Ranked! The 50 worst players in Premier League history
Words: Seb Stafford-Bloor, Alex Hess, Amit Katwala
Important note before we begin: We're not saying this lot couldn't play football. That they were rancid, useless, pathetic excuses for professional athletes. Well, maybe one or two – but often it's a case of bad timing.
Maybe it's a decent player out of his depth, or perhaps a once fine player debilitated by age or injuries. For whatever reason, however, these players didn't show their best form in the Premier League. Sometimes they're actually top-quality players and it's still a bit of a mystery how they failed so badly.
Which leads us nicely on to our opening player at No.50...
50. Radamel Falcao
The Premier League at its most ludicrously decadent. The Colombian striker’s loan spell at Manchester United cost the club around £4m per goal, while his time at Chelsea ran to somewhere within the region of £265,000 for every shot he took.
Obviously Falcao was – and has once again become – one of the continent’s finest forwards. But these were both terribly mistimed moves which ignored the realities of his serious knee injury and ultimately reduced a great player to a punchline.
Less funny, more just desperately sad.
49. Salif Diao
Liverpool actually signed defensive midfielder Diao before the 2002 World Cup. So, after Senegal had been so impressive in Japan and South Korea, it looked as if they’d shopped very smartly indeed.
Not so. Diao was shuttled in and out of the side, often into unfamiliar positions, and seemed to become permanently destabilised by the lack of continuity. Not that he was really deserving of any extended opportunity, because much of what he did, he did far too slowly to ever be a credible Premier League midfielder. He performed a bit better at Stoke, but the man optimistically pegged as Liverpool’s version of Patrick Vieira on arrival (and ironically nicknamed ‘The Sheriff’ by some Reds’ wags) never lived up to that hefty hype.
48. Roque Junior
Well, he certainly left an impression of sorts, despite only actually appearing in five games in 2003.
There used to be a pejorative cliche about Brazilian defenders, long before Thiago Silva emerged to contradict it, and Roque Junior was a fine testament as to why. He’d had a reasonable career in Serie A by the time he moved to Leeds on loan, but his stay in England became an immediate nightmare: he was sent-off during his home debut and, notoriously, his run of games coincided with a succession of batterings taken by Leeds (anyone care to remember 6-1 defeat to Portsmouth?).
In his defence, Leeds were helplessly immersed in post-Peter Ridsdale chaos by this point and were being managed by Peter Reid. Yet, despite being a 2002 World Cup winner, Roque Junior clearly wasn’t built for Premier League life.
47. Nikola Jerkan
The only real explanation for Nottingham Forest signing Jerkan (for £1m from Real Oviedo in 1996) was the overall reputation of Croatian players at the time. That was a golden era: Davor Suker, Igor Stimac, Slaven Bilic, Robert Jarni, Zvonimir Coban – so Forest were presumably enraptured by the centre-back’s performances at Euro ‘96 (where Croatia progressed to the quarter-finals).
Jerkan did perform well at the tournament, but there’s a reason why club scouts should be banned from international tournaments: they nearly always present a false economy. Reliably, Jerkan didn’t look anything like the same player in Forest red.
46. Aleksandar Tonev
There are actually still compilation videos on YouTube from Tonev’s Lech Poznan career. Watching them, it’s entirely understandable that Aston Villa – on the recommendation of Stiliyan Petrov – were willing to take a chance on the Bulgarian in 2013. A delicate winger with a direct edge to his game and a goalscoring habit, he looked like an ideal signing for a struggling club on a budget.
But therein lies the fallacy of judging a player on video: it’s not what the footage shows, it’s what it doesn’t. Tonev wasn’t physical enough for English football and wasn’t quick enough to compensate for that fragility. He also wasn’t terribly fond of his defensive duties, either, which made him a very awkward fit in a team which was already in backs-to-the-wall mode by the time he arrived.
45. Sebastien Squillaci
‘Bad central defenders bought by Arsene Wenger’ might well deserve its own subcategory on this list. Squillaci was another transfer lunge and was recruited in 2010 on the basis of a reasonable reputation forged at Sevilla.
Arsenal must have suspended their belief to convince themselves to make that £4m deal, though, because even the theory of Squillaci wasn’t particularly sound. The Frenchman didn’t possess any great pace, was neither aerially impressive nor equipped with the kind of finesse which would have made him a natural Wenger centre-back.
Inevitably, the experiment lasted just one season before he was condemned to the fringes at the Emirates, then eventually sold to Bastia.
44. Ahmed Musa
Ouch. In the glow of their Premier League-winning season, Leicester broke their transfer record to bring Musa to England for £16.6m from CSKA Moscow. How they landed on the Nigerian forward is harder to explain, though, given that he has always been an unremarkable and patchy player who, most importantly, didn’t have a natural place in their side.
Maybe he was part of a long-term plan that Claudio Ranieri was never given time to implement? Possibly, but at no point during his rotten 18 months at the King Power (33 games, five goals) did his transfer ever look likely to be remotely successful. Quietly, he was loaned back to CSKA in the January 2018 transfer window and sold to Al-Nassr that summer.
43. Agustin Delgado
An asterisk to this one: the limp, ineffective forward who English vaguely remember was not really Agustin Delgado. This was a damaged player who suffered terribly with injury and, frankly, it’s a wonder he passed a medical when signing in 2001. His fitness issues also led to a fractious relationship with Gordon Strachan (“I've got a yoghurt to finish by today; the expiry date is today. That can be my priority rather than Agustin Delgado,” the then Saints boss once announced).
Overall, the Ecuadorian managed just 11 league appearances in three years - and just one, bundled Premier League goal against Arsenal (which did at least give Southampton a 3-2 victory). Many years later, Southampton have now become famous for shrewd recruitment. This is likely one of the transfers which instructed that improvement.
42. Jean Makoun
Far better in Football Manager than he ever was in real life, Cameroon midfielder Makoun arrived at in 2011 Villa Park on the say so of Gerard Houllier (notice a theme here?) in 2011.
Strange as it is to say, the reaction to his meagre efforts was probably multiplied by his digital reputation. Villa were becoming a terrible mess at the time and, at £6m from Lyon, Makoun was presented as something of coup. After nine Premier League appearances (during which his only contribution of note was receiving a straight red card for a two-footed tackle on Blackpool's DJ Campbell), that was shown to be definitively not the case.
41. Christian Poulsen
Damned for his association with Roy Hodgson’s miserable tenure as Liverpool manager, as much as anything else. It’s worth remembering that many people welcomed this signing when it was made. Danish midfielder Poulsen had had a strange career, flaming out at Schalke before being caught in Monchi’s net at Sevilla, then performing well enough to earn a move to Juventus in 2008.
Yet his transfer to Anfield (for £4.5m in 2010) came after his 30th birthday and time had evidently caught up with him, diminishing his formerly combative style. The game was too quick for him and, once Hodgson had been sacked, Kenny Dalglish wasted little time in marginalising him from the first team.
Wrong time, wrong place.