Top TEN ‘Zero to Hero’ players in the Premier League

The Premier League’s history book is full of players who could never make it at the top level. The likes of Helder Postiga, Massimo Taibi and Michael Ricketts are just a few examples of the players that I’m talking about. But what about those who turned it around? Players who were heading down the ‘not-going-to-make-it-at-this-level’ route before bucking their ideas up and performing in the best league in the world? Below is my list of the Top Ten players who turned their careers around in the last decade.

10 – James Beattie (Blackburn Rovers- 1995-1998, Southampton- 1998-2005, Everton 2005-2007, Sheffield United 2007-2009, Stoke City 2009-Present)

Although James Beattie is still playing in the Premier League today, it’s really the way he turned his Southampton career around that earns him a spot in my Top Ten. In the summer of 1998, 20-year-old Beattie signed for Southampton from Blackburn for £1m as part of the deal that saw Kevin Davies go the other way. The striker’s first season saw just six goals in 33 games and injuries meant that in his second he failed to find the net in any of the 17 Premier League matches that he took part in.  On November 4, 2000 Beattie broke his incredible 27 league games streak without a goal by netting twice in a 3-2 win over Chelsea. This seemed to open the floodgates for Beattie as he then scored eight times in his next nine games. He was rewarded with a four-year deal and finished the season with 11 – more than double his entire Premier League tally before the start of the season. Beattie suffered another injury during the 01/02 season but this didn’t stop the young striker from bagging his most impressive Premier League campaign to date. Despite missing out on two months of playing time- Beattie finished the season with 14 goals in 28 games; a ratio of a goal every two matches but it was the 2002/2003 season that saw the very best of James Beattie when he finished the season as the third highest Premier League scorer after featuring in every game. Beaten only by Thierry Henry and Ruud Van Nistelrooy; Beattie was the highest scoring Englishman with 23, four goals clear of Liverpool’s Michael Owen, which contributed to him making his international debut in February 2003. He then scored 17 times in 48 league matches during the next two seasons which saw him attract the interest of Everton.  Beattie completed a £6m switch in January 2005 where he spent three seasons before spending some time in the Championship with Sheffield United. It didn’t take long for the experienced striker to make a return to the Premier League though; he played a huge part in keeping Stoke City in the top-flight after a £3.5m deal was agreed in January 2009; scoring seven goals in 16 matches.

9 – Glen Johnson (West Ham- 2001-2003, Millwall-2002 (loan), Chelsea- 2003-2007, Portsmouth- 2006-2007 (loan),2007-2009, Liverpool- 2009-Present)

After an impressive start to his Premier League career with West Ham, Johnson became Roman Abramovich’s first signing at Chelsea for £6m. Hotly tipped to have a great potential, Chelsea fans were excited by the purchase of the 19-year-old but unfortunately Johnson’s dream move was to become a nightmare.  After making 19 league appearances in his first season at the club, (Melchiot and Geremi offered tough competition for places), Johnson fizzled out into nothing more than a squad player and with the arrival of £13m right-back Paulo Ferreira in the summer of 2004, he made just 16 appearances in his second season and only four in 2005/2006. It looked as though Johnson was to be added to the list of players who failed to fulfil their potential as he was sent on a season-long loan to Portsmouth where he helped the club to an unprecedented 9th place finish in his 26 appearances for the side. It looked as though this impressive season could resurrect his Chelsea career; he started in both the Community Shield and the first game of the 2007/2008 season against Birmingham City, but it wasn’t to be and on deadline day Johnson rejoined Portsmouth- this time on a permanent basis for £4m. Johnson spent his first full season at Portsmouth quietly getting on with his business, starting in all of the 29 appearances that he played in during the first season. The 2008/2009 campaign however, proved to be career-changing for the relatively young full-back as he scored the Goal of the Season (a left-footed 30-yard strike against Hull City,) and made the PFA Team of the Season for the first time in his career. With this impressive season under his belt, Johnson was attracting interest from two of the top sides in the Country- Liverpool and Chelsea. In July 2009, the 24-year-old completed his £18m move to Liverpool after Reds’ boss Benitez complimented the amount that Johnson improved during his final season with Portsmouth. Since then Glen has featured in 18 games for Liverpool to date.

