After the ‘Best Arsene Wenger Arsenal Signings’ post, I just had to do a ‘worst signings’ post. And again, entirely subjective; these are my own opinions and factor in the transfer fee paid, their impact (or lack of) on the team and the general ‘meh’ that I felt when they were announced. Or they may have been crashing disappointments after promising so much – Jose Antonio Reyes, I am looking at you – so here they are, my Dirty Baker’s Dozen (it had to be unlucky thirteen):
Fees as stated on the superb Arsenalreport.comTransfer Centre.
13) Nelson Vivas; 1998, AC Lugano/Boca Juniors, £1.6m: An Argentine international defender and one who was left watching on in a daze, nowhere near the wake of Michael Owen’s slipstream as he went about scoring his first claim to fame goal at World Cup France 98, against the then much-feared Argentinean side. Vivas was signed, I assume, as an eventual replacement for either Nigel Winterburn or Lee Dixon. He was, however, a very mediocre defender and even poorer midfielder when asked to cover and a player who was not missed when he left two seasons later. Who can forget him losing the lethal Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in that crucial title-run-in clash with Leeds United?! Vivas unfortunately arrived at a time when Arsenal were flying high after a magnificent Double winning season and his debut 1998-99 season was sadly a major disappointment all round as Arsenal came within a whisker of repeating the ‘Double’, but stumbled at the last. Vivas left on a free once his contract expired, and went on to sign for Internazionale, where he also pretty much flopped.
12) Amaury Bischoff; 2008, Werder Bremen, £250K: The first of Wenger’s inexplicable signings to make this list. Quite what Wenger saw in the often injured, unproven U21 Portuguese midfielder (with a French birthplace) only he will ever know? Four substitute appearances in his first and only season was the height and sum total of his Gunner’s career, and then he was gone, just like that. Wenger said at the time that his signing was a “gamble on talent” due to his injury record, but his capture was one that summed up Wenger’s 2008 transfer window; bang bloody average.
11) Gervais Lombe Yao Kouassi (Gervinho); 2011, Lille, £10.56m: Whilst the majority of Gooners were anticipating the departures of both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri in the summer of 2011, many were somewhat hopeful that Eden Hazard would come in with the money the leaving pair would duly bring in, so Gervinho’s signing was, well, underwhelming. He arrived with good stats and the hope was that Gervinho could be that roving, wide player that Arsenal had missed since Thierry Henry left. He wasn’t exactly that. He did rove, so I will give him that, although these were mostly down dead-ends and frustrated the heck out of me at least. A lot was expected of one of Lille’s stand out Ligue 1 winning squad members and it just didn’t take off for him. Gervinho did start the 2012-13 season on a flyer, but the inconsistencies that peppered his Gunner’s career were all too apparent after his bright start to the season.
That Arsenal managed to sell him to AS Roma for £6.9m is remarkable. His chance missing exploits, you’ll all be absolutely surprised to hear, are still continuing in Serie A…and his mooted signing-on demands that torpedoed a lucrative Middle East move last month were hilarious!
10) Stefan Malz; 1999, 1860 München , £650K: Malz was a signing Wenger made after the disappointing 1998-99 league campaign and his arrival from Germany was overshadowed by Nicolas Anelka’s tortuous departure as well as Thierry Henry and Davor Suker’s much heralded arrivals from their big European clubs. A solitary league cup goal and a single league goal against Newcastle United were the highlights of an anonymous two season spell in London. His signing made little sense for all concerned and he didn’t threaten to usurp either Petit or Vieira in the Arsenal midfield. Arsenal somewhat impressively received £500K from Kaiserslautern for him in 2001.
9) André Santos; 2011, Fenerbache, £6.2m: Arsene Wenger is pretty astute in the transfer market – despite this list – and when it comes to signing Brazilians, he has a decent track-record. Silvinho and Edu were pretty good. I really liked Silvinho and will always remember his amazing eye for the spectacular goal, Gilberto Silva was superb, Edu was a classy squad player and actually, Julio Baptista wasn’t all that bad, as his cup goal haul showed us. But 24 cap André Santos was a pretty average signing in what was an absolutely awful summer 2011 transfer window for Le Boss. He was, at best, a good back-up player. Going forward, as highlighted by his key goals against Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion, he was actually okay, but defensively – as seen during more vital games, such as the embarrassing ‘shirt-swapping’ game away to Manchester United, he was an absolute liability. And it isn’t as if he was cheap, either! André Santos soon departed, packed off back to Brazil to sign for Flamengo for free (he had been sent back to Gremio on a loan the previous season too) after his contract was bought out by the club. Now plying his trade with Sao Paulo’s Botafogo.
8) Manuel Almunia; 2004, Celta Vigo, £2.5m: Oh, where to start?! I never rated him, I was surprised when he signed, I was gutted that he was seen as fit and able enough to replace Jens Lehmann and dismayed that no other goalkeeper in world football was worth buying while he was given the opportunity to be the #1 goalie at the club. I think he was frankly in way over his head. The 2006 Champions League Final was, in my eyes, lost due to his inability to guard his near post and I honestly think the writing was on the wall for the squad as a trophy challenging team was when he was given the #1 shirt. Almunia was eventually released on a free. He was then to be found flapping at crosses put into Watford’s box until a heart condition forced an early retirement from playing. Hope you are well, Chief.
7) Kaba Diawara; 1999, Bordeaux, £2.5m: Signed by Wenger to bolster an attack that had won the league/cup double the season before, Diawara was plain awful. He had neither the impact, skill, presence or the guile required to fit into an astonishing attack that boasted Marc Overmars, Freddie Ljungberg, Nicolas Anelka, Nwankwo Kanu and Dennis Bergkamp. Diawara lasted a mere five months and then he was back over The Channel; sold off to Olympique de Marseille for £3m – the fact that he made a profit is the best thing he did for the club!
