25 Players Who Will Reignite Their Careers This Season
Football is a fickle mistress in that one can go from hero to zero in a matter of weeks with the world watching and, form permitting, any superstar is susceptible to swiftly fading into obscurity.
Clubs and players alike are preparing themselves for the 2014-15 campaign, with the stage set to see as many underdogs rise back from the murky depths as there will be top talents falling.
Whether due to an injury stunting their progress, tactics under a previous regime not suiting their style or a club's surroundings not being to their liking, we've compiled a list of 25 players poised to shoot back into the limelight.
For a re-ignition to occur, those players included must of course have been of star status at some point in the past, so it's no surprise that youngsters don't number greatly in our countdown.
It's also debatable as to how far one must stumble in his career for a revival to be deemed plausible, and in this case, we're looking at candidates who for varying periods of time—mainly a season or more—haven't lived up to previous standards by a big margin.
Instead, this is a list of those who have enjoyed great fame in the past, but for one reason or another fell away, only to receive another great chance at turning their fortunes around this term.
Roman Shirokov, Spartak Moscow
After making more than 200 appearances for the Russian giants in a six-year spell, Russia captain Roman Shirokov parted ways with Zenit St. Petersburg this summer.
Instead, the national team's figurehead will line up against his old side with Spartak Moscow, having spent part of last season on loan at Krasnodar.
The arrival of foreign assets and injury both played a part in the midfielder's departure from Andre Villas-Boas' side, but Shirokov can still be supreme leader and a smart capture by Spartak.
Stevan Jovetic, Manchester City
A persisting hamstring injury meant that Stevan Jovetic's first season at the Etihad Stadium wasn't the rousing success he might have wanted, but early indications are that the 2014-15 campaign will be far brighter.
The Montenegrin moved from Fiorentina only to score three goals in his first 13 Premier League appearances under Manuel Pellegrini, hardly the hallmark of a man who cost in excess of £20 million.
Now fit again, Jovetic has netted five goals in his last four games for City—including braces against Milan and Liverpool—signalling that more prolific days are to come.
Long gone is the time when Diego was considered a genuine threat on selection for Brazil, but that doesn't mean that all hope is lost for Diego at the elite level.
The attacking midfielder has been something of a mystery in recent years, playing for a stellar cast of clubs throughout the years, including Santos, Porto, Werder Bremen, Juventus, Wolfsburg, Atletico Madrid and now Fenerbahce.
The Football Front shows a glimpse of what the playmaker is capable of:
Why Diego will be loved at Fenerbahce: https://t.co/0ThuCl7GXw— The Football Front (@ReviewFootball) July 9, 2014
Granted, Turkey may not be up the same standards as La Liga, Serie A or the Bundesliga, but the Super Lig has proven a viable re-launching pad for other stars entering their latter years, and the 29-year-old may yet claim star credentials with the domestic giants.
1. Bojan, Stoke City
Once seen as the jewel of a generation among La Masia graduates, the career path of Bojan Krkic thus far is perhaps one of the greatest good stories gone bad at the Camp Nou in recent years.
Still just 23 years of age, the attacker has endured difficult times with Roma, Milan and Ajax over the past three years, and Stoke City now become his fourth employers in as many years.
A cynic would say that the Potters are liable to become no more than the most recent owners of a glitzy sports car with nothing left under the hood, but a romanticist may yet hold hope for a talent whose future once looked so bright.
Having scored three goals in his first four games for the English outfit, Bojan will team up alongside another promising, new asset at the Britannia Stadium Mame Biram Diouf, and fireworks could indeed be the end product.
2. Thomas Vermaelen, Barcelona
It became official last week that Barcelona were the fortunate winners of the race to sign out-of-favour Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen.
Although some may question the £15 million fee reported by BBC Sport considering that he had just a year left on his Gunners contract, the only factors Vermaelen controls lie on the pitch.
Despite slipping behind Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker in the Emirates Stadium pecking order, the Belgian international can still be a useful asset for Barca, whose main concerns at present are known to sit in defence.
There, Vermaelen can continue to offer a versatile presence at left-back or centre-back, and La Blaugrana's possession-based game will make for a simple transition to Catalan country.
Surrounded by players who will alleviate the pressures that may have in the past left him in desperate scenarios, Vermaelen can hope to produce at his best once again in Spain, provided that he evades injury.
3. Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Bayer Leverkusen
It's always a mystery as to whether or not a player can recover from serious knee injuries to return to their former best, and the story is no different for Kyriakos Papadopoulos.
