Thursday, April 28, 2011

What a waste of money

By Norman Hubbard

Whenever footballers, managers or supporters suggest their club needs new players, it is tempting to point out that recruitment can make things worse, not better. As ESPNsoccernet's worst 10 signings of the season show...

Tal Ben-Haim
GettyImagesTal Ben-Haim joined his ex-Portsmouth manager Avram Grant at West Ham in July
10. Tal Ben-Haim
Since excelling at Bolton, Tal Ben-Haim has managed the sort of sequence of underachievement that might be some kind of record. He has passed through five Premier League clubs without impressing at any. West Ham clearly ignored his immediate past when they borrowed the defender from Portsmouth in August. What they got was a plummet to the foot of the Premier League, not helped by Ben-Haim's form: his first five league games produced just two points, while his last was a 5-0 hammering at Newcastle.
9. Sebastien Squillaci
When Arsene Wenger discarded his usual strategy by paying a sizeable sum (around £6 million) for a 30-year-old, the question was if the Arsenal manager had ignored his youth policy for a good reason. Eight months later, the answer appears not: Squillaci, unlike most Arsenal recruits, has a lower resale value. But, more pertinently, he has not performed on the pitch. The centre-back appears especially incompatible with his fellow Frenchman Laurent Koscielny - the Gunners' first five Premier League defeats occurred when they were paired - and when Thomas Vermaelen is eventually fit, will probably rank as the fourth-choice central defender.
8. Alexander Hleb
"Here you just need to fight, run, not too much passing," Alexander Hleb said. "This, for me, is something new." As Birmingham have rarely been confused with Barcelona, what did he expect? And as Hleb appears the antithesis of no-frills workaholics like Craig Gardner and Lee Bowyer, what did the club imagine he would do? From the start, Birmingham and Hleb were a marriage of convenience that was doomed to end in divorce: he needed a club, they a flair player after Charles N'Zogbia's wage demands ended a bid to bring him south from Wigan. It is unsurprising that he rarely starts for Alex McLeish's side and, in its own way, just as predictable that Birmingham's battling qualities, rather than Hleb's skill, will keep them up.
7. James Milner
A staple diet of unofficial awards is the choice of the most improved player. Last year, it may well have been James Milner. This season, however, Milner appears the prime contender for whatever the opposite is: the player who has regressed most, perhaps. Factor in a £26 million fee in an almost uniquely unsuccessful swap (Stephen Ireland, who went to Aston Villa in the same deal, was another contender for this list) and a player who was supposed to have cemented his arrival at the division's top table instead seems to have made one of the misguided moves of the year. No longer in the Manchester City team, he has only played well on a handful of occasions, and one of those was his valedictory appearance for Villa.
6. Roque Santa Cruz
Blackburn's January quest for a galactico earned ridicule aplenty, and rightly so. When David Beckham, Ronaldinho and Juan Roman Riquelme took the utterly unexpected decisions that an offer from Ewood Park was one they definitely could refuse, the returning Roque Santa Cruz became the biggest name to arrive in East Lancashire. But fame isn't everything and Rovers' bizarre attempts at recruitment are backfiring. Santa Cruz is yet to score since returning to the club who somehow pocketed £18 million when selling him to Manchester City; apart from one header that hit the bar, he has rarely looked like finding the net. Predictably, he has seldom appeared fit and his struggles are one cause of Blackburn's descent down the table.
5. Mauro Boselli
Wigan's low profile can be a benefit. At most of their rivals, rather more questions would be asked about the failure of the club record signing to muster a solitary league goal. Instead, Mauro Boselli disappeared on loan to Genoa without too many noticing. Yet should Wigan's six-year spell in the Premier League come to an end, the £6 million man's drought - incorporating a crucial missed penalty in a potentially decisive defeat at West Ham - will be the major cause, especially in a squad that lacks scoring strikers.
4. Christian Poulsen
In a department of the Liverpool team where the recent alumni include Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Dietmar Hamann while Steven Gerrard and Raul Meireles are among the current competition, the standards are high. To say Christian Poulsen fell short is an understatement. Anfield has seen few less positive passers than the Dane and, while his long association with Roy Hodgson was one explanation of his unpopularity, Poulsen's performances were another. His first season on Merseyside seems certain to end with youngster Jay Spearing ahead of him in the queue for the central midfield places.

GettyImagesBebe: Signed from Portuguese side Vitoria de Guimaraes for a reported fee of £7.4 million
3. Paul Konchesky
Liverpool's summer business was so poor that they could fill much of this list. In the end, unimpressive as they have been, there was no room for Joe Cole or Milan Jovanovic. So there was stiff competition for the title of the worst signing at Anfield, but Paul Konchesky is a deserving winner. Quite how, having worked with Konchesky for two-and-a-half seasons at Fulham, Roy Hodgson deemed him a Liverpool player is a mystery, but the left-back's mistakes were a constant: defeats at Stoke and Tottenham can be attributed to his errors. Tellingly, Liverpool have looked far more secure with anyone else on the left of the defence.
2. Bebe
The strangest signing of the season, Bebe continues to astonish. Not in the right ways, however: utterly dismal displays in the Carling Cup defeat at West Ham and the FA Cup win over Crawley provoke a sense of surprise that anyone could deem him a Manchester United player. Sir Alex Ferguson, famously, had not seen the Portuguese winger before buying him but he paid more for Bebe than he did for Javier Hernandez. Barring a remarkable improvement in the remainder of his United career, the callow forward may go down as one of Ferguson's worst signings.
1. Fernando Torres
The long wait was ended 14 games and 732 minutes into his Chelsea career when the most expensive player in the history of English football finally scored. Yet the verdict on the £50 million man this season may be that his signing cost Chelsea their chance of winning the Premier League and the Champions League; it might inadvertently result in Carlo Ancelotti's departure. Because, while Chelsea have generally fared better with Torres on the bench, his move appears to have revitalised Liverpool and caused his new club no end of problems.

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