Terrible transfers are often talked about. The relative merits of a signing for a club, whether it was value for money and a good piece of business is a commonly discussed matter, but it is a topic rarely approached and viewed from the angle of the player. Transfers that are poor for a club may not always prove so for the player, and similarly a great coup for a club may not always be a dream move for the player themselves.
This list takes a look at a number of players who made transfers which went very poorly for them. The majority went from being either very promising prospects or fully-fledged and established stars of the game to relative obscurity. In terms of ‘falling off the map’, we mean both falling out of the spotlight, no longer being a player regularly talked about and admired, and also falling in terms of ability, stock and regard.
For example, Vasilis Hatzipanagis fell out of most people’s footballing consciousness’ when he joined Iraklis in 1975, but his performance levels remained very high. Conversely, the likes of Kaka and Fernando Torres saw their stocks drop dramatically after their moves to Real Madrid and Chelsea respectively, but with were still widely talked about and remained prominent players. As such, neither of these two types of players qualify for this list. Here are the top 20 soccer players who changed clubs and fell off the map:
20. David Bentley to Spurs
Given the weighty tag of the ‘new Beckham’ by Steve McClaren, a line which stuck, David Bentley appeared to be making true on those lofty comments during his three seasons at Blackburn Rovers between 2005 and 2008. Having struggled to break into the first team at Arsenal, Bentley became an England international with Blackburn in his early 20s. He joined Tottenham in 2008, but despite a decent first season at White Hart Lane, Bentley’s career soon began to fall apart. After a series of failed loan moves, Bentley retired age 29, having not had a club for over a year.
19. Charles N’Zogbia to Aston Villa
Charles N’Zogbia was a fine player. With Newcastle and particularly Wigan, he proved to be a thorn in most opposition’s sides, being unplayable at times. Explosive and creative with quick feet, good vision and the ability to score and create goals, he had an exceptional season for Wigan in 2010/11. It earned him a move to Villa, where the French internationals career would come a cropper. Having scored 10 goals in his last season at Wigan, he has managed only 4 in 5 years at Villa. He has played only 29 league games in the last three seasons and will struggle to attract a good team at the end of the season.
18. Stuart Slater to Celtic
Stuart Slater was a very promising young winger who made his debut for West Ham at the age of 18 and began playing for England under-21s at 20 and England B at 21. By the age of 23, Slater had played over 150 games for the Hammers and was progressing very well, with a full England cap seemingly on the horizon. At that age though, Slater moved north of the border and joined Scottish giants Celtic. He spent just a season at Celtic but his career hit something of a wall. The progress he was making at West Ham stopped, he returned to England with Ipswich but didn’t look the same player. He ended up dropping down the leagues all the way to the non-league. His top flight career ended at 30.
17. Andriy Shevchenko to Chelsea
2012 Ukrainian election candidate Andriy Shevchenko was one of the finest forwards in the world in the late 1990s and for much of the 2000s. He scored 175 goals in little over 300 games for AC Milan, winning the Ballon d’Or as the best player in Europe in 2004. Two years later he joined Chelsea for more than $50 million, a then record fee for an English club. He spent only two full seasons with the Blues, scoring only 9 league goals in 48 games, and 22 goals in 77 games in all competitions. He returned to Milan and then to Dynamo Kyiv, but could never quite reignite his career.
16. Des Hamilton to Newcastle
Des Hamilton made his Bradford debut aged 17, and while still a teenager he scored in the play-off final as Bradford were promoted to the Premier League. The England under-21 international had, remarkably, played more than 100 games for Bradford when he left the club aged 21 for Newcastle in a deal which set a club record fee. In four years at Newcastle, he played just 18 games. After the failed move, he had to drop down to the Second Division with Cardiff, before eventually retiring at the age of 27 whilst playing for Barnet in the Conference.
15. Juan Sebastian Veron to Manchester United
A world class central midfielder, Juan Sebastian Veron had all the tools required to dominate any game of football. Sadly, he didn’t have the tools to make it at Manchester United for one reason or another. The midfield maestro who won 73 caps for Argentina, recording the most assists at the 1998 World Cup and twice being named South American Footballer of the Year joined Man Utd in 2001 for a fee in excess of $50 million. Ultimately, the Argentine struggled with the speed and pressing of the English game, and he returned to Italy and later Argentina, until his retirement in 2014, aged 39.
