Liverpool and Arsenal flop among the worst Premier League XI signed by the reigning champions

Liverpool and Arsenal flop among the worst Premier League XI signed by the reigning champions

Liverpool signed terribly but sold brilliantly as champions. Arsenal hope Gabriel Jesus is doing better than Francis Jeffers.

The best Premier League team signed with the reigning champions would hammer this sad lot.

GOALKEEPER: Angus Gunn (Manchester City to Southampton, 2018)
In 22 Premier League games for Southampton, Angus Gunn conceded 43 goals and kept five clean sheets. Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea, Fulham, the relegation contenders, Brighton, notoriously top scorers under both Chris Hughton and Graham Potter, and newly promoted Sheffield United should equally hang their collective heads in shame. Gunn has been kept out of Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side at various points by the versatile trio of Alex McCarthy, Fraser Forster and Willy Caballero and England’s regular call-up did not play another league game for Saints after the 9-0 thrashing of Leicester in October 2019 until his Sale to Norwich – for around £11million less than originally signed – in 2021.

CENTER HALF: Ki-Jana Hoever (Liverpool to Wolves, 2020)
It’s difficult to identify the quintessential example of Liverpool’s recent transfer alchemy. Scooping more than £20m each from Crystal Palace for Christian Benteke and Mamadou Sakho was impressive. The deal with Philippe Coutinho speaks for itself. Swapping Kevin Stewart for Andy Robertson with little extra effort bordered on unfair. Getting £12.5million from Leicester for Danny Ward deserves applause and there’s a whole subgenre of deals with Bournemouth that would normally trigger some sort of ethics scrutiny for using financial loopholes: the sale of Dominic Solanke, Jordon Ibe and Brad Smith for a £37m combined are daft.

But to discharge Ki-Jana Hoever and his four previous appearances at Liverpool – all in the FA and League Cups – for up to £13.5m to Wolves, offsetting part of the £41m paid to the same club for Diogo Jota. Bruno Lage took to the right-back in March and described him as “a good example for young kids who want everything but don’t train at the intensity they need or don’t prepare properly”. Outraged after Hoever had to be substituted after 25 minutes of defeat, the manager ended his tirade with a warning: “I don’t waste time on people who don’t work hard.” He was loaned to PSV in June.

CENTER: Joleon Lescott (Manchester City to West Brom, 2014)
“Considering it came for free, we didn’t see it as a long-term solution. Eventually it would have fizzled out with a year left,” said West Brom director of football Richard Garlick of a move that supposedly worked but was in reality almost pointless. The Baggies pounced on Manchester City’s sacking of Joleon Lescott and the center half were crowned player of the year in his first season with The Hawthorns but there would be no second. He was quickly moved to bitter rivals Aston Villa when Tony Pulis hinted at a desire to refresh an aging defence, as if he hadn’t sanctioned the arrival of a 32-year-old high-wage free agent last summer.

CENTRE: Mikael Silvestre (Manchester United to Arsenal, 2008)
The fact that Sir Alex Ferguson was fortunate enough to let Mikael Silvestre choose between Manchester City and Arsenal in the summer of 2008 spoke volumes. The legendary Manchester United manager never sold directly to a rival and a year earlier blocked Gabriel Heinze’s proposed move to Liverpool but rolled out the red carpet for Silvestre in north London as Arsenal waved them £750,000. The move was made even more odd by the fact that Arsene Wenger looked to the 31-year-old as his first centre-back from the start, but a 2-0 defeat and a 3-0 loss to Aston Villa and Manchester City in back-to-back November games brought about it paid. Silvestre gradually faded from the first-team image, leaving after a memorable couple of seasons.

RIGHT WINGER: Gabriel Obertan (Manchester United to Newcastle, 2011)
“I came here with a lot of ambition. I just want to play football. I’m hungry for football so I’m just relieved,” said Gabriel Obertan after his move to Newcastle. The winger’s malnutrition has been little alleviated in five years at Tyneside: two goals, seven assists and one relegation in 33 Premier League starts left neither side satisfied Manchester Unitedwho deducted £3million from Mike Ashley for the trouble.

