Whenever a superstar footballer is involved in a transfer, the deal is usually a costly one. As football has developed, the market has too, meaning the more money in the game, the higher the value of a player.

Every summer, it seems to keep increasing, and ‘value’ is relative. Perspective is the most important factor when judging a big money move, because while it can appear a club has paid over the odds, with the pace in which the game moves, there is a fear of being left behind if they don’t act.

It is easy to fall into the trap of taking a player’s ability for granted and assuming they will succeed wherever they go, but they are human beings and nobody is perfect. Factors can take effect and sometimes the hype just isn’t matched on the pitch. Here are ten examples of players failing to justify their high-end fees.

1. Gianluigi Lentini – Torino to AC Milan for £13million, 1992.

At the height of their powers in the late 1980s and early 90s, Milan could do no wrong under Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Cappello. At the forefront of Italian football, the Rossoneri were defensively strong with frightening talent up front, and Lentini was fully expected to compliment the likes of Marco van Basten, while adding a wide option, aided by his phenomenal dribbling skills.

While he remained at the San Siro for four years and winning three Serie A titles and the Champions League under, Lentini never quite reached the heights promised by what at the time was a world record transfer fee. A car crash in 1993 overshadowed his career, and he couldn’t fully recover having fractured his skull and damaged his eye socket aged just 24.

2. Mario Gotze – Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich for £32million, 2013.

There are a lot of achievements in his career that Mario Gotze can rightfully be proud of. In 2014, at the age of 22, he scored the winner for Germany in the World Cup final against Argentina. It was a moment that, had it come a few years later, would probably have defined his career.

But people always expect more, and it is easy to forget Gotze’s age. Having shot to fame at Borussia Dortmund, he appeared to sever all ties with them when he joined Bayern, but three tough years, in which he struggled for regular action under Pep Guardiola, stifled his development.

Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival in place of Manchester City-bound Guardiola didn’t stop the prodigal son returning to the Signal Iduna Park with his tail firmly between his legs earlier this summer.

3. Andriy Shevchenko – AC Milan to Chelsea for £30million, 2006.

Still in it’s infancy, Roman Abramovich’s power and success driven reign at Chelsea reached new heights when the Blues lured perhaps the world’s best striker to Stamford Bridge in 2006, reportedly against the wishes of then boss Jose Mourinho.

Just three years earlier, the Ukrainian hitman had scored the winning penalty in the Champions League final for Milan against Juventus, before missing a similarly huge one at the same stage against Liverpool two years after that.

Overall, he netted 127 goals in 208 Serie A games during seven years at the San Siro, but could score just nine in 48 in two Premier League seasons before returning to the Rossoneri for a failed loan spell.

4. Fernando Torres – Liverpool to Chelsea for £50million, 2011.

In a similar story to Shevchenko, Chelsea swooped for Fernando Torres on deadline day in January 2011, after the Spaniard had lit up Anfield in three and a half years at Liverpool.

His record of 20 league goals in 110 games is not deserving of a £50million player, and he never really hit the form of his days as a Red, but Torres did have some great moments with Chelsea.

En route to winning the Champions League in his first full season, he scored the clinching goal in the semi final against Barcelona.

He’ll be fondly remembered in West London despite his struggles, but fans will be disappointed they never saw the best of him.

5. Radamel Falcao – Atletico Madrid to Monaco for £50million, 2013.

Nicknamed ‘El Tigre’ and probably the man who took Torres’ mantle as the hottest striker on the planet while with Atletico Madrid, Radamel Falcao had his pick of the world’s elite when he departed, having won back to back Europa League titles, first with FC Porto and then Los Rojiblancos, in 2011 and 2012.

But that summer, he surprised the world by choosing to sign for newly-rich Monaco. While his early goal record in the Principality was as prolific as ever, following a record of 52 goals in 68 La Liga games for Atleti, but a serious knee injury a few months later has haunted him since.

Loan moves to Manchester United and Chelsea promised much, but he was never the same player. Now 30, he is back at Monaco looking for anything close to his best form.

