FORMER Arsenal and West Ham forward Lucas Pérez has caused shockwaves in Spain by paying his own €500,000 (£440,000) transfer fee. This was to drop down a whole two divisions and rejoin his boyhood club, Deportivo de La Coruña.
Once a force in Spanish football, Deportivo reached the UEFA Champions League semi-final as recently as the 2003/04 season. However, in 2021 the club was relegated to the third tier of Spain’s football pyramid for the first time in almost four decades.
Having been playing in Spain’s top league – La Liga – with Cádiz this season, Lucas Pérez has done what only a select few players have done and prioritised his love of football over playing in a more prolific league.
While it is extremely rare for players to ever pay their own transfer fee, it is not unheard of that footballers should take a step down the leagues, as betting.com reveals ten names who took a quick drop down the divisions.
Glenn Whelan – Fleetwood Town to Wythenshawe Amateurs
Having between a regular at Stoke City during the club’s Premier League days, Glenn Whelan naturally started to look lower down the leagues later in his career, joining League One’s Fleetwood Town in the 2020/21 season.
However, after just one season with Fleetwood, the former Republic of Ireland international truly took a plummet as he signed for Wythenshawe Amateurs in the North West Counties Division One South – the tenth tier of the English football pyramid.
Whelan’s time with Wythenshawe did not last long, however, as after just four games for the Manchester-based amateur side, he was back playing in the football pyramid with League Two’s Bristol Rovers for the 2021/22 season.
Paul Mullin – Cambridge United to Wrexham
After scoring a remarkable 32 goals in 46 games to guide Cambridge United to promotion from League Two in 2020/21, there were several clubs in League One and the Championship battling it out for the signature of Paul Mullin.
However, the super striker shocked UK football fans everywhere by opting to take a step down the football pyramid to join the National League side, Wrexham instead.
After having recently been the subject of a celebrity takeover, a combination of a phone call from new Wrexham owner, Rob McElhenney, plus the opportunity to move closer to his family in Merseyside, was enough to convince Mullin to choose life in the non-league over playing in a higher division.
Adam Rooney – Aberdeen to Salford City
Adam Rooney’s transfer from SPL club Aberdeen to National League side Salford City sparked plenty of debate on both sides of the English-Scottish border, when it went through in the summer of 2018.
In fact, the striker’s decision to switch from the top tier of Scottish football to the fifth tier of English football sparked a backlash of abuse which caused Rooney to go without checking his phone for days.
With Salford City having been recently taken over by the ‘Class of 92’ consortium – which featured the likes of Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and other retired Manchester United players – Adam Rooney’s expensive transfer to the non-league club even caused officials at rival clubs to accuse Salford City of buying the league.
Edgar Davids – Crystal Palace to Barnet
Netherlands international, Edgar Davids, had been one of the most recognisable faces in world football during the late 90s and early 00s, having represented major sides like Juventus, Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur in his prolific career.
In 2010, in the latter stages of his playing career, the midfielder agreed to a pay-as-you-play contract with then-Championship side, Crystal Palace.
However, after making just six appearances for Crystal Palace, Davids was clearly keen to stay in London and shocked the world by joining League Two side, Barnet, in 2012 in a player-manager role.
Unfortunately, not even Edgar Davids was able to save Barnet from relegation that season, but the Dutchman stayed on as the club’s manager in the National League up until January 2014.
Roll on nearly nine years, and Davids is currently the assistant manager of his own Netherlands national team, having helped coach the country to the 2022 World Cup quarter-finals.
Mike Williamson – Oxford United to Gateshead
Playing for the club between 2010 and 2016, Mike Williamson had become a fan favourite with Newcastle United. The centre-back was clearly keen to move back to the area as he signed up for the non-league club, Gateshead, in 2018 – just two years after playing in the Premier League.
During that time, the 6”4” tall defender spent a season each as a squad player in the Championship with Wolves and in League One with Oxford United, ultimately failing to make his mark at either club.
Fortunately, Williamson is certainly back enjoying his football again with the National League side, Gateshead. After joining in 2018, the footballer was appointed manager in 2019 – a position he still holds.
David Wheater – Oldham Athletic to Darlington Town
Interestingly, Mike Williamson is not the only former Premier League centre-back who opted for a move to a non-league club in the North East of England, over continuing his career higher up the divisions.
Having progressed through the academy system at Middlesbrough and making 140 appearances for his boyhood club, the bulk of Wheater’s career was spent with Bolton Wanderers, before later joining League Two’s Oldham Athletic in 2019.
However, Wheater’s time with Oldham was somewhat disastrous, as in his second season with the club he was controversially made to train with the youth team.
In March 2021, Wheater’s contract with Oldham was terminated, and after taking some time away from football to help recover from a persistent injury, the defender moved closer to home to join the National League North side, Darlington, in the sixth tier of English football.
Julio Arca – Middlesbrough to South Shields
There must be something in the North East air that makes footballers want to stick around. Having spent thirteen years in the area representing both Sunderland and Middlesbrough, Argentinian midfielder Julio Arca opted to stick around by joining the non-league side, South Shields.
Despite still only being 32 years old and Middlesbrough being a Championship side when he left Riverside in 2013, Arca opted to retire from full-time professional football.
He enjoyed a stint with the coaching staff at Sunderland, but would eventually go back to playing in 2015 with South Shields. The North East non-leaguers were playing in the Northern League Division Two at the time of Arca’s signing – the tenth tier of English football.
Jamie O’Hara – Gillingham to Billericay Town
Once a Tottenham Hotspur academy graduate and regular for England at under-21 level, a series of unfortunate injuries would turn out to be the bane of Jamie O’Hara’s career.
After spending the 2015/16 season as a regular feature in the Championship with Fulham, the midfielder opted to step down one tier in the football pyramid to join League One’s Gillingham.
However, O’Hara’s time in the third tier was extremely short-lived, as persistent injury problems led to the termination of his contract with Gillingham less than two months after joining the club.
In March 2017, O’Hara announced that he was joining Billericay Town in the Isthmian Premier League – the seventh tier of English football – less than twelve months after playing in the Championship with Fulham.
Two years later, O’Hara would be appointed player-manager of Billericay Town, a position he held between September 2019 and December 2020.
Pascal Chimbonda – Doncaster Rovers to Market Drayton Town
Pascal Chimbonda played for a variety of Premier League and Championship clubs between 2005 and 2012, including Tottenham Hotspur, Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers.
However, his spell with then-Championship side Doncaster Rovers in the 2011/12 season would prove to be the defender’s last in the higher tiers of English football. In 2013, the former France international signed for the non-league club, Market Drayton Town.
But Chimbonda’s team in the eighth tier did not last long, and he did not even make a single appearance for Market Drayton Manor before joining League One’s Carlisle United for the 2013/14 season.
Antoni Sarcevic – Bolton Wanderers to Stockport County
Central midfielder Antoni Sarcevic was integral in pushing Plymouth Argyle to promotion from League Two in the 2019/20 season, and was so adored by fans of the Green Army, that he earned the nickname ‘Manchester Messi’.
However, Plymouth supporters were stunned when Sarcevic opted to stay in League Two with newly-relegated Bolton Wanderers – a club that Sarcevic also helped gain promotion from England’s fourth tier.
Despite being named captain at Bolton, Sarcevic suffered a huge fallout with the Wanderers manager just two months into the club’s League One campaign, and the Manchester-born midfielder dramatically terminated his contract with Bolton and dropped down the divisions to join non-league Stockport County in the National League.
Sarcevic would eventually help Stockport back into the football league, and even managed to get one over his old club Bolton, as Stockport knocked them out of the FA Cup in 2021/22.