London – From two underwhelming managerial stints in the north-east to a struggling goalkeeper at a leading contender, here are the Guardian Sport’s flops of the 2016-17 Premier League season:
It is baffling to think that they were getting ready to welcome the Moyesiah at Old Trafford this time four years ago. If Moyes could turn back the clock, it is unlikely that he would accept Manchester United’s offer to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson. But how could he have possibly known that landing his dream job would lead to this nightmarish turn of events? Try as Moyes might to remind the world of his undeniably excellent work at Everton, all anyone can see now is the man whose limitations at the highest level were exposed in one of the more brutal ways imaginable, leaving his reputation in tatters and raising his inherent caution to such debilitating levels that now he is known as the Energy Vampire at Sunderland, draining the spirit of the people around him. He was nothing short of a disaster at the Stadium of Light. He arrived with a defeatist attitude, waved the white flag as relegation approached and was fortunate not to lose his job after being caught making disparaging remarks to a female BBC interviewer. It is true that Sunderland’s many problems are not all down to Moyes, but what did he do to lift the malaise? Most football supporters can stomach losing – it comes with the territory. What they cannot abide, however, is watching their team roll over every week, so the majority of Sunderland’s supporters will not be losing any sleep now that Moyes will not be managing their side in the Championship, after he resigned the day after the final game of the season.
The Spaniard employed a different brand of negativity to the type favored by Moyes, but it was no less damaging to his team’s survival hopes. The warning signs were already there for Middlesbrough, who were goal-shy even while winning automatic promotion from the Championship last season, and Karanka stubbornly failed to rectify concerns that a lack of verve would be their downfall in a tougher league. His focus on defense was too great and while Middlesbrough were stingy at the back, they failed to find the right balance between defense and attack. They were a chore to watch and their players often looked bored and uninspired. The division’s lowest scorers should have replaced Karanka long before his sacking in March.
Taking your pick from the collection of rogues signed by West Ham last summer isn’t easy. For instance, Álvaro Arbeloa’s only league start came in an awful 3-0 defeat to Southampton and the veteran right-back, who picked up three bookings in four appearances, has not been seen since a wretched 5-1 thrashing against Arsenal in December. André Ayew, signed for £20m, tore a thigh muscle on his debut. Havard Nordtveit has threatened to redefine mediocrity. Gokhan Tore stunk the place out before getting injured in October. Presented with an easy chance against Stoke, Jonathan Calleri produced a farcical rabona. But the floppiest of them all was the Italy international who was supposed to solve West Ham’s striking woes. West Ham paid a £5m loan fee to bring in Zaza from Juventus and would have been obliged to part with another £20m if he had reached 14 Premier League appearances, negotiating that must make the taxpayer wonder how the east Londoners secured such a sweet deal for the London Stadium. Zaza made 11 appearances in all competitions, failed to score once, sent one shot out for a throw and left in January. Still, at least he wasn’t allowed near penalties.
Here is a goalkeeper who won two La Liga titles and seven major titles overall with Barcelona and who played a starring role for Chile in their Copa América triumphs in 2015 and 2016 and in reaching Sunday’s Confederations Cup final. He arrived in England with a reputation for being good with his feet, which seemed to make him the perfect fit for Pep Guardiola, who had decided that Joe Hart no longer had a part to play at Manchester City. Yet Bravo has struggled ever since his shaky debut in the Manchester derby, when his error led to a goal for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Chilean was sent off at Camp Nou in October and at one point even his shot-stopping abilities deserted him – Bravo failed to make a single save when City lost 4-0 at Everton in January. Guardiola’s intentions are possible to understand in theory, but it isn’t working.
The Ivorian was one of the most lethal strikers in the Premier League before leaving Swansea City at the start of 2015, but he has become an irrelevance since then. The 28-year-old has failed to impress on loan at Stoke City. Deemed surplus to requirements at Manchester City, it was reasonable to assume that Bony would regain his form once he started playing regularly again and there was a brief hint of a resurgence when he scored twice in the win over Swansea in October. But those were Bony’s only goals for Stoke. He has not featured since departing for the Africa Cup of Nations in January and clubs will think twice before making a move for him this summer.
The Guardian Sport