6. Denilson – Sao Paulo to Real Betis for £21.5million, 1998.

To break the world transfer record at the age of 18, talent must be unquestionable, and that was the case with former Brazil midfielder Denilson when he joined Real Betis in 1998.

What did raise doubts, however, were his temperament and desire to fulfil his otherworldly potential. Although he earned 60 caps for his country and stayed at Betis for seven years, a move to one of Europe’s truly elite clubs never came, and he ended his career in 2010 having jumped aimlessly from continent to continent.

7. Gaizka Mendieta – Valencia to Lazio for £30million, 2001.

Two successive Champions League final defeats at the beginning of the century had not taken anything away from Gaizka Mendieta, who was the most sought after player around in the summer of 2001.

At the time, Lazio were a huge draw, having won Serie A a year earlier, and they struck a deal to bring Mendieta to Rome. But after making 230 league appearances at the Mestalla, he only racked up 20 in three years at the Stadio Olympico, while also taking loan spells at Barcelona and Middlesbrough at that time.

8. Robinho – Real Madrid to Manchester City for £32.5million, 2008.

Throughout the summer of 2008, Robinho was a target for Chelsea and so desperately wanted to leave the Santiago Bernabeu and Real Madrid.

As is becoming more and more typical, the saga rolled on all summer but the Blues couldn’t clinch a deal. On the final day of the summer transfer window, Manchester City were taken over by Sheikh Mansour, and with money to burn stole in to sign the 24-year-old.

But Robinho himself didn’t know who he had signed for when asked for his thoughts on international duty, claiming he thought he’d joined Chelsea after all.

That really set the tone. Brilliant in places but only netting twice away from home in his debut season, he was shipped on loan to Santos after 18 months before being sold to AC Milan.

9. Juan Sebastian Veron – Lazio to Manchester United for £28million, 2001.

While the Red Devils have entered the market for established superstars more since Sir Alex Ferguson, the capture of Veron was arguably the last true showing of their financial muscle in comparison to others.

Another of the most wanted in the world, Veron arrived with a huge reputation as an Argentina international. Technique and composure on the ball were no problem but the pace and physicality of the English game was too much for him. He was sold to Chelsea in the early Abramovich days for £15million.

10. Kaka – AC Milan to Real Madrid for £58million, 2009.

Some players earn the right to break the world transfer record, and Kaka was certainly one of them. Still riding the wave from his Ballon d’Or win in 2007, having inspired Milan to the Champions League that year, he became a new Galactico in Madrid president Florentino Perez’s second spell at the helm.

He promised much, obviously, but injuries and a lack of the big personality desired to succeed in the Spanish capital, and he eventually returned to Milan before joining Orlando City in MLS via a loan spell at Sao Paulo.

About the author – Harry De Cosemo

Harry is a European football writer specialising in English, Spanish and Italian football. He has worked for a number of top publications including MARCA in English, uMAXit football, FourFourTwo, Squawka and the Press Association.

twitter: @harrydecosemo


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For a man who scored 16 goals in 76 appearances for Tottenham Hotspur, Roberto Soldado’s late-career revival never seemed as it would happen by a mere switching of settings – even if it did include a return to his home region of Valencia.

At 30 years of age, the best version of Soldado is likely already in the history books. His international prospects have been and gone, as has his chance to affirm himself as one of Europe’s most feared sharpshooters. However, what now remains is an opportunity to rubber-stamp his status as one of the finest domestic strikers in Spain’s recent memory, following on from his time with Valencia and Getafe previously. And even with a modest two goals in eight games, the early signs are good.

It took him just 30 minutes to find the back of the net in the league opener at Real Betis, while in the corresponding weeks, Villarreal also rocketed to the summit of the table thanks to a string of free-flowing attacking performances. Nine goals were notched in three games, while for added effect; Marcelino’s team took the scalp of Atletico Madrid in September. In a team headed by Soldado, one would thus assume that the 30-year-old has remained a centrepiece of their successful start. And he has, albeit in a rather covert manner that has seen remnants of his true impact lost within the flurry.

