Liverpool and Arsenal flops among worst Premier League XI signed from the reigning champions

Matt Stead

Liverpool have signed terribly from but sold brilliantly as champions. Arsenal will hope Gabriel Jesus fares better than Francis Jeffers.

The best Premier League XI signed from reigning champions would hammer this sorry lot.


GOALKEEPER: Angus Gunn (Manchester City to Southampton, 2018)
In 22 Premier League appearances for Southampton, Angus Gunn conceded 43 goals and kept five clean sheets. Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea, relegation-bound Fulham, notoriously free-scoring Brighton under both Chris Hughton and Graham Potter, and newly promoted Sheffield United should hang their collective heads in equal amounts of shame. Gunn was kept out of Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side at various points by the eclectic trio of Alex McCarthy, Fraser Forster and Willy Caballero and the regular England call-up did not play another league match for Saints from the 9-0 shellacking by Leicester in October 2019 until his sale to Norwich – for about £11m less than he was signed initially – in 2021.


CENTRE-HALF: Ki-Jana Hoever (Liverpool to Wolves, 2020)
It is difficult to identify the quintessential example of Liverpool’s recent transfer alchemy. Squeezing more than £20m out of Crystal Palace for each of Christian Benteke and Mamadou Sakho was impressive. The Philippe Coutinho deal speaks for itself. Essentially swapping Kevin Stewart for Andy Robertson at little extra expense bordered on unfair. Getting £12.5m from Leicester for Danny Ward warrants applause and there is an entire sub-genre of deals involving Bournemouth which would ordinarily trigger some sort of ethics check for the use of financial loopholes: selling Dominic Solanke, Jordon Ibe and Brad Smith for a combined £37m is daft.

But offloading Ki-Jana Hoever and his four prior Liverpool appearances – all in the FA and League Cup – to Wolves for up to £13.5m, thus counteracting a portion of the £41m fee paid to the same club for Diogo Jota, takes some beating. Bruno Lage laid into the right-back in March, labelling him “a good example of the young kids that want everything but don’t train at the intensity they need or prepare themselves enough”. The manager was incensed after Hoever had to be substituted 25 minutes into a defeat, ending his tirade by warning: “I don’t waste time with guys who don’t work hard.” He was loaned out to PSV in June.


CENTRE-HALF: Joleon Lescott (Manchester City to West Brom, 2014)
“Bearing in mind he came in on a free, we didn’t see it as a long term solution. Eventually with a year left it would have fizzled out,” said West Brom director of football Richard Garlick of a move which ostensibly worked but in reality was rendered close to pointless. The Baggies swooped upon Joleon Lescott’s release by Manchester City and the centre-half was crowned Player of the Year at The Hawthorns in his first season, but there would be no second. He was quickly shifted on to bitter rivals Aston Villa as Tony Pulis pointed to a desire to refresh an ageing defence, as if he hadn’t sanctioned the arrival of a 32-year-old free agent on big wages the previous summer.


CENTRE-HALF: Mikael Silvestre (Manchester United to Arsenal, 2008)
That Sir Alex Ferguson happily permitted Mikael Silvestre to choose between Manchester City and Arsenal in the summer of 2008 spoke volumes. The legendary Manchester United manager never sold directly to a rival and blocked Gabriel Heinze’s proposed switch to Liverpool a year before, but rolled out the red north London carpet for Silvestre when Arsenal waved £750,000 at them. The move was made even more curious by the fact Arsene Wenger considered the 31-year-old his starting centre-half from the beginning, but a 2-0 defeat and 3-0 humbling by Aston Villa and Manchester City in consecutive November games put paid to that. Silvestre gradually faded out of the first-team picture and left after a couple of forgettable seasons.


RIGHT WINGER: Gabriel Obertan (Manchester United to Newcastle, 2011)
“I have come here with a lot of ambition. I just want to play football. I am hungry for football so I’m just relieved,” said Gabriel Obertan upon joining Newcastle. The winger’s malnutrition was hardly assuaged across five years on Tyneside: two goals, seven assists and one relegation in 33 Premier League starts left no party satisfied but Manchester United, who pulled £3m out of Mike Ashley for the trouble.


