Nine Premier League rejects at Euro 2016

Daniel Storey

Oghuzan Ozyakup (Arsenal and Turkey)
Perhaps it could be Arsene Wenger’s new jam? Rather than telling us all about the players he came close to signing, we could learn about players that almost made the first team before being sold. Ozyakup can be the first on the list.

In truth, the midfielder never really came close to making waves at the Emirates. Signed on schoolboy terms from AZ Alkmaar in 2008, he was named on the bench for *that* 8-2 defeat to Manchester United and appeared against Shrewsbury Town in the League Cup, but was allowed to join Besiktas for around £400,000 in 2012.

Since then, Ozyakup has enjoyed a stellar few years in Turkey. He scored his debut international goal against Netherlands – his country of birth – last September, and has since been linked with a move to a number of Europe’s elite clubs. There was even talk in January of Wenger paying £9.3m to re-sign the Turkish midfielder. Humble pie, Monsieur?


Mikel San Jose (Liverpool and Spain)
Liverpool supporters would be forgiven for astonishment when seeing the name of Mikel San Jose in Spain’s Euro 2016 squad. This is the same central defender who arrived at Anfield in 2007 under Rafa Benitez, but never made a single senior appearance for the club before being sold at the age of 21.

Since then, the defender’s rise has been impressive. As a mainstay of Athletic Bilbao’s defence, San Jose has earned plaudits for his consistency in La Liga, culminating in a surprise international call-up in August 2014.

San Jose still only has six international caps and is very much a fringe member of Vincent del Bosque’s squad, but what Liverpool would do for a 27-year-old calm head in central defence right now.


Paul Pogba (Manchester United and France)
Ah yes, Mr Pogba. Of the top two favourites to be named Euro 2016’s Player of the Tournament, both played for Manchester United. One of those – Cristiano Ronaldo – played 14,477 league minutes for the club. The other played 68 minutes.

“We had Paul under a three-year contract, and it had a one-year renewal option which we were eager to sign. But [agent Mino] Raiola suddenly appeared on the scene and our first meeting was a fiasco,” Alex Ferguson said last September. “He and I were like oil and water. From then on, our goose was cooked because Raiola had been able to ingratiate himself with Paul and his family and the player signed with Juventus.”

See, it was Raiola’s fault that Fergie picked Rafael as a central midfielder against Blackburn and lost 3-2 at home. Still, at least United got £800,000 for Pogba. Mmmm.


Vlad Chiriches (Tottenham and Romania)
Chiriches did not merit inclusion in Matt Stead’s list of players who are far better for their country than club, but he must have come close. Despite a terrible spell at Tottenham and things not going a great deal better at Napoli, the central defender has been magnificent for Romania.

Romania’s captain played every minute of qualifying. His country may have finished a point behind Northern Ireland in a decidedly gentle group, but Chiriches’ form helped Romania concede only two goals in their ten games. That’s fewer than any other team.

Chiriches became a joke figure at White Hart Lane, such was his hapless form and general penalty area clumsiness. It would be a bloody great stretch to say that Spurs miss him, but his country certainly would.


Vladimir Weiss (Manchester City and Slovakia)
Weiss may have endured a winding, journeyman career for someone so young (still just 26), but you can’t doubt his appetite for a derby match. Despite having only started 111 career league games, he has played in the Lancashire derby (Bolton vs Blackburn), Old Firm derby, El derbi barceloni (Espanyol vs Barcelona), the derby of the eternal enemies (Olympiakos vs Panathinaikos) and the biggest Qatari derby (Lekhwiya vs El Jaish).

It all started for Weiss at Manchester City, where he missed out on the Manchester derby by playing only five senior matches. Still, it’s fair to say he was highly rated.

‘We have Vladimir Weiss, the son of Vladimir Weiss Sr. who made his first appearance in City’s 1-0 win against Bolton at the end of last season and a very promising player indeed, tipped to be a future great likened to Cristiano Ronaldo,’ a piece on Bleacher Report read. Sometimes, predictions can be wrong.


Miroslav Stoch (Chelsea and Slovakia)
Chelsea’s young players being suffocated through a lack of first-team opportunity might be all the rage now, but Stoch was something of a trailblazer in the field. As a much-vaunted 16-year-old, the pocket-sized winger was signed to the club’s academy in 2008. By the time he left permanently in 2010, the then-20-year-old Slovakian had played just five times.

Now 26, Stoch has enjoyed a slightly meandering club career. He is still registered as a Fenerbahce player, but the influx of Western stars into the club means he has thrice been loaned out, now at Bursaspor. Previously most famous for winning the 2012 Ferenc Puskas award for this sick filth (complete with requisite dance song accompaniment), Stoch will be looking to impress against England during Slovakia’s first appearance at the European Championship.


Andreas Granqvist (Wigan and Sweden)
‘Andreas Granqvist a target for Spurs and Liverpool’ read The Sun’s headline in December 2012. ‘What, that Granqvist?’ ten thousand Wigan supporters asked themselves in disbelief. Yes, that Granqvist.

The big Premier League move never came, but it’s fair to say that the Swedish central defender has improved since his spell in England in 2007/08. Only four players in Erik Hamren’s squad have more international caps than Granqvist, who was signed by Chris Hutchings from Helsingborgs.

Unfortunately (for Granqvist rather than Wigan), Steve Bruce took over from Hutchings in the November, and the 22-year-old defender was eased out of the first-team picture, sold the following summer for just £600,000. Moves to Genoa and Krasnodar followed, and Granqvist has seemingly got over his sojourn in Lancashire.


Andrej Kramaric (Leicester and Croatia)
‘What went wrong for Andrej Kramaric at Leicester City?’ read last month’s headline in the Leicester Mercury. Well he didn’t play much. And when he did play he didn’t score or even look like scoring. That’ll do it.

Kramaric claimed that he was “glad to be part of” Leicester’s title victory, but that’s not so much jumping on the bandwagon as being left behind as it careers off down the road. The club’s record purchase played 22 Premier League minutes last season, was shipped out on loan to Hoffenheim and has now joined the Bundesliga club permanently.

Kramaric is behind Mario Mandzukic and fellow Premier League hall-of-famer Nikola Kalinic in the Croatia striking queue, but former coach Niko Kovac has compared him to Davor Suker. You’ll forgive me for shaking my head violently at such a suggestion.


Shkodran Mustafi (Everton and Germany)
One game. One competitive game, as a substitute for Tony bloody Hibbert. Fifteen minutes against Bate Borisov in the Europa League. Never to be heard of again.

When Mustafi joined Everton’s academy from Hamburg in 2009 as a 17-year-old, he immediately declared that Goodison “felt like home”. Having turned down offers from Manchester City and Newcastle, the youngster saw himself as the next big thing in German defending. Hopefully he enjoyed the quarter of an hour he actually spent playing at “home”.

Given away on a free by David Moyes in the summer of 2012, Mustafi has since moved from Sampdoria to Valencia and become a fixture in their defence. Given the state of Everton’s defending last season, maybe he really was the one that got away.


Daniel Storey

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