11 great international players who couldn't hack it in the Premier League

Kevin Stewart

Diego Forlan

Forlan retired from international football in 2015 as Uruguay’s second most-capped player of all time (112) and their third highest all-time scorer (36 goals). He was the 2010 World Cup’s joint-top marksman with five goals, and was presented with the Golden Ball award as the tournament’s best player – yet he couldn’t perform at anything close to that standard in the Premier League.

Forlan signed for Manchester United from Argentina’s Independiente as a promising 22-year-old in 2002. He spent just over two-and-a-half years at Old Trafford, but in 63 Premier League games managed just 10 goals – and his first top-flight net-rippler didn’t come until his 24th appearance.


What makes his unsuccessful stint in England so surprising is that he scored regularly in every other country where he played: Argentina, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Japan, Uruguay and India (where he still plays now for Mumbai City at the ripe old age of 37). A simple case of arriving too early? 

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Manchester City paid Real Madrid £32.5m for the Brazilian superstar in 2008, but he struggled to justify his monumental fee or replicate the form that has helped him earn 100 caps, score 28 goals and appear at two World Cups for the Seleção.

In 41 Premier League games for the club, he scored just 14 times – all of which came in his first, promising season of 2008/09. He didn’t last a full second season, though, falling down the pecking order after injury and subsequently being loaned to first club Santos in the second half of the campaign.


“I started well, but unfortunately there weren’t as many great names as there are these days,” the Brazilian lamented to FourFourTwo recently. “Manchester City are the only side I’ve left without winning a title.”

He’s now 33 and plays for Atletico Mineiro back in his home country, but he’s still involved with the Brazilian national side having plundered 12 goals in the 2016 Brazilian Serie A campaign.

Andriy Shevchenko

The word ‘legend’ is thrown around a lot these days, especially in football, but Shevchenko is one player who earned that tag. The Ukrainian icon is his country’s highest-scoring player of all time (48 goals) and earned the second-highest number of caps (111). He won the Champions League with Milan and only one player has ever scored more than him for the Italian giants.

In 2006, he joined Chelsea for £30.8m from Milan. Even for a Ballon d'Or winner of Shevchenko’s stature, that was an enormous fee back then – and it proved to be a massive overpayment.

He scored just nine goals in 48 Premier League appearances and was such a flop that he was deemed surplus to requirements and loaned back to Milan for the entirety of the 2008/09 season. He returned to first club Dynamo Kiev on a permanent basis in 2009, where he regained the goalscoring form that saw Milan purchase him from there in the first place.


Shevchenko retired in 2012 as one of European football’s greatest strikers. His colossal failure to shine at Chelsea will forever remain one of the Premier League’s – and indeed football’s – biggest mysteries. He's now manager of Ukraine. 

Sergei Rebrov

Only three men have ever scored more goals for Dynamo Kiev than Shevchenko – and one of them was the other half of the iconic strike partnership Shevchenko helped formed.

Rebrov also performed excellently for the Ukrainian national team alongside Sheva, scoring 15 goals in 75 appearances as the more prolific striker’s support man. Yet he was a complete flop for Spurs and West Ham in the Premier League.

Rebrov signed on at White Hart Lane in 2000 at a cost of £11m, but he only scored 10 times in 59 games over the course of two seasons. He was loaned out to Fenerbahce during his time in north London and ultimately left the club on a free transfer to sign for then-Championship West Ham (record: 27 league appearances, one goal).

He finished his career at Rubin Kazan in Russia in 2009 and the 42-years-old now bosses the side he's most associated with in Dynamo Kiev.

Bryan Ruiz

Ruiz is a Costa Rican footballing icon with 97 caps to his name and 22 international goals. He is his country’s current international captain and his performances have been fantastic everywhere he’s played – Costa Rica, Belgium, the Netherlands and Portugal. Apart from England, that is.

Ruiz signed for Premier League club Fulham for an undisclosed fee in August 2011. He played in 97 Premier League games, but only managed to find the net 12 times and was loaned out to PSV in January 2014, having found playing time hard to come by at Craven Cottage. Eventually he was sold to Sporting in July 2015.

At the age of 31, he still plays in Lisbon and remains an integral part of the Costa Rican national side as their highly experienced captain.

Tomas Brolin

Brolin is, without a doubt, one of the worst Premier League imports since its inception – which is pretty strange, because he was actually a brilliant player who was fantastic at international level and one of the best players in the world between 1990 and 1994.

The Swede burst onto the world scene as an 18-year-old, scoring against Brazil at the 1990 World Cup – duly earning himself a move to Serie A with Parma – and going on to score 27 goals in 47 caps for his country. He starred at the 1994 World Cup as Sweden got to the semi-finals – and yet his spells at both Leeds and Crystal Palace were abysmal.


Leeds signed Brolin for £4.5 million in 1995, but he piled on the weight and couldn’t cope with the demands of England's top flight. He scored just four times in 20 Premier League appearances and was shipped out on loan twice – to FC Zurich and back to Parma – before being released on a free transfer. Brolin then signed for Palace, where he failed to score at all in 13 top-flight appearances.

