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8 players who famously struggled in their first season at a new club but turned it around

From Luka Modric to Thierry Henry, we look back at some of the players who initially struggled with their new surroundings before flourishing

Even for some of the very best players in the world, joining a new club can be tricky. 

After all, it’s a new environment, a new group of teammates and sometimes even a whole new league, country and culture to adapt to.

Over the years, there’s been plenty of big-money stars who’ve come to a new club and just flopped. But hey, sometimes it works out in the end.

And to prove our point, here’s just a few of our favourite players who initially struggled in their first season at a new club but managed to turn it around.

(Sadly, Spurs’ old flame Roberto Soldado is not one of them.)

Sorry, Rob

Action Images - Reuters
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Sorry, Rob

Luka Modric

What was all the fuss about?

Reuters
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What was all the fuss about?

It seems unfathomable these days, but way back in 2013, Modric was voted the worst La Liga signing of the season after his less-than-impressive first year at Real Madrid.

The midfield genius swapped the reassuring surroundings of Spurs for the Spanish giants in the summer of 2012 for a sizeable €35 million.

But after the big unveiling, the Croatian struggled to hold down a regular place in the side.

Keep on keeping on, Luka

AP:Associated Press
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Keep on keeping on, Luka

To be fair, he was competing with the likes of Xabi Alonso, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira in Jose Mourinho’s midfield trio at the time.

But even after the odd substitute appearance, Modric was heavily criticised for his inconsistent displays and gained a hefty 32.2% share of the vote in a Marca poll for the worst signing of the season (edging Barcelona’s Alex Song, if you’re interested).

Still, seeing him boss the middle of the park alongside Toni Kroos these days – as well his Golden Ball-winning performance at the World Cup over the summer – just goes to show how little loud-mouthed tabloids know, eh?

Moving on…

Jamie Vardy

A fairly familiar sight, yes?

EPA
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A fairly familiar sight, yes?

Vardy’s magnificent rise from Stocksbridge Park Steels, Halifax Town and Fleetwood Town to the big-time with Leicester is the stuff of dreams.

Luckily, we all know the story by now.

But before the Foxes stunning Premier League title win in 2016, Vardy very nearly quit football after struggling to find the back of the net in his first season at the King Power stadium.

In fact, the now-former England forward needed persuading by then-assistant Craig Shakespeare to carry on his Leicester career after receiving an offer to become a party rep in Ibiza.

Wonder what happened to that fella sitting next to him?

Getty Images - Getty
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Wonder what happened to that fella sitting next to him?

The Foxes boss managed to talk the striker out of ending his football career in 2013, after he scored just five goals in his first season with the club.

Luckily, he stayed around, eventually breaking Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record of scoring in eleven consecutive Premier League matches, before being voted the Premier League Player of the Season and FWA Footballer of the Year as Leicester won the title. Phew.

David De Gea

Strong lad

EPA
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Strong lad

Largely considered the best goalkeeper in the world right now (just don’t mention the World Cup), many of us forget how freakin’ dreadful De Gea was when he landed on our shores back in 2011.

Signed for a then-British record fee for a goalkeeper of £18.9 million, De Gea was given the quite daunting task of replacing Edwin Van der Sar between the sticks at Old Trafford.

This was a worryingly regular occurrence during his first season

AP:Associated Press
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This was a worryingly regular occurrence during his first season

The Spaniard made several high-profile mistakes in his first season, infamously allowing fairly straight forward shots from the likes of Edin Dzeko, Shane Long and Theo Walcott to beat him in the first-half of the campaign.

Further errors against Basel and Blackburn in December convinced Sir Alex Ferguson to drop him in favour of Anders Lindegaard.

Luckily, United persevered with the youngster, and with a bit of extra coaching from Eric Steele, De Gea quickly grew in the shot-stopping phenomenon we enjoy today.

Thierry Henry

This lot were alright, weren’t they?

Getty Images - Getty
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This lot were alright, weren’t they?

While his skill as a Sky Sports pundit was questionable at times, few would argue that Henry is among the very best strikers to ever grace the Premier League.

As focal point of Arsenal’s fantastic spell between 2001 and 2004, Henry won the Premier League Golden Boot an incredible four-times before leaving for Barcelona.

