Alan Shearer, Eric Cantona, Peter Schmeichel, Dennis Bergkamp, Gianfranco Zola… The list of world class players to grace the Premier League during the 1990s just goes on and on. Particularly towards the end of the 90s, England’s newly formed top flight was really making its mark as one of the world’s leading sporting divisions, with a growing audience and captivating foreign imports, culminating in Manchester United’s 1999 Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich.
We ought not get too misty-eyed though. While the 1990s were an entertaining time for English football, with even the country’s national team competing at major tournaments, it was also a time in which some truly dreadful players featured in the Premier League. For every David Beckham there is an Istvan Kozma, and it is that second breed of players that we focus on here. From hopeful lower league imports to costly foreign flops, all these players were hopeless Premier League footballers.
Some were quality footballers – World Cup winners even – who simply failed miserably to transfer those skills on English soil. Others simply lacked talent and never deserved Premier League football, particularly the man at number one. The list features post-retirement careers varying from traditional routes into coaching all the way to selling swimming pools in north-western France.
15. Jason Lee
Renowned for his eccentric hair style which gave birth to the chant, ‘he’s got a pineapple on his head’, to the tune of ‘he’s got the whole world in his hands’, Jason Lee played 63 Premier League games, scoring 12 goals and making 3 assists. All of his top flight appearances came for Nottingham Forest, where he broke into the first team following Stan Collymore’s departure to Liverpool.
Lee always suffered by comparison to the superior Collymore. One supporter summed up Lee’s time at the City Ground as, ‘Tried hard, wasn’t very good, daft haircut’. He was an unusual signing in many respects having failed to score prolifically for Southend prior to joining Forest.
Now aged 45, Lee now works as the Equalities Education Executive for the PFA.
14. Ade Akinbiyi
It’s quite astonishing that Ade Akinbiyi racked up combined transfer fees in excess of £11.5 million over the course of his career, especially given that during the 90s that was a substantial amount of money in football. He stood as Leicester City’s most expensive signing for almost 15 years, having joined the Foxes from Wolverhampton Wanderers for a fee of £5.3 million.
The powerful forward who only won one cap for Nigeria played for three different teams in the Premier League. The first was Norwich, the second was Leicester and the last was just three games for Sheffield United. In total, he made 76 Premier League appearances, scoring 11 goals and making 3 assists.
Utterly dreadful at Leicester and widely regarded as the club’s worst ever signing, Akinbiyi retired from playing in 2015 and has since worked as a football consultant and coach in Nigeria and Ghana.
13. Andrea Silenzi
There have been some truly brilliant and truly woeful Italian imports since the Premier League’s creation a quarter of a century ago, and Andrea Silenzi falls firmly into the latter category. The second Nottingham Forest entry already, Silenzi played just 12 Premier League games for the two-time European champions, but that was enough to convince them that the towering centre-forward wasn’t up to scratch.
Prolific with Reggina and Torino, enough so to earn him a solitary cap for Italy in 1994, Forest signed the striker in 1995 for £1.8 million. He failed to score a single goal during his 12 Premier League outings, and despite going on to play for five Italian sides, including both of his former clubs Reggina and Torino, he was never the same player again.
The 50-year-old has worked as both a director at Torino and as head of youth development at Atletico Roma since hanging up his boots.
12. Marcelino Elena
A name that still gives Newcastle United fans nightmares, Marcelino Elena somehow won five caps for the Spanish national team, although he didn’t win a single one after his ill-fated move to the north east of England. The centre-back had three successful years at Mallorca, including winning the Supercopa de Espana, which prompted Ruud Gullit to fork out £5.8 million pounds for him.
Highly-rated at the time, Marcelino has since gone down as one of Newcastle’s worst ever signings, and comfortably one of the worst Premier League players of the 90s. His time with the Magpies was blighted by poor form and injuries, and he left after just 17 league games and retired a year later.
Following his retirement, Marcelino briefly returned to the Premier League, working as a scout for Everton. He was the assistant manager at La Liga side Getafe up until June 2016.
11. Ian Ormondroyd
The 1990s’ answer to Peter Crouch, although rather less skilful, prolific and never capped by his country, Ian Ormondroyd was a lanky player who played predominantly as a striker but occasionally as a winger. A regular goal scorer in the lower leagues, Ormondroyd looked out of his depth in the Premier League, where he played just six games and failed to score in any of them.
