There are hundreds of soccer transfers across the world each year and it’s not surprise that many of them turn out to be duds. Clubs have a bad habit of not only overpaying for mediocre players, but also overpaying for world-class stars. This list features ten of the biggest transfer flops in soccer history. For one reason or another, these players came nowhere near living up to expectations with their new teams. In most instances, they soon found themselves shipped out of town.
Be it drug use, injuries, or simple bad play, most of these players just couldn’t cut it after their big-money transfers. Perhaps it doesn’t come as much of a shock that the majority of these busts wound up in the English Premier League, as the clubs there have a reputation for spending obscene amounts of money on players. If soccer teams could turn back time, these are 10 transfers that would have never happened.
10. Adrian Mutu – Chelsea
Premier League side Chelsea dished out £15.8 million to Italian side Parma for Adrian Mutu back in 2003 and actually got a decent return goal-wise. The Romanian forward was quickly a big hit with Stamford Bridge fans by banging in four goals in his first three appearances and 10 in 27 league games. Manager Jose Mourinho soon soured on Mutu though, as the two didn’t see eye to eye.
Things came to a head when Mutu tested positive for cocaine use and Chelsea released him, saying he had breached his contract. The club also took Mutu to court as they wanted reimbursement for his transfer fee and other costs. The player was ordered to pay Chelsea €17,173,990 plus five per cent interest. He appealed the decision four times, but it was upheld and Mutu signed with Juventus in 2005.
9. Bebe – Manchester United
Even the great Sir Alex Ferguson made several transfer blunders in his time. One of his oddest moves at Manchester United was the acquisition of Portuguese forward Tiago Manuel Dias Correia, also known as Bebe. Ferguson laid out a reported £7.5 million to Portuguese club Vitoria de Guimaraes for Bebe in the summer of 2010 without ever seeing him play.
He was recommended by Carlos Queiroz, Ferguson’s assistant, and ended up playing just two Premier League games with the Old Trafford outfit and made a total of seven appearances in all competitions. Ferguson didn’t know what to make of Bebe so kept sending him out on loan. Bebe eventually signed with Benfica in 2014, played six games and was loaned out again. The 27-year-old is now with Eibar in Spain.
8. Nicolas Anelka – Real Madrid
If your nickname is ‘Le Sulk’ then you’ve probably rubbed more than a few people the wrong way during your football career. French international striker Nicolas Anelka was certainly guilty of that. However, it wasn’t his fault that Real Madrid paid Arsenal £22.3 million for him in 1999 after scoring 28 times in 90 games for the Gunners. Anelka was a good scorer, but not a great one, and obviously had problems getting along with people. That’s one of the main reasons he played for a dozen different teams during his career.
Anelka quickly got on everyone’s nerves at Madrid and played just 31 games for the club with seven goals to his name. He was then sold to Paris Saint Germain just 12-months after arriving. Remarkably, PSG paid approximately £22.million for Anelka, meaning Real Madrid actually recouped most of their money.
7. Massimo Taibi – Manchester United
Another one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s bad decisions was to purchase Italian goalkeeper Massimo Taibi from Venezia in 1999 for approximately £4.5 million. Taibi managed to stick around long enough to play just four times for the Premier League team. He proved to be quite an enigma during that short time, as he was man-of-the-match one day and spent the rest of his time letting in howlers, including five goals against Chelsea in a single game.
It didn’t take long for Ferguson to figure out his mistake and Taibi was soon sent back to Italy on loan at Reggina. Taibi allowed several comical and infamous goals during his spell at Man United, including one through his legs to Matt Le Tissier of Southampton.
6. Jo – Manchester City
Manchester United wasn’t the only Manchester club to make bad transfer moves as Man City got in on the act in 2008. City, who were managed by Mark Hughes at the time, forked over a then club-record £19 million to CSKA Moscow for Brazilian striker João Alves de Assis Silva, otherwise known as Jo. He proceeded to disappoint everybody associated with the club by scoring a single goal during his debut campaign. It would also be the only league goal he’d ever score for City.
