Serie A has always been one of the most exciting and entertaining leagues in European football. The history, drama and flair of Italy’s top flight has often made it a thrilling spectacle for fans both inside and outside the boot-shaped nation.
Calcio, as it’s natively known, is something with great sanctity and it inspires very definite images and notions in people’s heads whenever it pops up in conversation. The spirit of Italian football is one which has often been defined by an ultra-defensive mentality. Words like ‘catenaccio’ and ‘libero’ usually spring to mind. Words that carry insinuations of austerity, containment and a very deep-sitting formation. Indeed, some great defenders like Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Franco Baresi and Fabio Cannavaro have shown that stopping attackers is an art form in itself.
The tradition of a protective style of football which aims to screen opponents is well known, but the country has often attracted some of the globe’s most exhilarating, stimulating attackers, too.
Names like Diego Maradona, Roberto Baggio, Francesco Totti, Zinedine Zidane, Andrea Pirlo, Kaka and so many others show us that it’s not always been simply clever tackling and clearances, because there have been some breath-taking exponents of formidable, offensive class through the years. Some real masters of the game, offensive and defensive, have appeared in this division down through the years to bring the league to an often exquisite level, but there have also been some real flops along the way, too. It might not be a great reflection on the league to have these disappointments come in, but their stories are intriguing nevertheless.
So, let’s run through 20 of the worst players in Serie A history – don’t forget this list is intended to foster discussion, so feel free to have your say in the comments section if you would have preferred to have seen some other names featured.
20. Eljero Elia
What started as a four-year contract in 2011, ended prematurely less than a year after signing on the dotted line for Juventus from Hamburger SV. Overall, he made just a handful of league appearances for the Black and Whites, and has previously stated the fact that then manager Antonio Conte never uttered a single word to him all season long.
The discord between player and manager obviously hampered Elia’s opportunities with the Bianconeri. What’s more, it also negatively impacted his confidence and, in turn, his performances, because whenever he did take to the field, he simply wasn’t good enough. Disappointing.
19. Alessio Cerci
Alessio Cerci has enjoyed a rather lengthy career in Italy’s premier division so it’s understandable if there is a little bit of confusion with this choice, but things haven’t always gone according to plan for the now 28-year-old winger. Frankly, there have been times when he should have performed to a much higher standard and no time was that more evident than when he floundered with AC Milan on loan in 2015.
Voted the worst player of that calendar year, Cerci managed just a single goal for the Serie A outfit. The Giuseppe Meazza faithful will want to forget the torrid performances of a winger who promised so much, but there is still some time for him to rekindle his form – at least that is what Cerci will hope.
18. Nemanja Vidic
Going from Manchester United legend and Premier League icon to underwhelming Serie A defender is never an easy route to travel. Having spent years at the pinnacle of British football with the Red Devils, Nemanja Vidic looked to Inter Milan as a possible reinvigorating destination, but the reality proved a lot less winsome for the former Serbian international.
He became second-choice, committed plenty of uncharacteristic errors and generally performed well below par – even having been featured in a Tuttomercato poll of the league’s biggest disasters. On his debut against Torino, he received a red card which was the worst possible start and things hardly improved too much from there, as he looked slow and seriously lacking in the hunger which had once seen him become a revered champion.
17. Ishak Belfodil
When a young striker comes on board with bags of talent, goals often flood the fans’ dreams. Yes, when Ishak Belfodil teamed up with Parma back in 2012, it was hoped that he could shake the net with more regularity than a fisherman checking his plunder and despite a handful of good contributions and a few goals, he didn’t quite grow into the prolific marksman of the Crociati’s dreams.
A move to Inter Milan soon materialized, but he scored just once in 10 games there before quickly moving on to fellow Serie A team Livorno where he looked as though he had forgotten where the goal was with no strikes to show for his 17 appearances. What started as capacity eventually disintegrated into dismay as he’s now lurching around in the UAE Pro League.
16. Federico Macheda
When Federico Macheda first burst onto the scene to help Manchester United win the Premier League title back in the 2008-09 season, the young Italian was just a teenager with big dreams. He is largely considered as the catalyst that helped the Red Devils steal the English crown that campaign and it hinted at great things for Macheda.
Stints in the boot-shaped nation saw his form dip after such a thrilling high and he failed to capture anybody’s attention with his displays there. His stay at Sampdoria really underlined just how off-kilter he had become as he simply couldn’t lift his game. A lot was expected of him, but he failed to deliver and his tenure is widely thought of as a disappointing flop.
