Mancini At Leicester, Hierro At Bolton And Other Superstar Moves That Time Forgot

For years you watch a legend on TV and it's clear that he's a cut above the two-bit outfit you support. The next thing you know he's signed for your club and he's not actually all that. Then, as soon as it began, it's over and you're never sure whether it actually happened. Meet the ‘Did They Really Play In England?’ XI...
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For years you watch a legend on TV and it's clear that he's a cut above the two-bit outfit you support. The next thing you know he's signed for your club and he's not actually all that. Then, as soon as it began, it's over and you're never sure whether it actually happened. Meet the ‘Did They Really Play In England?’ XI...

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Goalkeeper: Andreas Isaksson – Manchester City [2006-2008 – 20 appearances, 0 goals]

The big Swede has been his nation’s first choice goalkeeper for the best part of a decade, appearing in four major tournaments and amassing a century of caps. Despite consistently being linked with big clubs and spending two years at Juventus as Gigi Buffon’s understudy, Isaksson’s club career has been relatively forgettable. His two years with the Manchester City number one shirt were especially mediocre: a series of injuries limited him to twenty appearances, the most memorable of which was the 8-1 defeat to Middlesbrough on the final day of the 2007-08 season.

Right-back: Michael Reiziger – Middlesbrough [2004-2005 – 29 appearances, 1 goal]

One of the most powerful defenders of the 1990s, Reiziger starred for Ajax, Barcelona and the Dutch national team as Louis van Gaal’s wonderful generation of future stars took Europe by storm. Although his career was sadly disrupted by injuries, he quickly became prominent as the archetypal modern full-back and won every available club trophy bar the Cup Winner’s Cup. After leaving Camp Nou, he pitched up on Teesside for one last pay day but his year at the Riverside was totally unremarkable and he returned to the Netherlands with PSV on summer deadline day in 2005.

Centre-back: Gerard Piqué – Manchester United [2004-2008 – 23 appearances, 2 goals]

Since re-joining Barcelona in 2008, ‘Piquénbauer’ has been on a mission to become the world’s most decorated footballer. Winning seventeen trophies in those five years saw him become one of the world’s most renowned defenders and, of course, he attained a similar level of off-field fame due to his relationship with Colombian pop star Shakira. Before all that, he spent four years at Old Trafford, passing the time by watching Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić from the bench. Last year, Sir Alex Ferguson said that of all the centre-backs he lost during that time, he most regrets the departure of Ryan Shawcross. Right.

Centre-back: Fernando Hierro – Bolton Wanderers [2004-2005 – 29 appearances, 1 goal]

Arguably the last of the great liberos, the Real Madrid and Spain legend lit up the 1990s with dominating and prolific displays for club and country. In his heyday he scored twenty-six goals in one season and by the end of his Madrid career he had played over 600 times for the club. What happened next is considerably less memorable. He spent a year in Qatar before a swansong at the Reebok Stadium. When reminded of this, I had to look it up to make sure that it actually happened. It says everything about Sam Allardyce that he had one of the greatest players of his era at his disposal and yet the defining image of that Bolton side will always be Kevin Davies elbowing people.

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Left-back: Marco Materazzi – Everton [1998-1999 – 32 appearances, 2 goals]

To say Materazzi’s only season at Goodison Park did not go especially well is putting it kindly: he received four red cards, developed a persecution complex and hotfooted it home to Perugia, presumably never to be heard from again. It was not so: ‘The Matrix’, as he was known to his teammates in Italy, went on to enjoy a phenomenally successful decade with Internazionale and shot to global fame during the 2006 World Cup Final, first conceding a penalty, then scoring Italy’s equaliser and finally finding himself on the receiving end of the most famous headbutt of all time.

Anchorman: Didier Deschamps – Chelsea [1999-2000 – 47 appearances, 1 goal]

Another 1990s hero, Deschamps won the Champions League with Marseille, was the heartbeat of an all-conquering Juventus side and, in captaining France to the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 titles, became the first man to lift the trophies successively. Although Éric Cantona famously described him as derogatively as “the water carrier”, Deschamps’ ability to do the dirty work was a significant reason why his sides succeeded so spectacularly. Of little note, however, was the season he spent in West London. Arriving aged only thirty, he carried water for colleagues of a lower standard to that he was used to and consequently made absolutely no impression.

