Worst club-record transfers
Breaking your club’s record transfer fee is a decision which shouldn’t be taken lightly. The consensus is that Liverpool’s recent signing of Virgil van Dijk for £75m is a good one, but the fact they surpassed their previous record by around £38m means the Dutchman will be under pressure to hit the ground running.
Jurgen Klopp will certainly hope he fares better than many of the cases documented in this slideshow...
13. Afonso Alves to Middlesbrough, 2008 (£12.5m)
Middlesbrough were still in danger of being dragged into a relegation dogfight when they splashed £12.5m on Afonso Alves’ signature in January 2008. The Brazilian arrived with an excellent pedigree having scored goals for fun in the Eredivisie; as is now well established, though, signing strikers from Holland’s top flight is a risky business.
Afonso Alves was certainly more of a Jozy Altidore than a Luis Suarez. He actually started well in the North East, netting six times in 11 league games in 2008/09, but he managed just four goals in 31 outings the following campaign and was promptly sold to Al-Sadd for £7m.
12. Roberto Soldado to Tottenham, 2013 (£26m)
Soldado wasn’t Tottenham’s record signing for long – Erik Lamela took that mantle a few weeks later in summer 2013 – but he still struggled to live up to his transfer fee at White Hart Lane. Captured as part of Spurs’ supermarket sweep after the sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, Soldado scored the winner on his debut against Crystal Palace but generally struggled for goals, netting just six in the Premier League in his first season at the club.
Soldado was even less effective in 2014/15, scoring just once in the top flight as he lost his place in the starting XI to Harry Kane. Tottenham cut their losses the following summer, selling the Spaniard to Villarreal for £10m.
11. Juan Veron to Man United, 2001 (£28.1m)
While not quite the most expensive player on the planet in 2001 (Madrid had lavished £48m big ones on Zinedine Zidane), Veron still represented a British milestone. The Argentinian cost £13m more than the country’s transfer record at the time, previously held by Alan Shearer after his 1996 move to Newcastle. Sadly, Veron couldn’t match the Geordie’s drive or Zidane’s maestro tendencies, and was overrun by the muscle and velocity of English football.
Alex Ferguson, determined to change Manchester United's successful 4-4-2 into a more continentally-minded 4-5-1, suffered the slings and arrows of the British press as a side in transition ended the season empty-handed. Not that he took their criticism lying down, famously firing back: “he’s a f***ing great player... and youse are all fucking idiots.”
10. Dani Osvaldo to Southampton, 2013 (£12.8m)
Southampton have been adept at picking up bargains in recent years, but Osvaldo certainly wasn’t one of them. Costing a club-record fee of £12.8m in summer 2013, the former Roma striker proved more trouble than he was worth at St Mary’s – even if he did produce the occasional moment of magic.
Osvaldo scored three goals in his 13 games for Saints, but he was hastily bundled through the exit door just a few months after joining the club, largely due to a training ground bust-up with Jose Fonte. The Argentine quit the game in 2016, claiming he loved barbecues and beer more than football. If only he’d told Southampton…
9. Giannelli Imbula to Stoke, 2015 (£18.3m)
Hopes were high when Imbula joined Porto in 2014, but the Belgium-born Frenchman failed to settle in Portugal and was allowed to depart a few months later. Stoke were not deterred by the former Marseille midfielder’s struggles away from his homeland, but perhaps they should have been: Imbula also proved an expensive flop in the Potters after costing £18.3m in the January transfer window.
The then-22-year-old impressed in his first few outings in a Stoke shirt, but the decline had already set in towards the end of the 2015/16 season. A poor start to the following campaign saw Imbula dropped from the team, before being loaned out to Toulouse in summer 2017.
8. Fernando Torres to Chelsea, 2011 (£50m)
Torres had begun to show signs of decline during his final few months at Liverpool, but that didn’t stop Chelsea splurging £50m on the Spaniard in January 2011. While undeniably lethal on his day, the striker was unable to recapture his best form at Stamford Bridge and, robbed of his acceleration by injury, scored only once in his first 18 appearances.
Torres contributed just 19 Premier League goals in his three full seasons as a Blue, although he did win the FA Cup, Europa League and Champions League during his time in west London. The highlight of his Chelsea career came in April 2012, when he scored the decisive goal against Barcelona to take Roberto Di Matteo’s men into the final of the latter competition.
7. Robinho to Man City, 2008 (£32m)
At first it seemed a cracking deal: a silky Brazilian spearheading the Manchester City revolution with his samba hips, dead-eyed shooting and laser-sighted passes. And for a while, Robinho lived up to his superstar billing – he scored 15 goals in his first season – before deciding that, on reflection, he couldn’t really be bothered.
