by Jack Simpson
This weekend saw the introduction of Southampton’s record signing and ‘new saviour’ Uruguay international Gaston Ramirez to the Premier League. Since smashing their transfer record on transfer deadline day there has been much anticipation and expectation at St Mary’s around the highly rated playmaker. Some of the more optimistic Saints supporters have already betrothed Ramirez with the preemptive position as the ‘New Le Tissier’.
However, events at the weekend have ensured that this positivity has had to be reigned in. After finding themselves at the foot of the table after game week three, a six one demolition at the hands of impressive Arsenal served as a harsh reality check. Whilst Ramirez was only introduced as a second half substitute with Southampton already trailing by three, his introduction did little to stop the Arsenal demolition as two more goals ensured a handsome victory. Pessimistic Saints, will now hope that this does not serve as a microcosm for the season ahead.
If last season was anything to go by Ramirez’s pedigree is good, and his contribution of ten goals led to a surprise mid table finish for un-fancied Serie A side Bologna. Nevertheless, history tells that a big transfer fee and success abroad does not necessarily guarantee success within the English top flight. For every ‘New Le Tissier’ found, there is also a ‘New Le Tallec’ waiting to be unearthed.
So with the introduction this weekend of Southampton’s ‘saviour signing’, we look into the Premier League’s history and assess the other signings that had hype and haloes around them. We Begin with three deals that seemed so right but ended up so wrong….
Benito Carbone (Bradford City)
To come up with one single reason accountable for the plight of Bradford City over the last 11 seasons would be impossible. However, many City fans will agree that the origins of the Bantams’ downward spiral can be identified at the start of their second season in the top flight. In what then chairman Geoffrey Richmond would describe as ‘the craziest two weeks of his life’, Bradford spent and spent big in an all or bust transfer policy.
The signings of Collymore, Petrescu and Ward would all contribute to the extortionate wage bill of the West Yorkshire club, but it was Benito Carbone and his 40,000 a week salary that would have the greatest impact. While the new recruits looked good on paper, in reality this did not convert to the pitch. Bradford struggled physically and financially throughout the season and their Division One fate was already sealed by April.
Now relegated, Carbone’s decision to pledge his future to the club exacerbated the Bradford’s plight. His 40,000 a week wages could not be supported by a Division One budget and it was not long before the administrators were involved. While Carbone was able to make a swift exit back to Italy with Como, Bradford’s financial troubles remained and have blighted them ever since. Some City fans fondly remember Carbone’s sensational goals but it is a greater more tragic legacy that the little Italian will leave with the majority.
Tor Andre Flo and Marcus Stewart (Sunderland)
‘We have signed two players at a bargain for ten million, Both score goals and create them’ were the words of then Sunderland manager Peter Reid after capturing the signatures of the aforementioned men. To say this was an overstatement would be an understatement in itself, as the goal tally of both players combined averaged out at a league goal every 2 million pounds. After being spoiled for seasons with the archetypal little man big man strike partnership of Quinn and Phillips, 2002-2003 saw an injury ravaged campaign for Phillips and the retirement of Niall Quinn early in the season. Firing a complete blank in their first three games the arrival of Stewart was seen as a player that could lessen the reliance on Kevin Phillips’ goals, while six foot three Flo was seen as an ideal replacement for Quinn.
It all started so well as Flo’s debut equalizer ensured a credible point against Manchester United. However, this did not set a precedent and only four more goals followed for the 10 million pound duo. With a distinct lack of firepower Sunderland only managed a total of 21 goals in what is remembered as one of the worst Premier League campaigns of all time. Their 15 straight defeats and six goals at the back end of the season underlined Sunderland’s ineptitude and Flo and Stewart’s ineffectuality.
One year after signing, Sunderland’s increasing debts meant that Flo had to be released for a net gain of minus 7 million. Stewart, on the other hand, was retained by the Black Cats and had a relatively successful career there netting 31 goals in 102 games. Nevertheless, their expensive and utter failure during Sunderland’s doomed 2002-2003 season will always have them remembered as one of the PL’s worst ‘saviour signings’.
Alfonso Alves (Middlesbrough)
A record of 45 goals in 39 games is enough to make any fan optimistic. So when Gareth Southgate invested 12 million in Heerenveen’s Brazilian goal machine Alfonso Alves, you would forgive Boro fans for holding some levels of anticipation.
Alves was not an instant hit but the old cliché about footballers needing to settle in to their new surroundings was used as the excuse. For Alves, Belo Horizonte must have felt a million miles away from Stockton on Tees. Nevertheless, Alves’ first season in the Premier League was not a complete failure. Two goals against Manchester United and a teasing hat-trick on the final day of the season against Man City left the Boro faithful expectant for the 2008-09 season.
However, as most football fans know expectation can be a poisoned chalice and in terms of Alves it was a double dose of arsenic. His return of 4 League goals during the 08-09 season did not justify the 12.7 million Boro had paid and his position in Southgate’s squad was increasingly as a bench warmer. To make matters worse Alves and Southgate could only watch as Middlesbrough’s haul of 32 points ensured relegation.
