Over the last couple of decades, the English Premier League has seen the rise and dominance of many great stars. Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard – the list could go on and on. These are the players who could light up a pitch, make a fantastic game-changing play or single-handedly lead their team to glory. Behind these attacking legends were the less glamorous but equally important star defenders. The likes of Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, John Terry and Jamie Carragher all demonstrated that defenders could be stars who were equally as important as their flashier attacking teammates.
Of course, for every star there always seems to be a massive flop. In terms of defenders, this view holds very true. Over its history, the EPL has seen its share of awful defenders. Why were they signed by their respective teams in the first place if they were so bad? In many instances, the player in question flourished in another league, international tournament or even put on a good display when scouts just happened to be watching. Yet, once in England the wheels fell off and the defender was shown to be totally out of their depth. Such defenders are lucky to last a season under such circumstances and often disappear into the reserves, quietly vacating the club when the transfer window comes around.
As the following article demonstrates, not all EPL defenders become stars. In fact, as you’ll see, some were so bad they will forever be remembered as the worst defenders to ever grace a Premier League pitch. What made them so bad that this label is forever applied? There can be a number of factors that lead us to remember a defender as a flop. Price-tag, expectations, injuries and just plain terrible on-pitch performances are all factors which influence how we remember sub-par EPL defenders. The following players weren’t necessarily bad all the time, but their level of play was so below that of their peers that they will forever be remembered as the worst defenders to ever play in the EPL.
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15 Jan Kromkamp
This Dutch fullback was so out of place in the Premier League that Liverpool sent him packing after just half a season. Jan Kromkamp was signed in the January 2006 transfer window from Villareal. Yes, he received an FA Cup winner’s medal but don’t let that fool you. This defender lacked any sort of pace and was constantly getting beaten by attackers in the league. Management’s biggest criticism was that he was unable to stop crosses from coming into the box. Lacking pace and unable to stop deliveries into the box basically meant he was useless as a defender. Liverpool decided to cut their losses and after just five months and 18 total appearances parted ways with their new defender.
14 Gary Doherty
Mention Gary Doherty to Spurs fans and you are likely to get a roll of the eyes. Look him up on the web and you are likely to come across a fan poll ranking him in their worst starting XI. The truth of the matter is that the Irish defender just leaked goals. He was far too slow for the premier League and proved to be a liability during his time at White Hart Lane. How he managed to stay at Tottenham for so long is beyond us. The Ginger Pele had a couple bright moments, like when he scored a go-ahead goal against Arsenal in the 2001 FA Cup semi-final. Such fond memories are, however, easily overshadowed by some rather spectacular own goals he managed to produce.
13 Rigobert Song
Internationally, for Cameroon, there is no denying that Rigobert Song is a legend. Domestically, in the EPL, Song isn’t held in quite as high regard. He spent a few years in the Premier League, first with Liverpool and then with West Ham United where he only featured 23 times. As it turned out, Song wasn’t a very good defender and fans watched week after week as the Cameroonian committed mistake after mistake on the pitch. The icing on this cake is surely the report that when Song was brought in to West ham as Rio Ferdinand’s replacement, he didn’t want to be compared to the future England star as he thought it was derogatory to himself. Turns out it was actually a greater insult to Ferdinand.
12 Khalid Boulahrouz
When Chelsea signed Khalid Boulahrouz in 2006, you just knew big things were expected of him. The £8 million Dutch international was nicknamed ‘The Cannibal’ and Chelsea even handed him the #9 jersey previously worn by Hernan Crespo. John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho were definite first choice defenders for the Blues but given the impact he had at Hamburg, the Chelsea faithful expected him to play a big role at the club. He just never looked up to it in the EPL and a couple high profile mistakes contributed to him spending more and more time on the sidelines as management lost faith. In the end, Boulahrouz managed just 13 league appearances for the Blues before being sent off to Sevilla on loan.
11 Claude Davis
The 2007/08 Derby County team hold a number of dubious EPL records. They became the earliest EPL team to ever be relegated when it became official in March 2008. They also hold the record for fewest points by a club in an EPL season, with just 11 and tied the record for fewest wins in a season with just one. You can’t do all that without a ridiculously horrible defence and was Claude Davis at its core. In reality, Derby should have known better as Davis had been part of the Sheffield United team that was relegated the year before. He was in over his head in the EPL and showed it during just 19 appearances when he was eaten alive by attacking players and often left chasing the ball.
10 Wayne Quinn
How bad was Wayne Quinn? First, in three years he played for three teams managing a grand total of just 43 league appearances. Second, West Ham, Newcastle and Sheffield United fans can generally agree he is one of the worst players to ever put on the jersey. Finally, when he left West Ham at the age of just 28, no other professional team were even interested in signing him for free. The English defender definitely could not cut it in the EPL and other teams took notice, opting to stay away when it came time to find a new defender.
9 Jean-Alain Boumsong
Coming out of the French league in the early 2000s, this Cameroonian defender looked the real deal. In 2004, Scottish club Rangers swooped in to secure the signature of Boumsong who quickly demonstrated his speed and strength. In January 2005, Newcastle offered Rangers a massive £8 million for the centre back which was immediately accepted. The Magpies were probably wondering why the Rangers’ delegation were chuckling as they walked away with their money. It soon became apparent. While he had all the attributes of a great defender, Boumsong was never consistently able to demonstrate them on the field. Individual mistakes and an inability to get on the same page as his fellow teammates meant this signing was one of the most inconsistent defenders in Newcastle’s history.