This was a huge shock, considering he’d found the back of the net 30 times with Moscow a year earlier. By early 2009 Jo was loaned to Everton and then to Galatasaray, as Everton suspended him for flying home to Brazil at Christmas without permission. Jo was given another chance at Man City in 2010/11, but scored just three times in 23 games in all competitions and went back to Brazil after being released.
5. Owen Hargreaves – Manchester United/Manchester City
Canadian midfielder Owen Hargreaves played internationally for England and was pretty good when healthy. The problem was, that was hardly ever. Hargreaves made a name for himself with Bayern Munich from 1999 to 2008, even though he scored just five times in 145 games for the senior squad. His injury problems began in 2002/03 and he broke a leg in 2006/07. Still, Sir Alex Ferguson paid £17 million for him a few months later, despite the injury.
Hargreaves would appear in just 27 league games with Manchester United over four years, but made hundreds of appearances in the infirmary. Incredibly, Man City was foolish enough to sign him for 2011/12 after United released him. Not surprisingly, he played just one league game for City. Ferguson later tore into Hargreaves in his autobiography and hinted he was more interested in collecting a paycheck than playing.
4. Jonathan Woodgate – Real Madrid
It’s hard to understand why Real Madrid would be interested in the unspectacular English defender Jonathan Woodgate in the first place. It was even harder to believe they actually paid Newcastle United £13.4 million for the defender in the summer of 2004. Woodgate had a history of being injury prone and, as a result, didn’t dress for a single game during his debut season in Spain.
When he finally made his first appearance for the Spanish giants in 2005 he was brutal as he scored an own goal and was later sent off after receiving a second yellow card. Woodgate would play just eight more league games in three years with the club and was back in England with Middlesbrough by 2007. The signing was so bad that it was voted as the worst transfer of the 21st century by Spanish newspaper Marca.
3. Fernando Torres – Chelsea
Spanish striker Fernando Torres was one of the hottest scorers on the planet when he played for Liverpool between 2007 and 2011, notching 65 league goals in 102 games. He made a huge mistake by forcing Liverpool to sell him to rivals Chelsea in January of 2011, but it meant £50 million in transfer fees for the Reds. At the time, the move was the most expensive in British football history, but would turn out to be one of the worst as well.
Torres’ form went down the toilet at Stamford Bridge as he never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity around the opponents’ net. He scored just 20 times in league action in 110 appearances for the Blues. Torres did manage to score some big goals, but his return of 45 in 172 games in all competitions with Chelsea wasn’t worth the price and he was loaned to Milan for two years in 2014 before eventually returning to his original club, Atletico Madrid, in 2016.
2. Andy Carroll – Liverpool
The Andy Carroll transfer flop is directly related to the Fernando Torres transfer flop. When Liverpool sold Torres to Chelsea in January, 2011 manager Kenny Dalglish basically panicked as he no longer had a top-class striker on hand. He spent £35 million of the £50 million received for Torres on young English international Andy Carroll of Newcastle United. The fee was the most expensive ever for a British player.
Carroll was a bust at Anfield though, with just six league goals in 44 games after notching 31 in 80 matches with Newcastle. When Brendan Rodgers took over as Liverpool manager, Carroll was sent to West Ham on loan. The injury-prone 28-year-old is now with the Hammers permanently after they paid Liverpool £15 million for him. Carroll had 30 league goals for West Ham in his first 103 contests.
1. Denilson – Real Betis
Former Brazilian international forward Denílson de Oliveira simply went by the nickname Denilson during his football days. The winger was sold for a then world-record fee of £21.5 million back in 1998 when Sao Paolo unloaded him to Real Betis of Spain. He had just enjoyed a marvelous World Cup in France and Betis felt he was worth the coin. They couldn’t have been more wrong though, even if Denilson did somehow manage to spend seven years with the club.
During that time, Denilson repaid the team by chipping in with a grand total of 13 goals in his 186 league appearances. He also spent time out on loan in 2000 when he joined Flamengo after Betis was relegated. He finally left Betis in 2005 when they sold him to French side Bordeaux with four more years to go on his contract. Denilson would later have stints in America, Vietnam and Greece.