Having played just six games in total throughout the 2013-14 season, the centre-back now heads to Bayer Leverkusen on a season-long loan, where the Factory Squad will either see a starlet regain his previous best—or something less.
It's a fine line that Papadopoulos treads, but considering that the Greek international has, prior to his injuries, been looked upon as one of Europe's brightest defensive prospects, Roger Schmidt may have a very valuable short-term deal on his hands.
4. Demba Ba, Besiktas
Last season was a difficult time to be a striker at Stamford Bridge, but perhaps for none more so than former Chelsea man Demba Ba, now enjoying life under the Turkish sun.
Besiktas sewed up a £4.7 million move for the ex-Newcastle United, West Ham and Hoffenheim marvel earlier this summer, and already the Senegalese forward is writing his name in the club's history books.
Ba's first start for Besiktas—his second competitive appearance overall—came in the second leg of their Champions League-qualification tie against Feyenoord, where the forward rewarded Slaven Bilic's faith with a quick hat-trick of gratitude.
Besiktas won the fixture 3-1 and will now play Arsenal for a place in this season's elite European competition, and however hopeless that may appear, Ba is at least putting the thoughts of being left in the Chelsea cold firmly behind him.
5. Gary Medel, Inter
Gary Medel's own standards didn't necessarily slip during a sole season at Cardiff City, but the relegation campaign did equate to a tremendous sacrifice in aspirations on his part.
While former club Sevilla were busy winning the Europa League, Medel endured a difficult time in the Premier League, but a £10 million switch to Inter means that things are now back on track.
The Chilean is of an elite calibre among anchoring midfielders and deserves to be competing for the kind of prizes that his talent indicates, which can most certainly be the case at the San Siro, a cathedral more deserving of his presence.
As aforementioned, Medel's own displays in the Welsh capital weren't lacklustre—in fact far from it—but in moving to the Serie A giants, he's now back among the kind of company that will bring him closer to the silverware competition he's capable of.
6. Luuk De Jong, PSV
Eredivisie strikers continue to pose a sometimes-bemusing barometer of Holland's strength, with Luuk de Jong one of the latest examples of a native Dutch star who didn't quite cut it once exported elsewhere.
During the 2011-12 season—De Jong's last with FC Twente—the striker bagged 25 goals and nine assists in 31 league appearances, per Transfermarkt.
Since moving to Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer of 2014, spending the latter half of the 2013-14 term on loan with Newcastle, the 23-year-old has scored just 14 goals and made seven assists in 57 games.
Now back in his homeland with PSV, De Jong can hope to sparkle as part of an outfit that will ensure chances aren't short on supply, with a lesser quality of defence in front of him.
At one point, it looked as though the youngster might have been a future front-man for the Dutch national team.
That dream can still be realised should he manage to regain his confidence in front of goal.
7. Iago Aspas, Sevilla
The old adage goes that "home is where the heart is," and Iago Aspas has as much reason to return to a more familiar setting as any, having struggled to cope in Liverpool.
His first season outside of Spain meant that he hardly featured as part of the Reds' rampant run to second in the Premier League, making just six starts in all competitions.
In a bid to find what it was that made him such a valuable acquisition from Celta Vigo last summer, the Spaniard has joined Sevilla for a season.
The temporary switch gives Aspas a happy medium in terms of first-team hopes alongside title aspirations, and the forward will have better luck showcasing a set of skills he knows are adapted to La Liga during his time in Seville.
8. Jack Rodwell, Sunderland
Having endured a tumultuous two years at the Etihad Stadium, Jack Rodwell's Manchester City nightmare has ended, and with Sunderland, he can hope to press the play button on his career, having been on pause for some time now.
Prior to his Citizens switch, it seemed as though the then-Everton midfielder had a world of prospects at his feet, future England fame beckoning and untold success ahead.
However, the stars in the City squad meant that Rodwell's route was blocked, a potential superstar seemingly lost as a result.
So unimpressed has the player been with his experience as a Manchester City player that when asked if young Englishmen should join the club, Rodwell was quoted by BBC Sport as saying the following:
I would weigh up your options and ask yourself if you want to be playing regularly. I would probably say, "Don't sign now; get as much football as you can." The first thing I'd ask is, "How good are you?" You just never know—you could go there, do really well and be winning league titles and everything.
But just because you're English and young, it doesn't mean you're not going to play for Manchester City.
However, Gus Poyet has seen fit to invest in the anchorman, and if his early progress as a Toffee was much to go by, Rodwell still has the mark of a star player about him.
