The Premier League is the most watched and most lucrative sports league in the world. It is big business, and for many clubs, relegation from the division can be catastrophic due to the decrease in revenue. The average Premier League club makes around $115 million a year in TV money, compared to less than $5 million in the Championship, and while parachute payments ease the fall, many still struggle with the drop.
Each season the three teams with the fewest points are relegated from the Premier League. While injuries and misfortune may play a part, by and large, it is the worst teams who go down, who naturally tend to have less gifted players than the more successful teams. Every year though, there are some gems among the relegated teams, and they're often snapped up by teams still in the Premier League.
The players on this list though are a rare breed, including Ballon d'Or, Champions League, Premier League, La Liga and World Cup winners. Some were youngsters on-loan at lesser sides, while others were veterans of the game in the swan song years of their careers. Both the players' overall ability, achievements and ability at the time have been accounted for.
The current Premier League season is the 24th since the league's inception, meaning almost 600 players have been relegated to date. Inevitably, a number of them were very talented footballers, and narrowing down to just 15 was not easy. Some of the quality players who missed out include Charlie Austin, Joe Cole, Loic Remy, Emerson, Michael Dawson, Lucas Radebe, Nick Barmby, James Milner and more. Here are the top 15 best players to have been relegated from the Premier League:
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15 Nwankwu Kanu
Former Arsenal super-sub Nwankwu Kanu has had a highly successful career. He has won the Eredivisie, Premier League, Champions League, UEFA Cup, FA Cup, Intercontinental Cup, Super Cup and more, in a 20 year career which saw him play for the likes of Ajax, Inter Milan and Arsenal. Kanu is the third most substituted player in the history of the Premier League, and scored 54 goals in 12 seasons in England's top flight, before suffering relegation with debt-ridden Portsmouth in 2010.
14 Jermain Defoe
The 11th highest scorer in Premier League history and the second highest scoring player still playing in the league, behind only Wayne Rooney, Jermain Defoe has scored 131 Premier League goals and 255 in all competitions for club & country. Defoe's best years came with Tottenham in the mid-2000s, and in the 2009-10 season, Defoe joined an elite band of players to have scored five goals in a single Premier League game. Defoe was relegated with West Ham in 2003, and joined Spurs less than a year later.
13 Kevin-Prince Boateng
Although he is marred by inconsistency, Kevin-Prince Boateng is a very gifted footballer who can be virtually unstoppable on his day. He has played for the likes of Tottenham, Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan and currently Schalke. Born in West Germany, Boateng chose to represent Ghana, while his brother plays internationally for Germany. Boateng has won trophies including the League Cup and Serie A, and was named in the 2010-11 Serie A team of the year. He too was relegated with Portsmouth in 2010, during his lone season with the club.
12 Mark Viduka
Australian marksman Mark Viduka spent nine years in the Premier League with Leeds United, Middlesbrough and Newcastle United. Viduka scored 92 Premier League goals in his nine seasons in England, and a total of 269 in all competitions for club and country over his entire career. Viduka's best years in the Premier League came at Elland Road, scoring 17 and 20 respectively in two of his four seasons at the club, although he never won a trophy in his time in England. Viduka was relegated with Leeds in 2004, being sent off on the day that the club were consigned to relegation.
11 Georgi Kinkladze
Georgi Kinkladze was an extremely gifted footballer who, with the right training, could have gone on to become world class. Although he never quite nailed down his potential, he certainly showed glimpses of just how good he was in his three years with Manchester City. Kinkladze won Manchester City Player of the Year in both of their Premier League seasons and stuck with the club following relegation, but after a second relegation to the third tier he had no option but to leave the club.
Kinkladze never showed the same form again, even when he returned to England with Derby County, but Manchester City fans who watched their team between 1995 and 1998 knew the quality Kinkladze had.
10 Michael Carrick
Under appreciated at times, Michael Carrick had to live in the shadow of Paul Scholes for much of his time at Old Trafford and found international recognition hard to come by, with the central midfield spots being occupied by Scholes, Lampard and Gerrard. Once Carrick hangs up his boots though there is likely to be an acknowledgement of what a good player he was. Aged 34, Carrick has played 634 games in total, including nine years at Manchester United, winning five Premier League titles and the Champions League, being named the Players' Player of the Year in 2013. Carrick was relegated with West Ham in 2003.