Bradford-born, Ormondroyd played more games for his hometown club than any other team. Unfortunately his career in Bradford didn’t to much to endear him to fans.
Arthritis in his left ankle cut his career short, and the 52-year-old is now back at Valley Parade, working as Community Foundation Manager for the Bantams. It’s good to see him caring about his community.
10. Torben Piechnik
No Premier League manager had more of knack of signing absolute duds in the 1990s than Graeme Souness. Signing players off the back of an international tournament is a notoriously dangerous game, and one that Souness fell for in 1992 after Piechnik won the European Championship with Denmark. Dependable and consistent for his country at the Euros, Piechnik was anything but that on Merseyside.
Like Marcelino, Piechnik played just 17 Premier League games before to his native land. The defender’s career went on for five more years, starring for AGF Aarhus, before eventually hanging up his boots in 1999.
Now aged 53, Piechnik has worked as both a real estate agent and a masseur since leaving the professional game, as well as playing veterans football in Denmark.
9. Stephane Guivarc’h
Once named the worst striker in Premier League history by British newspaper the Daily Mail, Stephane Guivarc’h had a brief but dreadful stint at Newcastle United in 1998, the same year in which the forward was crowned a world champion with France at the World Cup. A late bloomer, Guivarc’h is certainly among the most talented players on this list, but based purely upon player’s time in the Premier League, his inclusion is warranted.
The Ligue 1 top scorer for consecutive seasons in 1996-97 and 1997-98 with Rennes and Auxerre saw him break into the French national team squad for the 1998 World Cup on home soil. A smart save by Claudio Taffarel and a dreadful few game for Newcastle badly damaged the Frenchman’s legacy.
Guivarc’h now works as a swimming pool salesman back in his hometown of Concarneau, Brittany.
8. Moussa Saib
When it comes to useless Tottenham signings in the 1990s, you can take your pick, and we have, opting for former Algerian international Moussa Saib. Signed at a time when Spurs were struggling at the foot of the Premier League table, Saib had failed to break into the Valencia team, and thus happily made the switch to North London. Despite George Graham’s men having difficulties in the league, Saib still made only 13 league appearances in two years at White Hart Lane.
He may have won 74 caps for Algeria, but Saib is widely regarded among Tottenham fans as one of the club’s worst ever players. He swapped the Lane for Saudi Arabia in 2000 and played his last game for Algeria a year later.
Almost signed by North London rivals Arsenal a year before joining Spurs, a 47-year-old Saib is now an out of work manager, having last served as JS Kabylie boss in 2011.
7. Istvan Kozma
Despite never finishing in the bottom half of the Premier League table in the 1990s and regularly competing at the top end of the division, Istvan Kozma is the second Liverpool player to deservedly be included in this list. The former Hungarian international played just one Premier League game and six for Liverpool in all competitions.
Kozma was named the fourth worst ever Premier League player in the Times’ 2007 list of the 50 worst footballers in Premier League history. The second Souness blunder on this list but not the last, the Reds paid just £300,000 for the midfielder, but it was £300,000 more than the midfielder’s performances suggested he was worth.
The 52-year-old moved into coaching upon his retirement but is currently without a job, having most recently served as the assistant manager for the once great Hungarian outfit Vasas.
6. William Prunier
As seems to be a common theme on this list, William Prunier is another player with just one cap for his country. That may be because a number of the players featured here had purple patches which saw them called up by the country and make big moves to the Premier League, only to quickly be ‘found out’ and appear well out of their depth. Like Guivarc’h, Prunier put in a number of impressive displays in Ligue 1, making the Ligue 1 Team of the Year for 2002-03 and winning a solitary cap for France in 1992.
The centre-back joined Manchester United on-loan in the 1995-96 season for what was intended to be just a trial, but an injury crisis at Old Trafford saw Sir Alex forced to hand him first team action. With Bruce, Pallister and May all sidelined, Prunier played two games for the Red Devils, conceding 4 in a defeat to Tottenham in his second game. Having hung up his boots in 2004, Prunier is now manager of French fourth tier outfit Colomiers.
