Premier League at 25: The Best XI, from Petr Cech to Thierry Henry

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London- Eagle-eyed readers who have been following this series of all-time Premier League selections will shortly notice that the player we have declared the finest of the past 25 years is, curiously, not good enough for our combined best XI. What follows will not chime with everyone’s opinion, or even, clearly, our own. Eric Cantona was a marvellous player, the kind of maverick genius man for the big occasion who gets singled out for individual awards, but two other forwards exist whose claims for a first-team place are in my opinion indisputable, which leaves no room for Cantona, Luis Suárez, Wayne Rooney, Sergio Agüero or any number of strikers who have thrilled and bewitched the Premier League.

Besides, something had to be done to stop Manchester United’s dominance of the past quarter-century turning this into a best-of-the-Sir-Alex-Ferguson-years selection. In all, 27 of the 30 people to have won the league four or more times in the Premier League era played at Old Trafford under the Scot but only two of them – plus two players who won three titles there – are in our XI. There could certainly have been a couple more or a fabulous team could be compiled containing none at all. There is certainly no shortage of candidates for selection.

There exists a more useful guide to a player’s impact than mere medal counts, in the shape of the PFA team of the year. Since 1992 a total of 275 places in 25 teams have gone to 148 players, creating an A to Z of the domestic game’s great names, from Adams to Zabaleta. It throws up some curious anomalies: Dennis Bergkamp, who won three league titles and spent more than a decade decorating the Arsenal team with his peerless grace, and Peter Schmeichel, who spent a cumulative nine Premier League seasons at Manchester United, Aston Villa and Manchester City and was five times a champion, each made the list only once. If this were the only measure of a player’s contribution to the Premier League theirs were no greater than those of Stig Inge Bjornebye, Pascal Chimbonda and Sylvinho, who between them won three League Cups.

Agüero, who has scored 122 goals in 181 Premier League games and won two league titles over six years, has never made the list; neither has Gareth Barry, who has played more Premier League games than anyone on earth except Ryan Giggs (and is only four appearances away from catching him). Among goalkeepers, Tim Flowers, Shay Given, Joe Hart and David James all got picked twice but since Schmeichel’s departure Manchester United goalkeepers have become the default choice, with David de Gea named four times, Edwin van der Sar three times and Fabien Barthez once. Elsewhere it is perhaps surprising that Rooney appeared no more than David Batty (three times) and that Dele Alli has already clocked up as many appearances as Paul Scholes (two). Simply picking the players in each position who have appeared most often instantly conjures an excellent team (for the record, in 4-4-2 formation: De Gea; G Neville, Terry/Vidic, Ferdinand, Cole; Ronaldo/Beckham, Vieira [selected by my colleague Amy Lawrence as the league’s best signing], Gerrard, Giggs; Shearer, Henry) but unfairly rewards longevity of achievement over pure impact. It is hard, however, to argue that any player outside this 148 deserves serious consideration for this list.

Goalkeeper
Petr Cech Chelsea/Arsenal

Cech has been extraordinarily dependable and with 149 clean sheets has more top-flight shutouts than any other Premier League goalkeeper. He kept 25 clean sheets in the 2004-05 season alone, when Chelsea had the most impressive defensive statistics of the past quarter-century. Gianluigi Buffon considers him “the best goalkeeper in this era” and José Mourinho declared in 2013: “I always thought, even when I was not at Chelsea, that we have the best goalkeeper in the world in Petr.” In 2006 he fractured his skull in a collision with Reading’s Stephen Hunt, an injury that evidently also upset his confidence, but more than a decade later he remains the first-choice goalkeeper for one of the nation’s top clubs.

