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Why do so many players struggle with life in the Premier League?



Adapting to life in England


Why do so many players struggle with life in the Premier League?

We all love the fact the Premier League can draw in more or less any player from across the globe. Each player comes with a reputation but not every player can live up to that reputation in England. Maybe the cold Tuesday nights in December are too much for some players. A players first season in England tends to go one of two ways.

One way is that of Bruno Fernandes or Diego Costa. Slotting straight into a team and the league, becoming instant hits with fans and nightmares for opponents. The other is that of Tanguy Ndombele, Timo Werner, or Kai Havertz; lack of effectiveness and lack of any real achievements.

This isn’t to say they will stay this way forever, some may improve and adapt to the demands, others never make an impact and move on to pastures new.

We take a look at some of the determining factors that may affect the performances of foreign players in England’s top flight.


Missing home?

The Premier League is a league like no other. Arguably, the toughest league in the world. The competition is never-ending and we saw this week, the teams struggling at the bottom can beat the teams riding high at the top. 

Players often struggle to adapt to the league quickly, it can take a season or two before they feel at home. The game in England is tough and fast-paced. Strikers especially seem to struggle at first due to the hard-hitting centre backs in the English game.

Notable Premier League stars have struggled to adapt to both live on and off the pitch, finding the culture shock too great. Sevilla native Jesús Navas proved to be one of the most prolific examples.


Timo Werner

A present example of a player struggling to adapt to the Premier League is that of Timo Werner. Werner signed for Chelsea in the summer of 2020 for approximately £47.7 million from RB Leipzig. The German certainly came with a price tag to match his reputation as a goalscorer. At Red Bull Leipzig, Werner scored 95 goals in 159 games for the German outfit. 

Unfortunately for Frank Lampard, he wasn’t able to get Werner scoring during his time at Chelsea. It is now up to Thomas Tuchel to succeed where Lampard failed.



After the struggles of their first season, some players will burst out of their shell and flourish. A player needs to toughen up and adapt to the physicality of the English game. Adaptability to a new league often doesn’t happen overnight, however players who remain sedulous often reap the rewards in the end. 


Tanguy Ndombele

Ndombele struggled during his first season at Spurs. As with Werner, Ndombele came with a big price tag of approximately £54 million from Lyon, bought by a Spurs team that doesn’t always part with cash easily. 

His second season as Spurs has been a revelation with Jose Mourinho now getting the best out Ndombele. Though it’s worth noting his performance increased in time with AJ Tracey’s shoutout to the French midfielder.

A proof that it can often take time to adapt to a new league, surroundings and country. This season it is clear Ndombele has adjusted to football in the Premier League, far from a seamless integration, a diligent footballer will reap the rewards in the end. This season the Frenchman has already scored more goals than the whole of the previous season, as well as tallying a much higher minutes per game ratio this season.


Better luck next time

Unfortunately for some, it doesn’t work at all. This doesn’t mean the players’ career is over because they failed in England. Often, they’ll go on to great things elsewhere and pastures new. 


Angel Di Maria

Di Maria joined Manchester United in 2014 for a staggering £67.5 million from the star-studded Spanish giants, Real Madrid. The Argentine was expected to produce big things at Old Trafford but his time at United ended quickly.

Di Maria’s family found the integration of life in the northwest of England a step too far, their discomfort quickly inflating following their house being burgled. Di Maria also struggled to grasp the language during his stint in England, something that the then manager, Louis Van Gaal, expected and encouraged of all his players to do. On the pitch many saw Di Maria’s direct running style as a counterpart to Van Gaal’s deliberate passing game. All of these factors, on and off the pitch, can be argued as a catalyst for the Argentinian’s demise at Old Trafford.

He moved on to PSG as little as one year later for a fee of approximately £56.7 million. Since his swap of Manchester to Paris, the winger has gone on to have a successful spell with the Parisian giants. 


No bother

Some players will fit straight into the Premier League when they join from abroad, seamlessly adjusting to the physicality and high tempo of the league. Their style of play will suit the Premier League from the off. 


Diego Costa

Costa fitted easily into a strong Chelsea side. His aggression and passion helped him easily handle the physicality of the league.  The Spaniard, who currently remains a free agent, looks like he may be on the verge of a potential return to the Premier League with Wolves or Man City. 


A not so easy adjustment

The issues faced by some players when they first take to the Premier League is maybe a reason why ‘loan to buys’ is becoming increasingly popular. With a ‘loan to buy,’ the team can decide whether the player will fit into the league. For now, fans will continue to claw at the chance to sign a star player for their club. If the player doesn’t succeed, well, it is just on to the next on. 

As the modern game continues to evolve, players are often gifted a ever shorter transitional phase to adapt to life in England’s top flight. Fans and owners often expect instantaneous results, arguably adding to the pressure on fresh talent emerging into the Premier League. Performances on the pitch can be marred by by external factors, for instance if a player is struggling to adapt to the cultural differences of a country or doesn’t yet speak the language. Adapting to the Premier League is no easy feat, with the whole world watching, proving that the integration is as much a psychological transition, as it is physical.


We hope you enjoyed the article ‘Why do so many players struggle with life in the Premier League?’ Why do you think so many players have found the integration into the Premier League so difficult? Let us know!


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Josh is a recent MA Sports Journalism graduate and a BA (hons) Sports Studies graduate. He is passionate about football, Sheffield Wednesday, Liam Gallagher and writing about himself in 3rd person. Josh is contactable via email at [email protected]


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