14. Jari Litmanen to Liverpool
Another player who failed to make the grade in England’s top flight, in terms of technique, Jari Litmanen was one of the finest players of his generation. The greatest Finnish footballer of all time, Litmanen had exceptional control, vision and passing abilities. He won 137 caps for his country, won 22 trophies over his entire career, including the Champions League, yet many still feel Litmanen still didn’t make true on his full potential as a player. He joined Liverpool from Barcelona in 2001, and spent two seasons at Anfield, scoring 5 goals in 26 league games before rejoining Ajax.
13. Mario Jardel to Bolton
One of the great forgotten strikers of the 1990s and early 2000s, Mario Jardel was a quite remarkable goal scorer. He scored 166 goals in 169 games for Porto, 34 goals in 43 games for Galatasaray and 67 goals in 62 games for Sporting Lisbon. This incredible goal scoring record would have seen most players be first choice for their country, but Jardel had the misfortune of having to compete with Romario and Ronaldo for a starting spot on the Brazilian national team.
In 2003, he moved to the Premier League with Bolton Wanderers where he failed to score a league goal in seven outings before returning to Portugal the following season, later playing in Australia, Bulgaria and his homeland Brazil.
12. Charlie Mitten to Independiente Santa Fe
An FA Cup winner and three-time league runner-up with Manchester United during the early years of Sir Matt Busby’s reign at manager at Old Trafford, Charlie Mitten formed one fifth of United’s renowned forward line, known as the ‘Famous Five’. He, along with a number of other British players joined Independiente Santa Fe in 1950, to escape the maximum wage cap in England. He spent a season in Bogota, where he became known as the ‘Bogota Bandit’, before returning somewhat disgraced. Mitten was rejected by Man Utd upon his return and then made the ill-fated decision to turn down an offer from Santiago Bernabeu of Real Madrid. He saw out his career with Fulham and Mansfield Town.
11. Nery Castillo to Shakhtar Donetsk
The most expensive player ever signed by a Ukrainian club and the most expensive Mexican footballer of all time, Nery Castillo’s 20 million euro move from Olympiacos to Shakhtar Donetsk in 2007 was a big one. It also proved to be a disastrous one from the viewpoint of both player and club. In the four years Castillo spent contracted to Shakhtar, he was loaned out four times, playing a grand total of 18 games for the club (12 in the league) and scoring two goals (one in the league). Castillo was unable to get his career back on track after leaving Shakhtar and aged 31, the forward has been without a club since 2014.
10. Lucio to Juventus
A titan at the back for Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and the Brazilian national team, central defender Lucio has had a great career, winning 19 trophies, including league titles in Germany and Italy, the Champions League and the World Cup, as well as amassing 105 caps for his country. Having won a historical treble with Inter Milan in 2010, Lucio left the club for Juventus in 2012. It was a strange move, given Juve’s strength in that area with the likes of Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli.
Lucio went from key man to forgotten man, making only a single league appearance in his season in Torino, and only four in all competitions. From there, he returned to Brazil, before joining FC Goa of the Indian Super League in 2015.
9. Jean-Pierre Papin to Bayern Munich
A five-time Ligue 1 top scorer, four-time Ligue 1 champion, three-time European Cup top scorer, two-time Serie A champion, one-time Champions League winner and the 1991 Ballon d’Or winner, Jean-Pierre Papin is a legend of the game. A prolific goal scorer who scored for fun everywhere he went, except for Germany that is. Papin joined Bayern Munich from AC Milan in 1994, and in his two seasons at the club he managed only 3 goals in 27 league games and 6 goals in 40 games in all competitions. He returned to France where he scored regularly once more, before retiring at the age of 38.
8. Rivaldo to AC Milan
Another Ballon d’Or winner and another legend of the game, this time the 1999 European Footballer of the Year, Rivaldo. Best remembered for his time at Barcelona and with the Brazilian national team, where he won two La Liga titles, one Copa Del Rey, one UEFA Super Cup and one World Cup, Rivaldo left the Catalan giants in 2002 for AC Milan. The world class attacking midfielder was 30 when he made the move, and it signalled his transition from international super star to journeyman. He scored just 5 goals in 22 games over a two year period at AC Milan, and his next three clubs were in Greece, Uzbekhistan and Brazil. He retired in August 2015 at the age of 43.