It may take time for the Southport native to re-acclimatise, but entrusted with a brunt of engine-room duties, Rodwell can yet salvage something from what was once a meteoric trajectory.
9. Ibrahim Afellay, Olympiakos
A prevalent example of how recurring injuries can so easily change the face of a career, Ibrahim Afellay will see out the last year of his Barcelona contract on loan with Greek Super League champions Olympiakos.
It's a notion that would have seemed mad upon the Dutchman's 2011 move from PSV, when national-team honours were a more regular occurrence and plaudits were rolling at the forward's feet.
However, the one major positive of Afellay's switch is that he's guaranteed to get more chances in Piraeus after playing a miserably low 24 minutes of first-team football for Barca in 2013-14.
The 28-year-old's development in recent years has been ravaged by an assortment of serious injuries, even affecting his loan with Schalke in the 2012-13 season, which at times looked as though it would give Afellay the chances he so sorely needed.
If he can remain fit, Olympiakos have just picked up a potentially strong weapon whose speed and crossing ability has in the past proven to be of an elite level.
10. Ilkay Gundogan, Borussia Dortmund
Ilkay Gundogan's had close to a year out from the game, playing just three games last season while contending with a series of setbacks as a result of a spinal compression.
This time 12 months ago, the German international was one of the most sought-after young playmakers in Europe, and it's a testament to his skill that, even with concerns over his back, Borussia Dortmund have rewarded their starlet with a two-year contract extension.
Admittedly, that new deal will have in part been fuelled by a desire simply not to let Gundogan leave the club for free, but a superstar career path may yet lie ahead of the box-to-box presence.
Having recently returned to training with the Black and Yellows, Gundogan can hope to see his progress pick up where it left off, which could see him return to his throne as a highly valued Bundesliga asset.
11. Cristian Tello, Porto
In what could be a tremendously advantageous deal for all three parties involved, Cristian Tello recently joined Porto on a two-year loan deal from Barcelona.
The 23-year-old is held in some high regard within Camp Nou sects, but a wealth of world-class options on Luis Enrique's flanks means that he hasn't gotten the chances needed to prove his mettle.
Porto can offer that in a much more stable environment, and considering the Portuguese titans' record for improving the valuations of their players, Tello stands a fine chance of coming out of this stint with a better reputation than he has upon entering it.
With Jackson Martinez to aim at up front—for now, at least—and a raft of other quality resources playing alongside him, this may finally be the opportunity Tello has been yearning for to make the break so long expected of him.
12. Casemiro, Porto
And Porto have done magnificently to divide their loan purchases evenly between El Clasico contenders Barcelona and Real Madrid, taking Casemiro from the latter, except this deal being for a lone season only.
One could argue that the Brazilian doesn't have a genuine career to "reignite," per se, but it's easy to forget how revered the anchoring midfielder was as a Sao Paulo starlet.
After a temporary spell of six months among the Castilla ranks, Casemiro's move to the Bernabeu was made permanent, but again it's a case of more senior gems blocking his way under Carlo Ancelotti.
As is the case with the aforementioned Tello, Porto will give the 22-year-old a chance not only to rediscover the form that made him such a star in his native country, but to evolve and move beyond it, ready to fight for his place at Real in a year's time.
13. Ashley Young, Manchester United
It wasn't long ago that Ashley Young found himself on the receiving end of many a joke and jibe at Old Trafford thanks to his flagging form, but the arrival of Louis van Gaal has had a rejuvenating effect on the Englishman most of all.
Instead of being ousted from the Dutchman's setup, as many proposed, the former Aston Villa man has embraced the tactical change under Van Gaal, slotting in well as a wide option in the preferred 3-5-2 formation.
It may be too early to say whether or not the 29-year-old re-imagining as a wing-back will go on to yield results of a stellar standard, but the indication in pre-season is that an Old Trafford future at least awaits him.
And in a way, Young will be happy enough just to have the opportunity to prove himself once again.
14. Alessandro Matri, Genoa
Having never played outside of Italy, Alessandro Matri will line up for his eighth homeland club this season after agreeing to a one-season loan with Genoa.
It's been a strange couple of years for the five-time Italian international, leaving boyhood club Milan in 2007 only to eventually earn his way back to the San Siro six years later following stints with Cagliari and Juventus.
However, the second stint hasn't gone quite to plan either, and Matri spent the second half of last season farmed out to Fiorentina, netting five times in 30 Serie A outings during the 2013-14 term.