CENTER MIDFIELDS: Jack Rodwell (Manchester City to Sunderland, 2014)
“Pound for pound Jack Rodwell has to be the worst signing in Sunderland history,” it read a headline in the Evening Chronicle, while the Northern Echo described the midfielder as “a symbol of the waste and lack of professionalism that was allowed to thrive under the previous regime”. Rodwell signed for £10m and was handed another paycheck of around £14.5m at £70,000-a-week over the course of his four-year stint at the Stadium of Light.

He was the only player whose contract did not include a pay cut clause on relegation in 2017, a particular point of contention at Wearside as he did not feature in the final eight months of his tenure – culminating in further relegation to League One – and also resisted attempts unload it earlier.

CENTRAL MIDFIELDER: Joe Cole (Chelsea to Liverpool, 2010)
While earlier praise for Liverpool’s transfer market prowess remains, things weren’t always like this. Think of Roy Hodgson’s first and only summer in charge at Anfield, when Javier Mascherano and Yossi Benayoun had to leave and Jonjo Shelvey, Milan Jovanovic, Danny Wilson, Christian Poulsen, Brad Jones, Raul Meireles and Paul Konchesky came in as support acts Team arrived headlining, Joe Cole. For £90,000 and with the backing of captain Steven Gerrard – “Messi can do some amazing things but anything he can do Joe can do just as well, if not better” – the expectations were immense. A player who was well past his best at the time somehow fell behind and featured more in a season for Lille than in full campaigns on either side of France’s stint with the Reds.

CENTER MIDFIELDS: Juan Sebastian Veron (Manchester United to Chelsea, 2003)
The “damn great player” Ferguson signed for in May 2002 became one of Roman Abramovich’s first investments at Chelsea just over a year later. For almost half Manchester United initially paid the British record transfer fee, Claudio Ranieri somehow expected that living in London would help his adjustment to playing in England and brought Veron to Stamford Bridge for his second bite of the Premier League cherry. It left a similarly unsatisfactory taste; After scoring a goal in his debut win over Liverpool, the Argentina midfielder made just 13 more appearances through injury and was sent on loan to Inter Milan from where he never returned.

LEFT WINGER: Lee Sharpe (Manchester United to Leeds, 1996)
It was probably just coincidence that Howard Wilkinson was sacked less than a month after signing Lee Sharpe for a fee that matched Leeds’ club transfer record. It also happened that the club who sold him, Manchester United, dealt the final blow to the manager’s tenure with a 4-0 hammer at Elland Road, in which Sharpe played the full 90 minutes. It wasn’t something he would particularly be blamed for, as George Graham’s system of choice did little to benefit volatile wingers and his successor, David O’Leary, ostracized Sharpe upon his appointment.

Center Forward: Rhian Brewster (Liverpool to Sheffield United, 2020)
Is this actually the ultimate Liverpool deal? Michael Edwards certainly paid for his laptop and air-conditioned office while negotiating Rhian Brewster’s exit. The young striker had been on the fringes of Jurgen Klopp’s mind for some time, set the bench for the 2019 Champions League final and scratched three real appearances for the Reds: two in the League Cup and one in the FA Cup. That, and admittedly a fruitful Swansea loan where he scored every other game, prompted Sheffield United to part with up to £23.5million for a player who has not scored in 27 Premier League games for the Blades scored and has bagged only a handful in the championship since their relegation. And some were still disappointed that Liverpool let him go.

MID FORWARD: Francis Jeffers (Arsenal to Charlton, 2004)
Those £2m in add-ons to top off an initial £8m fee were probably never activated by Francis Jeffers at Arsenal. Eight goals in 39 games represented a paltry return on a sizable gamble from Wenger. Not even a loan back to Everton could spark a renaissance for the England international and Charlton fared no better, having parted ways with Alan Curbishleys from £2.6m rescue project had separated. He scored three goals in 20 Premier League games, was sidelined by Darren Bent and was never able to lead the ambitious Addicks higher than mid-table.


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