It isn’t unusual anymore to see the biggest names in European football feature in unknown teams in Qatar, Japan or even the United States (yes, the MLS is an insignificant dot compared to European Football) for a major cash injection to their bank account. Yet it’s still a widely criticized phenomenon as football fans still find it hard to understand why the football players of the modern era prefer money over a respectful retirement at their home club or a last attempt at some trophies. So, we decided to make an article featuring the most famous players who are currently playing in one of these, how shall we put it, less significant leagues.
David Beckham, LA Galaxy, MLS
So what can we say about David Beckham? Well, one aspect of his rich career is his trophy cabinet, containing 6 Premier League titles, 1 Champions League trophy and 1 La Liga title just to name a few, giving the impression Beckham made the most out of his career, right? wrong! Although making over 250 appearances for Man Utd, over 100 for Real Madrid and over 100 caps for England is an incredible feat, the guy with the deadly Free kicks and corners, experienced a failure in the star filled Madrid (in a general look compared to the first expectations), became an unpopular person in England for a long period of time following the 1998 World Cup game against Argentina where he was sent off (he later redeemed himself with his last minute equalizer against Greece in 2001) and is the symbol (to many) of the popularity contest football has become these days, gaining tons of fame and success for his good looks and marketability, surpassing his soccer skills. Beckham has been playing for he LA Galaxy, some say to promote his movie/commercials career in Hollywood, with moderate success as he seems to be primarily a publicity tool for the Americans to raise the local attention towards Football. Last season Beckham helped the Galaxy reach the MLS Cup final and recently signed another loan move to AC Milan, for the 2nd time. If Beckham got the bounce back ability of his former mentor, Alex Feruson, we should see him helping Milan in Serie A, the Champions League and regain a place in Fabio Cappello’s squad for the World Cup in South Africa, Beckham’s main goal in his Milan move.
Juninho Pernambucano Al Gharafa, Qatar
This Brazilian midfielder made himself a household name for every European Football fan for his trademark free kicks, often dubbed as “the man who makes every Free Kick a Penalty”. The 34 year old Juninho moved to Qatar after an 8 season spell at Lyon, in which he won an amazing 7 straight Ligue 1 titles, scoring 44 goals from free kicks (out of 100 goals in 344 appearances for the club and he scored a record 17 goals in European competitions as well) and helping Lyon become a powerhouse in European football. Juninho won with Vasco de Gama one Libertadores Cup and two Brazilian Championships. Speculations are suggesting that Juninho will retire the end of this season. With 40 caps for the Selecao and many trophies in his cabinet, he can hang up his boots quietly and see his last season in professional football, bringing him mega bucks.
Robbie Fowler, North Queensland Fury, Australia
Back in the mid 90’s Fowler was maybe the best striker in the Premiership, as he led Liverpool’s attack in the spice boys era. From then on he moved to Leeds, Man City, Cardiff City and up until February of last season, Blackburn (the only club in his career that he didn’t score for). It seemed as if his playing career hit rock bottom as he moved to North Queensland Fury, one of the newest outfits in the Australian League. However Fowler, the fourth highest goalscorer in the history of the Premier League, has been the first captain in the club’s history and has scored 9 goals this season thus far. Although he is not as fast as he was in his heydays at Liverpool and Leeds, Robbie manages to cope with the pace of the A-League due to his naturally lethal instincts in the box. The Premier League title will be heavily missed in Fowler’s trophy cabinet, but with almost 30 caps for England and more than 350 appearances in England’s top flight, he can retire comfortably in the land down under.
Claudio Lopez, Kansas City Wizards, USA
El Piojo, who was one of the biggest names in Europe in the end of the 90’s and early 00’s, hasn’t been playing in Europe since he left Lazio in 2004 but his dribbling skills pace and finishing are still vividly remembered in the Mestalla and the Olimpico. After a two year tenure at Mexico with Club America, in which he won his only league championship with any team and CONCACF Champions’ cup, Lopez returned to the club who made him famous, Racing Club. In his second period at the club Lopez became sort of a supersub, scoring crucial goals in several games in 2007-2008. Many thought he would retire at Racing but he moved to Kansas City Wizards where he has played over 50 games and will be starting his third season for the club in March, maybe his last.
