The flood of activity in the transfer market is gathering pace. Speculation, anticipation and a sense of optimism emanates round the football community. Eager fans wait impatiently like children on Christmas Eve, looking for clues wherever they can and speculating wildly. Who will be the clubs next signing? ‘Is this bloke from Djibouti going to be the answer to our defensive frailties’? ‘Is it true that the lad from Italy we’ve got on trial once played for Milan?’ ‘Apparently that Danish winger has supported us since he was seven; his parents brought him over to visit the Macclesfield silk museum on holiday. That’s exactly what we need, some real passion for the club’.
New signings usually come swathed in a blanket of praise and promise; their achievements are dressed up, like a neatly wrapped present. Nobody intentionally signs a bad player. Unless you’re Gary Neville rocking up at Anfield or El Hadj Diouf just about anywhere the chances are you will be given a fresh start and a clean slate. This is a time for optimism after all. ‘There is every chance that the ‘goal-scoring midfielder’ we’ve signed from Preston didn’t score a single goal last season because he was played out-of-position’. ‘Sure the new centre back was at the heart of the worst defense in the football league last season but I wouldn’t read too much into it’.
Of course, once the season kicks off this buoyancy will quickly fade for most of us as we realise the Djiboutian full back is as adept at defending as the French Ardennes and the goal-scoring midfielder has a shot on him like Rory Milroy. If the team is not performing the honeymoon period for a new signing is not a long one. The first to feel the pressure are the strikers, just ask Fernando Torrez. They are usually the most lauded of the new recruits and have the misfortune of being expected to score some goals. Often this does not happen. Often the 30-a-season goal machine you were promised is in fact Thomas Brolin or Bosko Balaban .If this happens then you have bagged yourself an anti-hero, a goal-scoring flop. Do not fret, they will come good, if not on the pitch then certainly down at the pub as part of a brilliant anecdote. I think you will find a lot more fun can be had reminiscing about shit strikers than the good ones.
I take great pleasure recalling the potent threat caused by Danny Cademateri (7 in 91) and the clinical finisher that was Dean Saunders (3 in 44) during their time at Valley Parade. Bradford City has oodles of these menacing forwards littered throughout their recent history. Who could forget Eddie Johnston (7 in 64) or John McGinley (3 in 18)? It must be noted that although these may have arrived with a degree of expectation, thankfully none of them came with a huge transfer fee attached.
Spare a thought, if you can these days, for Man City Fans. Brazilian Jo arrived in 2008 for a fee of around £6m, potentially rising to £18m with added bonuses; one would suspect this facility will not be being upheld. So far He has scored one league goal in three years. Since 2006 Man City have excelled in second-rate strikers, Corradi, Bianchi, Samaras , Bojinov, Caicaido, Benjani Santa Cruz and Dzeko all failed fantastically in sky blue. Between them they managed a miserly 32 goals in 216 games, one every 6.75 games, frightening. In transfer fees alone that’s over £3m per goal, double that with wages. People may be quick to point out mitigating factors but that is to be as deluded as you were when you believed they would be the answer to all your problems. Man City are the champions of Europe when it comes to shit signings.
However, as bad as the Eastlands contingent was, none of them flopped quite spectacularly enough. From a purely financial point of view Shevchenko puts them all in the shade. His spell at Chelsea cost the club over £50m during which time he managed only nine goals, hardly a shrewd piece of business. This is not really about money though; do Chelsea fans really care about their outgoings? Probably not, the same goes for Man City. He may have failed to match expectations but he just wasn’t bad enough for me. Nine goals, that’s prolific.
Back in 2001 John Gregory paid £5.8m for Croatian goal machine Bosko Balaban, beating off competition from Juventus, Roma and Fiorentina. He played nine times for Aston Villa failing to score once. Swiftly loaned back to Dynamo Zagreb he rediscovered his form bagging 15 in 24 games. This prompted Villa to recall the player. Back in Birmingham with expectations riding high once more the Croat got back to work, or rather didn’t. He was accused of laziness and excluded from training. He never played again and having picked up his 20,000-a-week for two and a half years left the club for free. He scored 47 times in 83 games for his next club and has been on fire ever since. He is the most expensive Premier League striker never to score.
As far as disappointments go Balaban is hard to beat. Never-the-less, given his record elsewhere it is unfair to condemn Gregory’s decision to sign him. Graeme Souness on the other hand has a lot to answer for. In 1996 he received a phone call from George Weah asking him to take a look at his cousin Ali Dia. Dia, he claimed, was a Senegal international and former Paris Saint-Germain player. The Southampton manager, believing this to be true gave him a one month contract and put him straight into the first team squad. At a time when foreign players were still a rarity in England, saint’s fans will have been eager to see their new man in action. They did not have to wait long, 32 minutes in and Matt Le Tissier came off injured. On strode the Southampton number 33, the new George Weah. What followed was probably the worst individual performance in Premier League history.
Dia bumbled around the Dell for the next 21 minutes producing a display that was not matched for inept ability until Dwain Chambers tried his hand at Rugby League. Realising he had made a grave error of judgment Souness hauled him off shortly after half time, never to be seen again. The phone call it turned out was not from George Weah at all, but from the player’s agent. He had of course never played for Paris Saint Germain, or his country and was in fact a bit-part player for Blythe Spartans who had recently failed a trial at Rotherham United. The most shocking thing about this is that he actually had an agent, a good one it seems as well.
Football is not really about winning or losing, it’s about stuff like this. Ask a Southampton fan what position they finished in the league that year or what the score was that day and they probably won’t remember. Ask them about Ali Dia and your certain to provoke a wry smile. Every club has one and maybe yours is lining one up as we speak. Long live the shit signings.