Ranking the ten worst January signings in Premier League history, including funniest swap ever

Date published: Monday 30th January 2023 1:18 - Editor F365

Arsenal's Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alexis Sanchez compete for the ball

It will take something special to break into this top ten of the worst Premier League signings ever made in the January transfer window. Oh Arsenal/Man Utd.


10) Chris Samba (QPR – £12.5m, 2013)
Samba would be a lot higher on this list had QPR not somehow managed to persuade Anzhi Makhachkala to pay £12m to re-sign the central defender six months after they had somehow persuaded QPR to pay £12.5m for him. Funny how both of those clubs ended up a financial clusterf*ck, isn’t it?

Harry Redknapp signed Samba, called him “a monster” and talked up his ability to keep QPR solid defensively and thus move the club away from relegation trouble. He played 10 matches in which QPR conceded 19 times, failed to keep a clean sheet after his debut and apologised to supporters for his performance in a 3-2 defeat to Fulham. QPR were relegated and Samba was off. Sterling work.


9) Kostas Mitroglou (Fulham – £13m, 2014)
The Premier League did not see the best of Mitroglou. The Premier League did not see much of Mitroglou at all. A player previously known as ‘Mitrogoals’ for his scoring record would have been better rechristened with teammate Steve Sidwell’s fond nickname: “This f**ker.”

Having scored 41 times in 92 league games for an Olympiacos team which walked the Greek league, Fulham spent £13m – a club record fee – to bring Mitroglou to England and save them from relegation. He would start one league game between his arrival and Fulham’s relegation in May, playing 151 minutes in total.

By August, Mitroglou had gone back on loan to Olympiacos and the next month scored the winner against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. The following night, Fulham lost 5-3 away at Nottingham Forest. Supporters must have wondered what on earth had happened.


8) Jean Makoun (Aston Villa – £6m, 2011)
Just as you can’t write a list of shonky transfers without including QPR and West Ham, Aston Villa also have to feature. Makoun arrived from Lyon as a highly-rated midfielder. He was aged 27 and had played 36 times in the Champions League in the previous six seasons. He had started victories over Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester United and Milan in that competition.

“He is an experienced player. He is a proper link between the midfield and the strikers,” manager Gerard Houllier said. “He has played in the Champions League. He’ll be a good asset for the future.”

Makoun looked sloppy on his debut, got a straight red card for a dreadful tackle a fortnight later and played only five times in the league before the end of the season. He never played for Villa again, and yet only left on a permanent deal in July 2013.


7) Afonso Alves (Middlesbrough – £12.7m, 2008)
Ah Afonso, the striker held up as an example of why you should beware when buying strikers from the Eredivisie. The Brazilian would have made the top three had Middlesbrough not somehow persuaded Qatar’s Al-Sadd to part with £7m for him.

Quiz question: Has any player scored as few Premier League goals as Alves (10) and still got a hat-trick? Answer: Quite a few actually, yeah. Alves managed his in that baffling 8-1 final-day victory over Manchester City, but he also scored two of his 13 goals for Boro against non-league Barrow in the FA Cup. Again, what on earth were Al-Sadd playing at?


6) Fernando Torres (Chelsea – £50m, 2011)
Ah yes, cheeky Nando. The biggest crime of Chelsea’s ludicrous £50m purchase was that Torres was already on his way down when signed. Having scored 18 goals in 22 games for Liverpool during an injury-affected 2009/10, Torres had managed only nine in 23 games before the end of the January transfer window and looked generally disillusioned at Anfield.

Forty-five goals in 172 matches for Chelsea was not an appalling record, although clearly far below the expectation of a British record transfer purchase. In fact, the only saving grace is that Torres scored important goals and contributed important assists to Chelsea’s triumphs in the Champions League and Europa League. Still, we remember the misses most.


5) Guido Carrillo (Southampton – £19.2m, 2018)
There was little logic apparent in Southampton chucking a club-record £19.2m Monaco’s way for their fourth-choice forward in January 2018, beyond the forlorn hope that some Kylian Mbappe had rubbed off on Guido Carrillo.

