Is the Premier League turning into a proving ground for potential superstars?

As yet another talismanic player gets ready to pack his bags and bid farewell to North London, the rumour mill is working overtime as Arsenal are linked with every discontented player in world football. Yaya Toure, Per Mertesacker, Zlatan Ibrahohimivic and Gianluigi Buffon (amongst many, many more) have all been linked with a move to the Emirates in the past few weeks.

Whilst Toure and Mertesacker could be considered realistic targets, the chances of Arsenal signing Zlatan and Buffon are almost zero. You see, world class players just don’t move to the Premier League all that often.

Think about the last time a player of the very highest calibre joined your club. If, like me, you’re an Arsenal fan, your mind will probably go immediately to Dennis Bergkamp in 1995. The Dutchman had spent 2 seasons with Inter Milan before arriving at Highbury and despite having a tough time in Italy, he arrived with all the bells and whistles of an elite forward.

Sol Campbell was also considered to be at the top of his game when he originally signed for the club on a free transfer from Tottenham (he went on to be included in the World Cup 2002 team of the tournament just a year later), but even then you have to go back to 2001.

It is a similar story when you look at the Premier League’s other elite clubs. Rio Ferdinand excluded (he joined in 2002), Manchester United’s other top players all arrived before they reached world class status (Rooney, Vidic, Evra etc). It’s a case of more of the same down at Chelsea, with premier performers John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba all at the club before they could really be considered amongst the elite.

Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko represented significant coups when they signed from Bayern Munich and AC Milan respectively, but both were past their prime before coming to England.

What is developing is a worrying trend of players using the Premier League as a proving ground before moving on to better things. Is England becoming a feeder country for the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid? Arsenal more than most have fell victim to the irrepressible lure of Barcelona and La Liga.

Thierry Henry, Alex Hleb, Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit and Gio van Bronckhorst have all made the switch from Arsenal to the Nou Camp, whilst Manchester United have lost David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy and most recently Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid.

Players of note who have made the switch the other way however are far more scarce, and much less noteworthy. Off the top of my head I can only think of Cesc Fabregas and Fran Merida who have left Barcelona for Arsenal. Man City and Chelsea did buck the trend slightly with the signings of Carlos Tevez and Ashley Cole respectively, but even then they joined from city rivals and not from abroad.

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