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5 world-class players who ended up at surprising clubs

Eric Djemba-Djemba
Eric Djemba-Djemba

Anyone involved with one of the world's smaller clubs dreams of the day an international superstar plays for their team. Imagine Lionel Messi playing for your local village side, or Cristiano Ronaldo deciding to pull on the colors of an unsuspecting amateur team.

But it doesn't have to be a fantasy. Occasionally, top-level stars of the game do turn up in some unlikely places. Here is a look at five such instances:

#5 Manchester United flop plays for free in Switzerland

Ex-Cameroon international Eric Djemba-Djemba is commonly regarded as one of the worst players to ever sign for Manchester United. Despite that, you would expect his time with one of the biggest clubs in the world to count for something.

That wasn't the case though. After leaving United, Djemba-Djemba travelled the world, playing for clubs in Qatar, India, Israel and Indonesia, amongst others, before finally ending up at Swiss amateur club, FC Vallorbe-Ballaigues, playing for free in the Swiss fifth tier.

A long way to fall for a man once slated to replace Roy Keane in the Manchester United squad.

#4 Arsenal legend plays for Welsh village clubs

Paul Merson played for two lower league Welsh teams
Paul Merson played for two lower league Welsh teams

Paul Merson is a big name in English football. He made over 300 appearances for Arsenal and also played for the likes of Aston Villa and Portsmouth, not to mention earning 21 caps for England.

Following his illustrious playing career, Merson became a pundit on Sky Sports, presenting Soccer Saturday.

And so it was something of a coup for third-tier Welsh club Welshpool FC when they managed to attract Merson to play a league match for them in 2012. Merson joined up with the Welsh minnows alongside fellow pundit and former professional Chris Kamara. Merson even scored for Welshpool, but he couldn't stop them from losing 4-1.

Five years later, Merson again appeared in the lower reaches of the Welsh football pyramid, this time joining Caerau, playing in their country's fifth tier. He made a single appearance for the club as a favour to the chairman, a personal friend of his.

Sadly, the match was abandoned due to floodlight failure, but Merson still helped Caerau to attract a bumper crowd.

#3 Legendary goalkeeper helps out boyhood club

Edwin van der Sar returned to the club where he played his youth team football
Edwin van der Sar returned to the club where he played his youth team football

Edwin van der Sar may be one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. Having experienced enormous success with Ajax and Manchester United, as well as the Dutch national team, Van der Sar was, without doubt, a man blessed with enormous ability.

When Dutch fourth tier side VV Noordwijk's goalkeeper suffered an injury in 2016, they were delighted when van der Sar, who had formerly been with the club as a youth player, agreed to fill in for "one last game", five years after retiring from professional football. The 46-year-old was in top form, saving a penalty and helping Noordwijk to a 1-1 draw.

#2 Juventus star becomes non-league side's player-manager

Davids joined Barnet as player-manager
Davids joined Barnet as player-manager

Edgar Davids made a name for himself with the likes of Ajax, Juventus and Barcelona, becoming one of the greatest midfielders of his generation.

And so, in October 2012 when Davids signed an agreement to become player-manager at struggling League 2 club Barnet, there was a minor media sensation. The charismatic Dutchman didn't disappoint, fielding himself at the heart of midfield and wearing the number 1 shirt.

Despite Davids's best efforts, Barnet were relegated from the Football League. Still, the midfield maestro stuck around, playing for the South London club in the fifth tier of English football until January 2014.

#1 Brazilian International plays in England's ninth tier

Socrates ended his career with English ninth tier side Garforth Town
Socrates ended his career with English ninth tier side Garforth Town

Named by Pele as one of the greatest players of all time, Socrates captained Brazil at the 1982 World Cup and a year later was named South American Player of the Year. It's fair to say then that Socrates was a good player. How then, did he end up finishing his career with Garforth Town, in the doldrums of English football?

The attacking midfielder made a single appearance for the Yorkshire side, back in 2004, 15 years after he had officially hung up his boots.

At the age of 50, Socrates was hardly in peak form, only managing a 12-minute cameo as a substitute in Northern Counties East Football League, the ninth tier of English football. He played as a favor to Garforth chairman Simon Clifford, a personal friend, and his appearance helped the club to a record attendance of over 3,000.

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Edited by Arvind Sriram
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