9 Michel Salgado
The man Steve McManaman described as a "genuine psychopath," Michel Salgado is a Real Madrid legend, having spent a decade with Los Blancos, playing over 350 games for the club. In that time, Salgado won four La Liga titles and the Champions League twice, among an array of other trophies. The marauding and aggressive right-back also won 53 caps for Spain, before having a taste of Premier League football once he was into his 30s. Salgado spent three seasons with Blackburn Rovers before being relegated with the club in 2012.
8 Paolo Di Canio
From one psychopath to another, Paolo Di Canio is a self-confessed "fascist, but not a racist," who has landed himself in hot water at times due to his fascist salutes and Mussolini portrait tattoo. Despite his 'quirky' persona, Di Canio was a very talented player, who became a cult hero at West Ham. Di Canio spent eight seasons in the Premier League with Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham and Charlton, winning player of the year at both Wednesday and West Ham. A Serie A winner and Champions League finalist, Di Canio was relegated from the Premier League with West Ham in 2003.
7 Les Ferdinand
The eighth highest scorer in Premier League history with 149 goals in England's top flight, Les Ferdinand took some time to get going, but once he did, he was prolific. His best years were spent with QPR, Newcastle and Tottenham, before Ferdinand played for an array of clubs towards the end of his career. It was towards the end of his career that Ferdinand suffered relegation, coming, like so many others on this list, with West Ham in 2003.
6 Julio Cesar
At one time widely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Julio Cesar spent seven years with Flamengo and seven years with Inter Milan, constituting for 14 of his 17 years in football to date. Now with Benfica, Cesar has won a remarkable total of 29 trophies with club & country, including five Serie A titles and a historic league, cup and Champions League treble in 2010. Cesar was twice named Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year, ahead of the likes of Gigi Buffon and was nominated for the 2009 Ballon d'Or. The Brazilian has won 87 caps for his country but was relegated from the Premier League with QPR in 2013.
5 Fabrizio Ravanelli
A gifted all-round striker, Fabrizio Ravanelli was strong, tough and quick, attributes which made him into a quality goal scorer. Ravanelli played for a number of clubs in Italy, but his longest spell came with Juventus, where he spent four years, scoring 41 goals in 111 games. His list of honors include the Serie A, Champions League and UEFA Cup. From Juventus, Ravanelli joined Middlesbrough in the Premier League. He spent only a single season with Boro, scoring an impressive 16 goals in 33 games in the Premier League, but was powerless to prevent their 1997 relegation.
4 Rio Ferdinand
A Premier League legend, Rio Ferdinand spent 21 seasons in the top flight, including 12 with Manchester United, winning 17 trophies, including six Premier League titles and the Champions League. He was named in the PFA Team of the Year six times, the FIFPro World XI once and won 81 caps for England. Ferdinand was relegated from the Premier League in his final season before retiring in May 2015.
3 Michael Owen
The only Ballon d'Or winner to have been relegated from the Premier League, Michael Owen won the award in 2001, after Liverpool's cup treble, winning the UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup. When Owen first announced himself to the world with Liverpool and England he was incredible. He seemed to be lightyears quicker than every defender he came up against, and his goal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup, aged 18, was simply stunning. Injuries took their toll on Owen's later career, and his Premier League relegation came in 2009 with Newcastle United.
2 Juninho Paulista
In a 2013 poll of Middlesbrough fans, an astonishing 68% of the clubs supporters elected Juninho Paulista as the clubs greatest ever player. Nicknamed 'The Little Fella', sometimes shortened to 'TLF', Juninho was named both Premier League Player of the Season and Middlesbrough player of the season in 1996/97. The 2002 Brazil World Cup winner who won 49 caps for his country spent 5 seasons at the Riverside in three separate spells, playing 126 games for the club. Despite being named the best player in the league that season, Juninho couldn't save Boro from relegation in 1997, and was reduced to tears following the outcome.
1 Roy Keane
Arguably the greatest player to ever be relegated from the Premier League is Manchester United legend Roy Keane. Not always the most popular of characters, there was a dark side to Keane's game, but he was ultimately a winner. He always went out to win and was a major influence within the Manchester United dressing room, serving as club captain for eight years and ensuring ever player in the squad had the same desire and will to win that he did. It worked, and Manchester United won 17 trophies in Keane's 12 years at the club, including seven Premier League titles and one Champions League.
A combative, uncompromising midfielder who was also athletic and technically very capable, Keane had some awe-inspiring matches in a Manchester United shirt. The greatest of all was perhaps in Turin, up against Juventus in the Champions League semi-final, when Keane dominated the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Edgar Davids, despite knowing he was suspended for the final. He was relegated under Brian Clough with Nottingham Forest in 1993, but was still named in the PFA Team of the Year that season.
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