CENTRAL MIDFIELDER: Jack Rodwell (Manchester City to Sunderland, 2014)
‘Pound for pound, Jack Rodwell must be the worst signing in Sunderland’s history,’ read one headline in the Evening Chronicle, while the Northern Echo described the midfielder as ‘an emblem of the wastefulness and lack of professionalism that was allowed to flourish under the former regime’. Rodwell signed for £10m and over the course of his four-year stay at the Stadium of Light, ran up a further bill of around £14.5m in wages on £70,000 a week.

He was the only player whose contract did not contain a pay reduction clause upon relegation in 2017, a particular point of contention on Wearside as he did not make an appearance for the final eight months of his spell – which culminated in another drop into League One – and also resisted attempts to offload him earlier.


CENTRAL MIDFIELDER: Joe Cole (Chelsea to Liverpool, 2010)
While the earlier praise for Liverpool’s transfer market expertise stands, things have not always been this way. Consider Roy Hodgson’s first and only summer in charge at Anfield, when Javier Mascherano and Yossi Benayoun were forced out and Jonjo Shelvey, Milan Jovanovic, Danny Wilson, Christian Poulsen, Brad Jones, Raul Meireles and Paul Konchesky came in as the support acts to the headliner, Joe Cole. For £90,000, and with the backing of captain Steven Gerrard – “Messi can do some amazing things, but anything he can do Joe can do as well, if not better” – expectations were immense. A player far past his best by that point fell short by some way, making more appearances during a season-long loan with Lille than he did in full campaigns either side of that French sojourn with the Reds.


CENTRAL MIDFIELDER: Juan Sebastian Veron (Manchester United to Chelsea, 2003)
The “f**king great player” who Ferguson went into bat for in May 2002 became one of Roman Abramovich’s first investments with Chelsea a little over a year later. For almost half of the British record fee Manchester United initially paid, Claudio Ranieri somehow expected life in London to aid his adjustment to playing in England and brought Veron to Stamford Bridge for his second bite at the Premier League cherry. It left a similarly dissatisfying taste; after scoring on his debut in victory over Liverpool, the Argentinean midfielder limped to just 13 more appearances due to injuries and was sent to Inter Milan on a loan from which he never returned.


LEFT WINGER: Lee Sharpe (Manchester United to Leeds, 1996)
It was likely only a coincidence that Howard Wilkinson was sacked less than a month after signing Lee Sharpe for a fee equal to Leeds’ club transfer record. It just so happened that the club who sold him, Manchester United, also dealt the final blow to the manager’s reign with a 4-0 hammering at Elland Road which Sharpe played the entire 90 minutes of. That was not something he would grow particularly accustomed to, as George Graham’s preferred system hardly benefited mercurial wingers and his replacement, David O’Leary, subsequently ostracised Sharpe upon his appointment.


CENTRE-FORWARD: Rhian Brewster (Liverpool to Sheffield United, 2020)
Actually, is this the ultimate Liverpool deal? Michael Edwards certainly paid for his laptop and air-conditioned office when negotiating the exit of Rhian Brewster. The young striker had been on the periphery of Jurgen Klopp’s thoughts for some time, making the bench for the 2019 Champions League final and scraping three actual appearances for the Reds: two in the League Cup and one in the FA Cup. That, and admittedly a fruitful Swansea loan during which he scored a goal every other game, persuaded Sheffield United to part with up to £23.5m for a player who failed to score in 27 Premier League matches for the Blades and has only bagged a handful in the Championship since their relegation. And some were still disappointed Liverpool let him go.


CENTRE-FORWARD: Francis Jeffers (Arsenal to Charlton, 2004)
Those £2m in add-ons to supplement an initial £8m fee were likely never activated by Francis Jeffers at Arsenal. Eight goals in 39 games represented a shoddy return on a substantial Wenger gamble. Not even a loan back at Everton could spark a renaissance in the England international and Charlton fared no better after parting with £2.6m for Alan Curbishley’s salvation project. He scored three goals in 20 Premier League matches, was shuffled out of the picture by Darren Bent and could never take the ambitious Addicks any higher than mid-table obscurity.