With Europe’s domestic leagues all done and dusted, most of the silverware handed out and players looking forward to summer vacation, it’s an appropriate time for fans and analysts to take stock of the season and reflect on what occurred. This summer looks set to have all the usual (and some not so usual) features when it comes to football. Much attention will be focussed on that gigantic mess called FIFA, the web of arrests and allegations and the resignation of its controversial president Sepp Blatter. Other focus will look at the more traditional football issues this time of year – transfer rumors, team of the year rankings, player ratings and, of course, transfer flop analysis.
Unless players from your team are constantly on such lists, articles on the biggest transfer flops never get old. As fans we love seeing other teams who have wasted millions on underperformers. It provides us with a chuckle, gives us ammunition in debates with friends and makes for interesting conversation in the break-room at work. It also makes for very entertaining comment sections where disgruntled fans poke fun of each other and the author because in some way a team’s failed transfers reflects poorly on them as a fan of the club.
The following list looks at 20 of the worst transfers made over the course of the 2014/15 footballing season. Ahead you’ll find a nice blend of defenders, midfielders and forwards who either did comically bad this year or just did not live up to the price-tag or expectations placed on them by their team and fans. Even loaned players and free transfers aren’t safe here. There is, to a degree, a level of subjectivity in determining what exactly a flop is. For this list, production and performances are compared to the previous year and such things as price-tag, reputation and expectations are factored in.
20 Samuel Eto’o
Samuel Eto’o will be remembered as one of the greats of European football when he eventually retires. For Everton fans, that may not be the case. In the summer of 2014, when the Toffees signed the Cameroonian international on a free transfer, everybody saw potential fireworks. The former Chelsea man was a legend, mainly because of what he had accomplished with Barcelona and Inter Milan. The potential of Eto’o lining up alongside Romelu Lukaka (oh, we’ll get to him later) had many pundits drooling over the potential of Everton’s striking force. After 20 total appearances and four goals, Eto’o called it quits and forced a January move to Sampdoria where he didn’t do much at all.
19 Jack Rodwell
At Everton, Jack Rodwell was a promising talent who displayed strength and speed on the pitch. Then Manchester City came calling. Tempted by money and the lure of playing for the EPL Champions, Rodwell’s 2012/13 move to City was perhaps premature. After only 16 league appearances in two years, he moved to Sunderland last summer. Rodwell only made a total of 17 league starts for the Black Cats and was anything but consistent. Primarily used now as a substitute, the English midfielder has only given glimpses of the potential he showed at Everton.
18 Joel Campbell
Following the 2014 World Cup, Costa Rican Joel Campbell had a lot of people talking. The 22 year old winger had put in a very good performance for his national team and many believed he would return to Arsenal as a potential first team player. It didn’t work out that way. By January 2015, Campbell was off to Villarreal for his fourth loan stint since 2011. The Spanish side were probably hoping their new player would have a season like he had at Olympiacos the year before, where he scored eight goals. Instead, Campbell managed one goal in 16 appearances and never lived up to the expectation which many had following the 2014 World Cup.
17 Luke Shaw
When Southampton were pillaged by their fellow EPL teams during the summer of 2014, one of the big transfers to go through was the sale of defender Luke Shaw to Manchester United. In Shaw, everyone believed United had secured the next big thing – a future Patrice Evra. Signed for £30 million, there was considerable pressure on Shaw to perform. Unfortunately, when the 19 year old wasn’t injured, he was often putting in rather inconsistent displays which left everyone underwhelmed. While Shaw is still young and has many years ahead to turn into a consistent and powerful defender, this past season is one the player and fans will probably want to forget.
16 Seydou Doumbia
For five years before his January 2015 transfer to A.S. Roma, Seydou Doumbia had established himself as a consistent striker for Russian side CSKA Moscow. With the Russian team, the forward was averaging a goal every 1.5 games. If Roma and the fans were hoping this level of performance could carry over into Serie A, they were in for a big disappointment. The Ivorian made 13 league appearances for the Italian club and displayed some trouble adapting to the new league. With just two goals over this period, it’s easy to see why Serie A fans voted him the league’s third-worst signing.
