In today’s market, if you want to go out and sign a world-class player, you’re going to have to part with some cash.
However, you can still find a diamond in the rough, and many sides have fallen for brilliance in the most unlikely places. Whether it was hunch, accident or complete fluke, some players have gone on to become world class after being snatched from unknown clubs and given a chance at a higher level.
Riyad Mahrez once struggled to impress further down the French league, and even Robert Lewandowski needed a few chances to get the ball rolling in Poland. Right here, Star Daily Sport take a look at nine world-class stars who were poached from unknown clubs before becoming stars.
Jamie Vardy – Stocksbridge
Jamie Vardy is at the heart of one of the most sensational sports stories of all time as he fired Leicester to the most unlikely of Premier League title victories. The Englishman will forever remain an iconic part of footballing history, but he came from very humble beginnings.
After being dropped by Sheffield Wednesday and turning to factory work, Vardy played for local club Stocksbridge before eventually being picked up by Halifax Town and then Fleetwood Town. It was there, while playing non-league football, that Leicester made a major statement and signed the striker for £1million.
It was the biggest transfer fee for any player at this level, but it ended up being one of the wisest investments ever, as almost 128 Premier League goals later, Vardy helped make Leicester the club it is today. The Foxes also won their first-ever FA Cup last season, to add to their recent success.
Ngolo Kante – Caen
Ngolo Kante is one of the greatest midfielders in world football, and the Frenchman blessed the Premier League for seven years after initially signing for Leicester in 2015. Kante now plays for Chelsea and led them to League success champions, but he was once an undesirable man in France.
Now a World Cup winner with his country, Kante was an unknown quantity in France at the time, but Leicester saw something in the midfield and the rest is history. Even Arsene Wenger didn’t like him as Kante was offered to Arsenal before joining the Foxes from Caen.
Kante was signed for £5.6m in 2015 but speaking to Sport Bible, Wenger said: “He [Kante] played for a club where one of my best friends is manager and he said to me ‘Please I have a player we know who is amazing’. Nobody wants him in France’.” There is no team left in the world that wouldn’t take Kante.
Riyad Mahrez – Le Havre
Rounding out Leicester’s brilliant trio is Riyad Mahrez, and it’s no surprise that football scout Steve Walsh was soon given an offer deal by Everton following his outstanding record of finding stars. The winger spent four years at Le Havre before being snapped up by Leicester in 2014.
The Algerian was signed for just £450,000 and went on to feature for Leicester, forming a rough partnership with Vardy before finding Premier League success. Leicester have made a huge profit on the winger as his £60million move to Manchester City made him the most expensive African player of all time.
Mahrez has become a senior member of Pep Guardiola’s squad, and it seems crazy to think his talent has gone unnoticed in France. His contract with City runs out at the end of next season, and so far there is no talk of a new deal.
Edouard Mendy – Reims
Edouard Mendy has become a crucial part of Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea side, and his heroism for the Senegal national team also inspired the success of the Africa Cup of Nations to kick off 2022. The goalkeeper also helped Senegal qualify for the World Cup after a fine performance from the penalty spot. shootout victory over Egypt.
But the 30-year-old has only really been in the spotlight since 2019 as his career took a long time to kick off. After failing to impress at Cherbourg, Mendy was without a club for an entire year between 2014-15 and then was let go by the Marseille reserve side soon after.
But Reims gave him a chance in 2016 and he started to find his feet, and a transfer to Rennes in 2019 propelled him to become one of the best goalkeepers in Ligue 1. Mendy is now one of the best in the Premier League, although he had a week to forget after conceding seven goals in just four days against Brentford and Real Madrid.
Keylor Navas – Albacete
Keylor Navas may be battling with Gianluigi Donnarumma for the top spot at Paris Saint Germain, but the Costa Rican keeper is one of the best goalkeepers in the world. But it took him some time to get his break, as it was Albacete who tried his luck.
Navas moved to Costa Rican club Saprissa but joined Albacete in 2010 before heading to Levante. It was from there that Madrid’s interest peaked, and they took a dive in 2014 when he triggered his £8million buyout clause.
The goalkeeper now has three Champions League titles to his name, as he won the league title in Costa Rica, Spain and France after winning Ligue 1 with PSG. They are also on course to win another title this season, although their lack of European success haunts the French giants.
Paul Pogba – Le Havre
It’s fair to say that Le Havre have a good track record of producing young talent, and Paul Pogba is just one of many stars to emerge from the Normandy-based team. After noticing his rise, Manchester United acted quickly and brought the Frenchman to the club aged 16, much to Le Havre’s disgust.
However, although United poached the youngster, he ended up costing them a fortune as he prepares to leave the club for free this summer, for the second time in his career. He originally left in 2012 before joining Juventus, and his contract expires at the end of the season after an £89m return in 2016.
Reports suggest that Pogba could return to France, with PSG interested in the midfielder. And his exit from United could be confirmed if they miss out on Champions League football this season, with the Red Devils trailing Arsenal and Tottenham who are also on the hunt.
Erling Haaland – Bryne
Erling Haaland is now a household name, but the Norwegian was once just a young lad following in his father’s footsteps as a professional footballer. Haaland joined Norwegian team Bryne when he was 5 years old, and at just 15 he was already playing in the men’s reserve.
Haaland once netted 18 goals in 14 minutes for the reserves, and a move to Molde soon followed in 2017 with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer signing him. Of course, Haaland instantly scored on his cup and league debut for the team, and a move to Red Bull Salzburg came in 2019.
After starring in their Champions League campaign with goals against Liverpool and Napoli, Borussia Dortmund signed him after just one year, and his incredible goalscoring record continued. Haaland is now one of the most searched stars in the world and is expected to take a huge step forward at the end of the season.
Robert Lewandowski – Znicz Pruszkow
Robert Lewandowski is one of the greatest strikers of all time, and the Poland international is chasing Gerd Muller’s record 365 goals in the Bundesliga. Currently sitting at 308, it’s likely he could break it at Bayern Munich, having initially played for Borussia Dortmund, but was relatively unknown before heading to Germany.
After playing for various clubs in the Polish capital of Warsaw, Lewandowski eventually impressed Znicz Pruszków, and after a prolific two-year stint he was snapped up by Lech Poznan for £270,000 in 2008. Lewandowski became interested , and Dortmund won the race for the striker in 2010, and he helped the German side knock Bayern Munich off their perch with back-to-back Bundesliga titles.
However, he then joined them in 2014, and he’s been a sensation ever since, and with 31 league goals already this season, he’s aging like fine wine. He is also the Champions League top scorer this season with 12 goals, and with Bayern trailing 1-0 at Villarreal, they will need him to avoid a shock exit.
Sadio Mane – Generation Foot
Sadio Mane played a crucial role in Liverpool’s iconic front after leaving Southampton in 2016, but it was in his native Senegal that he was discovered by French side Metz. Mane was playing for Generation Foot in Senegal, but sent Mane to Metz who they previously shared a partnership with.
Mane moved from Africa to Europe in 2011, but it paid off as Red Bull Salzburg made a move after just one season, and the winger was a Premier League favorite after joining Southampton in 2014 Mane has since become one of the greatest players. in the world, winning almost everything there is to win at club level.
The Senegal captain was recently named Player of the Tournament in the recent Africa Cup of Nations victory, and he remained calm as his penalty sent Senegal through to the World Cup as they beat the Egypt on penalties. Mane joins his Senegalese teammate Mendy in being discovered on the French side, and they are now two of the greatest in the Premier League.