There are few things in football better than a good redemption story. It’s what everybody loves to see: a player working his way through adversity to prove his worth and become club hero.
So, with that in mind, here are 10 players who came back from career no-man’s land to establish themselves as important players for their clubs.
1. Victor Moses
Such the forgotten man was Moses at Chelsea that many people were surprised to see the Nigerian wide man was still at Stamford Bridge this season.
However, after coming through loan spells with Liverpool, Stoke and West Ham, the 25-year-old has seemingly finally lasted long enough at the Bridge to play under a manager who ‘gets’ him.
The former Crystal Palace star has played in 11 Premier League games this season, scoring twice and prompting Jamie Redknapp to tip the 2013 African Cup of Nations winner for an England call up.
Might be a bit late for that one, Jamie.
2. Juan Mata
Juan Mata may go down as one of the Premier League’s all-time best midfielders, but despite winning two FA Cups, the Champions League and both the World Cup and European Championships across an illustrious career, the playmaker has never really had it smooth.
Despite winning club Player of the Year, Mata was forced out of Chelsea under a cloud by manager Jose Mourinho, who seemingly didn’t believe the Spaniard could fit into his system, only for the two to be reunited at Manchester United a few seasons later.
While many expected history to repeat itself, ‘John Kills’ has proved an integral part of Mourinho’s United side and has scored three (including the opener in the 1-1 draw with Arsenal) so far this season.
Since 2011, no midfielder has been involved in more goals than Juan.
3. Francis Coquelin
The 25-year-old has built a solid reputation as Arsene Wenger’s enforcer, despite being written off in the early stages of his career by none other than Sir Alex Ferguson.
On page 304 of the ex-United boss’ weighty autobiography, Fergie dismissed the French midfielder as “a young boy completely out of his depth” in the infamous 8-2 mauling of 2011.
While Coquelin remained on the periphery of the Gunners’ first team for two years after the traumatic encounter, he eventually earned his way back into Wenger’s first team plans.
After impressing on-loan at Charlton Athletic, and with Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta both suffering injuries, the tough-tackling holding midfielder was recalled and has barely looked back, racking up over 100 appearances and winning the FA Cup with the North Londoners.
4. Chris Smalling
Smalling’s £10m move to Old Trafford from Fulham caught more than a few off-guard back in 2010.
The lanky centre back did little to convince the doubters in his first few seasons either, with performances that failed to reach sufficient whelm levels.
It had seemed peak-disappointment had been reached in 2014, when Smalling was sent off in the Manchester derby defeat, with even his manager Louis van Gaal describing his actions as ‘stupid.’
However, five months later the former Maidstone United man came back to score in the 4-2 victory of United’s city rivals to all but complete his redemption, and his been one of few mainstays on the Red Devils’ team sheet ever since.
5. Jordan Henderson
The Liverpool skipper wasn’t always loved on Merseyside.
Prior to his near-total dominance of Opta stats, Hendo was something of a figure interchanging fun and disgust among fans when he signed from Sunderland in 2011.
In fact, so out-of-favour was the midfielder that he was offered as a makeweight in the Reds’ fruitless pursuit of Clint Dempsey, only a year after arriving at Anfield.
Since then, the 26-year-old has gone from strength to strength to become captain and is flourishing under Jurgen Klopp, as part of an all-action midfield.
6. Troy Deeney
Deeney has had, shall we say, an unconventional trajectory to the top.
The Birmingham-born forward, who spent time in prison in 2012, didn’t bother turning up for every day of a trial with Aston Villa as a teenager because he “knew there was a game on the last day”. He also reportedly played another trial for Walsall while drunk.
The Watford player serves as one of the great case studies for how transformative football can be on one’s life.
He didn’t immediately click after signing on at the Hornets, scoring just twice in his first season. However, over the last six seasons the powerful striker’s goals have helped propel the North London club into the Premier League, while his 13 strikes last season kept them there and generated plenty of England call-up talk.
7. David de Gea
It’s hard to imagine a time when the Manchester United keeper wasn’t fantastic, but that’s the way it was when he arrived from Atletico Madrid five years ago, as the long-term replacement for retiring legend Edwin van der Sar.
The young De Gea was initially deemed too weak for the rigours of the Premier League and was even kept out of side (briefly) by Anders Lindegaard. Remember him?
After acclimatising to England, ‘Dave the Save’ firmly established himself as one of the best goalkeepers around and is widely credited as Manchester United’s saving grace in the post Ferguson years.
8. Heurelho Gomes
Another much-maligned keeper, Gomes never really got the redemption he wanted at Tottenham but proved his doubters wrong after heading a little further north.
Outcasted at Spurs, first at the expense of 40-year-old Brad Friedel, and then again by Hugo Lloris, the Brazilian sought his fortunes at Watford instead, who also seemed cautious of the erratic stopper’s abilities giving him just a one-year deal.
Gomes was a near-ever-present as the Hornets won promotion to the Premier League and, after signing a three-year extension, has made 30 saves and kept three clean sheets so far this campaign.
9. Gareth Bale
If you’d have told anyone back in 2009 that Gareth Bale would go on to break the world transfer record, you might have been institutionalised.
The left back-cum-winger was being linked with Liverpool and (more amazingly) Birmingham for £3m and regularly described in the media as a ‘flop’, after going through a frankly bizarre 24-game winless streak with Spurs.
This rest of this paragraph almost goes without saying, so I’ll just give you the stats:
£85.3m – transfer fee to Real Madrid
£350,000 per week – contract
65 in 138 – goals in all competitions for Real
2 Champions Leagues
2 FIFA World Club Cups
10. Yaya Toure..?
Could Yaya be the next man to complete a sensational turnaround from zero to hero at his club?
After being frozen out in a highly-publicised spat with Pep Guardiola, the Ivorian returned to action for the Manchester City first-team and scored twice to see off Crystal Palace 2-1.
Keep him happy and he could be a vital player for the Citizens, just don’t forget his birthday!