Never, ever break your transfer record for a Liverpool player
Every year transfer market failings are a factor in at least one team’s relegation from the Premier League. Sometimes it’s a general lack of investment to improve the squad, and sometimes it’s too much investment on underperforming players, but Bournemouth (2019/20) and Sheffield United (2020/21) committed one of the classic blunders: right behind ‘never start a land war with Russia’ and ‘never go all in with a Sicilian when death is on the line’, sits ‘never break your transfer record to sign a player from Liverpool’.
According to Transfermarkt, in the past 12 years, seven teams have done exactly that and it has rarely worked out well for the buyers. Liverpool, on the other hand, have done brilliantly out of these deals, making a lot of money on players who have not performed after moving on. To be clear, it is the transfers that are criticised here, not the players themselves.
(One note: I’ve excluded Southampton from this – Transfermarkt list Jannik Vestergaard as a more expensive signing, even if Danny Ings, brought in from Liverpool, is more often referred to as their record signing).
Peter Crouch (Portsmouth)
Not every transfer in this curse involves underperforming players, just deals that don’t work out as well as everyone might have reasonably hoped. Kicking us off is Harry Redknapp breaking Portsmouth’s transfer record in 2008, shortly before finances at Fratton Park began to get, shall we say, problematic. As the club’s top scorer there is no doubt Crouch was a good player, but as Pompey had to sell him for a loss (to Tottenham Hotspur, managed by one H Redknapp) in a desperate attempt to balance the books, this cannot be classed as a successful transfer for Portsmouth.
Fernando Torres (Chelsea)
The obvious example of a disaster: instead of a forward who had terrorised defences across Europe and in international tournaments, Chelsea spent £50m on a player bereft of confidence whose goalscoring touch had eluded him. They lost a whole lot of money.
Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace)
Similar to Crouch, Alan Pardew spending £27m to bring Benteke to Crystal Palace in 2016 initially appeared justified when the Belgian scored 15 goals in his first season at Selhurst Park. This is still the highest tally by any Palace player in their current Premier League spell. Things went downhill a bit after that; in the four seasons since, he managed just 16 goals, and only a run of scoring in four consecutive games at the end of the 2020/21 season took him to that mark. A succession of managers failed to get the best out of him or move him on, as his salary and asking price dissuaded potential suitors. However, he signed a new two-year deal with the Eagles in June, believed to be on significantly reduced wages.
Andy Carroll (West Ham)
In the least surprising entry on this list, when given the opportunity to break West Ham United’s transfer record, Sam Allardyce spent the money on Andy Carroll. A return of 26 goals in 102 games followed, but Carroll’s spell with the Hammers is remembered more for his struggles to find form and fitness.
Jordon Ibe (Bournemouth)
Bournemouth’s decision to break their transfer record to sign an unproven Ibe in 2016 did not prove to be good business. He had impressed on loan in the Championship but scored just three goals in 78 games for the Cherries and was released at the end of his contract in 2020.
Dominic Solanke (Bournemouth again)
Not to be deterred by Ibe’s struggles, Eddie Howe inconceivably returned to Liverpool two years later to sign Dominic Solanke, something that was a contributing factor to the Cherries’ relegation. That isn’t to say it was entirely Solanke’s fault, but his arrival meant other issues for Howe’s squad were not addressed, and a decent goal return from someone signed to be their main striker could have papered over some cracks. To give Solanke his due, his 15 goals contributed greatly to Bournemouth being in contention to return to the top flight at the first time of asking. He is clearly more settled now, and a more confident Solanke gives them a far greater chance of competing again for promotion this season.
Rhian Brewster (Sheffield United)
The most recent entry on this list saw Sheffield United spend £23m on a 20-year-old with zero top-flight experience and ten senior goals (in the Championship) to his name. If Liverpool had signed Brewster, instead of selling him, undoubtedly he would have been hailed as ‘one to watch’ following a Carabao Cup appearance, or FA Cup third round weekend. But the Blades did not break their transfer record to sign a prospect for the future; they needed a striker who could make an immediate impact and keep them in the Premier League. Unfortunately for all involved, Brewster has not been that player. He is not a bad player, he just isn’t in an environment where he can shine. As with Solanke, if he can rediscover his goalscoring touch in the second tier next season, then his team will be all the better for it.
Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona)
If it seems like I’m unnecessarily picking on British clubs and managers, you’re forgetting that Torres joined Chelsea while Carlo Ancelotti was in charge, and that the final player on this list is Philippe Coutinho. Barcelona handed over £142m to sign the Brazilian, but he has not yet turned out to be the stellar signing they would have wanted. Like others, he made a reasonable start, with eight goals in his first 18 games, but since then there have been injuries and fallings-out with fans, followed by a full-season loan. Handily, Coutinho winning the Champions League away from the Camp Nou proves two things: even the best players can be part of poor transfer deals, and not even the biggest clubs in the world are impervious to the curse of breaking your transfer record to sign a Liverpool player.