Home » Football Legends Who Played in Bizarre Places
Featured Featured Global News Global News News Russia Sport Sports

Football Legends Who Played in Bizarre Places

Footballers often move to second-tier leagues towards the end of their careers, with the USA, Turkey and Saudi Arabia among the most popular destinations in recent years.

But football is of course a global sport and the following stars wound down their playing days in some locations that are quite a distance from the beaten track.

32. Adrian Mutu

Signed by Chelsea in 2003, Mutu never recovered from a positive test for cocaine and subsequent seventh-month ban the following year. 

After spells with Juventus, Fiorentina, Cesena, Ajaccio and Romanian club Petrolul Ploiesti, the striker spent a few months with Pune City in India, where he was managed by David Platt.

31. Jlloyd Samuel

Samuel was a regular for Aston Villa in the early 2000s and later played for Bolton and Cardiff, before sealing a shock transfer to the Iran Pro League in 2011.

Thor former England U-21, who went on to play twice for Trinidad, spent three seasons with Tehran-based Esteghlal, then moved to Paykan for the final year of his career. 

Sadly he was killed in a car accident back in England in 2018 aged just 37.

30. Arie Haan

A key part of the legendary Netherlands teams that dazzled at the 1974 and 1978 World Cups, Haan represented Ajax, Anderlecht, Standard Liege and PSV at club level, before moving to Seiko in Hong Kong for his final season as a professional.

He went on to have a peripatetic coaching career, working in Iran, China, Cameroon and Albania.

29. Nigel de Jong

De Jong moved to MLS with LA Galaxy in 2016, but he only stayed in the USA for a few months. The Dutchman then spent a season each with Galatasaray and Mainz, before he wound down his career in Qatar.

De Jong represented Al Ahli and Al Shahaniya, who were relegated in his final season as a professional.

28. Carsten Jancker

The man who opened the scoring in Germany’s 5-1 loss to England in 2001, Jancker won four Bundesliga titles and a Champions League with Bayern Munich.

In between spells at Kaiserslautern and Austrian club Mattersburg, the striker made seven appearances for Shanghai Shenhua in the nascent Chinese Super League in 2006.

27. Dragan Stajkovic

One of the most gifted footballers of his generation, Stajkovic’s career was disrupted by frequent injury problems. After spells with Red Star Belgrade and Marseille, the attacking midfielder joined Nagoya Grampus Eight in 1994.

Japan was not a common destination for European players back then (Gary Lineker being an exception) but to the surprise of just about everyone Stajkovic spent seven seasons with Nagoya.

26. Mateja Kezman

After a season each with Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, Kezman moved to Fenerbahce. His career at the highest level ended when he left PSG in 2010, but the striker was not ready to retire just yet.

Kezman went on to have not one but two spells with South China in Hong Kong, in between which he represented BATE Borisov in Belarus.

25. Salomon Kalou

A Premier League and Champions League winner during six successful seasons with Chelsea, Kalou went on to play for Lille, Hertha Berlin and Botafogo.

His next stop? Djibouti in East Africa of course. In 2022 the former Ivory Coast international moved to Arta/Solar7, a club sponsored by a local solar power firm. 

24. Zico

Zico is not only a legendary figure in Brazil but also in Japan. That is largely because of his time in charge of the national team between 2002 and 2006, but the former attacking midfielder also played in the country.

The Brazilian came out of retirement in 1991 to join Kashima Antlers, for whom he went on to play 66 times.

23. Xavi Hernandez

When Xavi’s long and successful time at Barcelona came to an end in 2015, many expected him to hang up his boots there and then.

Instead, the legendary midfielder joined Qatari team Al Sadd on a three-year deal, becoming the most high-profile footballer to ever play in the tiny Middle Eastern nation.

22. Asamoah Gyan

Gyan was only 25 years old and still a regular starter in the Premier League when he chose to leave Sunderland (to much disappointment on Wearside) for Abu Dhabi-based Al Ain in 2011. 

The Ghanaian would later strut his stuff for Shanghai SIPG in China, Shabab Al Ahli in Dubai, Kayserispor in Turkey and NorthEast United in India. Not your average career path.

21. Nicolas Anelka

The Chinese Super League became a popular destination for ageing European and South American stars later in the decade, but Anelka’s move to Shanghai Shenhua in 2012 raised eyebrows.

After a sixth and final spell in the Premier League with West Brom, the Frenchman spent the last few months of his career with Indian side Mumbai City.

20. Gabriel Batistuta

One of the greatest strikers of his generation, Batigol of course spent the bulk of his career in Italy with FiorentinaRoma and Inter.

He was expected to return to Argentina at the end of his career, but instead embarked on a sojourn to Qatar. His 24 appearances for Al-Arabi yielded 27 goals.

19. Alessandro Del Piero

After departing Juventus as their all-time top scorer in 2012, Del Piero decided he was not ready to hang up his boots. A productive two-year spell with Sydney FC followed, before the Italian legend penned a short-term deal with Delhi Dynamos in India.

Del Piero’s team missed out on the play-offs, though, and he bade farewell after just 10 appearances.

18. Dimitar Berbatov

The former TottenhamManchester United and Fulham striker bade farewell to the Premier League in 2014 after seven and a half years entertaining years in England.

After spells with Monaco in France and PAOK in Greece, Berba made nine appearances (and scored only one goal) for Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League.

17. Nicky Butt

A six-time Premier League champion with Manchester United, Butt also represented Newcastle and Birmingham in England’s top tier.

