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Best European players to never play in their domestic top flight


Some footballers spend their entire careers plying their trade in one country, some spend it in the same league and some spend it with just one club. However, football is a global game, and some footballers haven’t even stayed put […]

Some footballers spend their entire careers plying their trade in one country, some spend it in the same league and some spend it with just one club.

However, football is a global game, and some footballers haven’t even stayed put in their home country long enough to make an appearance in its domestic division.

Let’s take a look at the best players from across Europe who have never played a minute in their country’s domestic top flight.

Manchester United's Welsh midfielder Rya
Giggs never graced the Welsh top flight | ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

Giggs was born in Cardiff in his native Wales, and would go on to play 64 times for his national side.

However, he moved to Salford when he was six and joined the Manchester United academy as a teenager. He would famously spend his entire 24-year senior career at Old Trafford and become one of the most decorated players in football history.

All this success would be to the detriment of the Cymru Premier League, with Giggs never gracing the Welsh top flight. Aberystwyth Town, Bangor City and Abergavenny Thursdays were all the poorer for it.

Champs League SF Roy Keane
Keane moved to England before he could play in the Irish A League | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Roy Keane had to graft his way to the top; he was rejected by Ireland school boys and was unsuccessful on multiple occasions when applying for trials for English sides as a teenager.

As a result, his first taste of senior football came for semi-professional Cobh Ramblers in the League of Ireland First Division – the second tier of the Irish footballing pyramid.

Keane spent just a season with Cobh Ramblers before being scouted for Nottingham Forest. He would go onto play for Manchester United and Celtic, but the Irish top flight remained uncharted territory.

Robbie Keane
Keane spent the bulk of his career in the Premier League | Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Robbie Keane is the Republic of Ireland’s all-time leading goal scorer. He’s played for 11 different teams in five different countries, but has not one solitary senior appearance in his home country to his name.

The forward progressed through the youth system at Dublin-based outfit Crumlin United F.C. However, he departed for the bright lights of Wolverhampton at the age of 15, without having yet made his senior debut.

After making his professional bow for Wolves, Keane would spend much of his career in the Premier League, in addition to spells in Serie A, the MLS, the Scottish Premiership and the Indian Super League. Robbie Keane has played domestic football in Bengal but not his native Ireland. Heartbreaking.

Paul Pogba
Pogba first moved to United as a teenager | Nils Petter Nilsson/Getty Images

Paul Pogba played youth football for US Torcy and Le Havre, but moved to Manchester United aged 16 without having made a senior domestic appearance in his native France.

The midfielder has toed and froed between United and Juventus throughout his club career, winning eight domestic honours and thoroughly p*ssing off Graeme Souness along the way.

But despite winning the World Cup with France in 2018, Pogba has never plied his trade in Ligue 1.

Paris Saint-Germain v Stade Brest - Ligue 1
Verratti is yet to play in Serie A | Xavier Laine/Getty Images

Marco Verratti spent four years playing senior domestic football in his native Italy at the very start of his career – but he was whisked off to PSG before he could set foot in Serie A.

Verratti came through the ranks at Pescara, rejecting offers from Inter, Milan and Atalanta as a teenager to remain with his home town side. Very much Italian football’s answer to Jimmy Grimble.

The silky midfielder made his senior debut at 15, and was part of the Pescara side promoted from Lega Pro Prima Divisione (the Italian third tier) in 2010. He then helped the club to a second promotion to Serie A two years later, but before he could make an appearance in the Italian top flight, Verratti had been snapped up by PSG.

Eden Hazard
Hazard moved to France as a teenager | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Eden Hazard spent the latter stages of his youth career with Belgian outfit Tubize, before moving to Lille as a 16-year-old without yet making his first team bow in Belgium.

Moving countries as a teenager could seem like a big step – but Hazard was only actually moving an hour away, with Lille situated near the France-Belgium border.

The winger’s profile soared at Lille, and after months of speculation he announced (grammatically incorrectly) that he was joining Chelsea in 2012. A move to Real Madrid followed after seven successful seasons at Stamford Bridge, but the Belgian Pro League is as yet untouched by Hazard.

Antoine Griezmann
Griezmann has only ever played in La Liga | Eric Alonso/Getty Images

Antoine Griezmann said au revoir to his native France at the age of 14, departing home town side UF Macon to join Real Sociedad.

The forward has since been bred in Spain, spending his entire career in La Liga with Sociedad, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.

Like Pogba, he was an integral part of France’s 2018 World Cup winning side – but has never made an appearance in the French top flight.

Ivan Rakitic
Rakitic was born in Switzerland but represents Croatia | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Ivan Rakitic was born and raised in Switzerland to Yugoslavian parents, and subsequently went on to make 106 appearances for Croatia.

The midfielder began his career in Switzerland with Basel, before moving to Schalke, Sevilla, Barcelona and back to Sevilla.

He was a key cog in the Croatia side that reached the World Cup final for the very first time in 2018, but has never played in the Prva HNL – Croatia’s top flight.

Toby Alderweireld
Alderweireld has never played in the Belgian top flight | Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images

Toby Alderweireld was born and raised in Antwerp and played youth football for Germinal Beershot.

However, he moved to Ajax as a 15-year-old to complete his youth career in Holland without making a domestic appearance in Belgium.

The defender has since played in La Liga and the Premier League and made over a century of appearances for Belgium, without ever having played a minute of domestic football in the Belgian Pro League.

Lucas Hernandez
Lucas Hernandez has never played domestic football in France | Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

What is it about France’s 2018 World Cup winning squad and their active avoidance of Ligue 1? That’s Griezmann, Pogba and now Lucas Hernandez. Who next, Steven Nzonzi?

Almost correct, but unfortunately Steven Nzonzi blew his chances of making the list when he joined Rennes on loan in 2020.

Anyway, Hernandez was born in Marseille but moved to Spain as a four-year-old when his father – himself a former footballer – signed for Atletico Madrid. The defender joined the Atletico academy and progressed into the senior side, before switching La Liga for the Bundesliga in 2019 when he joined Bayern Munich.

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