When Afonso Alves decided to leave for Qatari sideAl-Saad it came as no shock, the only surprise came in the fact that Middlesbrough were able to recoup £7 million on the Brazilian flop. As quickly as he appeared from obscurity he vanished leaving many Middlesbrough fans to question ‘was that a dream?’ or more like a nightmare.
Carlos Tevez (West Ham)
In what is largely regarded as the one of the most unexpected, and now controversial transfer deals in the history of the Premier League, West Ham United’s 2006 capture of Argentinean World Cup Stars Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano will forever be remembered by football fans for reasons right or wrong.
The Tevez and Mascherano effect was not instantaneous. For the first three quarters of the 2006/07 season the two Argentineans’ roles had been that of substitute appearances and cameos as West Ham struggled to fight the drop. This, combined with FA charges of malpractice surrounding the transfers of the two players, left many Hammers fans believing that this was truly the deal from hell. Nevertheless, as Mascherano moved further and further away from the first team, Tevez seemed to excel in the controversy. With West Ham 5 points adrift from safety with seven games to go, Tevez’s incredible goal scoring run of 6 in 9 galvanised the Hammers’ team. His crowning moment came with his winner against would be suitors Manchester United on the final day of season allowed West Ham to overhaul relegation rivals Sheffield United and maintain their PL status.
Nevertheless, the story didn’t end there and a lengthy and expensive court battle ensued between West Ham and the incensed Blades. Eventually, a settlement was agreed in which the Hammers would pay United compensation in excess of £20 million. This was, however, but a small price to pay to West Ham fans with the extension of their stay in the Premier League ensuring monetary gains and the legendary status of Carlos Tevez.
Youri Djorkaeff (Bolton Wanderers)
Sam Allardyce’s early noughties Bolton team will forever be synonymous with weird and wonderful signings from throughout the world of football. While there were a number of duds – Mario Jardel, Khalilou Fadiga and Jared Borgetti to name but a few – Allardyce’s ability to attract and get the best out of ageing world stars was uncanny. Okocha, Giannokopolus and Campo all helped to establish Bolton as a solid Premiership team, but most Bolton fans would agree, it was Frenchman Youri Djorkaeff that provided the foundation for the Trotter’s successes.
After gaining promotion to the Premier League, Bolton and Allardyce were intent on staying there, and Djorkaeff seemed fundamental to this plan. After a falling out with German club Kaiserslautern led to Djorkaeff’s release, Allardyce quickly moved for the 33 year old World Cup winner travelling to Germany to ensure he got his man. Djorkaeff was a hit straight away and quickly endeared himself to the Bolton faithful. With the help of German loan man Fredi Bobic he helped Bolton to a 16th placed finish. Djorkaeff would stay with Bolton for another two seasons with his last helping Bolton to an eighth place finish, their highest in the history of the Premier League.
After leaving Bolton with the impressive record of 21 goals in 75 games his career ended in America in 2006. While winning the World Cup and the Euro Championships must be at the top of his list of achievements, his cameo at Bolton in the twilight of his career must be looked back on with fondness by Djorkaeff, as it is by all Wanderers fans.
There is very rarely a transfer that has as big an effect on a football club on the pitch as it does to the town off it. However, Bryan Robson’s 1995 4.7 million signing of Osvaldo Giroldo Junior or affectionately known ‘Juninho’ was one such transfer. As soon as he was introduced to the Middlesbrough faithful in October 1995 it was clear that the whole town had fallen in the love with the diminutive 5”5 Brazilian, and the feeling was mutual.
Between 1995 and 1997 Juninho was integral to Middlesbrough’s success. After signing midway through the 95/96 season his ‘samba’ style of play propelled the newly promoted Teesiders to an extremely respectable 12th placed finish. With Juninho in their ranks Boro’s confidence permeated through to their transfer policy and Juninho was joined by compatriot Emerson and Italian Fabrizio Ravanelli in the construction of the most exciting Middlesbrough team ever assembled. Led by Juninho they achieved major success during the 96/97 season with the Teesiders finishing runners up in both FA and League Cup competitions. Nevertheless, this would take its toll on Boro’s small squad, and a three point deduction, due to their inability to compete in a league match against Blackburn Rovers, led to their relegation and tears from the diminutive Brazilian on the final day of the season.
After relegation, Juninho was sold for a whopping twelve million to Spanish side Atletico Madrid. However, his heart remained in the North East and he returned two more times to pull on the red shirt. His last spell saw him fittingly help Boro to their first piece of silver ware in their 128 year history, as a 2-0 victory over Bolton secured them the League Cup in 2004. This would be a day that Juninho would rank above Brazil’s 2002 World Cup triumph in Japan as his best in football. ‘The Little Fella’ continues lead polls as the greatest player to ever pull on a Middlesbrough shirt and has to be up there as one of the Premier league’s greatest ever ‘saviour signings’.