moved north across the Mediterranean with wildly inconsistent results. Or it could just be that Aboutrika was simply loyal to his own country, and the Egyptian Pound signs did not flash in his eyes when he learned of foreign interest.

    Whatever the reason, the wider football world has lost out on the chance to see the skillful and clinically effective number 10 go to work on a regular basis over the past decade. 

    Instead, the rest of us will have to make do with those glorious assists which led to two African Cup of Nations titles and wins over Brazil and Italy in the 2009 Confederations Cup, while those with regular access to the Egyptian Premier League get to keep him all to themselves. 

Fredrik Ljungberg (Shimizu S-Pulse, Japan)

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    No longer the name to strike fear into the hearts of European defences that he once was, the Swede remains firmly in the hearts and minds of many a football fan for his goal-scoring exploits over almost a decade for Arsenal.

    "Freddie" picked up two Premier League titles and three FA Cups during his nine years in North London, and attracted as much attention for his flamboyant hairdos and catwalk appearances as he did for scoring at a rate of a goal every four games for the Gunners.

    Arsene Wenger's pathological fear of retaining players in their 30s led Ljungberg, who had been suffering injury problems with increasing regularity, to move across town to spend a disinterested season at West Ham, before moving on to the MLS for stints with Seattle Sounders and the Chicago Fire.

    A short-term contract at Celtic in the first half of 2011 was a wholly unforgettable return to British football, and his chiselled good looks are now driving them wild in the J-League.

Guti (Besiktas, Turkey)

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    The very definition of a misunderstood maverick, Jose Maria Gutierrez Hernandez never received the credit he deserved for his glorious years of service at Real Madrid. 

    Having come through their youth system, Guti went on to play over 500 games for Real, winning La Liga five times and the Champions League on three occasions. As a creative midfielder he was a sublime provider at the Bernabeu, and when called upon to be a makeshift striker one season he scored a more than respectable 14 goals in 32 league games.

    But for all that, he missed out on the universal acclaim of so many of his contemporaries and only earned 14 caps for his country.

    In 2010, after 15 years as a professional at his only club, Guti had to leave as Florentino Perez's "Galacticos II" project clicked into gear. That summer he headed east for Turkey and Besiktas as his old pal Raul headed north for Schalke. Both players achieved in their first seasons abroad something they never managed at Real; they each won the domestic cup competitions of their new nations.

    While Turkey is certainly no footballing backwater, the Super Lig has never caught the attentions of the wider viewing public; they missed out on seeing Guti's Indian summer playing alongside the hugely talented trio of Simao Sabrosa, Ricardo Quaresma and Hugo Almeida.

Felipe Melo (Galatasaray, Turkey)

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    Another Turkish club which boasts its fair share of international talent is Besiktas' bitter Istanbul rivals, Galatasaray. This summer, Gala brought in the likes of the sporadically brilliant Johan Elmander and defensive hardnut Tomas Ujfalusi  to bolster their squad of homegrown stars and European misfits. They even have Fernando Muslera, goalkeeper for the international team of 2011, Uruguay.

    The term misfit is one that could so easily have been coined specifically for Felipe Melo. The Brazilian midfielder once enjoyed a burgeoning reputation as a no-nonsense midfield enforcer, to the point where he was was on the verge of a move to Arsenal before then employers Fiorentina priced him out of the market.

    For once, Arsene Wenger was right not to get the chequebook out and pay the asking price, because Melo's career has been an entrancing rollercoaster ever since.

    Having already played for three clubs each in Brazil and Spain before moving to Florence, Melo joined Juventus and contributed to the Bianconeri's lowest ebb with a series of captivatingly erratic performances. Melo blows so hot and cold it's a wonder he hasn't developed hypothermia, for he veers from dominating one match to bumbling around the next to getting himself sent off for random acts of violence in another.

    His nadir came at the 2010 World Cup when, in the quarter-final game against the Netherlands, he scored an own goal before seeing a red card for stamping on Arjen Robben. A year later, Juve shipped him out on loan to Galatasaray.

    Melo may have a blotted copybook, but somewhere in that midfield maelstrom is a player of real potential, even at the age of 28. Still, he is a Brazilian national who is, for better or worse, always fun to watch, a pleasure now largely the exclusive preserve of those in Turkey.

