Ranked! The 50 worst players in Premier League history
10. Bosko Balaban
The Croatian had been Dinamo Zagreb’s top scorer for two years running when he signed for Aston Villa back in 2001, in a £5.8m, £20,000 a week deal. His time in Birmingham was a disaster – the striker made just two starts and seven substitute appearances over two and a half years, failing to score.
Weirdly, the drought ended as soon as he left Villa. Balaban scored 15 in 24 when loaned back to Zagreb, and was positively prolific after joining Brugge on a free transfer, netting 25 goals in 24 games in his first season, then 27 in 30 in his second.
9. Igors Stepanovs
If Marian Pahars was the Latvian Michael Owen, then Stepanovs was probably the Latvian Titus Bramble. Panic-bought from Skonto Riga by Arsene Wenger in 2000 after an injury to Tony Adams, Stepanovs English career started well – he scored on his debut, and saw his playing time gradually increase until an infamous game against Manchester United.
A Stepanovs-Gilles Grimandi centre-back pairing was no match for Dwight Yorke, who smashed in a 21-minute hat-trick. United were 5-1 up at half-time, and won 6-1 with the Latvian culpable for at least two of the goals.
Stepanovs only made one more appearance that season, but did collect a Premier League winners medal the following year by virtue of being an unused substitute on the day Arsenal clinched the title.
8. Winston Bogarde
The Dutchman had enjoyed an illustrious playing career by the time he joined Chelsea, with spells at Ajax, Milan and Barcelona on his CV. Perhaps that’s what convinced the Blues to give him such a lucrative contract in the summer of 2000 – but Bogarde’s hopes of making an impact at Stamford Bridge were over before they had begun.
Manager Claudio Ranieri had no interest in the player, who nonetheless opted to stay with Chelsea and see out his £40,000 a week contract instead of trying to find football elsewhere. "Why should I throw fifteen million Euro away when it is already mine? At the moment I signed it was in fact my money, my contract,” he wrote later.
Chelsea tried to force him to leave, even dropping him down to train with the youth teams, but Bogarde stubbornly remained as his career ticked away. “I may be one of the worst buys in the history of the Premiership but I don't care,” he said.
One of the more baffling transfers in English football history, the arrival of Bebe at Manchester United for a reported £7.4m in 2010 was greeted with widespread confusion – especially when the normally meticulous Alex Ferguson admitted to having never seen him play. It arguably made more sense when it emerged that super-agent Jorge Mendes had just signed him as a client.
The Portuguese forward made seven appearances for United in his first season and generally equipped himself with the effort and lack of finesse of a competition winner. The remainder of his United career was spent out on loan, before he was sold to Benfica.
6. Junior Lewis
The bumbling midfielder was voted Leicester’s worst ever player by fans in a FourFourTwo poll, with Foxes fan James Sharpe citing his: “Incredible ability of being 6ft 2in standing height, and 5ft 8in when jumping.” That he was also named Stevenage’s worst-ever player in the same survey says it all.
Lewis made 30 appearances for Leicester in a three-year spell, and seems to owe much of his career to Peter Taylor, who signed him for £150,000 (plus five other times during his career, including when he left Filbert Street on a free).
5. Jozy Altidore
The numbers don’t look good for Altidore. The American striker played 70 league games in English football across two spells with relegation strugglers Hull and Sunderland. He scored only two goals. He was strong, quick and could hold the ball up – but it all seemed to fall woefully apart when he had a chance to score.
However, things have picked up since he left Sunderland in 2015. His record for MLS side Toronto is a prolific 47 goals in 88 games and counting.
4. Milton Nunez
An air of mystery still surrounds the arrival of diminutive Honduran striker Milton Nunez at Sunderland. Signed by Peter Reid for £1.6m on deadline day in 2000, Nunez made just one appearance for the Black Cats, and it’s been rumoured that Sunderland actually signed the wrong player.
Nunez had been playing for PAOK in Greece, alongside the (much taller) Colombia striker Adolfo Valencia, who legend has it is the person Reid was actually after. Nunez himself has given contradictory versions – in an interview 2016, he said he was absolutely the player Sunderland wanted to sign, but in 2017 he told a Honduran newspaper that the rumours were true. Nunez didn’t know what he was doing on Wearside, and no one else did either.
3. Massimo Taibi
According to the Manchester Evening News, Ferguson signed Taibi over Francesco Toldo on the recommendation of his brother Martin Ferguson, who’d been impressed by the goalkeeper’s performances for Venezia, despite the fact the player spoke no English.
A local Italian restaurant owner was enlisted to translate instructions from the side of the pitch, and Taibi’s United career actually started pretty well, with a man of the match performance in a 3-2 win over Chelsea.
However the Italian was not registered in time to play in Europe, a break in continuity which he blames for an infamous error against Southampton. With the Reds 2-1 up, he let a low shot from Matt Le Tissier dribble through his legs and into the net, effectively ending both his United career. He played just four more times for the club, including a 5-0 loss to Chelsea.
West Ham sold Craig Bellamy to Manchester City for £14m in January 2009, and replaced him with a player who had scored three senior goals in 22 games for Serie B side Brescia – for a reported £9m.
Ugandan-born German Savio Nsereko had been named player of the tournament at the Under-19 Euros, but struggled to adjust to Premier League football, which seemed to be too physical for his slight stature. He was sold just to Fiorentina just 10 league games and six months later for £3m; a huge loss that was later the subject of an internal investigation.
After that, Savio’s career drifted through a number of goalless loan spells and personal issues. In 2012, he reportedly spent time in a Thai prison after faking his own kidnapping. Savio had scored a trio of goals before joining West Ham, and it took him until 2013-14 – 10 clubs later – to net again.
1. Ali Dia
Inevitably, the worst Premier League player of all time is Ali Dia. This story remains ridiculous, no matter how many times you hear it, and it is indicative of how some of the country’s biggest football clubs were still being run with the professionalism and rigour of your local Sunday League team, well into the Premier League era.
Apparently, Dia had been calling round a number of clubs claiming to be George Weah’s cousin in 1995 – he had a trial at Coventry, and another at Bournemouth – both of whom swiftly turned him down when they saw him play.
But Southampton boss Graeme Souness took the bait, and after an early injury to Matt Le Tissier he threw Dia into action against Leeds. The Senegalese forward managed 52 minutes of running around aimlessly (Le Tissier thinks he was trying to run away from the ball) before being hauled off again.
Then he disappeared, landing at Gateshead for an eight-game spell a few months later before seemingly disappearing off the face of the earth. He’s reportedly living in London now, so if you see someone in a vintage Southampton shirt wandering aimlessly around Hackney Marshes one weekend, do give Souness a call.