Freddie Ljungberg, Seattle Sounders, MLS
Although Arsenal aren’t doing too bad these days, Wenger would certainly be happy to have his Swedish gem back on his side, with his early 2000’s form. With a glorious career behind him, which included almost 250 games for Arsenal, two League titles, 3 FA Cups and 75 caps for the Swedish national team, Ljungberg decided to take advantage of his star profile and sign a two year contract which will bring him 10 million dollars. Many people were surprised as Ljungberg joined the Seattle Sounders in November 2008 for the 2009 season, as he was linked to many European clubs throughout the summer. After one season in the MLS, helping Seattle reach 4th place in the league and after proving he is capable of competing with European clubs in friendlies against Everton and Chelsea, Freddie will maybe return to England or Sweden for an honorable retirement after he cashes in his paycheck in the US. But as he said in his latest interview in August for The Seattle Times, Ljungberg is enjoying the privacy and quiet life in America, a thing which may see him finish his career in the MLS where he is considered a PR star a-la David Beckham, on a smaller scale.
Mido, El Zamalek, Egypt
Did Mido make the right decision when he returned to his home club, El Zamalek on a one year loan deal? Maybe, as the other option was to play for the recently relegated Middlesbrough in the Championship and this could be a cleansing experience after a couple of bad seasons in English football. Anyhow, it’s a strange decision the 26 year old striker made as he is in his footballing prime years and is surely not looking at an early retirement. Mido was considered one of the most exciting young prospects in European football after impressing in Gent and later in Ajax where he co starred alongside Swedish superstar, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. However, Injuries, instability and adaptation problems caused the striker to move to many clubs including Marseille, Roma, Celta Vigo, Tottenham, Middlesbrough and Wigan. Although Mido showed his class at Tottenham in 2006 (finishing second highest goalscorer for the club that season) and Marseille in 2004 (helping the club reach the UEFA Cup Final), he dint seem to fulfill his potential to the fullest. Despite the fact that Mido won the African Nations Cup in 2006 and a double with Ajax in 2002, he didn’t reach the heights he was expected to achieve which can be shown in his recent failure with the Egyptian national team to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa or his deterioration from the English Premier League to the Egyptian Premier League where he has scored only one goal in 11 games for Zamalek who are currently in 5th place. With his loan deal to Zamalek about to finish in the summer Mido can have another try at repairing his dwindling status in European football, as he returns to the Riverside.
Rivaldo, Bunyodkor, Uzbekistan
Probably the player who went the furthest (not by miles by relatively footballing level) in this article, Rivaldo made it all the way to the Uzbek champions from Tashkent mainly because of the 5.5 million Euro a year he is received. 2002 Was a crucial year for Rivaldo, as he left Barcelona after the return of Louis Van Gaal to Barca and joined Milan during the 2002 World Cup which Brazil won, with Rivaldo playing a major part throughout the tournament. Although Rivaldo won the Italian Cup and the Champions League with Milan in 2003 his part was very minor due to injury problems. After Milan, Rivaldo started a successful period at Olympiacos where he helped the club win two league doubles in 2005 and 2006 plus another championship in his final season for the team from Piraeus in 2007. After several declarations of leaving Europe Rivaldo decided to make a surprise move to AEK and spent the 2007-2008 season with the club with mediocre success. In the summer of 2008 Bunyodkor from Uzbekistan managed to sign Rivaldo along with Brazilian legend Zico, as manager. In his first season Rivaldo won the league and cup double and was the league top scorer. In the summer of 2009, after Zico moved to CSKA Moscow,RIvaldo joined forces with his Manager of the Brazilian national team in 2002, Luiz Filipe Scolari (his 13 million euro a year paycheck makes him the highest paid football manager in the world). Although Rivaldo is 37 years old, and has certainly reached almost every height a footballer can reach, the former FIFA World Player of the year and European player of the year in 1999, deserves a better stage to show his trademark football skills that once dazzled the whole footballing world.