6) Jose Antonio Reyes; 2004, Sevilla, £10.5m: I remember the signing well, January 2004. The excitement I felt was only matched by the anticipation of Arsenal signing Theo Walcott and then a certain German genius this year has given me since. The Spanish flying winger, who, for Sevilla, helped destroy a Real Madrid side who afterwards had Zinedine Zidane proclaiming that Reyes must have been ‘riding an invisible motorcycle’ such was his pace, was a player tipped for greatness and already an international for Spain. Reyes was scouted in extraordinary fashion; disguises worn to watch him play and train, years of effort and note-taking and then a massive fee (for Arsenal) to secure him. And he started brilliantly, with two sublime strikes against a strong Chelsea at Highbury. Reyes was instrumental in much of the 49-game-unbeaten run that Arsenal put together. But then it went spectacularly wrong.
Reyes’ manager at Spain, Luis Aragones, was overheard baiting the winger in a training session, racially abusing Thierry Henry in the process. I am sure Henry then pretty much ignored Reyes from then onwards. It didn’t help that Reyes ideally preferred to play on the left wing and Henry was the de facto king of that position on the pitch. Nor did it help that he was tricked into pleading for a move to Real Madrid for a prank radio call. His unorthodox background and homesickness for Spain sealed the end of his time in England. It started off so, so well and ended with a whimper, instead of a bang. I often think of what could have been when it comes to Reyes. His trophy cabinet hasn’t suffered post-Arsenal, mind.
5) Mikaël Silvestre; 2008, Manchester United, £750K:Ah, Silvestre. I can’t put into adequate words just how crushingly disappointing his signing was for me when it was announced. The previous two summers had seen a major dismantling of the side and the squad was looking worryingly low on quality, especially in defence (urrugh, William Gallas wearing the #10…the horror, the horror). Step forward Silvestre, handed the ‘cursed’ #18 shirt and thus two seasons of highly suspect defending from the Manchester United’s cast-off followed. And, by crikey, wasn’t he utterly spent by the time he came to The Emirates. Not that he was that much better for Manchester United if I am being honest. A free transfer to Werder Bremen awaited him in 2010. Going to have to take a rest and look at pictures of Laurent Koscielny after reliving that…
4) Sébastien Squillaci; 2010, Sevilla, £4m: At the time, Arsenal needed a centre-back, badly (hmm, sounds familiar…). On paper, Squillaci was a decent option. The reality, as football is rarely, if ever played on paper, was starkly different. The #18 shirt curse was all too real by this point! What should’ve been a good, inexpensive signing of an international defender resulted in indifferent performances, one dimensional defending and three years of bench warming. A free transfer to Bastia – despite numerous offers to leave during his Arsenal tenure – only came about all too recently. He should have been so much better.
3) Park Chu-Young; 2011, AS Monaco, £2.65m: A signing that has Gooners’ scratching their collective heads worldwide. Snatched from a Lille hotel as Park was in the process of completing a move to the Northern French club (lorsque nous faisons ce que nous voulons) and signed in London, complete with resplendent/cursed #9 shirt. Park did, well, nothing of note. He wasn’t used. When he did start, against Bolton in the league cup, he scored. He was shunted to Celta Vigo on loan and briefly returned to fill the #30 shirt after Lukas Podolski had snaffled his #9. An utterly, totally, bewilderingly bizarre state of affairs. I don’t know if his purchase had any impact on shirt sales in Asia…
He is now playing for FC Seoul in his homeland. The curse of the #9 shirt did not escape Podolski either…
2) Igors Stepanovs; Skonto Riga, 2000, £1m: This list wouldn’t be complete without Igors lumbering into view. What can I say?! He had an appalling time at Old Trafford in a 1-6 defeat, and faded away. He reappeared in 2001-02 and incredibly, won a league winner’s medal, but overall, his Arsenal career was one to forget. Beveren took him on a free in 2003. For me, Stepanovs was a player who probably shouldn’t have had an Arsenal career, as he simply wasn’t a player adept at playing football or defending at the top level of the English game. I’m sure he is a really nice guy though.
I think you can guess by now who my ‘#1 worst buy’ is…
1) Francis Jeffers; 2001, Everton, £8m: Last but not least – not for £8m – is our misfiring ‘fox-in-the-box-but-mainly-in-the-physio-room’ striker, signed to be the player that Ian Wright was. I am sure that Wenger desperately wanted Anelka to return and partner Henry in a dream-team attack, but Jeffers was the player that a large portion of the transfer budget was splashed on. A whilst Jeffers was in no-way a terrible player, his injury record was suspect and he never really had the capabilities to fit into a dynamic, powerful Arsenal side that were on the cusp of absolute greatness.
Jeffers struggled and needed tap-ins and sitters to up his goal tally. Since he has left Arsenal, he has been a journeyman striker with little success. I watched him play for Accrington Stanley (who are they?) at Gillingham recently and true to form, he went off injured after an hour after achieving very little. Jeffers was an understandable gamble to take due to his Everton form, but he was over-priced and I am sure better options at the time were available. Luckily, his signing didn’t stop Arsenal achieving a very decent run of trophy winning success. Another #9 shirt curse victim…
(Dis)honourable mentions also for: Richard Wright, Wellington, Junichi Inamoto, Ryo Miyaichi, Marouane Chamakh and Alberto Mendez Rodriguez (who was on Arsenal’s books for five years!!! Good bloody grief.)…
And yes, Andrei Arshavin could be in the list too…but goodness knows what would’ve happened to Arsenal if his 2008/2009 goals had not have fired us to European football qualification…for that, he is absent.
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