“[In England], if you are a forward, the coach sends you on to the pitch just to run,” he later blubbed. “You have to run and that’s it.” Robinho hot-footed it back to Brazil in 2010, joining Santos on loan before being flogged to Milan for half his purchase price.
6. Andriy Shevchenko to Chelsea, 2006 (£30.8m)
After Jose Mourinho had led Chelsea to two consecutive league titles, chairman Roman Abramovich decided the Blues boss deserved a present. But rather than an expensive watch or luxury yacht, the Russian oligarch decided to stick a Ukrainian striker in a gift box.
Shevchenko became the most expensive player in Chelsea’s history when he arrived at Stamford Bridge for £30.8m (plus postage and packing) in summer 2006. Expectations were high after his seven prolific seasons at Milan, but Sheva struggled in the Premier League, scoring only nine top-flight goals in his two years in London. Still, it’s the thought that counts.
5. Ahmed Musa to Leicester, 2016 (£16m)
Few expected Leicester to successfully defend their Premier League title in 2016/17, but a relegation battle – which was on the cards until Craig Shakespeare replaced Claudio Ranieri in March – wasn’t exactly anticipated either.
The Foxes’ poor recruitment the previous summer certainly didn’t boost their chances of a positive season, with Musa the most disappointing acquisition. Leicester paid a club-record £16m to bring the Nigerian forward to the King Power Stadium; he repaid their faith by scoring twice in 18 league games and delivering a host of underwhelming performances. Musa has effectively been frozen out since the start of 2017/18, which rather says it all.
4. Angel Di Maria to Man United, 2014 (£59.7m)
After a disastrous season under David Moyes, United were aiming to return to their perch in summer 2014. Louis van Gaal, a trophy-winner in the Netherlands, Spain and Germany, was handed the managerial reins and seven players were added to the ranks, the most exciting of which was undoubtedly Di Maria.
The Argentine had fallen victim to Real Madrid’s galactico transfer policy, hastily discarded to make room for Gareth Bale, but anyone who watched los Blancos’ Champions League triumph the previous campaign knew United had signed a fantastic footballer. Yet Di Maria failed to settle in England – his house being burgled didn’t help – scoring four goals in 32 games before joining PSG in 2015.
3. Savio Nsereko to West Ham, 2009 (£9m)
If you’re currently thinking “Who?” then allow FFT to refresh your memory. Nsereko was West Ham’s club record signing when he arrived from Brescia in 2009. He was a 19-year-old German striker – quick but short; skilful but soft. Inevitably he struggled to cope with the Premier League, making only 10 appearances and scoring zero goals before being shipped off to Fiorentina for next to nothing a year later.
Since leaving the East End, he has played for 12 clubs in Italy, Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Kazakhstan. Fair play, Sav.
2. Andy Carroll to Liverpool, 2011 (£35m)
Who wouldn’t have blown the price of an F-14 Tomcat on Newcastle’s Andy Carroll in 2011? With his goals, galloping shire-horse gait and 1980s Wall Street ponytail, he looked the prize breed. His left peg packed a wallop, and in one match against Manchester United he rattled David de Gea with so many aerial assaults the keeper suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sadly, once he pulled on the Liverpool strip Carroll resembled a shadow of his former self, scoring just 11 goals in 58 appearances while proving a major stylistic misfit. By the time he had gathered enough loyalty points in the Melwood medical room, this once champion stallion was being herded off to the Premier League glue factory. Or Upton Park, as it is also known.
1. Konstantinos Mitroglou to Fulham, 2014 (£13m)
Mitroglou’s task was clear when he rocked up at Fulham for a club-record fee of £13m in January 2014: score the goals to save the Cottagers from relegation. Unfortunately for all parties, the striker wasn’t quite able to fulfil his remit.
The signing seemed to make sense at the time; after all, Mitroglou had struck 14 goals in 12 league appearances for Olympiacos in the first half of the season, as well as making the net ripple three times in the Champions League group stage. Yet the Greek, signed by Rene Meulensteen but not fancied by successor Felix Magath, played only three matches for Fulham, who were duly demoted.
Greg Lea is a freelance football journalist who's filled in wherever FourFourTwo needs him since 2014. He became a Crystal Palace fan after watching a 1-0 loss to Port Vale in 1998, and once got on the scoresheet in a primary school game against Wilfried Zaha's Whitehorse Manor (an own goal in an 8-0 defeat).