15. Jose Mari
Setting AC Milan back a mind-boggling, reported £14.25 million, Jose Mari didn’t arrive cheaply at the turn of the millennium, however, he couldn’t produce the lavish performances that might have been expected of such an expensive signing. In total, he made just over 50 appearances, but they were spread out over the course of three seasons. Mari struggled to break into the starting XI on a regular basis and what’s worse for a striker, he couldn’t find his scoring touch as he pocketed a meager five goals.
14. Lukas Podolski
There was once a time when Lukas Podolski had the whole of European football in his palm. He was an exciting young prospect with bags of talent and he was ready to set the world on fire with some exquisite displays. Right now, though, the German international is 30 years old and is on the books at Turkish Super Lig club Galatasaray.
At FC Koln and Bayern Munich, he caught the eye with a series of great performances before eventually departing to Arsenal. He stagnated at the Gunners and a loan move to Inter Milan offered him the chance to reinvent his career, but he wound up failing miserably with the Nerazzurri. In fact, he was voted one of the Serie A’s worst signings in a poll organized by Italian publication Gazzetta dello Sport after a string of underwhelming showings.
13. Seydou Doumbia
At CSKA Moscow, Seydou Doumbia enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame as he was twice the Russian Premier League top scorer. He was a pillar of the team and an exciting talent who knew his role, as well as how to execute it properly. However, when he made the switch to AS Roma, things could not have panned out any more adversely as he misfired spectacularly in his short stay.
Much like Podolski, Doumbia was also voted as one of the worst Serie A players back in 2015 by Gazzeta dello Sport and he never seemed to recover from it as he was shipped off on loan back to Russia. His lack of goal-scoring certainly hampered how he was viewed as he only pocketed a couple of strikes.
12. Santiago Solari
A runner-up in the 2005 Bidone d’Oro award (Golden Bin) which was handed out by the now defunct Catersport show on Rai Radio 2 for the worst player, Santiago Solari gladly saw Christian Vieri nab the top spot but it couldn’t hide fact that the Argentine had endured a rather nightmarish few months that year. The towering striker stayed with Inter Milan for three years but he failed to guarantee a regular berth in the starting XI and it proved to be his final stay with a so-called big club.
Some might say that Solari’s hype was always going to set him up for a fall. Perhaps. The fact of the matter, though, is that he didn’t impress enough when he was given the opportunities and his goal-scoring return was average at best. Once a super-sub who set mach-day alight with spectacular goals, he simply became a bench-warmer at Inter.
11. Ashley Cole
Mention Ashley Cole and AS Roma in the same sentence to most football fans and the likelihood is that they will be greeted with the chuckle-inducing image of the former Chelsea defender skulking around the edge of a team photo. It’s a comical picture which has spawned countless memes and spin-offs making fun of the former England international and it concisely sums up just how smoothly his spell with the Serie A outfit went.
Seemingly unable to really fit in, Cole suffered from odd-man-out syndrome and became a rather comical part of modern-day football in the Italian capital. Having performed so well in England, he didn’t adapt as well as some thought he should and the move turned out to be quite a disaster.
10. Ibrahim Ba
Le Havre FC and Boreaux harbored some great memories for Ibrahim Ba and he exhibited snippets of really good football when he was with the Ligue 1 clubs. But making the step up to the Serie A, which was by far a better league at the time, proved too much for the now retired player.
Ba struggled to adapt to his more defensive role and didn’t rattle the net enough as a result. Had he figured out how to add a goal-scoring element to his new game, he could have eked out a more enjoyable experience and could have developed into a more reliable midfielder that AC Milan might have valued more. As it was, they preferred to sell him on to Bolton Wanderers after a number of loan deals. The Senegal-born ultimately didn’t have an engine powerful enough and ended up coughing and spluttering his way out the door.
9. Jesus Datolo
Making a career in European football is never easy for South American footballers and so it transpired for Jesus Datolo when he arrived as a Napoli player from Boca Juniors in January 2009. Picked up for £4.28 million by the Partenopei, there was some excitement that he would grow into an exciting leader among the team. However, he never delivered on that belief.
He staunchly defended himself amidst some personal, on-pitch horror-shows but it became increasingly difficult to find the silver-lining as he continually failed to inspire. As a child, Datolo had supported Napoli (obviously inspired by Diego Maradona’s exploits there) but he couldn’t emulate what his predecessor had done despite the belief in himself, and unfortunately for him he is often recalled as one of the league’s biggest let-downs.