Younus Mahmoud (Al-Wakrah, Qatar)

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    Scoring the winning goal in any final is special; it's an unforgettable moment for that player, his team-mates and their fans. When Younus Mahmoud rose at the far post to head home the only goal of the 2007 Asian Cup final against Saudi Arabia in Jakarta, it was a hugely symbolic moment. For Mahmoud scored that goal as the captain of Iraq, giving the Lions of Mesopotamia the trophy they deserved and lifting the spirits of those watching back in their war-torn homeland.

    He finished as the joint-top scorer of that tournament and was linked to several European clubs including Manchester City, who at the time was still owned by Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Perhaps he did not fancy the idea of moving into the employ of one despot, having spent his life living under the rule of another, because he chose to pursue his career in the Middle East.

    A tall striker standing a 6-foot-1, Younus has scored goals at an alarming rate wherever he has gone in his home country, Abu Dhabi and Qatar. This year, he left Al-Gharafa for Qatari rivals Al-Wakra, having scored a monstrous 71 goals in 88 league games.  

Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow, Russia)

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    Considering he hasn't made the move to one of Europe's biggest clubs, the vast majority of those itching to catch a glimpse of this Japanese playmaker have to satisfy themselves with compilations online. Still, unlike his fellow Russian Premier League star Eto'o, at least fans can see Honda dazzle in the Champions League.

    Well, they would usually, except that the 25 year old has just been ruled out for three months with a knee injury sustained in the Moscow derby against Spartak. He is likely to miss at least half of CSKA's group-stage campaign.

    The injury is a real loss to the UEFA competition, because Honda has been one of the most coveted Asian footballers for years now. A more cultured touch and the ability to strike a dead ball has rarely been seen among the footballers of the world's largest continent.

    A move to Italy seemed a possibility during the summer transfer window, especially considering he shined at last year's World Cup and at this year's Asian Cup, which the Blue Samurai won for a record fourth time. 

David Trezeguet (Bani Yas, United Arab Emirates)

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    It may feel as though he has been around forever, but the man who scored the golden goal in France's  Euro 2000 win is still just 33.

    The striker spent an eventful decade at Juventus, winning Serie A twice and then sticking with them when they were relegated down a division as a result of the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal.

    Although he still managed 28 goals in 63 Serie A appearances in his final three years at the club once they had won back promotion to the top flight, many fans wrote him off as a has-been. As such, he was released from his contract.

    Despite interest from myriad clubs, Trezeguet made the surprise choice of moving to lowly Hercules, just promoted to La Liga and hailing from Alicante, the city of his wife's birth. Perhaps those home comforts were apparent in the fact that only the final two of his 12 goals for the club that year came in away games. Trezeguet did not score in the famous 2-0 away win against Barcelona, but he was as much a key component of that victory as strike partner Nelson Valdez.

    However, Trezeguet could not stop  Hercules from being relegated, and he shunned interest from clubs including Celtic, New York Red Bulls and Aston Villa to move to the UAE for one final, lucrative hurrah that will be seen by just a few of those who enjoyed watching the rest of his career.

Enzo Zidane (Real Madrid, Spain)

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    When your father was a top footballer, it is fair to say that there will be a lot of pressure on your shoulders should you choose to follow him into the family business. Pity the likes of Jordi Cruyff, Paul Dalglish and Stephen Clemence, who all failed to live up their dads' reputations.

    But when papa was one of the greatest players ever to set foot on to a pitch, that pressure in tenfold, especially when he is the sporting director of the same club as your academy. 

    This is the situation in which Enzo Zidane, son of Zinedine, finds himself.  The 16 year old has come through the youth ranks at Real Madrid, and recently trained with the main squad for the first time.

    An impressed Jose Callejon said: "I thought he did very well. For a player who is 16 this is an important development. The homegrown have to realize they have a great opportunity, they have to offer hundred percent to the coach and I give him my congratulations. Enzo has a few things of his father, such as control and dribbling."

    For the time being, however, the only way to see just how close young Enzo will come to emulating big Zizou is via a few obsessively crafted montages on YouTube or by watching the club's official television station to see him in action for the youth team. And who, in all honesty, is going to bother doing that?

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