Son Heung-min and five other footballers who chose not to play in the Champions League

© Jason Reed
This summer saw several notable footballers turn down regular Champions League football for the chance to play at higher profile clubs. Did they move for the money or for the chance to improve themselves? We look at their motivations and future prospects.

The UEFA Champions League has a very special place in world football, with the European competition widely regarded as the pinnacle of the global game.

Teams are desperate to play in it, players are motivated to feature in the limelight and fans tune in to watch it in their millions.

However, despite the prestige of the Champions League, this summer saw a select group of players that turned their back on the chance to play regularly in the competition in favor of moving to a team that did not qualify for it.

For teams that are not part of the tournament, it is very difficult to tempt players away from clubs that are set to play in it – but a small contingent have made the choice in recent months for one reason or another.

Usually this is in the hope that the time spent outside the Champions League is an aberration and that they will soon return to it. However, clubs outside the Champions League often have to pay higher wages to secure transfers and the footballers are protected either way – if they don't get Champions League football they will still get paid.

Six names have completed the surprise feat in recent times having been regular starters for Champions League teams, only to leave for clubs featuring in the Europa League or not on the continent at all.

Tottenham (Son Heung-min)

Tottenham Hotspur pulled off one of the coups of the summer window in landing versatile and gifted forward Son Heung-min from Bayer Leverkusen.

South Korea international’s standing in the German game was growing season-by-season, with impressive showings for Hamburg convincing the BayArena outfit to pounce.

Son’s ability to both score and set up goals and the fact that he is comfortable playing in a number of different positions was invaluable for Leverkusen, with the 22-year-old expected to be an important member of the starting 11 that is currently in the top tournament’s Group E.

However, the switch to North London has robbed him of the chance to play Champions League football, with the attacker moving to a club that has only ever participated in Europe’s top tournament on one solitary occasion back in 2010-11.

Of the other members of the group to sacrifice the allure of the Champions League, the spotlight turns on Italy – Milan in fact.

AC Milan signed two players over the summer that were important to their respective Champions League sides, while Inter landed three.

© Andrew Yates

AC Milan – Adriano and Bacca

I Rossoneri’s lack of attacking power last season was a worrying feature of the side’s dismal campaign and something that the club were clearly keen to rectify.

The signings of Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano, along with Mario Balotelli’s arrival on loan, have given the Stadio San Siro outfit an abundance of options, though.

The Brazilian had been an important member of Shakhtar Donetsk’s side that continues to be a prickly opponent in Europe, but his move to Milan can be understood to some degree as he will have wanted to feature in a stronger domestic league.

Bacca’s move is slightly more intriguing, with the Colombia international building quite the reputation for himself at Sevilla and an integral member of the La Liga outfit’s team.

The South American played a quintessential role in Sevilla winning back-to-back Europa League titles, but the timing of his exit from the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan and destination is slightly strange given that the Spaniards are in the Champions League this term.

With Milan’s modest start to the new campaign suggesting that a top-three finish is no more likely this season than last, Bacca may well regret his choice down the line.

© Giampiero Sposito

Inter Milan – Perisic, Kondogbia and Melo

Across the Milanese divide, Inter invested heavily in their squad over the off-season and brought in three players that were stepping out regularly for Champions League clubs – despite the fact that they are not at the top table this season.

Ivan Perisic was an able member of a Wolfsburg side that finished as Bundesliga runners-up last season and continues to be one of the more likely teams to put forward something reminiscent of a title challenge against the all-encompassing Bayern Munich in Germany.

Others to join the Nerazzurri revolution from clubs competing where Roberto Mancini’s team aspire to be include Geoffrey Kondogbia and Felipe Melo.

The French midfielder left Monaco after growing in stature at the Stade Louis II over the last 12 months and is now the driving force behind an able Inter midfield. His decision was justified to some extent by the Ligue 1 outfit bowing out of the Champions League qualifying round to Valencia.

Melo opted to say farewell to Galatasaray to secure a Serie A return, with regular football at both clubs but Champions League football at only one. A superior domestic league, and a juicy pay packet, can be highlighted as the reasoning.

Looking at it objectively, the money on offer in the Premier League and at two Milan clubs desperate for a return to the big time will have played a major part in the respective players’ decisions to turn their backs on Champions League football.

For the Inter trio a one-year hiatus from the Champions League may well be all they endure, while Son, Bacca and Adriano may well have to be decidedly more patient.

© Giorgio Perottino / Stefano Rellandini

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