One per club worst signings of the Premier League era

Date published: Wednesday 23rd September 2020 8:42

Six of these spectacular flops are still on the books of the clubs who got suckered into signing them...

Worse players may have represented all of the Premier League clubs but there can’t be many worse deals than these…


ARSENAL – Shkodran Mustafi
Arsenal made the £35million defender Germany’s most expensive centre-back in 2016, despite Mustafi’s name never featuring among the scouting department’s list of recommendations. According to The Athletic, the Gunners were blinded by stats – Lucas Perez’s too – and the pair signed for a combined £52.1million on the same day in 2016, 24 hours before they sold Serge Gnabry for £5million. Since then, Mustafi has become one of the poster boys for Arsenal’s decline but so far they have been unable to shift the 28-year-old. According to the defender, his wife told him: “If you were that bad, you would never have been a world champion – or signed for Arsenal.” Well, Mrs Mustafi: Stephane Guivarc’h, Kleberson, Bernard Diomede, Roque Junior. And also, Arsenal sign all sorts of sh*te.

ASTON VILLA – Bosko Balaban
“He’ll be a star in the Premiership,” said deadly Croatian hitman Davor Suker of Balaban, proving that it doesn’t always take one to know one. Balaban cost Villa £6million in 2001, for which they got no goals in nine appearances – seven as a sub – before he was released for nothing a couple of years later. His form at Club Brugge – 53 goals in 114 appearances – suggested there was a striker in there somewhere. Just not in the Midlands.


BRIGHTON – Jurgen Locadia
The Seagulls broke their transfer record to land Locadia from PSV in a £15million deal in January 2018. The Dutch forward had bagged nine goals in 15 games during the first half of the 2017/18 season but he managed only three in 34 Premier League games before being shipped out to Hoffenheim on loan for last season. Locadia is currently being borrowed by FC Cincinnati.


BURNLEY – Ben Gibson
Burnley coughed up £15million – a joint-record sum for the Clarets – for Gibson in 2018 but within 18 months, the defender was back training on Teesside having failed to secure a January move away from Turf Moor. Even when Sean Dyche was down to two fit centre-backs when the Premier League resumed, Gibson remained out of the picture. Norwich have since rescued the one-time England call-up by taking him on loan for the season and, somehow, Burnley will get more than half their money back if the Canaries achieve promotion.


CHELSEA – Kepa Arrizabalaga
Matt Stead will argue that Andriy Shevchenko was a bigger transfer turkey for the Blues and this may come down to what you think is most damaging to a team’s prospects: a striker that can’t score or a goalkeeper that can’t save. Or, in Kepa’s case, a keeper who can’t stop chucking them in. This certainly isn’t what Chelsea paid £71.6million for in 2018. Since then, the Spaniard has openly defied his first manager in a Wembley cup final, while his second, Frank Lampard, can barely hide his contempt for the world’s most expensive goalkeeper after a series of mistakes. In two games this season, he was at fault for goals in both matches while also being partly to blame for the red card which saw Chelsea chuck in the towel on Sunday. With Eduoard Mendy on his way, where does that leave Kepa? A loanee for the season, one would presume, since his form has been so bad that competition alone won’t fix it.


Thomas Brolin quit football to sell vacuum cleaners after flopping at Palace but he flopped even harder at Leeds and was clearly finished by the time Steve Coppell took a chance on the Swede. Coppell had rather higher hopes for Zohar, who joined Palace for £1.2million from Royal Antwerp in 1997. He made five forgettable appearances before his defining moment against Southampton on Boxing Day. Palace had yet to win at home that season – their away record had them in 14th place – and with the scores level at 1-1 in the dying moments, the Eagles were awarded a penalty. Zohar took the ball from Bruce Dyer, who had yet to miss from the spot that season, and hit the weakest penalty possibly ever seen at Selhurst Park straight at Paul Jones. Zohar was never seen in a Palace shirt again having been given time off over New Year to recover from his ordeal. During that time back in Israel, he turned out for Maccabi Haifa in a friendly with AC Milan – and missed another penalty.