Midfielder: Hidetoshi Nakata – Bolton Wanderers [2005-2006 – 32 appearances, 1 goal]

Football's first Asian megastar and a huge talent in his own right, Nakata was as highly rated as he was heavily marketed at the turn of the last century. Having impressed in Japan’s otherwise dismal showing at the 1998 World Cup, he moved to Italy with Perugia and went on to win Serie A with Roma in the 2000-2001 season. A move to Parma followed, where he won the Coppa Italia in his first season. Arguably, his most memorable moment came on home soil in the 2002 World Cup, scoring against Tunisia in the Group Stage to send a feverish home support wild. Three years later, he signed a loan deal for Bolton and nothing much happened after that. He retired at the end of that season, presumably sickened by the aforementioned prominence of Kevin Davies’ flailing arms.

Midfielder: Roberto Mancini – Leicester City [2001 – 5 appearances, 0 goals]

One of the most celebrated trequartistas of Serie A’s halcyon days, Mancini at his best was truly a sight to behold: always with a trick up his sleeve and usually one that was jaw-droppingly aesthetically pleasing. What happened to that player to turn him into this type of manager I can only speculate, but playing under Peter Taylor at Leicester may have had something to do with it. Yes, Peter Taylor really did manage Roberto Mancini: it’s best if you try not to think about it too much. Anyway, Mancini’s spell in England was not especially long: a month after joining, he was granted leave ‘for personal reasons’. Accepting the Fiorentina job in his homeland, he never returned to Filbert Street and the whole affair was almost immediately forgotten.

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Forward: George Weah – Chelsea [1999-2000 – 15 appearances, 5 goals]/Manchester City [2000 – 9 appearances, 4 goals]

Forever to be associated with Milan due to his success with the Rossoneri – and also for scoring that goal against Verona – Weah was the top scorer in the 1994-1995 Champions League and became the first African to win the Ballon d’Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year later that year. A true global phenomenon, the Liberian blazed a trail for African footballers in Europe and has devoted himself to politics and humanitarian causes since retiring. He too had a short spell in England at the tail end of his career, notable only for the tidal wave of disappointment that swept the nation when it became clear that he wasn’t really that interested. More than a decade on, most Chelsea/Manchester City fans have forgotten that he ever turned out for them.

Forward: Patrick Kluivert – Newcastle United [2004-2005 – 37 appearances, 13 goals]

Like his compatriot Reiziger, Kluivert burst onto the scene with Louis van Gaal’s Champions League-winning Ajax side and quickly established himself as the ideal modern striker: tall and strong but also quick and technical, with an eye not only for goal but for a killer pass or a decoy run that would allow a teammate to score. Given that skill-set, it was only natural that he spent the majority of his career at Barcelona. Although Barça only won a single league title during his six years at the club, Kluivert’s performances made him as one of Europe’s most feared marksmen and Sir Alex Ferguson tried to sign him on more than one occasion. At Newcastle, however, he was patently unmotivated and only interested in collecting a Premier League paycheque. At the end of his first season on Tyneside, both sides agreed that it would be best if he left as quickly and as quietly as possible.

Forward: Davor Šuker – Arsenal [1999-2000 – 39 appearances, 11 goals]/West Ham United [2000-2001 – 13 appearances, 3 goals]

It says a lot about Šuker that he is remembered fondly by almost everyone who grew up while he was playing. During the last era when international tournaments revealed talents that viewers had never before seen, he scored three goals at Euro 96 – including a frankly ridiculous chip over Peter Schmeichel – and went on to win the Golden Boot at the 1998 World Cup. All the while, Šuker was filling his boots in La Liga, first for Sevilla and then for Real Madrid – and winning the Champions League with the latter. His arrival at Highbury was cause for excitement, but, despite his scoring record looking fairly respectable now, the sense of melancholy after most of his performances was palpable. A second season in English football followed with West Ham, but he rarely started and moved to Germany in November 2001.

The ‘Did They Really Play In England?’ XI

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Due to the nature of this eleven there are almost certainly several stars that had spells in England that I have totally forgotten about. Remind me of them in the comments below.

Follow Rob on Twitter: @robbro7