The summer off-season is a painful time for any football fan. But what offers a silver lining in this glum period bereft of football action is the mouthwatering prospect of the transfer window- this is the period when clubs are allowed to look into the worldwide pool of players and seek out their services.
Whether this is to provide that final polish to a first-team that’s almost ‘there’, or to rebuild an aging squad much in need of freshness, or to provide depth for a thin squad wary of the pitfalls of enduring a long season, every club is on the lookout for improvement in this period, and every fan is thirsting for that new face to buy into- that new star to fall in love with!
Of course, not all transfers work out that way. For every gem unearthed, there are more than a few rocks to dodge; and it can be painfully disappointing to enter into a new season expecting the moon from your star signing, only to be brought rudely back down to Earth- players after all aren’t ‘products’, and spending a princely sum on a player doesn’t guarantee anything, except a hole in the pocket. So today let’s focus not on the gems, but on the rocks from last season- the players who promised much, but delivered little!
Where: Aston Villa to Man City
Price: £100 million
He became the British record signing when City paid a king’s ransom for his services last summer. He even inherited the coveted Number 10 jersey left vacated by City legend Kun Aguero, as the world waited to see what the stylish playmaker would bring to an already elite squad. But apart from being generally easy on the eye whenever called upon, he has largely struggled to make his presence felt in this City team- with a paltry return of just 3 goals and 3 assists, numbers that even defensive players like Trent Alexander Arnold and Fabinho made short work of last season. He failed to turn up when it mattered most in the Champions League either- falling short in the Semi finals when he could have won the tie for City.
At Villa the team was shaped around his strengths, whereas at City, he’s just another option for Pep Guardiola to call upon, and has looked at times like a doe caught in the headlights, struggling to make that Number 10 shirt his own. He’ll be hoping to change the narrative this season. However, his mammoth price, his paltry output and the summer-long hype he generated firmly cements his ignominious place as the ‘Top of the Flops’ from last season.
Though another player might have more than a thing or two to say about this, and that gentleman is…
Where: Inter Milan to Chelsea
Price: £97.5 million
Fellow big spenders Chelsea weren’t going to rest on their laurels after winning the Champions League last season, as Tuchel was desperate to add goals to his first team. Enter prodigal son- Romelu Lukaku. The effective, if inelegant, striker had been in prolific form for Inter the season before, and trigger-happy Chelsea were happy to bring the journeyman back to the club, for the 2nd or 3rd, or perhaps the 4th time- it has gotten hard to count now!
He started impressively enough in his first couple of games against Arsenal and Aston Villa, but the fickle English media was quick to hype him up like he was the second coming of the Lord, and this only put his subsequent dry spell further under the scanner- when he went without scoring for 7 games in a row, only getting on the scoresheet in December after his initial honeymoon period.
He did end the season with an un-embarrassing 15 goals from the 44 games he played, but his ill-advised unsanctioned interview with Sky Italia where he criticised his manager’s tactics, declared his undying love for Inter Milan, even stating his desire to return there, was a slap on the face of his team, the manager, and most importantly the fans. All of this ensured that he will be seen as one of the most expensive transfer mistakes ever. He’s now all set to return to Inter Milan this summer on a loan deal.
Price: £34 million
Manchester United could write its own book on transfer flops in recent seasons, but let’s not digress. A 4-time Champions League winner with Real Madrid, and a World Cup winner with France, the then 28-year-old was seen as a bona fide coup for United, and promised a much needed injection of elite defensive pedigree to a defence that drastically needed upgrading. In fact, his signing even got people speculating that the 2 Manchester clubs might slug it out toe-to-toe for the title, after United’s runners up season previously.
However, Varane has proved to be a tad too fragile for the Premier League- whenever he has been available to be called upon that is, with injuries massively limiting his contributions to the team. Of course, having the oft times comedic presence of Harry Maguire as a defensive partner is probably not the most ideal situation for any defender to bed in, settle down, and do their job, but Maguire’s much publicised defensive woes have also helped keep the spotlight away from the Frenchman. He’ll be hoping for an injury-free campaign this time around, and provide some much-needed leadership in the United defence this season.
Where: Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United
Price: £73 million
Sancho was considered, perhaps still is considered, one of the top young English prospects in recent seasons. Taking an unfamiliar route for English players- of starting his senior career in the German Bundesliga, Sancho vindicated his choices by becoming a lethal weapon in the armoury of the iconic German team- playing with a joyful youthfulness that saw him wreak havoc wherever he played.
After extensively scouting him for at least 2 seasons, United finally had their man. But entering the toxic dressing room of Manchester United seems to have sapped the life out of this destructive winger. Whether under Ole, or Rangnick, whether on the left or on the right, things just didn’t seem to click for young Jadon as he ended the season with a miserly 3 goals and 3 assists to his name.
He did improve as the season wore on and he got a longer run in the first team, but there’s still plenty for the youngster to do before he can justify his expensive price tag.
Where: Norwich to Aston Villa
Price: £38 million
Armed with the £100m received from Man City for the services of Jack Grealish, the Villans set about rebuilding their creative engine room, and Emi Buendia was the player earmarked to take over the creative duties for the team, and Villa made him their club-record signing on the back of his prolific season in the Championship with Norwich City.
He has largely struggled to fill in the shoes of Grealish and impose himself in games though. Ending the season with 4 goals and 6 assists in the league is not the worst outlay for a player playing his first season in England’s top flight, but record signing Buendia will be hoping there’s a lot more to come from the 25-year-old when he commences his 2nd season in the top flight, as will manager Steven Gerrard.