EVERTON – Davy Klaasen
The Toffees have spent millions on some utter dross in recent years, but Klaassen seemed to be a savvy investment at £23.6millon. Here was the Ajax captain, fresh from leading his side to the Europa League final, ready to make the next step in his career. But Everton was a huge leap backwards for Klassen, who arrived the same summer two other No.10s walked through the door at Goodison Park – Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson. When Ronald Koeman was sacked in October 2017, Klassen’s hopes of ever making it at Everton went with his compatriot, especially while Sam Allardyce made it clear he wasn’t wanted. Klassen outlasted Allardyce but not by much. Everton sold him to Werder Bremen a year after he arrived for half the money.


FULHAM – Kostas Mitroglu
The Cottagers, clearly desperate on deadline day, broke their transfer record to sign Mitroglu for £12million from Olympiacos in January 2014. The Greek striker had scored 14 goals in 12 appearances during the first half of that season but that achievement was clearly an outlier for a striker who had managed double figures in a season only once before. Mitroglu, who was given a four-and-a-half-year contract, managed only one start and two substitute appearances for Fulham. He was returned to Olympiacos on loan for a season before earning the Cottagers half their money back when he joined Benfica in 2016 after another loan spell.


LEEDS – Thomas Brolin
Seth Johnson is usually seen as the poster boy for the extravagance of the Peter Ridsdale era but the midfielder can’t be blamed for Leeds’ willingness to lavish him him with wages way beyond whatever his ability merited. Brolin, though, should shoulder much of the blame for his failure to make any positive impact at Elland Road after the former Sweden star arrived from Parma in a £4.5million deal in November 1995. The player argues that he was used in the wrong position, with Howard Wilkinson playing him as a winger. “I was going to run up and down the right like an idiot,” he told The Guardian in 2012. “That wasn’t for me so I decided… I was going to be piss-poor against Liverpool.” When Wilkinson left, after loan spells for Brolin at FC Zurich and Parma, things got even worse under George Graham. Brolin missed a flight back to Leeds for pre-season in the summer of 1997 because a bird flew into his windscreen on the way to the airport. The subsequent events led to Brolin no longer being allowed in to Elland Road for free to watch Leeds play – despite still being a Leeds player. He had his contract terminated in October 1997 though it was reported Leeds had to pay Brolin £140,000 to go.


LEICESTER – Ade Akinbiyi
Peter Taylor paid a club record £5million fee for Akinbiyi in 2000 when the Foxes needed a replacement for Emile Heskey and his first season wasn’t so bad; Akinbiyi netted nine Premier League goals in 37 appearances. But the goals really dried up the following season. He netted only twice and was booed by Leicester fans following a particularly catastrophic performance against Liverpool. Two seasons after arriving at Filbert Street, Akinbiyi was sold for less than half price to Crystal Palace, where he fared no better.


LIVERPOOL – El Hadji Diouf
“He has one of the worst strike rates of any forward in Liverpool history. He’s the only No.9 ever to go through a whole season without scoring, in fact he’s probably the only No.9 of any club to do that. He was always the last one to get picked in training.” That was Jamie Carragher’s view on Diouf, who arrived at Anfield for £10million from Lens in 2002. For that, Liverpool got three Premier League goals in two years and a mega-f*ck-tonne of grief.


MANCHESTER CITY – Eliaquim Mangala
Mangala was the most expensive defender in British football when City signed the centre-back from Porto in 2014. In his second game, he gave away a penalty and scored an own goal, which served as an early taste of what was to come. In four years at the Etihad, which included loan spells at Valencia and Everton, Mangala made 79 appearances before City sought to protect his value by extending his contract in March last year. They let him go for nothing five months later anyway.

United have engaged in some curious transfer deals over the years. Massimo Taibi, Kleberson, Bebe and Eric Djemba-Djemba are all famous flops, but they simply weren’t up to United standard. Di Maria had shown at Real Madrid that he was class and the club-record £57million the Red Devils paid in 2014 was widely assumed to be money well spent. But Di Maria was dire. He lacked the appetite to be a success in the Premier League and after he was spooked when his house was burgled during his only winter in England, the Argentina star could not wait to leave. Recouping £44million from PSG for Di Maria is perhaps Ed Woodward’s biggest achievement at Old Trafford.