At 29 years of age, it isn't exactly do-or-die time just yet for the striker, but Genoa are a team more likely to cater their play around Matri, similar to how Luca Toni benefited greatly from a move to Hellas Verona in 2013.
15. Yann M'Vila, Inter
Without doing Rubin Kazan a disservice, the Russian Premier League has a habit of casting Europe's, and indeed the world's, most coveted stars out of view for the general public.
Confined in his eastern European setting, the former Rennes star now comes back to the continental centre stage on loan with Inter.
M'Vila is something of an oddity among this list in that his performances last season were still impressive, there were no serious injuries to speak of and playing time relatively easy to come across.
However, the world's attention will be so much more easily garnered in Italy, and the 24-year-old can now look forward to getting back to national-team matters after seeing an 18-month ban come to its end in June.
The aforementioned Medel, also a new arrival in Milan, will be alongside M'Vila as a very commendable anchoring partner, and Inter's transfer activity suggests that the club are recruiting faces of a Champions League level.
16. Guillermo Ochoa, Malaga
Guillermo Ochoa sits as a prime example of what an opportunity the World Cup offers in improving one's reputation.
At the tournament's beginning, his release from relegated Ligue 1 party Ajaccio was assured; by the end of proceedings in Brazil, he was one of the most coveted keeping prospects on the market.
Malaga ultimately won the hunt for his services, and after enduring an often-disappointing three-year term in France, a far more promising adventure now awaits in La Liga.
In his native Mexico, Ochoa had previously starred for national giants Club America, but his first European expedition wasn't the success story he might have envisioned.
In Andalusia, his hopes can be that much higher, and if his World Cup displays are genuinely anything to go by, he'll provide the Anchovies with a brick-wall presence where they need it most after Willy Caballero's move to Manchester City.
17. Jeremy Menez, Milan
After three years away from Serie A, Jeremy Menez returns to the Italian top flight, signing with Milan after his Paris Saint-Germain stay ended in an unceremonious manner.
Menez's first two seasons in the French capital saw him make at least 30 Ligue 1 appearances, but the arrival of yet more big-money names carved that figure in half last season.
At his Parisian peak, the 27-year-old has been good enough to tie down a regular spot in the French national team, and Milan's acquisition of the player is well-timed as he comes into what should be a prime portion of his career.
Filippo Inzaghi will still have competition for the winger, but the Rossoneri's system at least works to Menez's favour alongside other creative stars.
His stint in the Italian capital showed that Serie A can be a welcoming environment, and he can stage a first-team revival with the San Siro as his new abode.
18. Robinho, Santos
For the third time in his career, Robinho is heading back to the location where his star path first began following confirmation that a second loan to boyhood club Santos had been completed.
Inzaghi may not have plans for the Brazilian, who has at times struggled during his stay with Milan, but the emotional connection he shares with Santos is something that has coaxed out his best in the past.
Speaking to Santos' official website (h/t Goal.com), Robinho spoke of his sacred bond, saying the following:
Santos is my home. It's a place in which I feel really good. I hope to repay all of the fans' affection on the field.
The last time the 30-year-old recorded double-digit scoring figures at Milan came during the 2011-12 campaign, but at Santos, he's never had a season failing to accomplish that feat, even during his 2010 short-term loan from Manchester City.
19. Mario Gomez, Fiorentina
Life in Florence started out so brightly for Mario Gomez, but the lights of Serie A were quickly dimmed on the German as a flurry of knee issues saw his maiden season in Italy disrupted beyond repair.
Altogether, Gomez missed 40 games for La Viola, a particular disappointment after the player scored two goals and set up another in just his second league appearance under Vincenzo Montella.
This season, Fiorentina will again have ambitions to stage a raid on the top four, a realistic task with one of Europe's finest poaching presences under their command, provided that he's available for the run-in.
Gomez's finishing efficiency needs little introduction as being of a superb quality, and he'll return this term, more accustomed to his surroundings and prepared to make an even greater impact after so long out of the picture.
20. Jores Okore, Aston Villa
At £4 million, Jores Okore's 2013 arrival at Villa Park wasn't exactly a superstar signing, but his performance for FC Nordsjaelland in the 2012-13 Champions League highlighted what a beastly figure he could be.
However, his maiden campaign under Paul Lambert was quickly ruined after just three league games, with the news that the Dane had ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament and would miss the entire 2013-14 season.
Having just turned 22, Okore at least has time on his hands to see his rise get back on track, but his inclusion is still a relative risk when considering how difficult it will be for the player to regain his past strength straight away.
