Five signings who are defying their critics

Date published: Monday 4th April 2016 11:59

Mohamed Elneny
‘Elneny was made for Arsenal, but is that the problem?’ asked a devilishly handsome buffoon after the debut of Egyptian midfielder Elneny in the FA Cup fourth-round tie against Burnley in January. ‘He was not signed as a first-team player; those roles belong to Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla, with Aaron Ramsey the current stand-in. But what does Elneny offer that is different to the aforementioned three?’ was the question.

Plenty, it seems. Arsenal won three, drew three and lost four of their first ten Premier League fixtures of 2016, with Elneny only being handed a 20-minute cameo appearance in the 3-2 defeat to Manchester United. The Egyptian has started three consecutive league games since, of which the Gunners have won two and drawn one. He even scored his first goal at the Nou Camp for good measure.

‘It’s hard not to conclude that Wenger treated his own supporters as fools with the signing of Elneny,’ wrote a slightly less devilishly handsome buffoon in February. But the 23-year-old has added a measure of balance and composure to an injury-hit Arsenal midfield in dire need of improvement. And it has showed. Not bad for £5million.


Roberto Firmino
‘Laptop gurus.’

In an attempt to make sense of the sacking of Brendan Rodgers by Liverpool a few days earlier, Neil Ashton typed those two famous words. Then writing for the Daily Mail, he accused head of technical performance Michael Edwards of ‘doing a number’ on the Irishman. A reminder that the Reds were 10th at the time of his sacking, and that Rodgers himself insisted he had the final say on signings.

‘The committee have yet to explain how they came up with the figure of £29million to sign Brazilian forward Roberto Firmino from Hoffenheim, who finished eighth in the Bundesliga last season,’ wrote a disgruntled Ashton in October. Three things, Neil:

* The fee was an initial £22million. It would reach £29million only if Firmino achieved certain criteria – scoring goals and whatnot – in add-ons.

* Hoffenheim may have finished eighth in the Bundesliga last season, but that makes Firmino’s haul of seven goals and ten assists from attacking midfield all the more impressive.

* The Brazilian has started just 19 Premier League games this season, but is Liverpool’s top scorer with eight, and joint-leading assist-maker with seven.

Bloody ‘laptop gurus’.


Kevin de Bruyne
“I wouldn’t pay to see Kevin de Bruyne,” football ‘expert’ Robbie Savage told BT Sport in September. The former midfielder may not have paid to see him, but Manchester City paid £55million to purchase him. I know whose judgement I trust.

Is the injury which sidelined De Bruyne for over two months one which settled the destination of the Premier League title? Or, rather, guaranteed it would not find its way to the Etihad Stadium? City were second in the table when the Belgian injured his knee against Everton in the Capital One Cup in January, with just three points separating Manuel Pellegrini’s side from leaders Leicester. City had lost five of 23 games all season, winning 13 with De Bruyne in the side. In the seven without him they lost four and won just two: victories over 18th-placed Sunderland and rock-bottom Aston Villa. The gap to first had become 15 points, with City dropping to fourth.

Twelve players have made more appearances for City this season; only Sergio Aguero has scored more goals (six), and only David Silva has provided more assists (nine). Thanks to his perceived failure to establish himself at Chelsea, the former Wolfsburg midfielder was written off almost instantly on his Premier League return. By some, anyway. Certainly by Mr. Marmite, who later stated that the fee for the 24-year-old was “ridiculous”. Excellent work.


Anthony Martial
Ways to describe Anthony Martial:

* Manchester United’s leading goalscorer in his debut season.

* Premier League Player of September after joining that same month.

* French international.

* Winner of the Golden Boy award.

* Bloody fast.

* Bloody good.

Ways not to describe Anthony Martial:

* A waste of money.


Dimitri Payet
The consensus on West Ham’s lovably chubby magician is that he is not only one of the signings of the season, but one of the finest players in the Premier League. It was not always this way.

Oh, Rodney. You should have carried on ignoring Spencer. Whatever expectations, low or high, were held on Payet have since been blown out of the water. The Frenchman is West Ham’s leading Premier League goalscorer with nine strikes in 23 games, and has also provided eight assists. Only five players have directly contributed more goals for their clubs than Payet’s 17 for the Hammers, and they all either play for clubs higher in the league, or are Romelu Lukaku. Some questioned his attitude. Some questioned why a player was making his first move outside of his native France at the age of 28. Some questioned the more than £10million fee paid for a man with just 15 international caps. The only question now is: Why didn’t you come here sooner?


Matt Stead

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