It had not. Signed as a show of faith in manager Mauricio Pellegrino, Carrillo played eight times under the manager before his mid-March sacking. Replacement Mark Hughes curiously did not have quite the same level of belief in the Argentinean striker, who only played twice more in his first half-season.

Nothing had changed by the summer and so Carrillo was loaned out to Leganes – the club Pellegrino took over after leaving the south coast. That loan was renewed a year later and by complete coincidence they were relegated from La Liga in 2020. Carrillo played his first game for Southampton on January 27, 2018 and his last on March 31 of the same year, failing to score and leaving on a free within two and a half years.


4) Jean-Alain Boumsong (Newcastle – £8m, 2005)
It’s a pretty spectacular example of Newcastle-style long-term planning. In the summer of 2004, Boumsong was available on a free transfer and eventually joined Rangers. Four months later, Newcastle paid £8m to sign a central defender that nobody else was in for and who Newcastle had shown no interest in signing on a free. Even if Boumsong had been useful as a defender, it would have been a cock-up.

He wasn’t. In fact, the transfer was one of the deals raised by the Stevens Inquiry as being potentially suspect, with inconsistencies between the evidence given by manager Graeme Souness and Freddy Shepherd. The inquiry eventually decided that neither party, nor risible football agent Willie McKay, had a case to answer, I’m being told in my ear to say.


3) Andy Carroll (Liverpool – £35m, 2011)
If you didn’t want Andy Carroll to sign for Chelsea for £20m in the January transfer window of 2018, then you are either a) a Chelsea supporter or b) someone who doesn’t believe in fun. Unfortunately, any hopes of a deal based purely on banter were scuppered by yet another injury. The Blues lurched from Ashley Barnes to Olivier Giroud as a result. Peas in a pod.

Still, we will always have the Liverpool deal. In 40 years, men will gather their grandchildren around a roaring fire (probably lit by robots or something) and tell them the old story of the inexperienced giant who became the record transfer of one of the grandest clubs in the land.

Luis Suarez, signed earlier the same day, thought he had arrived in England to play with Torres. Instead he was forced to lead Liverpool’s attack himself while Carroll stumbled and bumbled his way to six goals in 44 league games before being sold for less than half the initial fee.


2) Alexis Sanchez (Manchester United – swap, 2018) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Arsenal – swap, 2018)
Swap deals and part-exchanges used to be all the rage in transfer gossip columns and speculatory circles but such spurious stories don’t tend to see the light of day anymore. A genuine theory: it’s because Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan ruined them for everyone.

It is difficult to quantify the sheer dreadfulness endured by literally every party involved in the transfer. Neither player enjoyed themselves in new surroundings. Neither club benefited. Both of the managers who sanctioned the deal were gone by the end of the year, Jose Mourinho pushed by Manchester United whereas Arsene Wenger jumped from Arsenal. The fans had almost nothing to celebrate beyond Sanchez’s piano-playing announcement video and Mkhitaryan’s assist-laden debut.

Manchester United ran up an absurd wage bill for five goals in 45 games before discovering no-one fancied helping them shift that burden. Arsenal at least avoided that ignominy – Mkhitaryan was roughly OK and earned far less. But both players eventually left on free transfers for a reason, so cursed was this swap.


1) Savio Nsereko (West Ham – £9m, 2009)
Just a very sad story. Having sold Craig Bellamy to Manchester City for £14m, West Ham reinvested most of the proceeds in Savio, a German striker from Serie B Brescia. Nsereko had scored three career league goals, all in the second tier.

Savio played ten league games for West Ham but only ever started one match and never scored. Not only was his shooting awry, his physical presence was that of a dormouse. West Ham sold him to Fiorentina for just £3m less than seven months after signing him, taking a £1m loss per month on the initial outlay.

From then on, Savio declined rapidly. He moved through lower-league clubs in Germany and Italy before moving through Kazakhstan, Bulgaria and Lithuania. There was also an arrest for faking his own kidnapping in Thailand, and reports of mental health issues along the way.

“I made a lot of mistakes. In fact, I did everything wrong that I could,” he told Bild in 2013, but almost a decade later, his career is still not back on track. After all the promise of his youth career at 1860 Munich, only sadness and regret remain.

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