Right-back Rob Jones Liverpool

On 28 September 1991 the 19-year-old Jones played at right-back for Crewe against Gillingham in the Fourth Division. The following weekend he started for Liverpool against Manchester United in a televised game at Old Trafford, marking Ryan Giggs. Four months later he started his first match for England. His rise was rocket propelled and his performances stellar. Over the following seasons Giggs and David Ginola picked him out as the Premier League’s finest defender; he was remarkably assured and outstanding in all aspects of the game (except shooting). Virtually ever-present for Liverpool in the first four Premier League seasons, his body then started to let him down. By the age of 28 he had retired.

Centre-back Tony Adams Arsenal

Adams was not only an inspirational English centre-back, captain of club and country, but he became in many ways an embodiment of the Premier League itself and the changes it forced upon the domestic game. By the time the top flight rebranded, Adams was well established at the heart of Arsenal’s defence, with 19 England caps and four of his five international goals behind him. He also drank too much and trained too little but all that was soon to change. Adams recently said that Arsène Wenger is “essentially not a coach” but the Frenchman’s arrival certainly coincided with a transformation of Adams’s game and resulted in a goal against Everton in 1998 that was among the most joyful of the past 25 years.

Centre-back Jaap Stam Manchester United

Stam became the most expensive defender in history when Ferguson spent £10.75m on him in 1998. He spent only three seasons in England but what years they were, bringing a hat-trick of league titles and one unprecedented Treble. He was tall, extraordinarily strong and yet also fast: simply put, opponents could not go past him, through him or over him. And then, suddenly, he was gone. There had been an achilles injury and a book that Ferguson considered a little too frank but most of all United needed the money. Stam was informed, in a petrol station forecourt, that he would be sold to Lazio. “It was one of the mistakes I made,” Ferguson later admitted. “Hopefully I haven’t made too many but that was one.” As the BBC’s Mike Ingham put it: “Without Jaap Stam, Sir Alex would still be Alex.”

Left-back Ashley Cole Arsenal/Chelsea

It is curious, given England’s problems on the left flank between Stuart Pearce’s retirement and Cole’s emergence, that the vast majority of the left-backs in the PFA team of the year since 1992 have been English. Ryan Bertrand, Wayne Bridge, Luke Shaw and Alan Wright have had a go; Danny Rose, Graeme Le Saux and Leighton Baines have been picked twice. Cole surely deserves more than his four selections – having famously “almost crashed [his] car” when Arsenal offered him £55,000 a week rather than his desired £60,000, one can only imagine what must have happened when he was told his peers considered Gaël Clichy the better left-back. Cole lost only 14.8% of his 385 Premier League games, was an outstanding international – if his performance against Cristiano Ronaldo at Euro 2004 could be magically bottled it would be extremely potent and instantly intoxicating – and was remarkably consistent.

Right midfield
Cristiano Ronaldo Man Utd

Real Madrid have witnessed most of Ronaldo’s career but Manchester United surely saw the best of it, the part where he transformed before our very eyes from a brilliantly talented, excessively lollipopping trickster into the world’s most fearsome and focused attacking force. In his first two seasons combined he scored only nine league goals but there were 17 in his fourth – when he was named player of the season by the PFA and the Football Writers’ Association – and 31 in his fifth, when he won the golden boot as well as the two player of the year gongs. After another 18 in 2008-09 he was on his way to Spain.

Central midfield Paul Scholes Manchester United

In 2011 Xavi memorably told the Guardian that Scholes was “the best central midfielder I’ve seen in the last 15, 20 years. He’s spectacular, he has it all: the last pass, goals, he’s strong, he doesn’t lose the ball, vision.” Zinedine Zidane considered him “undoubtedly the greatest midfielder of his generation”. Scholes was, like many of the greatest artists, underappreciated during his career – his two appearances in the team of the year put him level with Stephen Carr, Bacary Sagna, Shay Given and William Gallas – and though he won 66 England caps he completed only 26 international games, three fewer than Barry. Perhaps this was because his career coincided with those of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, both of whom certainly trumped him for attention, but in terms of pure ability Scholes probably surpasses them both, and most others.

