TT’s top five: Stars who left the major leagues too early

Date published: Tuesday 12th July 2016 9:04

Following Graziano Pelle’s big-money move to China, TEAMtalk recalls five other stars who perhaps left Europe’s major leagues a little too soon. 

David Beckham

David Beckham LA Galaxy 2007

Beckham was just 31 when it was announced in January 2007 that he was to leave Europe for LA Galaxy. It was always anticipated that Beckham would move across the Atlantic, but not quite so soon.

The former Manchester United midfielder was not enjoying a positive season when the MLS deal was confirmed. Fabio Capello appeared reluctant to trust the megastar and Vicente Calderon said Beckham was “going to Hollywood to be half a film star”. As always, Beckham swiftly forced both to re-evaluate those views.

Capello took a month to go back on a pledge that Beckham had played his final game for Real, and the right-midfielder capped a stunning turnaround by helping the club to pip Barcelona to the Primera Division title on the final day of the season. Real then tried and failed to put a stop to Beckham’s Galaxy move as they realised too late that the England skipper still had much to offer.

He proved that in two loan spells with AC Milan, who wanted to make his temporary return to Europe a more permanent arrangement. Carlo Ancelotti said: “On the pitch, Beckham sees everything before everyone else. His vision of play is better now than during his time in Manchester.”

An Achilles injury put paid to Beckham’s hopes of featuring at the 2010 World Cup but he recovered to lead the Galaxy to successive MLS Cup titles before rounding off a stellar career with half a season a Ligue 1 title with PSG.




No one can say Hulk left the major leagues too early because he’s never played in one – none of the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1 or the Bundesliga, at least.

His exploits for Porto, domestically and in European competition, stand up to scrutiny, though, with a goal record as a impressive as his thighs.

The Brazil striker left the Portuguese giants after four full seasons, during which he netted 89 goals in 165 games. Instead of joining one of Europe’s Premier sides, with Chelsea heavily linked, Hulk took the money on offer at Zenit St Petersburg, where he overcame a rocky start to score 79 goals in 144 matches.

Hulk lasted four seasons in Russia, and given his Champions League form and the fact he remains on the right side of 30 years of age, he still had plenty of options this summer. Once again, however, Hulk received an offer he couldn’t refuse from China, where he will earn more than £270,000 a week at Shanghai SIPG. The likelihood now of the forward ever realising the potential many thought he had seems remote at best.


Samuel Eto’o

Samuel Eto'o

Unlike Hulk, Eto’o proved himself at the highest club level by scoring goals for fun in La Liga for Barcelona and Serie A for Inter Milan. The Cameroon striker became the first player to win consecutive Trebles, first for Barca in 2009 then at Inter a year later.

The following season, even allowing for Rafael Benitez’s disastrous attempt at replacing Jose Mourinho, Eto’o’s fine form continued. The forward scored 37 goals – his highest personal tally – while also contributing the most assists.

Such form led Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala to make Eto’o, then just turned 30 years old, an offer he obviously couldn’t refuse. The striker signed a three-year contract that would see him earn 20million euros per season after tax.

Anzhi’s cash dried up after two years during which time much of his pace did too. The then-32-year-old Eto’o joined Chelsea, where he still had it in him to net nine goals in 21 Premier League appearances. Underwhelming seasons at Everton and Sampdoria followed, but the two years in Dagestan could have been far better spent, even if the riches on offer were too good to resist.


David Villa

David Villa NYCFC

The Spain striker announced in 2014 that he was leaving Atletico Madrid for “an irresistible project” and you can understand the lure of being NYCFC’s star player in the inaugural season in MLS. But the feeling remains that Villa still had much to offer in Europe.

Then 32, Villa walked away from Atletico Madrid with a title winner’s medal in his pocket after helping Rojiblancos take the Primera Division title by scoring 13 goals in 36 appearances in his one and only season at the Vicente Calderon.

In a poor NYCFC side, Villa notched 18 goals in 29 games for a side who failed to reach the play-offs in their debut MLS campaign. That form has continued this season, with 12 goals in 18 matches taking his team to the top of the Eastern Conference.




The Brazilian midfielder left Chelsea in January after winning every trophy on offer during his five full seasons at Stamford Bridge.

Ramires was a favourite of Mourinho so the manager’s sacking was bad news for the industrious midfielder. Guus Hiddink wasn’t quite as convinced so when a £25million offered from Jiangsu Suning, the Blues were happy to accept.

Ramires was only 28 years old when he headed to China so, perhaps like Pelle, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see the Brazilain back in Europe when he has trousered a fortune before he goes too far beyond the age of 30.


Any players not on this list you’d feel should have been considered? Let us know, below

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