5. Marco Boogers
From Ruud van Nistelrooy to Dennis Bergkamp, some magnificent Dutch players have graced the Premier League over the years, but there have also been a number of disappointing recruits from the Netherlands, of which Marco Boogers certainly is one. Joining the likes of Winston Bogarde and current flop Memphis Depay, Marco Boogers was a Dutch dud of a signing greater than any other, signed for £1 million by West Ham in 1995 and playing just four Premier League games in three years with the Hammers.
Widely regarded as one of the most useless forwards to pull on the claret and blue of West Ham at the Boleyn Ground, he was signed by Harry Redknapp despite ‘Arry having never seen the forward play. He made his debut as a sub against Manchester United and was sent off moments later for a horrific tackle on Gary Neville; his next three performances were hardly an improvement. The 49-year-old now serves as Technical Director at FC Dordrecht.
4. Massimo Taibi
He may be the greatest manager in the history of the game, but that doesn’t mean Sir Alex Ferguson was immune from the odd dreadful signing. Massimo Taibi is right up there among the worst, alongside the likes of Bebe and Eric Djemba-Djemba. Taibi was somewhat amusingly brought in to replace one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time in the form of Peter Schmeichel, but replace the great Dane he did not. In fact, it would take Sir Alex six years to truly replace his world class number one, when Edwin van der Sar arrived at Old Trafford in 2005.
Taibi held his own on his debut. His mistake led to a Liverpool goal but he made amends with some smart stops in a 3-2 win. However, letting a Matt Le Tissier shot through his legs in comical fashion against Southampton was where Ferguson drew the line. He played just four league games for United, being dubbed the ‘Blind Venetian’ and swiftly returning to Italy after a single season. The uncapped Italian was most recently Head of Youth Development at Modena.
3. Brett Angell
The best case of a player who excelled in the English lower leagues only to be hopelessly exposed when making the step up to the Premier League, Brett Angell was signed by Everton from Southend United for £500,000 in 1994. The striker scored once in 18 Premier League games at Goodison Park, yet the Toffees somehow convinced Sunderland to pay £600,000 for their now injury prone and misfiring forward.
The former Stockport man was no more prolific in the North East, failing to score in 10 Premier League outings for Sunderland. He dropped back down into the lower leagues following his time at the Stadium of Light and became a regular goal getter once again.
The towering forward ended his playing career in 2003 and currently manages one of the top teams in New Zealand, last year’s league runners-up, Hawke’s Bay United.
2. Tomas Brolin
The most technically gifted player on this list, yet he ranks second among the worst Premier League players of the 90s, Tomas Brolin was a creative and goal scoring midfield force any team would fear in the early 1990s. The Swedish attacking midfielder won the Coppa Italia, UEFA Cup, Super Cup and more with Parma, as well as recording a third place finish at the 1994 World Cup with Sweden and reaching the semi-finals of the Euros in 1992.
For both club and country Brolin was a talisman, winning the Golden Boot at the Euros, being named in the World Cup All-Star XI and finishing fourth in the Ballon d’Or voting in 1994. Unsurprisingly then, there was much excitement when he joined Leeds United in 1995. Sadly for fans of the Yorkshire club though, Brolin was already a shadow of his former self.
The £4.5 million signing had numerous injury and fitness problems, as well as falling out with manager Howard Wilkinson. Brolin played a total of 32 Premier League games, 19 for Leeds and 13 for Crystal Palace, scoring 4 goals.
Widely regarded as one of the worst signings and players in Premier League history, Brolin was retired at 28, becoming a businessman in his native Sweden. Brolin’s business ventures include owning a restaurant, investing in real estate and playing on the World Series of Poker.
1. Ali Dia
Barely a Premier League player, but 53 minutes of football for Southampton in a defeat to Leeds United in 1996 puts him down as one nonetheless. Born Aly Dia but referred to within the world of football as Ali Dia, is a retired Senegalese footballer whose ill-fated and brief stint with Southampton is the stuff of legend and shrouded in mystery. Much mistruth has been spoken of Dia, but the player’s refusal to comment on his time on the south coast has left some struggling to pick apart the facts from the fiction.
Legend has it Graeme Souness (yes, that man again), received a phone call telling him to offer Dia a contract as he was a talented player and a relative of the Ballon d’Or winner George Weah. Souness did so and Dia made a solitary appearance for the Saints in which it was immediately obvious that he was not cut out to play at such an elite level. Now aged 51, Dia is a very private man, who is believed to be working as a businessman, currently working in London having previously been based in Qatar.
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