While Villarreal’s overall statistics may make for pleasant reading, Soldado’s contribution of two league goals within the team’s 13 appears rather meager. After scoring in week one and two, the goals have dried up. And as of week eight, the Real Madrid youth product has now gone 450 minutes without finding the back of the net, to draw parallels with the two-year dry spell which he appeared to have emerged from.

To look beyond his goal tally however, a much different picture quickly reveals itself. Nobody has assisted more goals in Spain than Soldado so far, and when coupled with his own strikes, it means that his contributions have accounted for just under half of Villarreal’s production in the final third.

The blistering start made by the Yellow Submarine has gone some ways to masking their underlying deficiencies, and it has been Soldado who has taken it upon himself to help cover them up in the name of their cause.

In the 4-4-2 that Marcelino remains loyal to, much of the team’s product comes from wide areas due to a lack of a central creative source. Although midfield pairing Bruno Soriano and Manu Trigueros are exceptional players in their own right, the link between midfield and attack through the middle isn’t an innate feature of Villarreal’s game, meaning the buck has somewhat fallen with Soldado.

Given the 30-year-old’s ability in protecting and distributing the ball with his back to goal – which has been consistently on show since he returned to Spain – a large feature of his game has been based around his willingness to occupy the space between central midfield and the tip of Villarreal’s attack. And while that has facilitated the team’s serenity in the final third, it has come to the detriment of his own goalscoring exploits.

Instead of being the man Villarreal look to for the final touch of the attack (as many had expected), Soldado has been doing very much the opposite due to the nature of his skillset and the team’s immediate options. Unlike strike partners Leo Baptistao and Cedric Bakambu who have cashed in on the goals more than Soldado, neither possesses the ability to occupy spaces in between the lines like he does. And as a result, it means the former two find themselves bearing down on goal at much more regular intervals than the former Spurs man, who in turn is doing much of the foundation work for his teammates.

In many ways, the variety of his attacking attributes has sentenced him to a role which doesn’t reflect his contribution in its full essence – at least to the naked eye. At the moment, Soldado is doing positive work for the team that flies under the radar of tangible notoriety and leaves him susceptible to the recurring jibes of his loss of a ‘goalscoring touch’.

For a man who is imaginably desperate to recapture just that before further time elapses on his career, he should be commended if anything.

About the author – Jamie Kemp

Jamie is a freelance sportswriter, who writes on English and Spanish varieties of football in the main. He is also the creator of the popular blog El Rondo; a spot where you can find regular musings on the world of La Liga.

twitter: @jamiekemp


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This Saturday’s issue of the ‘i’ newspaper had a feature entitled ‘Mata shines in the Van Gaal revolution’ in recognition of the integral part that the Spaniard plays in Manchester. Two years ago Mata became Manchester United’s club record transfer when he flew into Carrington in a helicopter with a £37 million pound tag around his neck. Before that, Mata had transferred from a Valencia team that gained so many plaudits with talents like David Silva and David Villa, to Chelsea as the Premier Leagues infatuation with the ‘Number Ten’ really started to hit the heights of sheer romanticism.

The past decade has seen a massive shift in the way that Premier League teams operate on the pitch, and this has been largely influenced by the continental game. Gone are the days of orthodox 4-4-2 formations that relied largely in athleticism and brute strength – think about the Manchester United team that won the treble in 1999 with Roy Keane at the helm – they have been ousted by the 4-2-3-1. As mentioned the 4-2-3-1’s origins are from the continent and relies on movement, dynamism and precision passing to create overloads and passing triangles across the pitch. But most importantly the formations effectiveness rests largely on the shoulders of the individual who plays behind the striker.