8 – Peter Crouch (Tottenham Hotspur-1998-2000, Dulwich Hamlet-2000 (loan), IFK Hasselholm (loan), QPR- 2000-2001, Portsmouth-2001-2002, Aston Villa-2002-2004, Norwich City-2003 (loan) Southampton-2004-2005, Liverpool-2005-2008, Portsmouth-2008-2009, Tottenham Hotspur- 2009-Present)

During his first spell at Spurs, Crouch was just a young lad with a bright future and failed to make a single appearance for the side during this era. He was loaned out twice before being sold to Championship outfit QPR, where he did enough to impress Portsmouth scouts and moved to the South-Coast club after just one season. It was here that ‘Crouchy’ did enough to cement a move to the Premier League after Aston Villa had a £5m bid accepted for the lanky striker in March 2002. Things began well for Peter as he netted twice in the final seven games of the season. His first full season in the Premier League did not go so well though as he was limited to just 14 appearances, scoring an unimpressive zero goals in that time. It wasn’t long before Crouch was on the move again, this time on-loan to Championship side Norwich City where he spent the first half of the 2003/2004 campaign. When he returned to the Villans; his form improved slightly- netting three times in 15 games. The next season was to prove to be important for the 6ft7 striker as he found himself moving to his former club’s arch-rivals; Southampton. Crouch enjoyed the best year of his career to date netting 11 times in 26 Premier League appearances for the Saints who sadly finished 20th and were relegated. But Peter’s impressive season had not gone unnoticed and it was Liverpool who rescued him from another stint in the Championship, shelling out £7m to bring him to Anfield. It was a slow start for Crouch who took 11 games to get his first goals for Liverpool; a brace in a 3-0 win against newly-promoted Wigan Athletic and many began to criticise Benitez’s purchase. Indeed Crouch failed to deliver as much as Liverpool fans had hoped that would; finding the net on a mere eight occasions in his debut season. Although the next campaign would see Crouch score regularly in European and Domestic cups, his Premier League goal tally failed to hit double figures for a second time- he found the net on just nine occasions. The 2007/2008 season capped off an arguably miserable Liverpool career for Crouch as he could only manage five goals to add to his Premier League tally in over 20 appearances. Many Liverpool fans claim that Crouch did a lot that went unnoticed in games and that his goal tally was unimportant, but several critics pointed out that a return of 23 Premier League goals in three seasons was not good enough for a £7m signing. Despite his critics, Portsmouth decided to give the 27-year-old another chance at the Premier League by partnering him up front with fellow former-spur; Jermain Defoe. The £9m move was finalised in July 2008 and the successful ‘little ‘n’ large’ partnership attracted the interest of Tottenham Hotspur who re-signed Jermain Defoe in January. For the first time in three seasons Peter scored more than nine times in a season, netting 11 and his partner-in-crime pleaded with him to join him at Spurs. Defoe was quoted as saying: “I have always said that Crouchy is a great player and he is someone who will score goals. If he does come in he will definitely help the team.” Tottenham then completed the ‘little ‘n’ large’ combination in the summer; becoming the second club to give Crouch another chance- reimbursing Portsmouth the £9m that they had spent a year before. This season the partnership has worked a treat in lilywhite colours with the club battling it out for a Champions League spot, having been involved in a relegation dogfight just the season before. As well as being an established Premier League player, ‘Crouchy’ is also proving to be a star on the international scene with a return of 20 goals from just 37 caps.