Speaking to BBC West Midlands 95.6 (h/t BBC Sport), Okore said the following:
It feels like my first season here, so I am going to be a bit nervous. I'm really happy, I can train fully now, and everything's good.
I was really disappointed, and it was unlucky to get inured for such a long time. I was playing well. Hopefully, I can get back to my old self and get even better and start again. I want to defend with my heart and be solid, powerful and aggressive.
With that kind of mentality and Ron Vlaar alongside him, reinvigorated by a terrific 2014 World Cup with the Netherlands, Villa may yet have a fearsome centre-back combination on their hands.
21. Erik Lamela, Tottenham
"Redemption" is the word on Erik Lamela's mind as he heads into his second season at White hart Lane, having failed to make much of an impact during his first.
The Argentinian arrived from Roma last season as one of the assets paid for by the £80 million sale of Gareth Bale but in no way lived up to his £30 million price tag as he struggled to adapt to the English top flight.
However, Mauricio Pochettino will look to succeed where Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood could not, and the Daily Mail's Sami Mokbel quotes the new Spurs boss in his assessment of the young maestro:
We know the Erik Lamela from Argentina and Italy. But he is still young, and the Premier League is the most difficult league to play—the style, the language. But after one year, we believe that Erik is ready to show his quality.
Will he play as a No 10 or out wide? It depends on the situation. My philosophy is to give a freer style with good organisation. But not only with Erik. With other players as well.
The former Southampton manager seems as good a bet as any other to get his countryman firing on all cylinders once again, and the results could be devastating if the kind of form showcased in Rome can be revived.
22. Holger Badstuber, Bayern Munich
At one point heralded as a future leader of the German defence, Holger Badstuber can finally resume his journey as a Bayern Munich star this season, but it's a risky road in front of him.
The centre-back/left-back played his first match since coming back in July, missing a period of just under 600 days thanks to cruciate-ligament damage suffered in late 2012.
Again, Badstuber is a risky selection when one considers how difficult it is to recover from such a severe injury, never mind re-summoning the quality of his past days.
However, the previously crocked star can still be a force with even a fraction of the talent displayed when he was last fully fit, and Pep Guardiola may yet get great results out of his returning stalwart this season.
23. Marco Van Ginkel, Chelsea
Speaking of injury comebacks, Marco van Ginkel makes his way back into Chelsea's first-team fold this summer as though the disappointments of 2013-14 never occurred, with fresh prospects on his horizon.
After sealing a move from the Blues' unofficial sister club Vitesse Arnhem last year, Van Ginkel was seen as a figure who might one day ease the blow of Frank Lampard's departure.
However, an injured anterior cruciate ligament suffered in September 2013 derailed that bid, and despite all the encouraging signs shown by the Dutchman, his star path practically begins anew this term instead.
A full Netherlands international, Van Ginkel was quickly called back up to the Oranje training squad in the buildup to this summer's World Cup, and despite not making the final cut, it illustrates what faith Van Gaal has in the playmaker.
With the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Nemanja Matic and Ramires for company, the player is in safe mentor hands but will look at those players more as competition these days, rather than mere teammates.
24. Oscar Cardozo, Trabzonspor
At 31 years of age, it may seem a strange time to suggest Oscar Cardozo's career can reignite now, but after a more disappointing final season with Benfica, he gets a new lease of life with Trabzonspor.
Last term, Cardozo played fewer games (32) across all competitions than he had since 2006 as a youngster with Newell's Old Boys.
Those limitations also resulted in his lowest goal tally (11) for some eight years, but chances will be much more likely in Turkey, and just as Didier Drogba once did with Galatasaray, the Paraguayan can take the Super Lig by storm.
25. Bebe, Benfica
Ending our selection as a wild-card pick is the man "replacing" the aforementioned Cardozo in Lisbon, former Manchester United flop Bebe.
The Eagles have chosen to invest in United's failed experiment with a view to giving Bebe a new Portuguese home, the fifth of his professional career after lining up for Estrela, Vitoria de Guimaraes, Rio Ave and Pacos de Ferreira in the past.
Despite his failure to capture the imagination at Old Trafford, the striker has time to realise his potential at just 24 years of age and finds himself among talented company at Benfica, figures who could make his job a lot easier.
Bebe scored 12 goals in 27 Primeira Liga appearances while on loan with Pacos de Ferreira last season, and with an even greater supply this term, albeit with presumably less starting minutes, he can begin anew in fine surroundings.
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