Only one man can match Robert Lewandowski for goals so far in this season’s Champions League. Not Cristiano Ronaldo, Mo Salah or Lionel Messi, but West Ham cast-off Sebastien Haller, who has found his feet with Ajax. His nine goals and two assists in five European matches so far leave him at the top of the goalscoring charts, while nine in 14 matches domestically have seen the Amsterdam club soar to the top of a three way battle for the Eredivisie title.
Yet it wasn’t too long ago that Haller was seen as a major disappointment in the Premier League. Even when West Ham only had Michail Antonio as a striker, Haller failed to make an impression at the London Stadium despite being brought in from Eintracht Frankfurt for a club record £45m.
Given the Hammers aren’t used to spending that type of fee on one player, you can see why big things were expected of a man who had hit 20 goals in the Bundesliga for a side that had finished 7th. He was 25 years old, approaching his peak and for many, would take the Premier League by storm just as he had done in Germany.
He left just 18 months later with 10 Premier League goals to his name and West Ham settled for a £25m loss over that time frame, such was the lack of faith they had in the Ivorian. But Haller has continued where he left off on the continent and is now one of the most feared strikers in Europe, once again proving that the grass can be greener outside England’s top flight.
He is far from the only example of this success in Europe for players dubbed as flops in the Premier League. Manchester United have had their fair share of transfer failings since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson and two players that were awarded the famous number seven shirt certainly fit the bill.
Angel di Maria joined with huge expectations and a price tag to match from Real Madrid back in 2014 but stayed at Old Trafford for just one season before moving to Paris where he has won four Ligue 1 titles. Although the Champions League still eludes the Argentine, he has certainly rebuilt his reputation in France, having been derided on these shores.
The man who took on the United number seven shirt from Di Maria, Memphis Depay also failed to make the grade at Old Trafford. Like Haller, he only lasted 18 months in England having scored just two league goals before being moved onto Lyon. Once again it was a case of what could have been for the Red Devils, as Memphis proved himself to be one of the finest players in Ligue 1, averaging almost a goal every two games across four seasons, before he got his move to Barcelona.
Radamal Falcao failed during loan spells at United and Chelsea before returning to Monaco with Leonardo Jardim, where the club won the title and reached the final four of the Champions League. Jerome Boateng didn’t quite break through at Manchester City, Juan Cuadrado never made the grade at Chelsea but has flourished in Turin while Iago Aspas is known around Merseyside for that shocking corner, but has become one of Spain’s most potent goalscorers back at Celta Vigo.
But perhaps there is no bigger example of this phenomenon than Serge Gnabry. As an Arsenal youngster on loan at West Brom, he was deemed not good enough by Tony Pulis and simply didn’t have the attitude to succeed, according to his former boss. However, since the Gunners sold him on to Werder Bremen, he has become a household name and become a star for Bayern Munich.
He famously scored four in the Champions League against Tottenham Hotspur and is this season hitting his peak at the age of 26, with six goals in just 14 league matches so far this term. His current record is twelve for a year, and he is well on course to smash that this term, and once again prove himself as one of the finest wingers in Europe - even if he didn’t show it in England.
The Premier League may well be the 'best league in the world' for many, but that doesn't mean you have to succeed here to be a great player.