Top 10/50/100

10 World Cup star signings... who turned out to be total failures


Before Premier League clubs leap to sign Croatian full-backs, Russian midfielders or French starlets, beware the miserable flops bought on the strength of fine World Cup performances

We are part of The Trust Project What is it?

El Hadji Diouf (Liverpool)

There was huge excitement at Anfield when the African footballer of the year signed on a five-year contract after his Senegal team shocked World Cup winners France in the opening match of the 2002 tournament. Yet he proved to be a monumental flop at Liverpool. After netting a brace in his second outing for the Reds against Southampton, the attacker went on a barren stretch until March 2003.

Diouf’s second season at Anfield was even worse, as he failed to score once for Gerard Houllier’s team, and spat at a supporter during a UEFA Cup clash at Parkhead against Celtic. Since departing the club in 2004, Diouf has launched several (thankfully just) verbal spats towards Liverpool legends Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.

Alberto Tarantini (Birmingham)

In his native Argentina, combustible left-back Tarantini had a reputation for hellraising behaviour – and after a pay dispute with Boca Juniors, he was left without a club in May 1978. But, following in the footsteps of Tottenham Hotspur, who’d just signed 1978 World Cup winners Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa, Birmingham City decided to ‘Tango with Tarantini’ (as the Mirror put it) by signing the 22-year-old for a hefty £295,000.

His spell at St Andrew’s (where he trousered a then tidy £350 per week) illustrated his hot-headed streak perfectly. In one spiky encounter with Manchester United, the curly-headed defender decked United’s Brian Greenhoff. His Blues career abruptly ended after he waded into the St Andrew’s crowd and traded punches with a heckler.

Vladimir Petrovic (Arsenal)

The frail Serbian playmaker became a cult hero at Highbury after signing for Arsenal in January 1983 (there was a delay due to his work visa), six months after impressing for Yugoslavia at the 1982 World Cup. He was a little bit of stardust in a distinctly agricultural Gunners midfield, and ‘The Pigeon’ scored a memorable goal in the 1983 FA Cup semi-final against Aston Villa at Highbury.

However manager Terry Neill had already decided by that point that Petrovic’s Highbury career would last a mere four months. The Gunners’ first foreign superstar left his footprint, but Petrovic regularly got kicked out of matches by Division One hatchet men and disappeared entirely in many games. The midfielder limped away to Royal Antwerp in the summer of 1983.

Andreas Isaksson (Manchester City)

As an established international goalkeeper with Sweden, and costing a reasonable £2m from Rennes, Isaksson seemed a more than decent Manchester City signing in the summer of 2006. Yet injuries ruined his career with Stuart Pearce’s side, and he was unable to dislodge Nicky Weaver from the number-one slot.

In 2007/08, Isaksson had the dubious pleasure of being an ever-present for his country, while also being present and not particularly correct in City’s 8-1 shellacking by Middlesbrough on the final day of the campaign.

Oleg Salenko (Valencia)

Which team wouldn’t want a World Cup Golden Boot winner in their side? Oleg Salenko put pen to paper for Valencia just a few weeks after netting six goals in the 1994 World Cup for Russia.

The fact that five of his strikes came against a weak Cameroon side (while the other was a penalty) seemed to have escaped the Spanish side’s attention, and in fairness the 25-year-old had a good strike rate for rival La Liga side Logrones. Yet Salenko largely bombed at the Mestalla, and was sold to Rangers after a single miserable season with Valencia.