Central midfield

Steven Gerrard Liverpool

Ferguson, not entirely unbiased when it comes to matters Liverpool, may have been “one of the few who felt Gerrard was not a top, top player” but the praise of the former midfielder’s team-mates shows quite how esteemed he was. The two-times European Championship and one-time World Cup winner Fernando Torres declared him “by far the best player I have ever played with”; Danny Murphy called him “the best midfielder I’ve ever seen”; Álvaro Arbeloa thought him “the most complete player I’ve played with”. Gerrard was only once named the PFA’s player of the year but he was in the team of the year an unprecedented eight times. Nobody else has managed more than six appearances. Lampard, the Englishman with whom he is most often compared, managed it three times. For longevity of excellence, and for displaying it across all attacking and defensive duties, Gerrard stands alone.

Left midfield Ryan Giggs Manchester United
No player has played more Premier League games than Giggs, with 632, nor has anyone created more Premier League goals than the Welshman’s 167 (the next best, Cesc Fàbregas, is on a distant 107). Given the lack of outstanding specialist left wingers – David Ginola is probably next on the list before you get to Damien Duff, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing – it is hard to imagine a plausible all-time Premier League XI without him. “Only two players made me cry when watching football,” the Italian forward Alessandro Del Piero memorably said. “One was Diego Maradona and the other Ryan Giggs.”

Striker Alan Shearer Blackburn/Newcastle

The best goalscorer of the Premier League era. Shearer scored tap-ins, he scored headers, he scored free-kicks and he scored jaw-dropping 30-yard screaming volleys. He registered a record 11 Premier League hat-tricks, was the division’s top scorer for three successive seasons, between 1994 and 1997, and created perhaps the single most boring, instantly recognisable goalscoring celebration known to modern humanity. He has not made a habit of making headlines off the pitch – he famously celebrated Blackburn’s 1995 title victory by “going home to creosote the fence” – but was routinely the focus of attention on it.

Striker Thierry Henry Arsenal

“I’m obsessed,” Henry said, “with the idea of making my mark on history.” He certainly made his mark on the Premier League, scoring 175 league goals for Arsenal at the rate of one every 1.47 games and turning himself into an unstoppable blend of thrilling pace and technical perfection. Lilian Thuram considered him “the fastest man ever to lace up a football boot”, a claim with which only recreational footballer Usain Bolt could seriously quibble. Zidane called him “probably, technically, the most gifted footballer ever”, which may, on reflection, be true. He was tall, strong, fast, intelligent and skilful; in any game of positive-footballing-attributes bingo, Henry is the full house.

With Nathaniel Chalobah, Chelsea Did all the Hard Work – then they Undid it

Chalobah

London – At about 8pm last Thursday, Nathaniel Chalobah, then still of Chelsea, posted on Instagram a picture of the former Queens Park Rangers and Crystal Palace defender Fitz Hall. The subject of several weeks of transfer rumor linking him with Swansea, Southampton and Watford, perhaps this, finally, was a clue to Chalobah’s next move. Either that, or he just likes Fitz Hall. No words accompanied the picture, though for some reason there were three alarm clocks superimposed upon it.

Within half an hour a group of Watford fans on an internet forum had proved, using the grain of wood in a table, the shade of magnolia on the wall, a tiny section of visible armrest and an old and apparently unrelated club video, that Hall and thus Chalobah himself was at their team’s training ground, a process that was at least as entertaining to watch as the majority of the Hornets’ games last season and certainly involved more creativity. At 11pm, the cat now being some distance from the bag, the player’s transfer was officially confirmed.

