We’ve praised the best transfer decision every Premier League club made in 2023. You surely know us well enough by now to know this would inevitably follow. Here are the ones they f***ed up.
Again, some are obvious. But some drearily competent clubs make it much, much harder and to those we give a hard stare and demand greater nonsense in 2024.
Arsenal – needlessly confusing the goalkeeper situation
They’ve not bought a bad goalkeeper and there’s a lot to be said for being brave enough to strengthen a strength – or at least a non-weakness – in the quest for constant improvement. But Mikel Arteta and Arsenal tried to be too clever by half with David Raya and the convoluted loan deal they sorted out with Brentford and then the whole ‘two number ones’ bollocks and upsetting Aaron Ramsdale’s dad. More importantly, it’s made Raya’s start to life at Arsenal more uncomfortable than it needed to be. And he hasn’t exactly flourished under that pressure.
Aston Villa – being seduced by the idea of 2021 Youri Tielemans
Understandable, especially on a free transfer. But that player is a long way away now. Wasn’t unreasonable to think that perhaps Unai Emery could relocate said footballer on the basis that he’s better than Brendan Rodgers or Craig Shakespeare, but evidence so far suggest it may prove beyond even his admirable skills.
Bournemouth – being seduced by Justin Kluivert’s surname
Bit of a coup for the Cherries, wasn’t it? Signing Justin Kluivert? What a name! What a pedigree. Lots of talk too about how his move to Bournemouth meant he was completing his tour of Europe’s top five leagues (plus the Eredivisie for good measure) all before his 25th birthday. In hindsight, maybe there should have been a bit more focus on the fact a player at 24 had managed to put off every single club in those other leagues so swiftly. This nepo baby is still waiting to add the Premier League to the list of Europe’s top five leagues (plus the Eredivisie for good measure) in which he’s actually managed to score a goal.
Brentford – Neal Maupay
There is sympathy for Brentford given the Ivan Toney situation which was out of their control but Neal Maupay is in the ‘another mass’ category of solutions to any Premier League club’s striker crisis and there can be no excuse for not knowing this by now. To be fair, he has managed one Premier League goal in his seven appearances for Brentford, making him roughly five times as prolific as he was for Everton and only very slightly denting his overall goal-per-game record in the Barclays.
Brighton – Verbruggen for Sanchez
This is Brighton, they don’t really do ‘transfer mistakes’. But there’s definitely more than a hint that things have gone awry in the goalkeeper department. Twenty-three million quid for the displaced Robert Sanchez seems okay, but the seemingly confident expectation that Jason Steele would outperform him never really seemed a view to back and there’s not compelling evidence as yet that 21-year-old Dutch keeper Bart Verbruggen is quite yet ready for full number-one responsibilities. Spending 20 million for Verbruggen and getting 23 million for Sanchez isn’t a disaster but it’s certainly not up to Brighton’s usual standards in squad building and ROI.
Burnley – James Trafford as a clear number one
Quite a few clubs have made a bit of a mess of the goalkeeper situation this year, often by being too muddled with it all. Burnley have gone the other way and done it by being too decisive. Trafford is a major talent but signing him on the back of age-group tournament success – albeit particularly notable age-group tournament success – and then immediately entrusting him with the number-one position at a newly-promoted club that was inevitably going to need help from its keeper along the way was an almighty gamble that 12 games, one win and 30 goals conceded is not really paying off for anyone.
Chelsea – spending all the money and still not having a striker
There are increasingly encouraging signs that Mauricio Pochettino’s Chelsea might be a) quite good and b) not entirely drab but these are still extremely low bars to clear for a club that has spent such an astonishingly vast sum of money in such a staggeringly short period of time. That all that money has been spent and the closest thing Chelsea have to an actual striker is Nicolas Jackson, proud owner of the worst Premier League hat-trick on record, is truly astonishing.
Crystal Palace – the near total absence of any of it at all
Do you know who the last player Palace received a transfer fee for was? Christian Benteke, sold to DC United for £5m in August 2022. Before that? Alexander Sorloth in September 2020. The one before that is Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Palace’s outgoings are a cacophony of frees and loans, of run-down contracts and unwanted players who cannot be permanently discarded at literally any price. Which has a necessary impact on incomings as well, especially when you decide to spend what it turns out is very nearly half your entire summer’s budget on a reserve goalkeeper.
Everton – thinking Ashley Young could still do a job
There are more facetious answers available to questions of Everton’s financial activity, but let’s limit ourselves here to on-field matters. Ashley Young is not young. He is, for a Premier League outfield player, extremely old. It was showing in a very good Aston Villa side and it’s really showing in an undeniably improving but not yet good Everton one.
Fulham – signing Raul Jimenez as an Aleksandar Mitrovic replacement
Was never going to be easy for Fulham to try and replace Mitrovic’s goals and general vibes but this always appeared an odd choice. Maybe now he’s got off the mark with his first Premier League goal for the Cottagers – and a vital one too in turning a 3-0 defeat to Aston Villa into a 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa – the floodgates will open. But as it was his seventh Premier League goal in 60 games since that sickening head injury against Arsenal in 2020, we’re not confident.
Liverpool – signing Waturu Endo
Made sense at the time, but almost instantly rendered superfluous when Liverpool were subsequently able to extract the superb Ryan Gravenberch from Bayern Munich. We’ve already noted this elsewhere, but this is really a good thing for Liverpool. If your biggest mistake is signing a player and then instantly rendering that signing unnecessary by signing someone better, then things are going pretty well really, aren’t they?
