What’s it like to be a big-money flop? Five players who've been there tell FourFourTwo...

Juan Veron Manchester United
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Luther Blissett (Watford to Milan, 1983)

Fee: £1m (in today’s money: £28.4m)

“I was stunned that someone was prepared to pay that much for a footballer. Milan were basically paying £1 million for me to do something that I loved doing.

“Looking back, I don’t think people remember my time there particularly fairly, to be completely honest. If you compare what I did there to what the likes of Ian Rush and David Beckham did in Italy, I think it’s interesting that I’m the one portrayed as having had a negative experience.

“Over time, you come to realise that people recall what’s put in front of them rather than what actually takes place – they don’t bother to find out the reality for themselves most of the time. That’s how it is – it’s nothing for me to get annoyed about. Those who know me see my time in Milan as being exciting and positive.

“That’s not just me being blinkered – it’s what the facts bear out. Yes, I was a headline transfer and it obviously had a huge impact on Watford and their future, but the experience also added another dimension to my play.

“To say that something was going wrong at Milan would be inaccurate. It was different out there; the game wasn’t played in the manner I had expected. I scored regularly in pre-season matches but once the league started, there was a real change in attitude. The style of football didn’t promote the elements of my game that had brought me 33 goals – and the Golden Boot in Europe – the previous season.

“It was hugely frustrating. I had no real passion for winning matches with dull, defensive football. It was football without the entertainment value. A team such as Milan isn’t going to adapt its style for one player – that should be the same no matter who you play for – and if a team isn’t creating opportunities then you’re simply not going to score goals.

“On a personal level, it had very little impact on me or my family. I didn’t tend to read reports during my playing days; I always thought I, rather than journalists, was the best judge of whether I had performed badly or not. I was in Italy to do a job – the same job I’d done at any football club I’ve ever worked for.

“I’ve always been able to connect well with the community wherever I played or coached, and it was no different in Milan. The supporters out there are obviously some of the most passionate in the world, and it’s fair to say I experienced the highs and the lows of that.

"What has really stuck with me is the amazing response I have received in the years since leaving Italy – not only the fact that my name eventually became adopted by The Luther Blissett Project [his name was adopted as a pseudonym by artists and activists], but also because I’m constantly asked to return.

“For me, what the move really re-enforced was that the Italians truly are the masters of defence. A season playing in Italy really hammered that home. I would love to have gone back four years later when the Italian game had evolved into a more attacking one, but would I change anything from my time there? Absolutely not. It was the experience of a lifetime and something I regard as an absolute honour to have achieved.

“It didn’t change me as a person and I certainly didn’t see it as a relief when I returned to Watford in 1984. I’m often asked whether the lack of Rice Krispies in Italian supermarkets was an issue for me after comments I made a long time ago. Come on! Sometimes as a footballer, a journalist will ask you a stupid question, so you give an appropriately ridiculous answer!”

Juan Veron • Ade Akinbiyi • Bosko Balaban • Steve Daley • Luther Blissett

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