This position is largely known as the ‘Number 10’ and is home to some of the world’s most revered players, those who immediately draw the eye with their intellect on the pitch, fantastic movement and passing range. This individual controls the game from his advanced position and Mata is one of the best at it as this season shows. His ability to control the game fits perfectly with the Van Gaal system of football, one that relies so heavily on possession. Manchester United struggled massively after the departure of Alex Ferguson, they had a squad that was bereft of creative players and midfield that was slow and one-dimensional. The arrival of Mata was meant to steady the sinking ship under David Moyes, but the Scotsman pushed his main creative hub out on to the right hand side and as such the ship eventually sunk for the man who finds himself in San Sebastian.

United’s number 8 is the prime example of how a playmaker should operate; using movement to cycle possession and create gaps. The position can be wholly underrated, and when a playmaker is left out of the team it is almost as if a team lacks any creativity going forward. Mata is the ultimate ‘connector’ providing creative flair to any team he plays in, which invariably makes those teams all the more threatening. After being used out wide he is now at the centre of the pitch, and Mata is much more beneficial to his team as a result. His goal scoring return further demonstrates that he should play a more central role, with 9 goals last term was the best since his 12 for Chelsea during his debut season.

Since then Chelsea themselves has really struggled without a naturalised Number 10, their success has largely come from wider areas of the pitch after the departure of Mata. Whilst Oscar is an extremely talented footballer, the question that is raised is whether he can replicate the delicate, intelligent play that a Number 10 can bring. The same question was posed to Shinji Kagawa who ultimately failed to live up to his sparkling reputation in Dortmund when playing down the middle for Manchester United. The position is an incredibly difficult one to master, hence why the players who play there are held in such high esteem – almost as if they are fantasy characters. When thinking of the likes of Zidane, Riquelme, Ronaldinho the football fan always becomes misty eyed, emotional and a large smile will appear on their faces because they are capable of magic on the football pitch.

There should be no doubt that when Juan Mata retires that he should bring those same emotions to the ordinary football fan because he is capable of the same things. Imagine Mata in a wizards hat casting a spell over the ball as he tricks his way past the opposition midfielder before picking out a wonderful through pass for the striker. Equally as effective floating in from the right hand channel as well, his intelligence is exactly what is needed to succeed at the highest level. In the modern game, every team craves a player who can create something out of nothing and Manchester United fans should feel incredibly happy that one of those players is in one of their shirts.

About the Author – Ben Jarman

Freelance football writer with a penchant for Spanish and European football. Work published by Fulham FC, Italian FA and the Evening Standard.

Twitter: @sonikkicks


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As the Champions League anthem rang out across a packed Mestalla, just prior to Valencia’s crucial first leg UCL qualifier against Monaco, Mat Ryan, Valencia’s goalkeeper, had a look of steely determination emblazoned across his face.

The Australian looked like a man deep in thought about what was to come, a man contemplating the magnitude of the mission he was about to undertake.

Nuno Espirito Santo’s men faced a simple equation – overcome Monaco over two legs and a coveted spot in the group stage of Europe’s premier club competition would be theirs. Defeating this talented Monaco side would obviously be easier said than done, but nonetheless, Valencia were still expected to have the quality to triumph.

On a personal level, Ryan, after a solid preseason, knew he had an unbelievable opportunity to endear himself to his manager and the die-hard home fans.

Valencia’s €7 million signing from Club Brugge did just that, putting in a flawless shift, full of confidence and authority, which, in the process, showed he can unquestionably handle the pressure of performing on the big stage.

While keeping a clean sheet would’ve been a clear objective on his checklist, the fact he didn’t achieve this was through no fault of his own – he could do nothing about Mario Pasalic’s 49th minute goal. It didn’t matter though, for when called upon, Ryan came up big when confronted with potentially game-changing moments.

With Monaco’s wonderfully gifted Portuguese attacker, Bernardo Silva, streaming towards goal down the right, everyone inside the stadium gasped in anticipation when Silva steadied himself to shoot. Silva’s subsequent strike, while brilliant and worthy of finding the back of the net, wasn’t quite good enough to breach the athletic net minder’s guard. Ryan, at full stretch, somehow managed to get his fingertips on the shot, which diverted the ball just enough off its path to see it cannon off the post and away from danger.