The following day Monaco’s Tiemoué Bakayoko posted, again on Instagram, a picture that also turned out to be of another club’s training ground. It required rather less detective work to work out the subtext of this one, given that it featured an actual pitch, Chelsea’s badge (and, indeed, their manager) was visible, and Bakayoko had decorated the image with four large arrows and several repetitions of the word “soon” in bold capitals. In case anyone required further help, the player had previously posted a picture of himself on the Eurostar with an English textbook. His move was announced on Saturday. Both players, as it happens, are central midfielders, the Frenchman arriving at Cobham hours after Chalobah’s departure to take his place in the Chelsea squad, or at least a much more lucrative and high-profile version of it.

There was something telling about the two pictures, which had revealed not only the identity of the players’ next employers but deeper truths about English football itself, and in particular about the one club the two deals had in common.

Both photographs were attempting to do the same job, in the same place. To find the stories they disclosed, one required a bit of effort; the other did all the work itself and then, to make sure everybody had noticed, attached some fireworks and set itself on fire. One was a whisper, the other a wailing klaxon – a klaxon clad in blinking neon and accompanied by a team of Red Arrows jets scribing key words in the sky using multicolored vapor.

Had two different clubs been involved, one could have been criticized for refusing to do the hard work, for only recognizing talent after it has been hyped to the heavens. Yet Chelsea, with six FA Youth Cup wins in the last eight years, boast the best and busiest youth system in England. They had spotted Chalobah as a 10-year-old and nurtured his talent through 12 years, half as many loan spells and 97 England caps at a variety of age groups, culminating last year in him making one start and nine substitute appearances for them in the Premier League. And then they lost him, for an initial £5m, before moving for someone four months older, eight times as expensive and carrying a different passport. Chelsea did the hard work. Then they undid it.

A club should consider a £40m signing not as a source of pride but as evidence of dismal failure. Effective scouting operations should be able to get by without an outsized checkbook. Though Corentin Tolisso and Alexandre Lacazette, whose moves are two of the biggest of this summer so far, had both spent their entire careers at Lyon, the rest of the window’s 10 biggest transfers to date had all changed clubs at least once already. The two biggest sales by English teams, Romelu Lukaku and Michael Keane, had previously been owned and disowned by Chelsea and Manchester United respectively. Logically the aim must be to catch the best young players on the first rungs of the ladder, before they make their names and inflate their values.

But perhaps, sometimes at least, it isn’t. It could be that clubs find global audiences particularly appreciative of the teams most crammed with expensively assembled headline players, and therefore more keen to clothe themselves in their branded leisurewear and consume the products of their official noodle partners. In other words, for elite, globally-renowned football clubs, spending more money leads directly to earning even more money. So Chelsea might have been disappointed to lose a brilliant young midfielder for a pittance, but on the plus side it gives them the chance to buy him back in the future, when he is a bit more famous and a lot more expensive.

Or maybe it’s just a British thing. Many years ago the nation’s finest goldsmiths could have decorated the crown jewels with Manx agate, Cornish amethyst and Blue John from Derbyshire and still their creations would have evoked awe and wonder. Instead, though, we plundered the most splendid gemstones from across the globe, brought them home and swiftly mounted them upon the nearest scepter. Whether on a football field or a monarch’s head, we are a people that appreciates objects of great beauty and quality – especially if they are extraordinarily valuable and used to be somebody else’s.

The Guardian Sport

France 3-2 England: Five Talking Points from the Stade de France

England’s Dele Alli is fouled by France’s Raphaël Varane early in the second half. After the referee consulted his video assistant, Varane was sent off.

1) Dixon familiar with path now trod by Trippier

Among six changes from the side that drew with Scotland England gave one player his debut from the start, with Kieran Trippier ceremonially presented with his shirt by Lee Dixon pre-match. It was a suitable choice: Dixon was a right-back who had to wait until the age of 26, two years after he swapped a relatively unfashionable provincial side in Stoke City for one of the London giants in Arsenal, before he made the first of his 22 international appearances (and his final cap came in a friendly against France). Trippier, meanwhile, is a right-back who has had to wait until the age of 26, two years after he swapped a relatively unfashionable provincial side in Burnley for one of the London giants in Tottenham, before he got the nod. He came out of his first game in credit, with one particularly fine first-time pass creating a chance for Raheem Sterling.