Luton – Albert Sambi Lokonga
Churlish to call out Luton for mistakes really. They’re in the Premier League and, in the best possible way, have no business being in the Premier League. As long as they don’t do anything while in the Premier League that places the future of the club in jeopardy, crack on. Signing an injured Albert Sambi Lokonga on loan from Arsenal and watching him get injured again two games after he eventually appeared isn’t great, though.
Manchester City – letting so many attacking players leave for no real good reason
City have been very good at refreshing and renewing their squad when the need arises but it still feels like their current mission to apparently divest themselves of all sorts of attacking players every summer is an exercise in trying to achieve things on some slightly harder difficulty level. Winning the Premier League – and even the Treble – has become so straightforward that they’ve decided to see how they can go about doing it even after letting Riyad Mahrez, Cole Palmer and Ilkay Gundogan wander off a year after deciding to do without Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus. It’s all part of Pep Guardiola’s policy of never blocking any transfer if City’s price is met, but sometimes it doesn’t half look a bit much. They’ve not exactly left themselves short, but they were more vulnerable than they needed to be to a Kevin De Bruyne injury, and those never seem to be all that far away these days.
Manchester United – spending all that striker money on a project
Poor Rasmus Hojlund. We do feel for him a bit. He’s clearly good, he clearly has vast potential and a very high ceiling. But he is equally clearly not remotely ready to be Manchester United’s starting striker. His zero Premier League goals will dog him until that record improves significantly, but it’s really not his fault. He’s looked like exactly what he is: a highly promising young footballer with a roughly one-in-three goalscoring record adapting to a tough new league under a harsh spotlight. He certainly hasn’t disgraced himself or let anyone down. But United needed hit-the-ground-running finished product and paid hit-the-ground-running finished product money.
Newcastle – not doing due diligence on Sandro Tonali
Always seemed a curious transfer, this one. Tonali had to be almost forcibly removed from Milan and shipped off to Newcastle for a record fee. His first game suggested all could be well, but diminishing returns followed before the betting scandal blew up and everything suddenly made sense. Newcastle’s footballing decisions since their dubious lottery win have been largely exemplary, but they had their pants pulled down good and proper on this one.
Nottingham Forest – The January influx
Nottingham Forest had to sign a lot of players in the summer of 2022. They had been promoted against the odds with a squad of youngsters, old lags and most importantly loans. There was nothing like a Premier League squad left when the dust settled. Forest duly signed a lot of players. Fine, fair enough. Needed doing. Then just as that was all beginning to gel together rather nicely, along came January. Bit of tinkering. Bit of work round the edges of the squad. Maybe fill a conspicuous hole or two where injuries have bit. That’s what January’s for. Forest had a serviceable squad by this point. They did not do a bit of tinkering, though. They brought in another seven new players and lost the cohesion that had been five months in the finding.
Steve Cooper is very good and managed to gel this new new squad just in time to stave off relegation, but Forest’s numbers last season were really stark. One win in the first 12 games as the players got to know each other; then five wins and three draws in 10 games up to the beginning of February (the only defeats in this run to Arsenal and Manchester United); then no wins in the next 10 as once again the players got to know each other; and then 11 points from the last six games to secure safety. Obviously, with these lessons learned, it was a quiet summer on the incomings front at Forest this time around…
Sheffield United – not allowing a 400-year-old Billy Sharp one last crack at the Barclays
Tottenham – letting Davinson Sanchez go without replacement
The last two words of that are key, really. Davinson Sanchez has not been the player Spurs hoped he would be and allowing him to move on was probably for the best all round. But it left Spurs hopelessly and now thoroughly damagingly short at centre-back.
Spurs fans have their Tottenham back under Ange Postecoglou and it does appear that the front-foot, attack-first-and-ask-questions-later approach is probably going to work out more times than it doesn’t, but there’s attacking and bold and then there’s daft and reckless. Approaching at least the first half of a season with precisely three first-team centre-backs is daft and reckless. Especially when those centre-backs are a brand new signing, an out-of-favour former midfielder with a year left on his contract and a man never more than a few games away from an inexplicable madness.
Micky van de Ven and Cristian Romero were outstanding for the first three months of the season, but the fragility of the foundations on which Spurs’ excellent start to the season were built has now been thoroughly exposed. Romero still has two games of a three-match suspension to serve, Van de Ven is – like Spurs themselves – hamstrung until January and a frankly terrifying quantity of hope for the next eight or so games rests upon the shoulders of one Eric Dier. Spurs have had a brilliant 18 months in the transfer market, but three centre-backs, Ange? Three? That’s insane.
West Ham – leaving it late
Maybe it was the fact selling clubs knew they had all that Declan Rice money burning a hole, but it took West Ham a relative eternity to actually get any of it spent. That it was ultimately spent pretty well means we’re left with this relatively minor quibble, but there did seem to be deals that could have been done much more smartly than they were. And watching the instant impact and already outsized importance of James Ward-Prowse to the West Ham cause makes it look just crazy that they left so much time for a potential gazumping before completing what should have been a straightforward and obvious transfer at a fee that suited all involved.
Wolves – selling Ruben Neves to Al-Hilal
We’re lashing out here. Not really Wolves’ fault. Can’t really expect them to hold a line nobody else was holding and refuse to sell to Saudi Arabia. But this was among the more depressing Saudi swoops during the summer, especially with the obvious possibility of it all just being a long-winded and dispiriting way of shuffling him to Newcastle.