The path to footballing stardom is never a straightforward one. The notion of the one-club man appears to be disappearing, with the likes of Thomas Müller at Bayern Munich, Francesco Totti at Roma and Ryan Giggs at Manchester United becoming a dying breed.

Players now move regularly from club to club to make their fortune, and often the route taken gets forgotten when they reach their destination. has therefore researched the paths of 11 players whose former stations may come as a surprise to some…

Ron-Robert Zieler (now at VfB Stuttgart/formerly of Manchester United)

Often the forgotten man of Germany’s 2014 FIFA World Cup win as back-up to Manuel Neuer, it is just as easy to forget that Zieler was once on the books at Manchester United in England. Joining the English Premier League club as a 16-year-old, he spent two seasons with the first team but failed to make a senior appearance for Sir Alex Ferguson’s team with Edwin van der Sar the undisputed No.1 in goal. His situation was not helped by a broken arm suffered during a mid-air collision for the reserves after returning from a loan spell at Northampton Town.

“You can have it, mate” – Ron-Robert Zieler left Manchester United the season before David De Gea arrived in 2011. © imago


Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich/RB Leipzig)

A product of the Stuttgart academy, his move to Leipzig as an 18-year-old was the start of an inexorable rise. The transfer was described by one-time VfB coach Alexander Zorninger as "a big mistake", before adding, "whoever was involved in letting Kimmich leave should be strung up." Making his senior debut in the third tier at RB, Kimmich spent two seasons with Die Roten Bullen as they won promotion to Bundesliga 2. His performances did not go unnoticed by a certain Pep Guardiola, who went to personally scout the youngster and took an active role in the signing of a player he once said "has got everything, can do everything and gives everything."

Is that a baby, or Joshua Kimmich? The Bayern Munich star was at RB Leipzig long before their Bundesliga birth. © imago

Frederik Sörensen (Cologne/Juventus)

While his Cologne team-mate Jonas Hector looks like being the only Bundesliga 2 player at the FIFA World Cup this summer, Dane Sörensen is also perhaps the most surprising player in this team. Signed by Italian giants Juventus in 2010 from the youth academy of Danish second-division side Lyngby, the Copenhagen-native made 17 Serie A appearances in his debut season with the Old Lady. In 2012/13 he was signed by Bologna as part of a co-ownership deal before being bought back outright by Juventus in 2014. He almost signed for English side Leeds United on loan before a disagreement ended the move and he joined Hellas Verona on a one-year contract. In 2015 he left Turin altogether for his permanent switch to Cologne.

Frederik Sörensen made 17 appearances in his first Serie A season with Juventus, back in 2010/11 © imago

Emiliano Insua (Stuttgart/Liverpool/Atletico Madrid)

At the age of 18, Insua jumped at an invitation from Liverpool to fulfil his childhood dream. "I desperately wanted to do it," he said. "It was my dream to play at a big club in Europe." Insua watched on as the Reds lifted the UEFA Champions League a few years later, but he struggled to break into the first team and was eventually sent on loan to Galatasaray. Sporting Lisbon, Atletico Madrid and Rayo Vallecano were the Argentinian's next steps, as he gained Europa League and Champions League experience on his way to Baden-Württemberg, where his performances earned him a recall to the Argentina national team in November 2017.

“I can’t believe it either!” - Emilano Insua made his Liverpool debut in 2007 just three months past his 18th birthday. © imago

David Alaba (Bayern/Hoffenheim)

The Austrian joined Austria Vienna at the age of ten and he was appearing on their first-team bench when he was just 15 before moving to Bayern Munich, where two years later he became the record champions' youngest debutant in a competitive match at 17 years and 232 days. However, it was at Hoffenheim where Alaba was battle-hardened. He followed in the footsteps of Philipp Lahm and Toni Kroos in benefitting from a loan spell elsewhere to gain more match practice, and he returned to Bayern with the rough edges sharpened before appearing, just a year later, in a UEFA Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid.