But few remember the Frenchman’s first season in the red and white of Arsenal, when he failed to score in his first eight games for the side.

Several months of inconsistency followed, but manager Arsene Wenger stuck with former Juventus man, converting him from an attacking winger to an out-and-out forward.

£11 million? Peanuts

PA:Empics Sport
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£11 million? Peanuts

However, the critics were made to promptly eat their words when the World Cup-winning goal-machine notched 26 goals by the end of his first season, going onto to win multiple league titles and FA Cup’s during his time with the club.

He even overtook a certain Ian Wright as the club’s all-time top goalscorer.

Not bad, huh?

Gareth Bale

We’ve got chills

AFP - Getty
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We’ve got chills

No one typifies the great fall and rise of a player quite like Bale.

Signed by Spurs from Southampton as a 17-year-old attacking left-back with plenty of potential, Bale’s start to life at White Hart Lane was pretty bad, to say the least.

Incredibly, the Welshman was on the losing side for every single one of his first 24 appearances for the club, leading some ‘experts’ to suggest he was jinxed.

Winless hoodoos aside, Bale’s first two years under Harry Redknapp was hampered by a recurring foot injury and a knee ligament problem. There was even talk of a move to Birmingham City.

Imagine that?

Could’ve been so different

PA:Press Association
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Could’ve been so different

But after undergoing knee surgery in the summer of 2009, Bale broke his curse in his first game back in a 5-0 defeat of Burnley. And it only got better from there.

A consistent run in the side was followed by that famous night in Milan, when he announced himself to the world-stage by hitting a brilliant hat-trick against Inter.

I guess we know the rest, don’t we?

Victor Moses

Well deserved

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Well deserved

A year or so ago, many of us would’ve scoffed at the idea of Moses being an integral part of Chelsea winning the title.

But that’s exactly what happened, with Moses going from bit-part player to a key figure in the Blues squad.

Having joined Chelsea from Wigan in 2012, the speedy winger ended up going out on loan to Liverpool, Stoke and West Ham, before he finally got an unexpected re-call when Antonio Conte took over in 2016.

Moses’ first season at Chelsea was fairly unmemorable

Times Newspapers Ltd
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Moses’ first season at Chelsea was fairly unmemorable

He made his first appearance for the club in over three years when he came off the bench in their 2–1 win over the West Ham in the season opener that year.

Back-to-back defeats in September then saw Conte take a huge gamble on starting Moses as an unconventional wing-back in the now much-heralded 3-4-3 formation.

The Nigerian duly flourished in his new role, allowing Chelsea to gain momentum and run-away with the league title.

Moses would later publicly thank Conte for resurrecting his career and giving him the “confidence to enjoy his football”.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Mkhi was a big part of United’s Europa League success last season

PA:Empics Sport
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Mkhi was a big part of United’s Europa League success last season

We imagine Arsenal fans are a little underwhelmed by Mkhitaryan following his move from Man United back in January.

But this isn’t exactly a new problem for the Armenian, who famously struggled in his first year at Borussia Dortmund.

He was pretty unpopular among Dortmund fans after his first season at the Westfalenstadion

AFP or licensors
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He was pretty unpopular among Dortmund fans after his first season at the Westfalenstadion

Joining BVB for big-money from Shakhtar Donetsk, then-manager Jugren Klopp failed to unlock the very best out of Mkhi, with many fans keen to see the playmaker offloaded the following summer.

Luckily, they decided to keep him, and under Thomas Tuchel he experienced a renaissance of form, winning the Bundesliga Players’ Player of the Season award in his final season with the club before moving to Man United for even bigger money (although, again, that didn’t quite work out, did it?).

Robert Pires

What a duo

Times Newspapers Ltd
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What a duo

This guy was cutting inside from the wing well before Arjen Robben made it cool.

But – like Henry – his first season at Arsenal was largely forgettable.

Signed from Marseille as a replacement for Marc Overmars, critics were initially confused with his position as a left-winger despite favouring his right-foot.

Pires was described as somewhat light-weight for the Premier League, often failing in the more physical aspects of the game.

But he quickly found his feet, and these days is often credited for single-handily reinventing the winger position in the English game.


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