Small margins in the art of goalkeeping are what can make one either a hero or a villain, a winner or a loser. Here, on 32 minutes, Ryan’s freakish reactions ensured he came out a hero.

With the Monegasque team pushing hard to equalise with the score at 2-1, Ryan came to the fore again. This time Pasalic would be the man denied, as Ryan’s splendid reflex save made sure the Croatian’s header wouldn’t be afforded the opportunity to find a home in the back of the net.

Throughout the fixture Ryan exuded confidence, calmness and composure, dealing with crosses, shots and set-pieces expertly. Remaining concentrated, intelligently positioned and having a solid back four in front of him also helped his cause, but considering it was his competitive debut for the Bats, his performance deserved plenty of praise.

Furthermore, the former Central Coast Mariners shot stopper gave the home supporters a glimpse of what a brilliant distributor of the ball he is. On many occasions he sprayed the ball masterfully across the turf, and accurately launched a number of goal kicks as well.

Former Socceroos keeper, Mark Bosnich, who used to play for Manchester United, Chelsea and Aston Villa, was quick to lavish praise upon the 23-year-old following Valencia’s 3-1 victory.

“It’s absolutely fantastic,” said Bosnich.

“I’m delighted for him. He can be anything he wants to be. For him to shine on that stage makes a statement to what he is now and what he can be.

“He’s like having an extra player with his feet, like playing with 11, hopefully Valencia will progress from the qualifying stage and we’ll be watching him in the CL this season.”

Ange Postecoglou, the Australian national team manager, also spoke extremely positively of his star player, saying: “He’s made some really intelligent decisions in terms of his career and he’s backed that up with performances, whether that’s with the national team or at club level.

“He’s consistently been the best in his trade wherever he’s played, whether that’s in the A-League or in Belgium. He deserves this opportunity now.”

Ryan’s rise from living in a caravan while playing for the Central Coast Mariners to plying his trade for one of Spain’s finest clubs is nothing short of spectacular. Since leaving Australia for Belgium, two and a half years ago, his tremendous form for Club Brugge propelled him to take home back-to-back Jupiler League goalkeeper of the year awards.

As a consequence of his magnificent showings, a host of European football’s most vaunted clubs were interested in securing his services for the upcoming season. Valencia won the race, and Ryan couldn’t have been more delighted, citing the club’s belief in him as a key factor in his decision.

“I definitely would not have made the big move to Spain if I or the team of people around me did not think I was ready,” he explained.

“I would not be here if I thought I was not good enough. You’ve got to have self-belief because you would not be anywhere without it.

“I see my move to Spain as a chance to prove that I am good enough to play at the highest level, which is something I have always wanted to do.”

In light of Valencia’s fabulous regular number one, Diego Alves, suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury at the backend of last season, which will keep him on the sidelines until at least November, Ryan couldn’t have timed his move any better.

It’s now up to him to seize the glorious opportunity that he’s been presented with. And if the early indications are anything to go by, Ryan is putting his best foot forward and doing everything in his power to make the coveted number one position his own.

“I can only control how well I perform and I’ve gone there with the intention to be playing as always and I hope I can prove to the coach that I am the best man for the job,” he insisted.

“I think the coach is looking for some stability now at the back there with a commanding goalkeeper; someone who has presence and is assured. I hope if it’s me I can deliver some nice performances for him in order to help the team win games.”

One thing that’ll be sure to hold him in good stead will be his exemplary attitude and his desire to be the best he can be. You know he’s always up for a challenge, and, crucially, always believes in himself. For the very individualistic position that goalkeeper is, this incredibly gifted Aussie certainly ticks all the boxes required to succeed – both physically and mentally.

And it’s his mindset that should see him thrive in his new surroundings. His period of adjustment will be undoubtedly assisted by the fact two members of the coaching staff, Phil Neville and Nuno, both speak English.

