Every footballer’s dream is to play for a prominent European club. The continent is home to the best teams, the most exciting rivalries, and the most coveted awards. However, staying at the top of your game, especially when you’re over 30, is more said than done.
Other football leagues have risen in popularity, including Major League Soccer (MLS), J1 League, Chinese Super League, and Qatar Stars League. Stars seeking a higher salary or simply wanting to relax can now go outside of Europe and extend their careers.
Because of the recognized names, up-and-coming football nations are selling more tickets, and the players can relax a little. Let’s take a look at five well-known footballers who departed their European careers to play in less well-known leagues.
Here are five of the best players that are currently not playing for a European club:
Xherdan Shaqiri: Chicago Fire
Xherdan Shaqiri, a former Liverpool player, has had an excellent football career. Shaqiri joined Bayern Munich for €11.8 million in 2012 after rising through FC Basel’s academy. He worked his way up the pecking order and was able to represent Bavaria in some of the most important games.
In his rookie season, the Switzerland international won the trifecta – Champions League, Bundesliga, and DFB Pokal – etching his name in Bayern legend. After a brief stint at Inter Milan, the Swiss international joined Stoke City in the Premier League in 2015. Shaqiri’s darting runs, stamina, and goal-scoring acumen helped him establish himself as the team’s unquestioned frontman.
Liverpool signed him in 2018 after being impressed by his time with Stoke, and he quickly established himself as a key player of the group. With the Reds, he won the Champions League and the Premier League, among other awards, over the next three seasons.
Shaqiri joined Lyon ahead of the 2021-22 season, but he struggled to adjust to life in France. He signed with Major League Soccer club Chicago Fire for a €7 million price in the second week of February, ahead of their 2022 season.
Gonzalo Higuain: Inter Miami
Gonzalo Higuain, a former Real Madrid striker, is now a valued part of Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami. The Argentine has won a total of 14 titles in his career, having played for some of Europe’s most prominent clubs.
Higuain’s first European club was Los Blancos, and he made the most of his time in Spain’s capital. He scored 121 goals in six years at the Bernabeu, helping the club win three La Liga crowns. Although his time at Napoli was not as profitable in terms of trophies, his 91 goals in 146 appearances was commendable.
He also played a significant role for Napoli’s arch-rivals Juventus. Higuain helped Bianconeri win three Serie A titles with 66 goals in 149 games. After brief stints at Milan and Chelsea, he joined Inter Miami in 2020 and has been with the MLS club ever since.
Oscar: Shanghai Port
Oscar, a former Chelsea player, signed for Shanghai Port in the Chinese Super League during the winter transfer window of the 2017-18 season. Oscar traveled to China while he was only 25 years old, unlike most footballers who joined a lower-ranked non-European team after reaching or approaching 30.
At Chelsea, the Brazilian put forth a strong showing. The Stamford Bridge faithful were enthralled by his pace, ability to carry the ball, and delicate touch in front of goal. Everyone at the club anticipated him to enjoy a memorable time in England, but Shanghai’s offer was too good to pass up. To entice the Brazilian, the Chinese Super League club spent €60 million in transfer costs.
According to sources, Oscar earns roughly €450,000 per week in China, making him the league’s highest-paid player. The 30-year-old has 50 goals and 93 assists in 170 games for Shanghai Port in all competitions, helping the team to one Chinese Super League title and one Chinese FA Super Cup.
James Rodriguez: Al-Rayyan SC
James Rodriguez, including Oscar, stunned millions of fans around the world when he opted to join Qatari club Al-Rayyan SC in September of last year. The Colombian international is the most renowned figure in the Qatar Stars League, best known for his spectacular volley against Uruguay at the 2014 World Cup.
Rodriguez joined Ligue 1 team AS Monaco in 2013 after an outstanding tenure at Porto. His form in the French first tier was impressive, but it was his incredible World Cup performance that convinced Real Madrid to buy him.
In 29 La Liga games during the 2014-15 season, the €75 million man scored 13 goals and added 13 assists for a total of 13 goals and 13 assists. Carlo Ancelotti’s prominence began to decrease after his departure at the end of the season.
Zinedine Zidane preferred Isco to the Colombian, which cut Rodriguez’s playing time in half. After a disappointing loan spell with Bayern Munich, he signed as a free agent with Everton. The 30-year-old joined Al-Rayyan after falling out of favor at his Premier League team.
Andres Iniesta: Vissel Kobe
Andres Iniesta, one of the best midfielders in the game’s history, was a one-man show during his European career. Under the great Pep Guardiola, Iniesta rose through the ranks of La Masia to become a vital part of Barcelona.
Iniesta had a number of game-winning efforts throughout his time with Barcelona, propelling them to earn nine La Liga crowns and four Champions League trophies, among other achievements. For his country, Spain, the midfielder was equally prolific.
His midfield domination not only helped Spain win two European crowns, but he also scored the game-winning goal against the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final. Iniesta joined J1 League side, Vissel Kobe, at the end of the 2017-18 season after achieving everything with club and nation. He has made 86 league appearances for the Japanese club, scoring 19 goals and assisting on the way.