David Alaba made his first steps in the Bundesliga on loan at Hoffenheim, before becoming world-class in red. © imago


Kerem Demirbay (Hoffenheim/Borussia Dortmund)

In 2014/15, Demirbay was playing in Germany's fourth division with Hamburg's reserves. It was a slow ascent from there, with a 14th-place finish in Bundesliga 2 with Fortuna Düsseldorf the following season before his break came at Hoffenheim. However,  the German midfielder's career could have taken a different path had Borussia Dortmund held onto him – as they wanted to – in 2013, when none other than Jürgen Klopp was keen on feeding him into his first team. Prior to that, Demirbay had even spent time in the youth academy of Dortmund's local rivals Schalke, but he appears to have found his destination following a few diversions.

Jürgen Klopp (r.) was, and remains a keen admirer of Kerem Demirbay's (l.) talents. © imago

Gelson Fernandes (Eintracht Frankfurt/Manchester City)

The man rated as "the best young player in Switzerland" moved to Manchester City at the behest of Sven-Goran Eriksson in 2007, poached out of Sion's first team and thrust straight into League Cup action by the Swede. Fernandes packed his bags – and not for the first time – in 2009, when he moved to Saint-Etienne. A spell in Italian football with Chievo Verona followed before he was back on a plane to England, to join Eriksson again at Leicester City. Udinese, Sporting Lisbon, Freiburg and Rennes all offered the midfielder opportunities before he arrived back in the Bundesliga with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Gelson Fernandes was one of the first signings in the new era of power for Manchester City in the English Premier League. © imago

Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen/Wolfsburg)

The Germany international joined Wolfsburg's youth academy in 2011, scoring 14 goals in 25 games for their under-17s before netting 13 in 23 for their under-19 age category a year later. His professional break was only given to him in 2014, though, when he was snapped up by Bayer Leverkusen on a five-year contract, underlining the belief they had in him. Indeed, Brandt has since made over a century of appearances for Die Werkself, with Wolfsburg arguably wondering why they let him go.

After smashing up the youth ranks with Wolfsburg, Julian Brandt was quickly snapped up by an insightful Bayer Leverkusen. © imago


Franco Di Santo (Schalke/Chelsea)

Once heralded as the new Maradona, Franco Di Santo arrived on Europe's shores to sign a four-and-a-half-year contract with Chelsea in January 2008. The move did not ultimately work out for Di Santo, though, as he made just 16 appearances for the Blues, failing to score a single goal in the Premier League. Wigan Athletic extended him an olive branch, but that move did not herald the desired success either, even though he did score for the Latics. It was not until he arrived in the Bundesliga, at Werder Bremen, that those earlier Maradona comparisons were reignited.

Di Santo has an FA Cup winners medal from 2009, though he was an unused sub in Cheslea's 2-1 final victory over Everton. © imago

Adam Szalai (Hoffenheim/Real Madrid)

What do Adam Szalai and Sami Khedira both have in common? They both played in Stuttgart's academy before leaving the Bundesliga club for Real Madrid. The Hungarian forward made his move before he had played in Stuttgart's first-team, though, and he spent three seasons with Real's reserves before returning to the Bundesliga with Mainz. After three successful years there, he joined Schalke and subsequently Hoffenheim, with a loan spell at Hannover in between.

Adam Szalai didn't make quite the impact at Real Madrid as his fellow Hungarian Ferenc Puskas. © imago

Nils Petersen (Bayern Munich/Freiburg)

Petersen played for Germany from under-19 through to under-21 level, and was their six-goal top-scorer as they won Olympic silver in Rio in 2016. He had been expected to pull on a Germany shirt much earlier in his career, though, when Bayern snapped him up from Energie Cottbus in 2011, and gave him their number nine shirt to make it unequivocally clear that they felt he was their next Bomber. It was not to be, though, as he scored just twice in nine games before joining Werder Bremen and, in 2015, Freiburg, where his goals have earned him that long-awaited international recognition.

Nils Petersen (l.) - here pictured with Rafinha (c.) and Jupp Heynckes (r.) - rubbed shoulders with the Bundesliga champions in 2011/12, scoring two goals in his nine games with the Bavarians. © imago

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