15 Enner Valencia
Ecuadorian midfielder-forward Enner Valencia is another player who enjoyed a good performance during the 2014 World Cup. At the end of July 2014, the 25 year old ended up signing for West Ham United. Fans and pundits everywhere anxiously waited to see what the new signing could do. The first couple months of the season didn’t disappoint and were highlighted by an absolute thunderbolt goal against Hull City from 25 yards out. Unfortunately, come October, Valencia and his goal production fell off the radar. In 37 total appearances for the Hammers, he managed only 5 goals and ended up spending a considerable amount of time on the bench.
14 Adam Lallana
When Southampton were pillaged of a number of their players following the 2013/14 season, Liverpool were one of the main culprits. The Merseyside club had a lot of cash in their pockets following the sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona and they needed to fill the attacking void left by his departure. Lallana, an attacking midfielder, was seen as a big part of Liverpool’s strategy. With 9 goals and 6 assists in 38 league games, the England international looked a potent addition. This season, however, Lallana failed to continue his fine form and produced a mere 5 goals and 3 assists in just 27 total league appearances.
13 Danny Welbeck
For most people, Danny Welbeck was a Red Devil, through and through. He had spent his youth with the team academy and two loan spells aside, had only ever played for Manchester United. The forward’s £16 million move to league rivals Arsenal shocked a lot of people and had many others predicting greatness for the England international. Despite scoring a hat-trick in the Champions League and scoring the goal that knocked his old club out of the FA Cup, Welbeck never really took off in the league. Four goals and three assists in 25 appearances left many fans underwhelmed and more than a few pundits feeling the ‘transfer flop’ title was appropriate.
12 Eliaquim Mangala
Having won eight major Belgian and Portuguese trophies between 2008 and 2014, French born Eliaquim Mangala was closely watched by many of the big clubs around Europe. In the summer of 2014, Manchester City swooped in to secure the defender for a staggering £32 million. Unfortunately, while talented, the 24 year old has shown that it will take time to adapt to the Premier League. Mangala demonstrated he is prone to make mistakes and his first year has left many with the impression that he isn’t quite at the level of other established EPL defenders.
11 Dejan Lovren
Another player swiped from the roster of Southampton by Liverpool was Croation defender Dejan Lovren. Following his final year with the Saints, Lovren was one of the highest rated defenders in Europe. Liverpool, looking to at least solidify their hold in the top four of the EPL moved for his signature in the summer of 2014. While Liverpool had trouble scoring goals this season, Lovren was part of a defence which was anything but stable and consistent. Throw in a number of high profile errors which cost goals and it’s easy to understand why the man labelled as Jamie Carragher’s replacement belongs on this list.
Perhaps worried about the impending transfer ban and realizing that Dani Alves wasn’t getting any younger, Barcelona surprised a few people by signing Douglas Pereira dos Santos from Sao Paulo for $4.5 million in the summer of 2014. Most people had never heard of the 24 year old defender and fans and pundits everywhere were left wondering who had scouted Douglas. After seeing him play, it became clear why Sao Paulo let him go. Douglas’ play has been nowhere near the level you’d expect from a Barcelona player. This has led to the Brazilian being dropped to third-choice defender and making just a handful of appearances all season.
9 Romelu Lukaku
Over the 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons, Romelu Lukaku looked like he was on the verge of turning into the next Didier Drogba. The Chelsea striker spent those seasons out on loan with West Bromwich Albion and Everton, playing over 70 matches and notching an impressive 33 goals. When the big Belgian signed permanently for Everton in the summer of 2014, many believed they had secured a potentially world class striker. After his first full season with the Toffees, people have been underwhelmed by Lukaku’s performance. Sure, he was impressive in the Europa League but in the EPL, his 10 goals were a drop from previous years.
8 Thomas Vermaelen
When Barcelona purchased Thomas Vermaelen from Arsenal in the summer of 2014, it raised a few eyebrows. The former Arsenal captain had spent a good amount of time injured when he wasn’t putting in inconsistent efforts on the pitch. Injured and eventually requiring surgery, the 29 year old managed a grand total of 63 minutes playing time for Barcelona this past season. While Arsenal laughed all the way to the bank with the £15 million pound payout, fans of the Catalan club were left wondering why they had purchased a player who everyone knew broke so easily.