Now 47, he retired in 1998 after one memorable appearance – as a goalkeeper – back in Sweden for hometown club Hudiksvalls ABK.

Roque Junior

We arrive at the only World Cup winner on this list – and he comes in the form of Brazil’s Roque Junior. The big centre-back played every minute of the 2002 World Cup Final victory over Germany, and signed for Leeds on a year-long loan from Milan in September 2003 having won the Champions League with the Italian side only four months earlier.

Naturally, his arrival was greeted warmly by the Leeds faithful. He was, however, absolute garbage. Junior was sent off on his debut against Birmingham and the club conceded a shocking 19 goals in his five Premier League appearances.

Roque Junior
Roque Junior

Unsurprisingly, relegated Leeds didn’t make the loan permanent and the Brazilian went back to Milan, where he was quickly shipped out on loan again to Siena. He became a bit of a journeyman and retired in 2010 after a brief spell in his home nation with Ituano FC – the club he now manages (under club president Juninho) at the age of 40.

Jon Dahl Tomasson

Not many people had heard of the 20-year-old Tomasson when he signed for Newcastle United in 1997, but the Dane had already enjoyed three increasingly prolific seasons in the Netherlands with Heerenveen, the club for whom he scored 37 goals in 78 Eredivisie appearances.

He had made his debut for Denmark four months before his £2.2m arrival in England and seemed a highly promising prospect. Tomasson ultimately turned out to be just that – but he didn't show it during his time in the Premier League. In his one season at St. James’ Park, the young striker scored just three goals in 23 top-flight appearances and was sold to Feyenoord back in the Netherlands.

Jon Dahl Tomasson
Jon Dahl Tomasson

Tomasson went on to make his mark in Italy with Milan – where he won the 2002/03 Champions League – in Germany with Stuttgart, and in Spain with Villarreal. He earned 112 international caps and scored 52 international goals, making him the joint top-scorer and third most-capped player in Denmark’s history. Now 40, he has embarked on a coaching career and is currently his national team’s assistant manager.

Jozy Altidore

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Altidore is the success he’s had at international level. What’s less of a surprise is the spectacular level of failure he endured in the Premier League.

Altidore’s first regrettable Premier League spell came in the 2009/10 season, when he joined Hull on loan from Villarreal. He scored just once in 28 top-flight games – but could be forgiven, as he was only a teenager in a poor side at the time.

Jozy Altidore
Jozy Altidore

When he signed for Sunderland for £6.5m in July 2013, though, after a prolific spell at AZ in the Netherlands (39 goals in 67 Eredivisie games), a lot more was expected of him. Again he managed just one league net-rippler in 42 appearances, and swiftly swapped places with Jermain Defoe a year-and-a-half later.

Altidore has scored 37 goals for the United States in 102 caps, making him the country’s third-highest scorer ever, and has found his level in MLS, where the 27-year-old still plies his trade with the Canadian side. Twenty-nine goals in 54 league games suggests it's probably best he stays put. 

Juan Sebastian Veron

Veron was already a superstar when Manchester United signed him from Lazio in 2001 (which is probably why he cost the club £28.1m – a British transfer record at the time). He had played club football in his native Argentina, Brazil and for two different Italian clubs – and he’d been a full international for five years.

Things weren't so successful for him in England, though. The midfielder spent two seasons at Old Trafford – playing 51 league games and finding the back of the net seven times – but rarely looked like the player Alex Ferguson thought he was signing, despite the Scot's vociferous protestations

David Beckham
David Beckham

Chelsea took a chance on him for a cut-price £15m, but his spell at Stamford Bridge was even less successful. He played just seven times in the Premier League for the Blues and was loaned out to both Inter and first club Estudiantes during his time in west London. 

It's pretty remarkable considering he shone in Serie A and earned 73 caps in a fine international career for Argentina (including a 2010 resurgence under Diego Maradona). Veron is now 40 and recently came out of retirement to play for Estudiantes again; he initially quit football in 2014, but fulfilled a promise to return if the club sold enough executive boxes.

Radamel Falcao

Radamel Falcao’s scoring record throughout his career – both at club and international level – has been nothing short of phenomenal. He’s netted regularly in the top divisions in Argentina, Portugal, Spain and France. He’s also Colombia’s joint all-time top-scorer with 25 goals in 64 caps – but he simply couldn’t cut it during two separate loan spells in the Premier League.


Falcao joined Manchester United from Monaco in 2014, costing the Red Devils £6m despite only joining on loan. After an injury-ravaged season at Monaco he managed a meagre four goals in 26 league appearances.

United didn’t want to make the deal permanent, but Chelsea took him on loan in the hope that El Tigre would rediscover his touch. He didn't; in fact his record was even worse: he mustered just one goal in 10 league games.

Now 31, he’s back at parent club Monaco and scoring regularly again. Falcao is still an integral part of the Colombian national team and will surely go on to become his country’s outright top-scorer of all-time.

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