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.