7. Alexander Hleb to Barcelona
Former Stuttgart man Alexander Hleb must surely regret his 2008 transfer from Arsenal to Barcelona. The Belorussian attacking midfielder, who is also capable of playing as a winger, went from being a crucial player at the Emirates, playing 149 games in three seasons, to being – at best – a bit-part player at the Camp Nou, where he made only 19 league games in four years, making next to no impact. The move saw Hleb fall right off the map, and his next permanent club was FC Krylia Sovetov Samara of the Russian Premier League, followed by former club BATE Borisov in his native Belarus. Aged 34, Hleb is now plying his trade in Turkey with Gençlerbirliği S.K.
6. Fernando Redondo to AC Milan
Fernando Redondo was a very gifted deep-lying playmaker who was adored by the fans of Real Madrid, who protested his departure after six years and 225 games for the club in 2000. It turned out to be a good piece of business by Los Blancos though, as Redondo suffered a serious knee injury in one of his first training sessions at AC Milan. So severe was the injury that Redondo didn’t don an AC Milan shirt for more than two and a half years. Over four years in Milan, Redondo played only 16 league games, 33 in all competition and retired at the age of 34 due to a second knee injury.
5. Igor Belanov to Borussia Monchengladbach
The 1986 Ballon d’Or winner and one of only three Soviet players to have won the European Footballer of the Year award, Igor Belanov was a fine attacking midfielder who played his best football for Dynamo Kyiv and the Soviet national team. In 1986, Belanov won the Soviet League, the European Cup Winners’ Cup and was one of the standout players at the 1986 World Cup, scoring 4 goals and assisting 6; achievements which saw him see off the likes of Gary Lineker and Michel Platini to win the Ballon d’Or that year. In 1989, he was finally allowed to leave the Soviet Union, but aged 29, the move was not a success. In two years at Borussia Monchengladbach, Belanov played just 27 games, scoring 5 goals.
4. Tomas Brolin to Leeds United
Arguably one of the best attacking midfielders in world football in the early 1990’s, Tomas Brolin had great success with Parma and Sweden, winning four trophies with the former and finishing third at the 1994 World Cup with the latter. Brolin was excellent at the 1994 World Cup, and his performances earned him a fourth place finish in the 1994 Ballon d’Or, behind only Stoichkov, Maldini and Baggio. He joined Leeds in 1995 where his career fell apart spectacularly. Unable to recover from injury, Brolin was visibly overweight and his performances were appalling. He played only 20 league games for the club and promptly retired at the age of 28.
3. Mateja Kezman to Chelsea
It is all too easy to forget just what a player Mateja Kezman appeared to be when he joined Chelsea in 2004. The 25-year-old had scored 105 goals in 122 league games for PSV, making him one of the most potent forwards in Europe. At Chelsea though, things just never quite clicked. The 2003 Dutch Footballer of the Year spent only a season at Stamford Bridge, managing a mere 4 goals in 25 league outings. He rediscovered some form at Fenerbahce but his career, for the most part, petered out, and he retired in 2012, aged 32, after a spell in Hong Kong.
2. Darko Pancev to Inter Milan
Nicknamed the ‘Kobra’ in Serbia, Darko Pancev was the 1991 Golden Boot winner as the top scorer in Europe, and widely regarded as one of the finest strikers in the world in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. He scored 84 goals in 91 games for Red Star Belgrade, inspiring them to three league titles and their first European Cup win in the clubs history. Inter Milan signed him for a world record fee in 1992 as a 27-year-old, but the move was an absolute shambles. Inter management felt he was lazy and struggled to compete with Italian defences, while Pancev felt they didn’t understand his game. In three years at the club, the player played only 19 league goals, scoring three goals. He never recovered his career and retired at the age of 32.
1. Neil Franklin to Independiente Santa Fe
The second player on this list to have been involved in a transfer to Indepediente Santa Fe and it was at the same time as Charlie Mitten, in 1950. Neil Franklin though, was a world class defender, who’s surprise departure for Colombia sent shockwaves through the English game. Like Mitten, Franklin made the move due to the maximum wage cap in England, but lasted only six games in the non-Fifa affiliated Colombian league. Bogota was a huge culture shock for arguably England’s finest ever defender, who has Bobby Moore as his only genuine competition for such a title.
From probably the second best player in England, behind only the great Sir Stanley Matthews, Franklin went into absolute obscurity. His failed Colombian adventure lasted only two months, and he returned disgraced. Stoke City didn’t want him back and he was never capped again by England. Despite the ignominy, Franklin still set a world record fee for a defender when he joined Second Division Hull City, but injuries prevented him from ever returning to his previous heights.
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