Jefferson Louis, Jason Steele, David McGoldrick and Stoke are the real stars of football

John Nicholson
Mansfield Town striker Jefferson Louis
Jefferson Louis has had more clubs than you've had hot dinners

John Nicholson wants to pay tribute to football’s greatest exponent: the journeyman. But he doesn’t know why they all end up at Stoke City eventually.


One of football’s greatest pleasures is stumbling across players you used to be really familiar with but who dropped off your radar at some point. Once a regular part of the dramatis personae of our football lives, here they are again, still plugging away somewhere else, allowing us to utter the classic refrain ‘I forgot about him’ or ‘I thought he’d packed it in’.

A player like Asmir Begovic, to my mind, could still be at Stoke City where he spent five seasons from 2010 to 2015, having joined from Portsmouth for whom he played 17 games in five years, being out on loan for most of that time. But in fact he left the Potters eight years ago, won the Premier League with Chelsea (totally forgot that), spent four seasons at Bournemouth, played 10 times in the Azerbaijan Premier League, went on loan to AC Milan for two matches and latterly spent two years at Everton, only playing 10 times.

Where is the 36-year-old Bosnian now? QPR. The journeyman keeper’s 13th club.

Remember Wesley, a tall Brazilian striker who signed for Aston Villa in 2019 for a club-record £22million? He scored six goals in 26 appearances, did his cruciate and was out for over a year, by which time Villa had moved on and farmed him out on loan to Club Brugge, Internacional and Levante until his contract was up. Where is he now? He’s signed a one-year contract with Stoke City, which is very much the journeyman’s club.

Last time I looked, 33-year-old Dwight Gayle was at Newcastle but in fact he’s also at Stoke City, his eighth club. It was also where you could find 40-year-old veteran Phil Jagielka last season.

Championship flop Gayle

Lewis Baker, 28, was touted as a tremendous prospect in Chelsea’s ranks 10 years ago if you recall, and was on the club’s books for eight years, being loaned out to eight different teams. Where is he now? Of course he’s at Stoke City as well, already the 10th club he’s played for.

Another former Chelsea prospect who has only just completed his contract with the Blues is Ethan Ampadu who, remarkably, is still only 22, has 44 Welsh caps and has already played for six different clubs, spending last year in Italy at Spezia. His seventh team will be Leeds United. He’s already a journeyman in his early 20s, having played just 130 games.

Josh McEachran was yet another young Chelsea star with a lot of potential who only played 22 times for them across two seasons and was then sent out on loan five times, including a season at Middlesbrough. Since then he’s been at Brentford, Birmingham City and MK Dons. Now 30, he’s just signed for his hometown club, Oxford United.

Do you recall Victor Moses? He was on Chelsea’s books for nine long years after starting at Crystal Palace and then Wigan, falling in and out of favour, having a couple of great seasons but then being sent out on loan half a dozen times until his contract was finally up in 2021. He’s still just 32 and has played 45 games for Spartak Moscow across the last three seasons and racked up 456 appearances across nine clubs and 16 years.

John Bostock was, very briefly, The Next Big Thing when Spurs signed him from Crystal Palace in 2008 but he only played four times. Still somehow only 31 he seems to have been around forever and he’s now on Notts County’s books – his 15th club in a career that’s taken him to Turkey, Belgium, Canada, France and Doncaster.

With him at Notts County is a striker you may remember if you’re a Southampton fan. David McGoldrick played 75 times for Saints, scoring 15 times between 2004 and 2009. Since then he’s been at 10 different clubs, scoring 25 in 45 games for Derby last season as their Player of the Season.

Now 35, he’s returned to County, his hometown club, where his career started 19 years ago. Aw.

We all remember another former Spurs and QPR player, the mercurial Adel Taarabt. Yep, he’s still pounding the turf. He’s now 34 and is plying his trade for his ninth club: Al-Nasr in UAE. Of course. That seemed somehow inevitable.

Steven Fletcher is now 36 and is stuck in my mind as a Sunderland player but that was seven years ago; last season he got relegated with Dundee United. Connor Wickham is another former Sunderland striker who moved to the Stadium of Light for £8m. A former England U21 player, he’s still somehow only 30, also seems to have been around forever and spent last season at Cardiff City, his ninth club. Will his 63 goals in 297 games attract a 10th?

Former Manchester United and England goalie Ben Foster is now 40, which seems barely believable. Once high profile, if you’ve lost track of him, he’s now at Wrexham, his 10th club, having racked up 543 appearances. Also newly at Wrexham is James McClean, a Stoke player in my head who is actually on his eighth club and at 34 could still have four or five seasons in him yet.

And then there is the evergreen Ravel Morrison. Yes, he’s still just 30 and has been given 427 second chances, having turned out for 13 clubs in 13 years, playing only 191 games. He was on loan from Sheffield United at Middlesbrough and played just three times. Since then he played a few games for ADO Den Haag and managed a whole season at Derby, possibly the best of his career. But the littlest hobo was on his way again, this time to DC United for whom he played 14 games but was left out of their MLS squad for the 2023 season. He’ll doubtless be on his way soon enough.

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The last time I had heard of Jason Steele, he was on Boro’s books for eight seasons, having been born in nearby Newton Aycliffe. When he left in 2015, I pretty much stopped being aware of him. He played for Blackburn and Sunderland before moving in 2018 to Brighton. Until the middle of the last campaign he’d only played nine first-team games for the Seagulls in four and a half seasons. Then he got his chance under Roberto De Zerbi and was superb, playing the last 15 Premier League matches. I stared at the TV thinking it must be a different Jason Steele to the one who played for Boro. But no. It’s the same 32-year-old having a late career revival.

But the ultimate journeyman still playing must be striker Jefferson Louis who has played for 42 different clubs, being transferred 47 times over a 28-year career. The 44-year-old is currently at Slough Town as a player-coach. In the 2010/11 season alone he played for six different teams. His best season was 2013/14 when he scored 22 times in 25 games for Hendon. He’s turned out for Oxford United, Bristol Rovers and Mansfield Town in the Football League and a helluva lot of non-league sides and he’s been capped once by Dominica. That’s some career.

There is understandably so much attention paid to the big stars on the big money at the top of the game, but underneath that level are football’s foot soldiers, gamely plodding on from club to club, sometimes being pushed from pillar to post and basically just playing football because they like it or because you’ve got to earn a living somehow. Maybe they’re the real stars of the game.