8 Titus Bramble
Titus Bramble is a bit of an odd entry because the English defender could put in some pretty good displays which were worthy of Man of the Match status during his time at Newcastle and Wigan. However, he could come right back the next game and put in a performance unfit for a Sunday pub league side. Bramble’s main weakness seemed to be his inability to keep concentration and remain focused on the task at hand. He was prone to big mistakes and was often caught ‘sleeping’ during crucial moments. This inconsistency so summed up his career that after Sunderland released him in 2013, no other club were willing to pick him up on a free transfer.
7 Igors Stepanovs
Latvia is not a country known for producing great, world class defenders. Arsene Wenger is not a manager with the greatest record of recruiting defenders. These two came together to create the perfect storm needed for a bad EPL defender. The stats speak for themselves with the defender making only 23 total appearances in four years. Stepanovs, like a newborn deer, seemed shaky on his feet and uncoordinated a lot of the time. The 6-1 drubbing by Manchester United in 2001 demonstrated this clearly. The Arsenal defender apparently lost all ability to tackle as United seemed to walk right past him. This, no doubt, lead some to wonder if a pylon draped in a jersey would have made a better player that day.
6 Winston Bogarde
If you’re looking for a player who was in it not for the love of the game but only the money, look no further than Winston Bogarde. The Dutch international made his move on a free transfer from Barcelona to Chelsea in 2000. Chelsea quickly discovered that Bogarde was not a very good player and looked to offload him after his first season. The only problem was that the defender had such a good contract (£40,000-a-week) that he was happy to sit on the bench. Short of changing the locks at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea tried a number of methods to force Bogarde out the door. He stuck it out, collected his money and got fat from doing nothing but living the high life. When his contract ended in 2004, his reputation was so bad that no club would touch him with a ten foot poll.
5 Per Kroldrup
Signed from Udinese in 2005, Everton fans had big expectations of Danish international Per Kroldrup. Signed on a four year deal for £5 million, Kroldrup was a big disappointment from the beginning. Before he had even played a game for the Toffees, the defender suffered a groin injury that required surgery. Fast forward to Boxing Day 2005 and he took to the pitch against Aston Villa. The game turned out to be a nightmare as Everton lost 4-0 and Kroldrup demonstrated he was way in over his head as he lacked the speed and physicality to compete. It was the only game he would ever play for Everton as the club shipped him back to Italy shortly after.
4 Pascal Cygan
“He’s bald, he’s sh@t, he plays when no one’s fit, Cygan!” You might think this song about the Arsenal defender was sung by opposition fans. No, in fact, this little jingle could be heard coming from the Gunners faithful more than a few times when the French defender took to the Highbury pitch. The strange thing about Cygan is that Arsenal weren’t terrible with him in the side. In fact, they won the league and went on their Invincible run with him on the roster. The likely answer to this is that the rest of the team must have stepped up their play to compensate for him. In all seriousness, Cygan never looked comfortable on the ball, was often caught out of position and gave you the feeling he was just seconds away from committing a catastrophic mistake.
3 Marco Materazzi
Surely this entry is a mistake? After all, the Marco Materazzi that most of us know developed a reputation as a powerful, no nonsense defender at European giants Inter Milan. Materazzi did turn into a good defender, but he also had a pretty bad stint at EPL side Everton. Long before he was getting head-butted by French legends to the ground he was hacking away at players in the EPL. The Italian centre back played for Everton during the 1998/99 season. To the horror of the fans, Materazzi was too reckless in his play. 27 total appearances was enough for the Toffees and the club sent him packing back to Italy after just one season in England’s top flight.
2 Roque Junior
When Leeds signed Roque Junior on loan in 2003, fans must have been over the moon. After all, the Brazilian defender was coming from AC Milan and was also part of Brazil’s 2002 World Cup winning squad. What could possibly go wrong? To the horror of the faithful at Elland Road, it turned out their new defender couldn’t defend to save his life. He made only five total appearances for the team. In that brief stint, Roque Junior was sent off in his debut and played a significant role in allowing 24 goals against. Needless to say Leeds showed no interest in resigning the player for the following season.
1 Frank Sinclair
Who can top the defender who had no clue about defending? How about one not only below average defensively but who scores big own-goals. Step forward Frank Sinclair of Leicester City. Yes, he played for several other clubs in his career but at Leicester he had a time to forget. In 1999, Sinclair netted two big own goals on consecutive weekends. First, while drawing against Arsenal, Sinclair powered home a header – into his own net - to give Arsenal the 2-1 win. The following weekend he out-muscled the Chelsea forwards to nod past his own keeper and tie the game up. Both goals came in the final moments of the match and both goals cost Leicester valuable points. Not done there, in 2002 while playing against Middlesbrough, he scored a 40 yard own goal after firing the ball back to his keeper. Leicester lost 1-0 and Sinclair solidified his reputation as one of the Premier League’s worst defenders.
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