“Yes it’s obviously always nice to have a conversation with someone like him (Neville) who’s achieved it all,” Ryan said.

“The coach speaks really good English also. But it’s good to have Phil to just relay the message and someone else’s brain I can pick.”

After comfortably handling his first taste of European football, there should be many more memorable European nights in store for this gifted boy from Oz to compete in, and to shine in.

Valencia’s trip to Monaco for the second leg will provide the next challenging examination for him, and you know that when the Champions League anthem booms over the speakers, Ryan will be ready.

About the author:
Edward Stratmann writes regularly about the on-field aspects of the game, with a particular focus on tactics and analysis. In addition to featuring on These Football Times, Inside Spanish Football, Anfield Index, Just Football, The Eagles Beak, Think Football Ideas and JuveFC, you can also find Edward’s work at Licence to Roam, a football blog he started with his brother in 2013.



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La Liga Three to watch


Pace Alcacer 1

Paco Alcacer, Valencia

Spanish football has become famous for its almost ceaseless production line of diminutive, technical midfielders, but in Alcacer, they have managed to unearth one of the most promising young strikers on the continent.

The 21-year-old made his senior Valencia debut in 2010 having progressed through Los Che’s youth ranks. A loan spell at Getafe in 2012-13 served him well, with Alcacer returning a better and more experienced player. In the two seasons since then, the youngster has netted a respectable 17 La Liga goals in 43 starts, with seven strikes in 11 Europa League appearances in 2013-14 further evidence of his potential.

While Alcacer is a good finisher, his off-the-ball movement is arguably his best trait. Able to both drop deep and sprint in behind, the Valencia man has a knack for finding that vital yard of space even in the tightest of areas.

Valencia are back in the Champions League this season following a two-year absence, which gives Alcacer a chance to demonstrate his talent on the biggest stage of all. Though Nuno’s side have completed the permanent signing of Alvaro Negredo from Manchester City this summer, No. 9 Alcacer looks set to be Valencia’s main man up top this term.7



Aymeric Laporte 1Aymeric Laporte, Athletic Bilbao

Athletic Club supporters will have been delighted with the news that Laporte had extended his contract until 2019 in June, despite rumoured interest from the likes of English giants Manchester United. Should he replicate his recent performances again this term, though, the Basque side may find it difficult to resist bids from some of Europe’s top clubs in the years to come.

Laporte is an ultra-modern centre-half: strong in the tackle, quick across the ground and happy to bring the ball out of defence, the 21-year-old has all the qualities needed to play in the heart of the backline.

Having made 49 appearances in all competitions in 2014-15, Laporte is already an integral member of Ernesto Valverde’s squad. With Euro 2016 on the horizon, the Frenchman will be hoping that another successful campaign in La Liga could earn him his first senior cap and a place in his country’s squad as they host the competition in 10 months’ time; though Didier Deschamps’ France have the likes of Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane, Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny and Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho to call upon, Laporte certainly has the ability to muscle his way in.



Sergi SamperSergi Samper, Barcelona

Samper has been linked with a move to Arsenal in recent weeks but looks set to stay at Camp Nou for the season ahead. The 20-year-old midfielder made four appearances for the treble-winning Barcelona first team last time out – three in the Copa del Rey and one in the Champions League – and will look to build upon that base in the months ahead, with Barca perhaps mindful that a complete lack of action could see him push for a move away.

Samper operates as a holding midfielder, a role that allows him to use his superb range of passing to dictate his side’s play and help control the tempo of game. He also has good awareness and positions himself well, vital attributes for someone deployed deepest in the engine room.

The strength of the options available to Luis Enrique makes it difficult to imagine Samper starting week in week out but, with the Catalans unable to field any new players until 2016, the midfielder could be called upon should Barcelona encounter any sort of injury crisis. Labelled by some as the long-term successor to Sergio Busquets, Samper certainly has the talent to make the step up.


About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.
Twitter @GregLeaFootball


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