2) Youthful France show thrilling promise

France were theoretically weakened, having made five changes from the team that lost in Sweden on Saturday, but showed thrilling promise throughout. Pogba, Ousmane Dembélé and Kylian Mbappé were the stars. Pogba was simply magnificent, winning the ball, distributing it brilliantly – particularly a couple of delightful dinks over the defence for Kylian Mbappé to run onto – and on one occasion bewildering Gary Cahill on the right wing with his trickery. Mbappé may have wasted a couple of fine chances, foiled by two goalkeepers and a crossbar, but his positioning, movement, awareness and confidence demonstrated why he is currently the hottest property in football. He twice made Phil Jones commit himself by hinting at a right-foot shot before checking back on to his left, and taunted his opponents with his skills near the right corner flag towards the end.

3) England show lack of impressive options

England’s inferior resources showed. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, an attacking midfielder recently played at wing-back by Arsenal, was deployed in defensive midfield and looked lost, though he was not helped by Eric Dier’s mediocrity beside him. Dele Alli made key contributions to England’s goals but spent much of the game on the left wing, where he was peripheral in all senses. In the second half Jones was played out of position at right-back while Kyle Walker came on to play out of position on the left. Compared with their fluent, inspiring hosts, England’s representatives looked slow and clumsy (and not just on the pitch: up in the directors’ box Theresa May launched a strange solo-Mexican-wave-cum-particularly-enthusiastic-offside-appeal). France started with three graduates of their 2013 Under-20 World Cup-winning side; England, whose representatives won this year’s event last week, appeared in dire need of a similar transfusion of youthful brilliance.


4) Midfield misfortunes leave Southgate’s men exposed

Rather than handing control to England, the red card inspired France to greater heights. With 10 men, as with 11, they dominated midfield. The dynamic Dembélé repeatedly escaped attention, and in the buildup to France’s second goal both Alli and Dier pointed at the Borussia Dortmund player as he streaked into space but nobody closed him down. With 11 minutes to go, despite their numerical advantage, England still could not stop him finding room to score. Pogba and N’Golo Kanté were profoundly dominant, with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Dier seeming confused about their positioning and ceding space. Adam Lallana, probably England’s best player over the last year, might have improved matters; this was a night when the only Englishmen whose reputations were not damaged were not playing.

5) Referee hardly assisted by second opinion

Referees have always made mistakes, and frustrating as they are there has always been sympathy for their position, having to take decisions in an instant, while on the move and perhaps unsighted. When video assistant referees are used, however, supporters will rightly feel that no forgiveness is necessary. Just 36 seconds after half-time Alli sprinted into the area onto his own flick-on, was clipped by Raphaël Varane and fell. The referee spent 90 seconds with his finger on his earpiece, while nine French players surrounded him, at the end of which he put the yellow card he had been holding back into his pocket, and instead pulled out the red. It was certainly a penalty, but there was no suggestion of serious foul play and Alli was not significantly held or pushed. The VAR was only called on once, and did not excel.

(The Guardian)

The Worst January Transfers Every Year since the Winter Window Started

Michael Ricketts was signed by Middlesbrough from Bolton for £3.5m in a move that never worked out for the forward.
2003 Michael Ricketts, Bolton to Middlesbrough, £3.5m

At 11.30pm on the first ever January transfer deadline day, Middlesbrough sealed the signing of the striker who was intended to revolutionize their team. “I was stuck in a rut at Bolton, training was the same all the time, things weren’t going the way I planned,” he revealed. “Hopefully that’s going to change here.” It didn’t change there: at the end of the following season, 18 months, 12 league starts and three goals after his arrival, he left for Leeds on a free transfer.