7 – Stiliyan Petrov (CSKA Sofia-1996-1999, Celtic-1999-2006, Aston Villa-2006-Present)

After proving himself in Scotland with the Bhoys, Stiliyan was signed by former-Celtic boss Martin O’Neill for Aston Villa in the summer of 2006. Petrov struggled to settle down in England and was on the verge of being a Premier League flop. But an ever-patient O’Neill stood by his £6.5m signing for the first two seasons of his English career while he tried to find his feet. After 53 inconsistent Premier League appearances; Petrov scored an astonishing halfway line volley in a 6-0 thumping over Derby County to kick-start his career. The 2008/2009 campaign saw a new-look Stiliyan as he cemented his position in the heart of the Villa midfield in their quest for European football. He was rewarded for his hard work- winning both Aston Villas’ Players’ ‘Player of the Year’ and supporters’ ‘Player of the Year’ in May 2008. Petrov has since been tipped to become the permanent skipper of Aston Villa following the departure of Gareth Barry and has been a key figure in the side’s successful season so far.

6 – Rory Delap (Carlisle United-1994-1998, Derby County- 1998-2001, Southampton- 2001-2006, Sunderland-2006-2007, Stoke City- 2006-2007 (loan), 2007-Present)

After a steady three seasons with Derby County, Delap became Southampton’s record signing- costing the club £4m in the summer of 2001. However, at this point in his career Delap wasn’t renowned for his throw-ins like he is today and he endured a solid, but nothing special, five seasons with the Saints. Sadly, there was nothing that Rory could do to prevent Southampton from getting relegated at the end of the 2004/2005 season and subsequently spent the first half of the next campaign playing in the Championship. On deadline day in January 2006, Delap moved back into top-flight football with Sunderland where an injury meant that he made a mere six appearances for the season; scoring once and picking up two cautions. Relegation cursed Rory again and he soon found himself playing Championship football in a red and white colours once more and then for a final time after he signed for Stoke City on loan. Another injury meant that Delap could play no further part in the 2006/2007 campaign but this was not enough to put Stoke boss Tony Pulis off from taking the 31-year-old in on a permanent basis. Little did anyone know- Delap was to play a vital part in newly-promoted Stoke City’s bid for survival. Rory showed the Premier League his hidden talent- long throws. The former Derby and Southampton man picked up numerous assists for the club and teams were quick to do everything in their power to stop Delap from having the opportunity to hurl throw-ins into the box. (In fact, Hull City’s Dean Windass was cautioned for comically warming up in front of Delap as he prepared to take a throw-in during a game in November, 2008.) Stoke secured famous wins over strong teams such as Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. Since then, Stoke City have established themselves as a steady Premier League side and the Britannia Stadium has become a tough place for top-flight sides to go.

5 – Darren Fletcher (Manchester United-2001-Present)

Darren was originally seen as a right-sided midfielder when he signed a professional contract with Manchester United in 2001 but nowadays he regularly features in a central role for the Red Devils. Fletcher failed to make a single Premier League appearance in the first two years of his career but was often talked about as being a young lad with a lot of potential. 2003 saw the sale of David Beckham to Real Madrid and despite the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, the next season was when Fletcher began to get more involved in first team duties. He made 22 league appearances but couldn’t live up to the hype and the holders finished third. For the next couple of seasons, many saw Fletcher as the weak link in the side with his own captain questioning his talents following a 4-1 defeat away at Middlesbrough; Roy Keane reportedly criticised the scot. It was roughly midway through the 2006/2007 season when Sir Alex lost patience and gave Cristiano Ronaldo the daunting task of ‘replacing Beckham’. Who could blame him? By the end of the 2004/2005 season; Fletcher had been at the club two years longer than Ronaldo but scored six fewer, been sent off twice as many times and didn’t have the same level of ‘tricks ‘n’ flicks’ as the pretty Portuguese winger. As Ronaldo gradually became the best player in the world, a frustrated Fletcher was limited to substitute appearances and cup games. The arrival of Hargreaves, Anderson and Nani in January 2007 signalled Sir Alex’s desire to bolster his midfield options further and the 2007/2008 season was one that Fletcher will want to forget quickly- appearing in a total of 16 league games; 11 as a substitute and starting in just five. Despite the poor campaign; Darren showed glimpses of his talent with a brace in a 4-2 win over title rivals Arsenal.  Fletcher held crisis talks over playing-time with Sir Alex in the summer and the manager convinced him to stay on and fight for his place. An injury to Ronaldo meant that Fletcher started the 2008/2009 season and took his chance; scoring in each of the first two games. During the season he signed a three-year extension with Manchester United as Sir Alex realised his true potential as a Centre-Midfielder. He made 26 league appearances during the campaign and despite the sale of Ronaldo to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009; Fletcher has continued to be used as a centre-midfielder and has played in 23 league games this season so far. Since then Ferguson has even likened the Scotland captain to Manchester United legend Brian McClair for his movement, energy and commitment.

