Bargain XI signed by incoming Liverpool sporting director includes Man Utd flops

Matt Stead
Liverpool midfielder Harvey Elliott competes for the ball with Man Utd forward Wout WeghorstLiverpool midfielder Harvey Elliott competes for the ball with Wout Weghorst

Jorg Schmadtke is in talks to become the new sporting director at Liverpool, who can expect to sign a few Man Utd flops if his record is anything to go by.


GOALKEEPER: Ron-Robert Zieler (Man Utd to Hannover, 2010, free transfer)
After narrowly avoiding relegation in Schmadtke’s first season as sporting director, Hannover were given goalkeeping issues in and out of their control to address. The suicide of captain and starting keeper Robert Enke had understandably stunned the club, with Fromlowitz filling in for the rest of the campaign.

Fromlowitz retained the gloves to start the 2010/11 season but was usurped by Ron-Robert Zieler by January as Hannover continued to climb the Bundesliga table, eventually finishing fourth.

Zieler was an ever-present for the following five seasons before leaving in 2016 to join Premier League champions Leicester, the Germany international having attracted interest from Liverpool two years prior.


RIGHT-BACK: Mame Biram Diouf (Man Utd to Hannover, 2012, £1.5m)
Schmadtke dipped his toe into the Man Utd reserve pool more than once, fishing out Diouf as Hannover continued to establish themselves in the German top flight.

With a European campaign to contend with, squad depth was sought and the malleable Diouf joined in January. The forward scored 10 goals and assisted four in his first half-season, including strikes against Club Brugge, Standard Liege and Atletico Madrid as Hannover reached the Europa League quarter-finals.

Diouf scored 35 goals in 71 games for Hannover before joining Stoke. Which reminds us: if you’re wondering why he’s been picked at right-back, ask Mark Hughes.

Mame Biram Diouf and Aaron Ramsey


CENTRE-HALF: Maxence Lacroix (Sochaux to Wolfsburg, 2020, £4.4m)
‘The next Rio Ferdinand’ would have been a Premier League player this season if Southampton had their way, but talks broke down and while Lacroix might have considered that a fortunate outcome, his stock has fallen regardless.

No longer is the French youth international a regular, his role under Niko Kovac waning in importance. Wolfsburg would have expected at least £20m for his services until recently, with Chelsea, Newcastle, West Ham, Liverpool and Arsenal also among those linked, but even with a fall in value there would be a decent profit to make.


CENTRE-HALF: Emanuel Pogatetz (Middlesbrough to Hannover, 2010, free transfer)
Five years in Middlesbrough is pretty much the limit of even the most tolerant human, never mind the often volatile Pogatetz. After a journey which took him from the UEFA Cup final to the Championship via the disintegration of Rodrigo Possebon’s leg, the Austrian defender moved to Hannover as a free agent in 2010.

His three years coincided with the best period in the club’s history as they finished fourth, seventh and ninth, with Pogatetz a regular on the rare occasions he wasn’t suspended.


LEFT-BACK: Jerome Roussillon (Montpellier to Wolfsburg, 2018, £4.2m)
Before Wolfsburg signed Roussillon from Montpellier in 2018, they had recorded consecutive 16th-placed finishes, avoiding relegation both times only through the play-off format. In his three full campaigns, they came sixth, seventh and fourth. Coincidence? I think so.

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But Roussillon was certainly an important player in their revival under first Bruno Labbadia, then Oliver Glasner. Consistent, reliable and versatile, he later moved onto Union Berlin during their wonderful but ultimately doomed title charge of 2022/23.


CENTRAL MIDFIELDER: Marco Hoger (Schalke to FC Cologne, 2016, £1.3m)
While the pair likely never crossed paths, Hoger and Schmadtke were both on the books at Alemannia Aachen in the mid-2000s. The former emerged through the club’s youth system before moving on to Schalke, where he stayed for half a decade until FC Cologne came calling.

Hoger spent the same amount of time with the Billy Goats, joining them on their journey through the Europa League and down to the German second tier before returning as champions. The midfielder was a dependable starter throughout.


CENTRAL MIDFIELDER: Simon Rolfes (Werder Bremen to Aachen, 2004, free transfer)
It was at Aachen where Schmadtke cut his sporting director teeth, joining the debt-ridden club in December 2001 and overseeing a period of immense success. The second-tier side qualified for the UEFA Cup through defeat in the DFB-Pokal and eventually earned promotion thanks to some astute recruitment.

Rolfes was among the best additions, being drafted in after failing to settle at Werder Bremen. He spent a solitary year at Aachen but accompanied them on their European journey, formed part of a solid promotion push and was turned on for a quick profit, the Bosman signing leaving for Bayer Leverkusen in a £750,000 deal.

It is there where Rolfes remains as sporting director, the man who appointed Liverpool legend Xabi Alonso as manager.


CENTRAL MIDFIELDER: Lars Stindl (Karlsruher to Hannover, 2010, free transfer)
Another player who was linked loosely with Liverpool at one stage, Stindl has instead carved out a fine and ongoing career without ever leaving Germany. The forward has risen up through the regional leagues to the top flight, where he has plied his trade for 13 uninterrupted years.

That started with his move to Hannover in 2010, with Karlsruher unable to keep their grip on a promising, hard-working player. Stindl was never bound to break scoring records – only once in five seasons with Hannover did he register double figures in the Bundesliga – but it is no coincidence that he can still be found plugging away at 34 with Borussia Monchengladbach.


CENTRE-FORWARD: Anthony Modeste (Hoffenheim to FC Cologne, 2015, £4.1m)
A quite silly career for Modeste has been typified by some slightly French nominative determinism in terms of scoring prowess, pierced by his only three 20-goal seasons coming in 2010, 2017 and 2022 across spells with 10 separate clubs in four different countries.

Only at Blackburn did the striker truly, irredeemably flop. After that he restored his reputation in Germany enough to earn a two-season stop in China, with periods at Cologne either side. A record of 79 goals in 157 games for the Bundesliga club is really quite excellent; Borussia Dortmund admired it to such an extent that they took him on for a season to help temporarily fill in for Sebastien Haller.


CENTRE-FORWARD: Didier Ya Konan (Rosenborg to Hannover, 2009, £500,000)
Perhaps the greatest business Schmadtke can ever put his name to was the purchase of Ya Konan for Hannover in 2009 – his first summer as the club’s sporting director. A decent player in the Norwegian league became a sometimes remarkably effective cult hero for Die Roten. And a FIFA cheat code to boot.

Only three players have ever scored more Bundesliga goals for Hannover than Ya Konan, who netted in a victory over Jurgen Klopp’s eventual champions Borussia Dortmund in September 2011.


CENTRE-FORWARD: Wout Weghorst (AZ Alkmaar to Wolfsburg, 2018, £10m)
“It’s a special quality to have as a striker that even if you’re not particularly in the game, you still manage to score,” Schmadtke once said of Weghorst. “He always just keeps going because he knows that the next situation could be decisive. He doesn’t carry it [not playing well] around as a burden in situations like this; he tries to stay calm. That’s a good quality to have.”

Some Man Utd fans may argue that for Weghorst, it’s an entirely necessary trait to exhibit. But Wolfsburg certainly enjoyed the very best of the Dutchman: 70 goals in 144 games and a profit on their initial outlay.