2004 José Antonio Reyes, Sevilla to Arsenal, £20m

When José Antonio Reyes arrived he declared he was “the happiest man in the world, but at the same time the saddest”, suggesting an emotional attachment to his homeland he could never quite shake off. His time in London started well but then came a match at Old Trafford in which Gary Neville roughed him up a bit: “I’m not going to deny an element of intimidation. Reyes couldn’t handle the rough and tumble.” He didn’t score again for four months, never reached his former heights and left in 2006.

2005 Jean-Alain Boumsong, Rangers to Newcastle, £8.2m

Rangers owned Boumsong for only six months, in which time his value somehow increased from free to more than £8m. “He has a great desire to be the best,” said Graeme Souness, and the manager remained loyal to the blunder-prone center-back for as long as the board were loyal to him, a little over a year. Six months after that the Frenchman was sold for a near-£5m loss. “When I’m good, nobody talks about it,” he complained. “All right, I’m no Beckenbauer but with time I’ve figured out what I can do and what I can’t.” One list, sadly, was much longer than the other.

2006 Hossam Ghaly, Feyenoord to Tottenham

After 16 months and 17 league starts, Ghaly came on in the 29th minute of a game against Blackburn, was taken off again in the 60th, tossed his shirt at Martin Jol on his way off the pitch and threw away his Spurs career in an instant. That summer Birmingham bought him for £3m but they found a way to cancel the deal after he fell out with Steve Bruce inside three days. He nearly played for Spurs again in January 2009, when he was named on the bench, but fans booed him so furiously he was sold to al-Nassr within weeks.

2007 Julius Aghahowa, Shakhtar Donetsk to Wigan, £3.5m

As the end of January 2007 approached Wigan were bottom and on a run of eight successive league defeats. “There’s no disguising it – we’re in the shit,” surmised their manager, Paul Jewell. Enter Aghahowa, a fleet-footed Nigerian whose acrobatic goal celebration had made him one of the breakout stars of the 2002 World Cup. Paul Jewell insisted the club had “really done our homework on this one” and that he had “watched him personally on two occasions”. Wigan’s fans didn’t see much more of him: a little over a year, three managers, a total of 23 appearances and not a single goal after his arrival he left again.

2008 Afonso Alves, Heerenveen to Middlesbrough, £12.7m

In 2006 Manchester City signed the hapless Greek striker Georgios Samaras; in 2014 Cardiff spent £2m on Magnus Wolff Eikrem, who played nine times before having his contract cancelled; and in 2008 Middlesbrough spent nearly £13m on Alves. All three players were bought from Heerenveen, a club that should be avoided at all costs by spendthrift English chairmen. Alves scored 48 goals in 50 appearances in the Netherlands; he had a few (approximately two) good days in his season and a half in England, before he turned up late to pre-season training in the summer of 2010 and Boro swiftly sold him at a £6m loss.

2009 Savio Nsereko, Brescia to West Ham, £9m

West Ham boasted that they had beaten off “fierce competition” for the German striker, player of the tournament in the European Under-19s Championship the previous year. What followed was a period in which, by his own admission, the player “lost grip on reality”. He certainly lost grip on his first-team place, starting once before the season ended and immediately being offloaded to Fiorentina at a loss of over £6m. He never played for the Italian side, enduring a series of failed loans that included one at 1860 Munich, cancelled when he went missing for a week before being discovered in his sister’s house, and another at Juve Stabia when he disappeared to Thailand and allegedly faked his own kidnapping.

2010 Michel, Sporting Gijón to Birmingham, £3m

Halfway through the month this was still the biggest deal completed by any Premier League club. His new manager, Alex McLeish, announced that the Spaniard “is in a great age group and has got good legs”. Less encouragingly, the Scot also revealed he would probably come to “realize he might have a problem getting into the team”. And so it transpired, with the arrival of Craig Gardner a few days later pushing him from third-choice central midfielder to fourth. He eventually started six games, and tasted another six as a substitute, before being sold to Getafe for half the price they paid for him.