4 – Carlton Cole (Chelsea-2001-2006, Wolves-2002-2003 (loan), Charlton Athletic-2003-2004 (loan), Aston Villa-2004-2005 (loan), West Ham-2006-Present)

Cole’s first season in the Premier League didn’t go too badly for somebody who was just 18 years of age. The striker made two starts and one substitute appearance, scoring his first league goal in a 2-0 win against Middlesbrough. He began the next campaign with Chelsea, scoring on the opening day of the new season, before making his move to the Championship where he spent some time with Wolves; scoring once in seven matches. Upon his return, Cole managed just a two-goal return from the ten matches he featured in and was sent out on loan to fellow-Premier League side Charlton Athletic for the 2003/2004 campaign. Carlton found the net on just four occasions with the Addicks and he was beginning to look as though he would be the type of centre-forward who struggled to score but enjoyed setting up others. Cole then found himself away from his parent-club again for the 2004/2005 season; moving to Aston Villa on a season-long loan. Carlton managed a measly three goals in 27 league games for the club- a ratio of a goal every nine matches and he failed to score at all during the 2005/2006 campaign with Chelsea. Managing just eleven goals in 73 Premier League appearances- Cole moved to East London to join West Ham where he struggled to make an impact in the first season and kept up his unimpressive record; scoring just twice. Carlton couldn’t cement a first-team place down in his debut season with the Hammers; starting three games and making 14 appearances from the bench. His second season at the club proved to be slightly more successful as he featured in 31 games but still failing to score enough for a striker; this time managing just four. The 2008/2009 season however, tells a different tale. When Gianfranco Zola became manager in September 2008; Cole had scored once in the first four games. For the first time in his career, he finished the season in double figures; netting ten times in 27 matches. Cole had finally begun to settle down and he was becoming a regular starter for West Ham; often partnering either Bellamy or Ashton up front. This season, Carlton has been an important part of West Ham’s line-up and looks set to break the double-figure barrier once again with his tally for the season at the moment standing on nine goals from 21 appearances. Already in less than two seasons he has equalled the number of goals scored in his first seven seasons as a Premier League footballer and has even been touted as a possible inclusion for Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad for 2010.

3 – Bobby Zamora (Bristol Rovers-1999-2000, Bath City-2000 (loan), Brighton-2000 (loan), 2000-2003, Tottenham Hotspur-2003-2004, West Ham United-2004-2008, Fulham- 2008-Present)

