The 10 biggest falls from grace in Premier League history - including ex-Man Utd, Everton and Chelsea stars

The ex-Premier League players who have seen their careers drop off in ways that would have once seemed unimaginable
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They say the bigger they are, the harder they come crashing back down to earth. With the exceptions of parachutes and sycamore seeds, that remains a fairly universal truth, and nowhere is it more apparent than in professional football.

This week brought us the news that James Rodriguez, a player who exploded onto the global scene with a star-making turn at the 2014 World Cup, has had his contract with Greek outfit Olympiacos terminated and is now a free agent at the age of 31. It’s a notable moment of decline for a creative talent who once cost Real Madrid £63 million, but he is far from alone in seeing his career plummet from a proverbial cliff.

Here are 10 players, including the Colombian, who have endured brutal falls from grace in recent years...

James Rodriguez

The man who inspired this article. Rodriguez went from being a World Cup golden boot winner and one of the most sought after talents in European football to entirely unfancied and unexpectedly unemployed in less than a decade. After shining for Colombia in Brazil (and winning a Puskas Award for good measure), the midfielder convinced Real Madrid to poach him from AS Monaco for £63 million. He would endure a mixed time in the Spanish capital and - after a couple of seasons out on loan with Bayern Munich - would eventually leave the European champions in 2020.

From there, it has all been downhill. A stint with Everton was okay enough in fits and starts, but subsequent spells with Qatari club Al-Rayyan and the aformentioned Olympiacos have done little to shake the suspicion that he is something of a spent force at the highest level.

Dele Alli

There was a time when Dele Alli had the world at his twinkling toes. As a teenager, he took the Premier League by storm with Tottenham Hotspur and was widely - and justifiably - regarded as one of the finest young midfield talents this country had ever produced. For many years, he was the unquestioned future of English football.

Quite where his sudden and inexplicable decline began his hard to pinpoint. By now, we have all seen the infamous clip of Jose Mourinho dragging him into his office during Amazon Prime’s Spurs documentary, warning him that he was at risk of seeing it all slip through his fingers. Unfortunately, the Special One has been proven right.

Dele joined Everton in January of last year, but failed to make any kind of meaningful impact, and was shipped out to Besiktas in Turkey’s Super Lig - a place where serious careers go to die. Things continue to look bleak for the midfielder, with the Istanbul giants understood to be keen on cancelling his season-long loan after an unimpressive run of form.

Having just turned 27, there is still time for Dele to turn things around - perhaps with Everton, perhaps elsewhere - but you fear that he may be running out of chances. Nonetheless, it is hard to truly accept that a player who once burned so brightly could have fizzled out completely.

Alexis Sanchez

When Manchester United stole Sanchez from beneath the noses of bitter rivals Manchester City, it was widely heralded as one of the biggest transfer coups of the recent Premier League era. The Chilean had been a superlative presence for Arsenal, and it was blindly accepted that whoever won the race for his signature was securing a player capable of elevating their attacking threat to another level. After just five goals in 45 appearances, however, that hope promptly soured.

Sanchez would leave United for Inter Milan, initially on loan in 2019 and then permanently the year after, and while his return of 16 strikes in 36 outings for French club Marseille suggests something of a return to form this season, he is still some way short of his very best. Now aged 34, he is unlikely to ever reach that standard again.

Mario Balotelli

One of the most controversial and mercurial strikers of his generation, the endlessly-entertaining Balotelli has never been too far away from the headlines for one reason or another. In recent years, however, he has embarked on something of a nomadic wander through the hinterlands of European football.

Things started to come unstuck for the former Manchester City hitman when he joined Liverpool in 2014. The Italian only ever managed four goals for the Reds, and a subsequent loan spell with AC Milan was hardly any more fruitful.

Since then, to be fair to him, Balotelli has generally scored wherever he has set up shop, but OGC Nice, Marseille, Brescia, Monza, Adana Demirspor, and FC Sion are not exactly the destinations of a player who operates at the highest level anymore.


The extent to which you agree with this one will depend massively on how highly you regard the Chinese Super League. In 2017, just as he was seemingly entering the peak of his powers, Oscar took the unexpected decision to leave Chelsea for Shanghai Port. At the time, this was fairly common practice. Clubs in China were offering astronomical wages, and a number of big name stars from the European game jumped ship in the name of a life-changing pay day.

Perhaps most shocking, however, is that Oscar has stayed the course. Whereas others have returned to ply their trade in top divisions throughout Europe and South America, the Brazilian midfielder, now 31, is still plugging away in the Far East. Depending on who you ask, his has been a case study in squandered potential.

Ross Barkley

Speaking of squandered potential, few players have been as hyped and have settled for such relative mediocrity as Ross Barkley. When the midfielder first broke into Everton’s first team as a fresh-faced teenager, there were comparisons to Paul Gascoigne and talk of him shouldering England’s international hopes for the next two decades. In reality, he has never come close to reaching those heights.

Perhaps the biggest mistake of his career, in retrospect, was his move to Chelsea in 2018. Ever since then, he has struggled for any kind of momentum, and after unsuccessful loan spells with Aston Villa and his boyhood Toffees, he now finds himself on the books at OGC Nice in France. Not the biggest drop-off on this list, but an underwhelming journey nonetheless.

Jack Butland

There was a time when Jack Butland could have been England’s number one. For a while, with Joe Hart tumbling out of favour, it looked like it would either be him or Jordan Pickford. Now, of course, the latter has over a half-century of caps for the Three Lions, and the former is a glorified training cone on loan at Manchester United from Crystal Palace. There is not a great deal else to say.

Phil Jones

Another player who can’t get a look in at Old Trafford is Phil Jones. When he first signed for United, the defender was heralded as the next great English centre-back. Fast forward to 2023, and he has played just five games in the past two seasons combined. Perhaps more stinging still is that he has essentially been relegated to the role of ‘cheap meme culture punch line’.

Injuries have not been kind to Jones, that much is worth reiterating, but even then, his career has taken a wickedly cruel left-turn that you fear he may never truly recover from.

Eden Hazard

On paper, moving to Real Madrid and winning a Champions League is the very antithesis of a fall from grace. In reality, however, Eden Hazard’s personal progression has been circling the drain ever since he left Chelsea for the Spanish giants in 2019.

The Belgian has never found his footing with Real, and he continues to represent something of an overly-expensive regret. Now 32, his best years are probably behind him, and he is being made to settle for the odd bit-part cameo here and there. So far this season, he has played just 321 minutes of football, and that, when compared to his Stamford Bridge pomp - booting ball boys aside - is really quite sad.

Danny Drinkwater

Drinkwater took a gamble, and it didn’t pay off. After playing a pivotal role in Leicester City’s remarkable title win, the midfielder would leave the Foxes a year later to join Chelsea in a £35 million deal. What followed next was a cavalcade of catastrophe that was so bad it earned the dubious honour of being named ESPN’s second-worst Premier League transfer of all-time, behind only Ali Dia’s brief dalliance with Southampton. And let’s not forget, he was barely even a proper footballer.

Everything that could have gone wrong for Drinkwater subsequently has, from injuries to bad loan spells to total omission from the allocation of squad numbers. He is currently without a club at the age of 33. Quite the decline for a player who boasts three England caps to his name.