2011 Jean Makoun, Lyon to Aston Villa, £6m

This was the January of Januaries, the greatest ever top-flight transfer splurge. Torres and Carroll tend to hog the limelight, leaving forgotten disasters such as Tottenham’s £1.5m move for Bongani Khumalo (“He’s got potential, he’s not expensive and we like him,” said Harry Redknapp. “He’s desperate for a chance, and we’re going to give him a chance.” No they weren’t: four and a half years and not a single first-team appearance later they released him on a free transfer). Still, Makoun stood out among the more big-money, high-profile humiliations. “He’s exactly what we need,” said Gérard Houllier after the deal for the midfielder was completed. Turns out he wasn’t: seven league games, three bookings and a red card later he was gone.

2012 Marvin Sordell, Watford to Bolton, £3.2m

Owen Coyle hijacked Sordell’s mooted move to Cardiff in a last-minute deadline-day intervention, and in the remainder of the season gave him three substitute appearances, all away from home, two lasting less than 10 minutes. The following season Sordell started the first three games and then hardly played until February, an absence his new manager, Dougie Freedman, blamed first on the player’s mental state – “He’s homesick, there isn’t even a fancy word for it” – and then on his refusal to disconnect from social media. “He’s got small issues off the field with his tweeting. It could be bordering on an obsession.” He left for Burnley after 30 months and 13 starts.

2013 Vegard Forren, Molde to Southampton, £4.2m

The Norwegian defender pulled out of a trial with Liverpool when Southampton agreed terms with Molde and declared the move “a dream come true”, insisting he was no Forren mercenary. “There’s no doubt that this is where I want to be,” he beamed. “There is a good, young squad here and the way they play fits me well.” Not for long it didn’t. On the very day his transfer was completed Southampton sacked Nigel Adkins and replaced him with Mauricio Pochettino. That summer, no appearances later, his agent declared his player was “patient, ready and committed” to the Southampton cause. Three weeks later he returned to Molde.

2014 Kostas Mitroglou, Olympiakos to Fulham, £12.4m

In the first half of the 2013-14 season Mitroglou had scored 14 goals in 12 league games and a Champions League hat-trick, while Arsène Wenger described him as “a true finisher who can’t be ignored”. It turned out he could be ignored: in the second half of that season, following his switch to Fulham, there was one start, two substitute appearances, a couple of knee injuries and no goals. He wasn’t helped by the fact that René Meulensteen, the manager who signed him, had been replaced by Felix Magath by the time he made his debut; that summer he went back to Olympiakos on loan.

2015 Andrej Kramaric, Rijeka to Leicester, £9.7m

On 7 January 2015, the day they completed the club-record signing of the Croat, Leicester were bottom of the league with three wins in 20 games. None of their subsequent success can be accredited to a forward who scored twice in his first half-season under Nigel Pearson, after which Claudio Ranieri arrived, announced that he was “a fantastic player but at this moment I choose another kind of striker” and proceeded to give him only 22 minutes’ action. The player insisted that “fans are sorry I do not play. They are very fond of me”, though given their team’s results they might just have been delirious. A year after his arrival, he departed for Hoffenheim on a loan that became permanent for an undisclosed fee.

2016 Oumar Niasse, Lokomotiv Moscow to Everton, £13.5m

Roberto Martínez acclaimed Niasse’s “real hunger and desire to be successful” but still picked him to start only two league games. Of the 13 remaining matches between his arrival and the end of last season he was active for just 19 minutes, 14 of them in a game against West Ham in which Everton were 2-0 up when he came on, and 3-2 down at the final whistle. He has no squad number for this season, though he’s had a few games for the under-23s, whose manager, David Unsworth, thinks the striker is “outstanding”, that “his work rate has been incredible” and that he “needs to carry on what he’s been doing”. Namely, not much.

(The Guardian)