7 Angel Di Maria
Louis van Gaal’s rebuilding of Manchester United over the summer of 2014 saw some big name purchases. One notable player brought in from Real Madrid was Angel Di Maria. The 27 year old Argentinian joined for a massive £60 million. Needless to say, given the price-tag and reputation developed in Spain, where he was coming off a 4 goal and 17 assist league season, big things were expected from the creative and attacking midfielder. With 3 goals and 10 league assists this season, it’s safe to say everyone was a little disappointed. Di Maria started out the campaign brilliantly but dropped off after October and never really put in a stretch of consistent play over the rest of the season.
6 Ciro Immobile
Italian striker Ciro Immobile appeared on everyone’s radar following a highly successful Serie A season with Torino where he scored 22 goals in 33 league appearances. In the summer of 2014, the 25 year old striker moved to Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund where it was envisioned he would spearhead Jurgen Klopp’s side in a challenge against favorites Bayern Munich. It didn’t work out that way at all. Immobile enjoyed a good record in the German Cup and Champions League but disappointed in the domestic league. With only nine starts and 24 total appearances, Immobile managed to produce just three goals and a single assist.
5 Lukas Podolski
When you’re voted the second-worst signing in Serie A, you know you belong on a list of transfer flops. Since moving to Arsenal from Koln in 2012, Podolski’s appearances and production have gone steadily downhill. Loaned from Arsenal to Inter Milan, the forward never really got going in Italy. Under Roberto Mancini, the Polish-born German international made 17 total league appearances and managed to only produce a paltry goal and assist. When asked whether Podolski would be staying with the Italian club, it was made abundantly clear that the World Cup winner had no future at the club.
4 Nicklas Bendtner
While on the topic of disappointing Arsenal exports, we come to Danish International Nicklas Bendtner. If you were to believe the hype surrounding this player (all fabricated by the player and his father) you might think Bendtner shared some sort of DNA with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Several years at Arsenal and three loan moves later demonstrated that Bendtner was a legend in his own mind as the production was just never there. When Wolfsburg signed the Dane in 2014 the snickers from North London could be heard for miles. With just a single goal in 18 Bundesliga appearances, Wolfsburg faithful soon found out that Bendtner really was nowhere near as good as he had led them to believe.
3 Alessio Cerci
Voted the worst signing of the season by Serie A fans, this one is held jointly by Atletico Madrid and Milan. Alessio Cerci turned some heads when he produced 13 goals and 10 assists with Torino in the 2013/14 season. Spanish-side Atletico swooped in during the summer of 2014 to sign the winger who made just nine appearances before Milan were somehow fooled into taking him on loan in January 2015. After 16 league appearance, the 27 year old Italian had produced just a single goal and four assists. This flop transfer is made all the worse by the fact that Milan shipped Fernando Torres in the opposite direction as part of the deal, who was productive while with Atletico.
2 Mario Balotelli
Every list, every article and every interview given this season which has centred on flops ultimately ends up mentioning Mario Balotelli. Why always him? On the one hand, his past history of unpredictability and volatility on the pitch has made him into a bit of a poster-child for overrated players. On the other hand, this season saw Liverpool purchase him as a replacement for the departed Luis Suarez – big shoes to fill indeed. Ignoring the warnings from past clubs Manchester City and Milan, Liverpool’s gamble failed miserably. Balotelli managed to score just 4 goals in all competitions and a single strike in the Premier League.
1 Radamel Falcao
At the wire on the summer transfer deadline day, Manchester United made the biggest headlines with the loan signing of Radamel Falcao. With Porto and Atletico Madrid, Falcao had scored over 140 goals in four seasons. Injuries at Monaco had seen his production drop but his goals-to-game ratio remained very impressive. At United, alongside Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, many predicted the Columbian would terrify defences and rack up goal after goal. It didn’t quite work out that way. Twenty-nine total appearances only produced 4 goals and 4 assists. Falcao never looked like he really fit in and never really had the faith of his manager.