The success of the Premier League means it has become the unofficial centre of the football universe.
Players are never more high profile than why they’re plying their trade – successfully or unsuccessfully – in England. Moving to the Premier League, even to be Watford‘s back-up right-back, raises your profile.
But, by the same token, when you leave England’s top flight you fade into obscurity. Unless you’re Cristiano Ronaldo or David Beckham. They did OK for themselves.
So we’ve come up with seven ex-Premier League stars you won’t have known are still playing. Prepare to be surprised…and wonder if you could get a game in some of these leagues.
Robbie Keane – ATK
The 37-year-old striker joined boyhood club (the old ones are the best) ATK, formerly Atlético de Kolkata, in August 2017 where he linked up with former Tottenham team-mate Teddy Sheringham, who is head coach.
Keane, who played for Wolverhampton Wanderers, Coventry, Internazionale, Leeds, Spurs (twice), Liverpool, Celtic, West Ham United, LA Galaxy and Aston Villa during a glittering career, started a new chapter in the sub continent this season.
Ireland’s all-time leading goalscorer immediately took the No.10 shirt and captain’s armband, naturally, but was ruled out until December when he suffered an Achilles injury during pre-season.
He finally made his debut at the beginning of the month, coming off the bench in a 3-2 loss to Chennaiyin FC.
Michael Essien – Persib Badung
Best remembered for a trophy-laden nine-year stint with Chelsea, the all-action Ghanaian midfielder has struggled to settle anywhere since leaving Stamford bridge in 2014.
A loan spell at Real Madrid during the 2012/13 campaign spelt the end for Essien, who turned out for Milan and Panathinaikos briefly before moving to Indonesia in March 2017.
Having signed for Persib Bendung, 35-year-old Essien boldy proclaimed: “I hope I am the prelude to other world players moving to Indonesia.”
The two-time Premier League champion and four-time FA Cup winner has featured regularly since and made more starts last season than he has since 2010/11.
Shaun Wright-Phillips – Phoenix Rising FC
He didn’t know it at the time but moving to Chelsea from Manchester City during the early days of the Blues’ Russian revolution proved to be the worst thing for Wright-Phillips’ fledgling career.
In and out of José Mourinho‘s first great Chelsea side, Wright-Phillips returned to the Etihad in 2008 but was again victim of new money and found himself joining newly-promoted Queens Park Rangers in 2011.
Four years back in West London did not work out and in 2015 the England international took the bold step of following half-brother Bradley to Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls.
But Wright-Phillips was in his brother’s shadow and made just a handful of starts. So, in February 2017, he inked a deal with United Soccer League side Phoenix Rising in the second tier of American Soccer.
Now 36, SWP finally appears to have found his level and has been a regular alongside another former Blue, Didier Drogba, who part-owns the club.
Dimitar Berbatov – Kerala Blasters
The Bulgarian enigma’s post-Manchester United career has the feel of one long student gap year. Drummed out of Old Trafford when he became too lazy for Sir Alex Ferguson to put up with, Berbatov joined Fulham and did reasonably well in two laid-back years at Craven Cottage.
Clearly fancying an even easier existence he moved to Monaco for a season and lapped up life in the principality, hitting 13 in 38 outings in his single campaign in Ligue 1. Greece was next on the worldwide tour and Berbatov spent a single disappointing year with Panathinaikos between 2015/16.
For a man who was so famously lackadaisical on the field that could have been it. But, in August 2017 – a full year after last pulling his boots on seriously – Berbatov joined Indian Super League outfit Kerala Blasters.
Managed by ex-Reading boss Steve Coppell, Kerala reached the 2016 Indian Super League finals but lost on penalties.
This season they include ex-Manchester United players Wes Brown and Paul Rachubka among their foreign contingent and are managed by René Meulensteen, who worked with Berbatov at Old Trafford.
Wes Brown – Kerala Blasters
India or Crewe? That was the choice facing veteran centre-back Brown in the summer and in the end, after turning down the offer to train with League Two Alex, the 38-year-old decided the sub continent offered more than rural Cheshire.
After leaving Old Trafford for Sunderland in a double deal along with John O’Shea in 2011, Brown struggled for form and fitness and made just 70 Premier League starts in five seasons at the Stadium of Light.
A single campaign at Blackburn yielded just three Championship starts and relegation to the third tier. Crewe boss David Artell was keen to bring the five-time Premier League winner to Gresty Road but a deal did not materialise.
“He was supposed to come in and speak to us,” assistant manager Kenny Lunt told BBC Radio Stoke. “He never did come in. It would have been nice to sit down with him.”
Ricardo Vaz Tê – Henan Jianye
It’s hard to believe former Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United forward Vaz Tê is still only 31. It’s even harder to get your head around the fact he’s one of the exotic foreign signings for the Chinese Super League.
The Lisborn-born forward never quite lived up to his potential while in England, save for a fine spell in the Championship where he helped fire the Hammers back into the Premier League with 12 goals in just 16 starts.
But having failed to adjust to the Premier League he was with Turkish side Akhisarspor from 2015 until 2017 with an 11-game stint at Charlton Athletic sandwiched in between.
And in the summer he became the latest ex-Premier League star to move to China and has five in five stats for Henan.
Massimo Maccarone – Brisbane Roar
Fittingly for a man who shares his surname with a type of pasta, the Italian striker is nicknamed ‘Big Mac’ down under. But he’s still lean enough to be playing at 38 despite his McDonald’s-inspired moniker.
Best known in England for his stint with Middlesbrough where he won the League Cup and helped the Teessiders reach the UEFA Cup final, Maccarone’s best season in England saw him net just nine times in all competitions.
He moved back to Italy in 2006 and fared rather better with Siena, Palermo, Sampdoria and Empoli where his Indian summer saw him bag a move to the Australian A-League.
The two-cap Italian international has continued his impressive form with the Roar and has a one-in-two record this term.