8. Lee Sharpe
Another English man to populate our list, this time it’s former Manchester United pin-up Lee Sharpe. A three-time winner of the Premier League, Sharpe enjoyed his fair share of success at one of the biggest clubs in the world. Alas, events took a downward turn for the midfielder as he was sent out on loan to Sampdoria in 1998.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision made it clear to Sharpe that he wasn’t going to be a part of the team any longer and that will certainly have had a detrimental effect on his confidence. As it turned out, he went through a turbulent time with I Blucerchiati as he played just three matches.
7. Ricardo Quaresma
Undoubtedly one of the biggest flops in the history of the Serie A, Ricardo Quaresma failed to live up to his potential when he joined the Italian top flight in 2008 and his performances for Inter Milan that year helped earn him the unwanted Bidone d’oro (Golden Bin) award.
Signed for £18.45 million from Porto, he was expected to deliver on his promise to a strong extent, but that never came about and he wound up flopping to a shocking degree. He managed to play a mere 24 games as he found himself frozen out by Jose Mourinho as his adaptability and desire to fit in were lacking.
6. Micah Richards
After realizing just how squeezed out of the Manchester City set-up he truly was, Micah Richards managed to secure a loan move to Fiorentina a few years back. It was hoped the Birmingham-born defender would get some more game-time there and maybe even come back after discovering his second wind to challenge the Citizens’ settled back-line.
Unfortunately for him, it didn’t pan out that way as he endured a torrid time with the Viola. In the end, the Italians turned down the opportunity to sign him on a permanent basis which goes just some way to illuminating how far the once elite defender had tumbled.
5. Ronnie O’ Brien
In one of the most bizarre transfers ever completed, Irish man Ronnie O’ Brien managed to snag a move after being released from Middlesbrough reserves to team up with none other than Italian giants Juventus. His five-year contract really caught the eye back in 1999 because O’ Brien wasn’t quite at the caliber of the Old Lady side and it was baffling trying to figure out how the move actually came to fruition. Technically, he never actually played a Serie A match for Juve, but that goes to show just how out of his depth he really was as his only performance came in an Inter-Toto Cup clash.
4. Franz Carr
Never heard of him? That’s no surprise. His sojourn in Italy was nothing short of a total calamity after joining Reggiana in the mid-1990s and Franz Carr never produced anything of note. Worst of all, his team found themselves in a relegation scrap, and it is times like that when the fighters and the defeatists show themselves and Carr never really had the fire in his belly to properly alleviate the situation.
His Italian flirtation is widely considered to be one of the most disappointing showings of an Englishman ever and the player himself has probably done his best to wipe the memory away. That said, he had put a long career behind him by then and was coming to the tail-end of a fulfilling football journey.
3. Oguchi Onyewu
To say his stay at the San Siro with AC Milan was forgettable is a bit of an understatement. Fans of the Rossoneri would prefer not to remember the defender was ever a part of their roster – and for long periods he really did seem to be very much on the fringes because he hardly got a look in. That sort of tells its own story really because he simply wasn’t up to scratch.
Injuries played their part in limiting his role, but the main reason was his obvious lack of ability. Having arrived from Standard Liege, the move was a bit of a head-scratcher anyhow because it was clearly a massive step up, though he had been impressive at the 2009 Confederations Cup. In the end, it proved an insurmountable challenge for the ‘Gooch’. The boots proved too big to fill, in the end, and he exited for a loan spell with FC Twente.
He might well have been the brother of Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite (that’s short for Kaka, by the way) but that didn’t mean that Digao was bound to have any of the same level of skill when he joined AC Milan back in 2005. As it turned out, his extreme lack of technical ability became clear as he found his opportunities at getting anywhere near the starting XI incredibly restricted. Bluntly put, he was nowhere near good enough for Milan let alone any of the teams in Serie A.
Plenty of spells away on loan gave him false hope that the Rossoneri were looking to improve him and get more minutes under his belt so as to call him back because it soon transpired that they really didn’t see a future for him at Milan. Ultimately rescinding his contract, he looked to try and make it on his own and has only bounced around since.
When it comes to settling in at your new club, it’s always a good idea to get to know some of the basic facts – like finding out who your manager is. Yes, that’s right Vampeta had absolutely no idea who the Inter Milan boss (Marco Tardelli) was when he arrived at the club according to an interview with Gazzetta World’s Mauricio Cannone, thus beginning a rather bewildering and unsuccessful stay with the Nerazzurri.
Often blasted as one of the most calamitous signings in the club’s history, Vampeta didn’t enamor himself with the big man and ended up without much minutes on the pitch as a result. His spell was short but disastrous and acted as a cautionary tale for plenty of new signings – always respect your superiors or things can go sour quickly.
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