A lot was expected from Bobby when he arrived at Tottenham in 2003. For such a young player he had a tremendous goal to games ratio with Brighton in the football league but his time at Spurs was short and after just six months he moved across London to West Ham in a part-exchange for Jermain Defoe. Zamora featured in 16 league games for Tottenham; ten of which were from the bench and was still awaiting his first Premier League goal. It took Zamora and West Ham another season before they found themselves in the top-flight again and sure enough on August 20, 2005, ‘Bobbyzee’ made his Premier League debut for the Hammers. Despite a reasonable start, Bobby could only manage six goals for the campaign; failing to find the net in his last 14 league games of the season. His second campaign went better for Zamora though and for the first time in his career- he scored more than ten Premier League goals in a season; finishing with 11 from 31 matches. 2007/2008 was a difficult time for Bobby as he was forced to miss out for five months through injury and he managed just a single goal in 13 appearances and the West Ham faithful found a hero elsewhere in Craig Bellamy. Zamora had enjoyed a mixed time at West Ham and moved to Fulham in 2008; still convinced that he had something to offer to the Premier League. Things went from bad to worse for Bobby and he scored just twice throughout his first campaign with the Cottagers. Although many noticed that Zamora offered more than just goals up front, Hull City’s £5m bid was accepted at the end of the season and Bobby realised that he had to score more in order to prove his doubters wrong and opted to stay at Craven Cottage. This year the 29-year-old has been in the form of his life and his now a fearful sight for defenders. His incredible strength and ability to hold the ball up for others has been matched by his eye for goal which has seen him return eight goals in 24 games- a ratio of one for every three appearances. Bobby has been a vital cog in the wheel for the Fulham side which has transformed in two seasons from narrowly surviving a relegation dogfight into a side progressing well in both the Premier and Europa Leagues respectively.

2 – Heurelho Gomes (Cruzeiro-2001-2004, PSV-2004-2008, Tottenham Hotspur-2008-Present)

The Brazilian goalkeeper was brought in by Juande Ramos to ease Tottenham’s goalkeeping crisis. Fans favourite Paul Robinson had become somewhat of a liability between the sticks for Spurs and a series of blunders saw him move on to Blackburn Rovers. For the first half of his Tottenham career Heurelho looked to be heading down the same path. High-profile errors against the likes of Aston Villa, Stoke City and Fulham cost Spurs dearly and the side who were hoping to close in on that fourth Champions League spot, looked destined for the Championship. It wasn’t long before a managerial change meant that Harry Redknapp took over and he made his intentions to sign a new goalkeeper clear. Spurs were immediately linked with numerous players; eventually securing the signature of Chelsea’s Carlo Cudicini on a free transfer in January 2009. Injury to Gomes meant that Cudicini was immediately put in the side and Gomes struggled to win his place back until, as luck would have it, an injury to Carlo gave Heurelho another bite of the cherry and he was picked for the Carling Cup final against Manchester United. World class saves against the likes of Ronaldo and Rooney ensured that he remained ever-present for the remainder of the season and a surprised Redknapp has since praised his number one for turning his Spurs career around. “Gomes looks different to the goalkeeper who came here in 2008 when I first arrived. He had a terrible time here then but he’s a different lad now, full of confidence, who looks what he is – a top keeper.” This season Gomes has proved to be pivotal in Tottenham’s quest for the Champions League and his shot-stopping ability and agility has seen him keep nine clean sheets in 23 games, conceding 19 goals.

1 – Kevin Davies (Chesterfield-1993-1997, Southampton-1997-1998, Blackburn Rovers-1998-1999, Southampton-1999-2003, MIllwall-2003 (loan), Bolton Wanderers-2003-Present)

A 20-year-old Kevin Davies scored nine times in his first Premier League season with Southampton, earning him a move to Blackburn Rovers for a club record £7.5m where he failed to set the world alight- scoring just once in 21 appearances for the blue and whites. He then found himself back at The Dell where he spent the next four seasons scoring just ten times in almost 60 games. The lad with so much potential was fast becoming a mediocre bench-warmer. In 2003 he spent some time on loan at Millwall where he found the net on three occasions in nine appearances but was subsequently released by the Saints in the summer of 2003. Bolton Wanderers snapped up the English striker on a free transfer despite his poor goal-scoring record in the top-flight. In his first season as a Trotter, Davies won the fans over by starting in every Premier League game, scoring nine times and winning the club’s ‘Player of the Year’ award. The next season saw Kevin miss a mere three Premier League games and manage another solid goal-scoring record; netting eight times. Considering Bolton Wanderers hadn’t spent a penny on Davies- he was proving to be a very useful acquisition. His consistent record was eventually rewarded in 2009 when he was named the new club captain. Davies has gone on to make 235 appearances for the club, scoring 51 times.

Any glaring omissions?

Written By Stephen Rudd

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