Erling Haaland has been tipped to be the missing piece of the puzzle for Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. Odd though that is given they are already quite clearly among the two top teams in the world right now, the Norwegian looks set to provide another dimension to the already 4D multiple title-winners.
But missing pieces can end up being spare parts. We’ve found six players bought by title-chasers, expected to take them to the next level, or at least to maintain their success, who ended up jettisoned, pilloried and blamed for the failings of their respective clubs. Look out, Erling, and let these guys serve as a warning…
He’s made us look like a right bunch of mugs. Five of us said he would win the Golden Boot and six of us had Chelsea winning the Premier League because of him. It’s a not dissimilar set of circumstances to Haaland’s move to Manchester City, in that few can see how a team that creates loads of chances could possibly not benefit from a guy who converts loads of them.
The Champions League winners, with one of the great tacticians in Europe as their manager, had just signed one of the best strikers around. And not just one of the best, but someone who has played for (sort of) and loves the club (not as much as Inter Milan, but still), in a similar mould to the only previous successful strikers of the Roman Abramovich era, Didier Drogba and Diego Costa. Get those blue ribbons out, lads.
But an unwillingness from either Thomas Tuchel or Lukaku to adapt, highlighted in an ill-informed interview by the latter, led to a breakdown in their relationship with seemingly no way back. The Belgian may well smash in a few more goals to end the season on a high, just enough to get hopes up at Stamford Bridge to a point where they decide against signing a new striker, persist with Lukaku, who will still be miserable next season. Chelsea are now much further away from a title challenge.
This is unfair on Fellaini. He was the only signing David Moyes made in his first summer as Manchester United boss, so the Belgian is essentially a default pick. And actually, few outside the club thought the midfielder-cum-battering ram would be the man to continue Sir Alex Ferguson’s title-winning legacy.
Despite having won the title in his last season at Old Trafford, it was pretty clear that an Erik ten Hag style overhaul was necessary with the squad Fergie had left behind. He made one last brilliant signing in Robin van Persie, who dragged a squad featuring some fairly average footballers to the title in 2012-13.
But in what those at United must consider to be one of their greatest regrets in the Premier League era, they believed spending £30m on Fellaini would be enough to retain their title and usher in the era of The Chosen One. Poor old Fellaini, poor old Moyes and poor old Manchester United.
It’s June 2017 and Diego Costa decided to send a ‘jokey reply’ to Antonio Conte after the Italian boss, who had just led Chelsea to the title in his first season in England, had text all the players wishing them a good holiday and telling them to stay fit. Conte responds by saying: “Hi Diego, I hope you are well. Thanks for the season we spent together. Good luck for the next year but you are not in my plan.”
The guy had just scored 20 Premier League goals; it was madness. Or it was until we realised it would be absolutely fine as Chelsea were upgrading. Enter, Alvaro Morata.
Now, we don’t want to put the boot in as Morata has since come out and spoken about his mental health issues while in the Premier League. But, suffice to say, after a pretty damn good start in which he scored six goals in his first six Premier League games, it did not go to plan. The Chelsea fans took against him and that was that. They finished fifth that season, 25 points behind champions Manchester City.
Ibrahimovic arrived at Manchester United in July 2016 having won league titles in ten of his previous 13 seasons, with Ajax, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain, scoring nearly 400 goals in that time. In his own words, “I won’t be the King of Manchester, I will be the God of Manchester.”
He believed his own hype more than the rest of us, but there was definitely a sense that the Premier League was anyone’s to win that season. Despite United finishing fifth in the previous campaign, they were level on points with Manchester City, only five points behind second-placed Arsenal, with champions Leicester unlikely to dominate as they had done for two years on the bounce.
Zlatan could have been the deity required. They finished fifth again.
If Zlatan wasn’t enough in the summer of 2016, the return of Pogba surely would be. £89m was spent to bring the brilliant academy graduate back to Carrington, where Pogba was pictured saying hello to the adoring backroom staff, pretending to remember who the f*** they were.
He was undoubtedly one of the best midfielders in Europe at the time (and quite possibly still is), but has become one of the biggest transfer missteps in Premier League history, with United shelling out close to £100m on his wages on top of the record transfer fee.
He’s spent a small portion of his six seasons playing excellent football, a lot of it injured, and nearly all of it on the back pages – spuriously or otherwise – for complaining about one thing or another, while being constantly linked with the Old Trafford exit. Like good things, all bad things must also come to an end.
“Manchester United should win the league or be second or third. I don’t see other positions for Manchester United to be honest,” Ronaldo said when he arrived, echoing the thoughts of many, including his new teammates, apparently…
“The players and coaching staff now believe they have the best squad in the league and can win the Premier League this season,” a source told The Sun.
It seems daft now, but at the time it wasn’t. United finished second last year and had signed a club hero who happened to be the greatest goalscorer of his generation. And actually, if the players, fans and pundits had been told beforehand that Ronaldo would score 24 goals in all competitions, possibly even more people may have thought it would be their year.
Instead, via squad rifts, a change of management, media leaks and fan mutiny, Ronaldo’s 24 goals have contributed to Manchester United’s worst season in the Premier League era. Siuuuu!