Kostas Mitroglou scored a very tidy goal in Olympiacos’s thrilling 3-2 victory over Spanish champions Atletico Madrid last night. The Greek striker made it a night to remember for the Superleague title holders, and in doing so, he may have let these new, happy memories force out the harrowing ones from last season. Mitroglou is technically on loan at Olympiacos, from Fulham, the club for which he was a record signing just last season. Mitroglou had caught the eyes of the footballing world with some storming Champions League performances, including a hat trick against Anderlecht where he scored all three goals in a 3-0 win. It earned him the largely unenviable prize of joining Fulham’s doomed campaign to avoid relegation, in an £12 million move that was supposed to make up for the loss of Dimitar Berbatov. He inked a four and a half year contract in January of this year. His time in London was to last seven months and he would make exactly 3 appearances for Fulham. Injuries didn’t help his Fulham career, quite the contrary, they severely hampered any hopes of progress (not that he would have stopped Fulham going down, in truth). It was in August that his ordeal came to a merciful end, when he was loaned back to his former club. The win over Atleti was his first start since returning and he marked it with a fine goal. His sorry tale of time lost isn’t an uncommon one, in fact, a number of players have trodden a similar path through the lonely wilderness of the Premier League.
One of the most enigmatic examples, wrapped in mystery and suspicion, was Cardiff City’s purchasing and speedy return of Andreas Cornelius to and from F.C Copenhagen. The 6 ft 4 Dane was, like Mitroglou, the club’s record signing, bought by the promoted Welsh club for a reported fee of close to £8 million. A five year deal was agreed upon and everything was hunky dory. Cornelius was quickly struck down by an ankle injury, one that would keep him out of the World Cup for Denmark, and obliterated his chances of playing regularly for Cardiff. Cornelius made 8 appearances in six months, and was sold back to his former club for a fee that Cardiff were very keen to keep undisclosed, though they did say that it was far less than what Cornelius had cost them initially. Woe, woe and more woe, and it didn’t end there as Cardiff were relegated haplessly by season’s end. Cornelius, as a callous way of letting the Cardiff fans know what they had missed, scored a hat trick in his first return appearance for Copenhagen.
A more journeyed story of sorrow, one that made a cameo stop in the Premier League, was the tale of Nuri Sahin, who was the centre of a big money move from Borussia Dortmund to Real Madrid in 2011. Sahin had dazzled in Dortmund’s 2010/11 Bundesliga triumph, and was quickly hoovered up by the colossal, insatiable mistress that is Real Madrid, for €10 million. Over the next three years, Sahin, while still technically a Real Madrid player, made only four league appearances for his parent club, and spent half a season on loan at Liverpool, where he appeared seven times. According to Sahin, Brendan Rogers had insisted he play behind the strikers, a position that Sahin felt was unnatural for him. Leaving Liverpool with the acid-tipped parting words “I thank God I’ve left Brendan Rogers”, he returned to Dortmund on loan in 2012, then resigned permanently with them last season. His harrowing schlep across Europe was over, and back to Dortmund he went, no doubt with a renewed fondness for home in his heart.
Speaking of Dortmund, they have a habit of being involved in this sort of thing. Another of their jewels from their last title winning season, Shinji Kagawa, who was bought the year before from Cerezo Osaka for a staggeringly low €350,000, also left the season after their title triumph. He was bought by Manchester United, and was the first Japanese player ever to play for the Red Devils. As opposed to Mitroglou, or Cornelius, Kagawa’s time in England wasn’t hamstrung by injury, nor was the first year of it particularly unsuccessful. He won the title with United, what was to be Sir Alex’s last, and appeared 26 times that season, was the fourth highest scorer at the club with 6 goals, and laid on 3 assists for good measure. Not a bad start, for a new player in his first year. From there it went, as we all know, rather downhill, for both Kagawa and United. Even though he played more times the next season under David Moyes, his return was nothing like as good, with four assists in all competitions, and no goals. He was consistently played in wider positions by Moyes, largely considered not the areas where his talents were best utilised. In the league, he would often not feature in the match day squad for big fixtures, or otherwise was seen wearing in a groove on the bench. “Free Shinji” banners were made by the fans, such was the perceived cruelty of his imprisonment in that final season. Kagawa was rescued from his United limbo by Jurgen Klopp, the man who had plucked him from obscurity, who had nurtured him into the blossoming playmaker he had become, and the return of Kagawa to Klopp and to Dortmund’s was a happy, relieved reconciliation.
The final tale of months misspent is that of Wilfried Zaha. He was a wunderkind sensation for Crystal Palace, scoring some remarkable goals in the Championship and was responsible for dragging them to promotion in 2013. He won the penalty that earned them a Premier League place, and (after having been already bought in January by Manchester United, then loaned back to Palace) when the time came for him to clean out his locker and move from London to Manchester, most Palace fans tearfully bade him their goodbyes, knowing that he was a talented player for whom Palace had become too small a stage. He debuted for United as a substitute in a pre-season friendly, and then scored in a later friendly against Kagawa’s former club, Cerezo Osaka. Throughout the pre-season Zaha looked a promising addition, very confidently swerving around the pitch, endowed with quick feet and no little amount of swagger. Everything was shaping up, and with United in need of a winger, such was the arid state of Nani, Valencia and Young, this was a very welcome sign. Alas, it was all an illusion, and Moyes decided that Zaha and his considerable talent were only worthy of four appearances that season proper. He was forgotten as the year progressed and ended up just another piece of rubble that lay scorched and smoking after the wreckage of the Moyes’s tenure. He was loaned to Cardiff City in January, but he was joining one of the only ships sinking faster than United. This pre-season, Crystal Palace, no mugs, acted quickly to secure Zaha on loan for the year and so far in two appearances their returned prodigal son has looked a handy signing, scoring once already.
A combination of bad luck, poor management, reckless business and a lack of patience cost these players their jolly English holidays. Grey clouds seemed to follow them, spitting down caustic rain and for a moment it seemed like hope was lost. The only light that they could see crouched as they were on barren, windy moors, shone from the direction they had come. They followed that light and now their happy presents are quickly suppressing the dark memories of their miserable pasts.