Not all his silverware was won at Old Trafford, though. Butt lifted the iconic Hong Kong League Cup in 2011 after being persuaded to come out of retirement by South China.

16. Samuel Eto’o

After hugely successful spells with Barcelona and Inter, Eto’o signed for cash-splashing Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala in 2011. 

He later had stints with Chelsea, EvertonSampdoria and two Turkish teams, before a surprise switch to Qatar SC in 2019. After 23 outings there, Eto’o hung up his boots at the age of 38.

15. David James

The former LiverpoolManchester City and Portsmouth shot-stopper played his last match in English football for Bournemouth in 2013.

No one could have predicted his next destination, as James signed a player-coach deal with IBV in Iceland. After that he moved to India, making 12 appearances for Kerala Blasters before calling it a day.

14. Alex Song

Song played the best football of his career at Arsenal, although he went on to win a La Liga title with Barcelona before returning to England with West Ham.

Next up for the Cameroonian were spells with Rubin Kazan (Russia) and Sion (Switzerland), before a perplexing move to Arta/Solar7 in Djibouti, which geography fans will tell you is in East Africa.

13. Michael Laudrup

One of only a handful of players to move directly between Barcelona and Real Madrid, Laudrup left the Bernabeu in 1996 and ended up signing a deal with Vissel Kobe in Japan.

What made the deal even more remarkable was that Vissel were a second-tier team. Laudrup helped them to promotion before departing the following summer.

12. Roberto Carlos

Roberto Carlos played for seven clubs in total, but he will always be most associated with Real Madrid. The legendary left-back played 527 times for the Blancos, winning four La Ligas and three Champions Leagues.

The last two sides he turned out for though, were Anzhi Makhachkala in Russia (but only after being linked with Notts County) and Delhi Dynamos in India. 

11. Emmanuel Adebayor

The former Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham striker continued playing for longer than you think. After late-career spells with two Turkish teams, Adebayor headed to the unlikely destination of Paraguay for his next contract.

However, the coronavirus pandemic put an early end to his time in South America, with the striker managing just four appearances before the global shutdown.

He hung on for a few more years before officially calling it a day in March 2023 aged 39.

10. Ronaldinho

A footballer who always played with a smile on his face, it was like Ronaldinho didn’t care who he played for, all he needed was a ball.

It was that attitude that brought the ex-Barcelona magician to Mexican club Queretaro in 2014. “I want to thank all the Mexican nation for all the days that I’ve lived with people so special,” he said after departing.

9. Pablo Aimar

An outrageous talent who was idolised by Lionel Messi, Aimar was a joy to watch on his day. His 12 years in Europe were split between Valencia, Real Zaragoza and Benfica, before the Argentine decided he wanted to try something different.

Aimar ended up in Malaysia in 2013, signing for Johor Darul Ta’zim to the surprise of just about everyone.

8. Hristo Stoichkov

A temperamental genius who did things his way on and off the pitch, Stoichkov’s most successful years came at Barcelona. 

His second spell at the Camp Nou ended in 1998, when the Bulgarian was snapped up by Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia (long before that was the done thing). He only played two games there before joining Kashiwa Reysol in Japan.

7. Bebeto

A World Cup winner with Brazil in 1994, Bebeto played for 10 different clubs in the final six years of his career, most of which were back home.

But Bebeto also turned out for Mexican side Toros Neza and Japanese outfit Kashima Antlers, before finishing up at Al-Ittihad in Saudi Arabia. Just think of the air miles.

6. Gary Lineker

A few weeks before his 31st birthday Lineker left Tottenham and signed a two-year deal with Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan.

“Obviously it was a big pay-day but I’d always been interested in travelling and experiencing other cultures after playing in Barcelona and this seemed like a really nice way to end my career,” he said in 2023.

5. Pep Guardiola

Guardiola played 382 games for Barcelona, after which he spent two years in Serie A with Brescia and Roma.

The midfielder was then lured to Qatar by Al-Ahli in 2003. Two years later, Guardiola judged he had one more move left in him, joining Dorados de Sinaloa in Mexico so he could work under his future assistant, Juanma Lillo.

4. Michael Essien

An important and often underrated member of the Chelsea side that won so much between 2005 and 2014, Essien went on to play for Real Madrid and AC Milan after leaving west London.

In 2017 the midfielder popped up in Indonesia to sign for Persib Bandung, before an equally outlandish stint with Sabail in the Azerbaijan Premier League.

3. Keisuke Honda

A Japanese great, Honda is best remembered for his time at AC Milan between 2014 and 2017. After leaving San Siro, he embarked on a globetrotting mission which took in employment by clubs in Mexico, Azerbaijan and Lithuania.

Honda combined some of those roles with a job as the head coach of the Cambodia national team. As you do.

2. Robbie Fowler

Born in Liverpool, Fowler grew up as an Everton fan but became a legend across the city. Nicknamed ‘God’ by Liverpool fans, the striker also played for Leeds, Manchester City, Cardiff and Blackburn.

He later had a spell in Australia with North Queensland Fury and Perth Glory, before winding down his career with Muangthong United in Thailand.

1. Rivaldo

One of the best players in the world on his day, former Barcelona and AC Milan star Rivaldo just could not quit football.

After leaving Milan, the Brazilian spent four years in Greece with Olympiacos and AEK Athens. He then signed for Bunyodkor in Uzbekistan, before an even more bizarre stint with Kabuscorp in Angola. Cracking passport stamps, mind.

Source : Four Four Two