NEWCASTLE – Joelinton
Perhaps the country has other things going on at the moment, but surely a public inquiry into Mike Ashley spending £40million on Joelinton can’t be far down the list of priorities? Ashley wouldn’t give Rafa Benitez the steam off his piss to spend on signings but Joelinton was somehow deemed worthy of such lavishness despite never having hit double figures in Bundesligas Austrian and German. Steve Bruce was allowed half the amount to replace the Brazilian striker with Callum Wilson, and even when he had a chance to shine in the Carabao Cup last week, he fluffed it.


The Blades broke their transfer record numerous times last summer upon their return to the Premier League and Freeman was the first of those record signings when he arrived from QPR in a £5million deal. But it proved to be a waste of money, with Freeman unable to take what few chances he was given; he made only three Premier League starts. A year after moving to Bramall Lane, Freeman is back in the Championship on loan at Nottingham Forest. The second of the Blades’ record signings, Callum Robinson, had little more joy and was loaned out in January to West Brom, where he remains after being used as a makeweight in the Oliver Burke deal.


SOUTHAMPTON – Dani Osvaldo
Saints smashed their transfer record to sign the Italy striker from Roma in August 2013. For a £15million investment, Mauricio Pochettino reaped three goals in 15 appearances, but the former Saints boss had Osvaldo at Espanyol so he can’t say he wasn’t warned. In half a season at St Mary’s, Osvaldo was banned for violent conduct after a fracas in a game against Newcastle, before headbutting Jose Fonte in training. He was sent to Juventus on loan where he managed just a single goal. Inter took a punt on Osvaldo and he scored five goals but he couldn’t keep his nose clean there. Less than two years into a four-year contract, Saints cut their losses and terminated Osvaldo’s contract.


TOTTENHAM – Serhiy Rebrov
Spurs spent almost a quarter of their entire annual revenue to sign Rebrov for a club-record £11million in 2000. The striker was the highest-ever scorer in the Ukrainian Premier League and in the Champions League, he and Shevchenko became one of the most feared strike-forces in Europe. But like Shevchenko, Rebrov flopped hard in London. He managed 10 goals in 60 appearances and was promptly frozen out upon Glenn Hoddle’s appointment. Rebrov is hardly the only big buy to struggle at Spurs. You could argue that not one of the 10 signings for whom they have broken their transfer record in the Premier League era have justified their fees. No wonder Daniel Levy is reluctant to open his wallet…


WEST BROM – Nicolas Anelka
The Baggies bagged Anelka on a free – and he still wasn’t worth it. The former Arsenal, Real Madrid and Chelsea star arrived at The Hawthorns in summer 2013 – “a great boost for everybody at club,” said Steve Clarke – and had barely been there a month before reportedly walking out of training while telling any who would listen that he was retiring. Albion granted Anelka ‘compassionate leave’ in which time he apparently changed his mind. Though Clarke presumably wishes he hadn’t bothered. Anelka played 12 games before breaking his goalscoring duck with a brace against West Ham in December when he celebrated by using the ‘quenelle’ gesture. Anelka was given a five-match ban and an £80,000 fine by the FA before he announced on Twitter that he was terminating his contract. West Brom responded by telling Anelka that he hadn’t gone through the correct legal procedure – but sacked him for gross misconduct anyway.


WEST HAM – Savio Nsereko
West Ham were under Icelandic ownership with Gianluca Nani overseeing transfers when Nsereko arrived for a club-record fee of £9million in 2009. He managed just a single start and was sold six months later for a third of the fee to Fiorentina. But that doesn’t even begin to tell the tale around Nsereko, who played for 15 clubs after leaving West Ham but managed more than two league appearances for only one of them. Grab a cuppa and strap in.


WOLVES – Roger Johnson
Mick McCarthy plundered Johnson from relegated Birmingham in 2011 and immediately gave the £7million recruit the captain’s armband. But the defender’s stay at Molineux was a disaster. In his first season, he called Wolves fans’ behaviour “a disgrace, disgusting, it stinks” after Karl Henry was booed, before Johnson was accused of being drunk at training after being left out by caretaker boss Terry O’Connor. Wolves suffered successive relegations and it took until February 2015 to get Johnson off the books when they agreed a deal to terminate their contract.

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