Over the past 27 years, the Premier League has been graced by some of Europe’s finest players; Manchester United fans found a new king in the shape of Eric Cantona, whilst down at Stamford Bridge Chelsea supporters idolised Gianfranco Zola.
Over in North London, the Highbury faithful were treated to moments of brilliance by Dennis Bergkamp and Spurs fans, both male and female, were left pant-wettingly moist by the mercurial flair of David Ginola.
For every golden nugget however, there has been at least 20 cheap H Samuel replicas so in this international break, Paddy Power has decided to make up a team using only the worst foreign imports ever to play in England’s top tier.
Sure, you may not agree with all of them, but what cannot be argued is that they were all absolute pony.
It’s fair to say Sir Alex Ferguson had previous in this department when he brought goalkeeper Jim Leighton to Old Trafford from his former club Aberdeen. A few years after Jim’s acrimonious departure and following on from the Great Dane Peter Schmeichel, Fergie, on the alleged advice of his brother Martin who had seen him play for Venezia, decided to take a punt on Italian shot-stopper Massimo Taibi. As he spoke no English, Sir Alex went to his favourite Italian restaurant to hire someone to translate instructions from the side of the pitch. After a reasonable start, Taibi tarnished his reputation irreparably when a Matt Le Tissier daisy cutter squirmed under his legs in a league game at Old Trafford. Shortly afterwards, a 5-0 trouncing at Chelsea did for Massimo who would have probably been better working in Fergie’s pal’s restaurant in the first place.
Mercenary is a word used all too often in football, but in the case of Dutch defender Winston Bogarde not a truer one could have been spoken. Having had previous successful spells with Ajax, Milan and Barcelona, Bogarde jetted into Stamford Bridge in 2000 to be told by the then Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri that he had absolutely no intention of playing him. On hearing this news the Dutchman thought f**k it, and decided to see out his 40K-a-week contract rather than find a starting place elsewhere. Even a lengthy run in the stiffs couldn’t persuade him to leave and when asked to comment he simply replied; “Why should I throw fifteen million Euro away when it is already mine?”
When Tony Adams got injured for Arsenal in 2000, boss Arsene Wenger needed an instant replacement so he brought in Latvian Igors Stepanovs from Skonto Riga. Gooners fans thought they’d uncovered a precious jewel when Stepanovs scored on his debut, but then came that infamous trip to Old Trafford in which Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke made Stepanovs look like what he really was, a poor man’s Titus Bramble. United were 5-1 up by the interval, Yorke had helped himself to a 21-minute hat-trick and at the end of a torrid afternoon, Arsenal had gone down 6-1 with Stepanovs taking the blame for two of the goals. He made just one more appearance that season, but 12 months later after having been virtually forgotten by everyone on the North Bank, he collected a Premier League’s winner’s medal by virtue of being an unused substitute on the day The Gunners lifted the league title.
Buying players on the strength of seeing them have one good tournament is a risky business and Liverpool boss Graeme Souness got his hands severely burnt back in 1992 when he bought Danish defender Torben Piechnik to Anfield after his country had triumphed at Euro 92 in Sweden. Souness declared that he would become the new Alan Hansen, when really all he became was one of the worst signings in the club’s history. The fact that he picked up good wages for two years on Merseyside still sends shivers down the spines of Kopites all over the world, so are we really surprised that the Anfield giants are only now on the verge of winning their first league title for 29 years?
10 years after Stepanovs, Arsene Wenger had still not learnt his lesson when he forked out £4m for French defender Sebastien Squillaci after a decent period with Spanish side Sevilla. Within months of his arrival, Wenger realised that he would have been better doing what the KLF had done in the early 90’s and burn the entire amount spent. Squillaci was described as having no pace, not being very dominant in the air and having the finesse of Giant Haystacks. 12 months later he was out of the side until Corsican outfit Bastia offered him a lifeline.
Fergie’s second entry is a player who was tipped to be Roy Keane’s successor at Old Trafford but who was, quite frankly, rubbish. Cameroon international Eric Djemba-Djemba (so bad they named him twice) arrived at the Theatre of Dreams from Nantes in 2003 and 18 months later, having convinced everyone that he was more the African version of Ralph Milne, was promptly sent to the Midlands as for reasons known only to themselves, Aston Villa decided he could do a job for them. Djemba-Djemba did eventually find his spiritual home; in the Swiss fifth division.
Not to be outdone by their bitter rivals down the East Lancs Road, Liverpool get their second entry thanks to the incredible work done by Souness in the early 90’s. This time the player in question is Hungarian stalwart Istvan Kozma, who Souey brought in from none other than Dunfermline. The fact that he could do a job either out wide or in the centre of midfield meant nothing for a player who had absolutely no fixed ability and who was about as robust as a Subbuteo player on your grannies carpet. If anyone can shed any more light on just how awful Kozma was, please get in touch at Paddy Power Towers.
You were wondering when the Swedish cherub would show up weren’t you? Well, here he is making up our three-man midfield. It’s difficult to blame Leeds United boss Howard Wilkinson for spending top dollar on a player who was simply outstanding for his country in Euro 92, World Cup 94 and in Serie A with Parma. What Sergeant Wilko should have examined further was his injury background and for a player who was prone to putting on weight, a lengthy spell on the sidelines was a recipe for disaster. He arrived at Elland Road overweight, lost interest in football and put on even more weight making only 20 appearances for the West Yorkshire club before being loaned out to Zurich and Parma, then sold to Crystal Palace where he made a handful of appearances before hanging up his boots.
Harry Redknapp has dealt with his fair share of nutters during a long career in management, but even he had to admit defeat in trying to control Dutch wildman Marco Boogers. Why Harry paid Sparta Rotterdam one million quid for the striker without ever seeing him play only he can explain, but someone who will testify to him being a bit mad is former Manchester United and England full-back Gary Neville, who was lucky to survive a ferocious tackle from Boogers in the mid-90’s and who feared at one stage that he may have to have his leg amputated. That was about the only impression the Dutchman made in England and why he was back home rehabilitating from a knee injury, Redknapp decided to cut his losses by signing Iain Dowie.
It could have been such a romantic rags to riches story when Blackburn Rovers splashed out nearly £7m on Italian striker Corrado Grabbi. The moral to this tale however, is never sign a player from the lower leagues in Italy on the strength of one good season, but that’s exactly what Rovers did after Grabbi had netted 20 times in 34 appearances for Serie B side Ternana. His arrival at Ewood Park proved a step to far and after 30 games for the club, in which he scored just twice, Grabbi did what all unsuccessful foreign players do when the going gets tough; he blamed the bad weather and the fact that he thought he was being ostracised by his team-mates in the dressing room.
Our starting XI is completed courtesy of another masterstroke by Graeme Souness. Ali Dia would probably top anyone’s list as the worst foreign import ever to have appeared in the Premier League, but having said that, you have to admire his front. Its 1995 and Dia is looking to get a foothold in English football so he rings around a host of clubs explaining that he’s the cousin of Liberian superstar George Weah. 99 per cent of managers don’t fall for his story, one does however and Souness takes a punt and brings him to Southampton. When Matt Le Tissier gets injured against Leeds United, Dia gets his big chance, but 52 minutes later, Souness realises he’s been had and promptly subs the sub. He’s quickly sent up to Gateshead were he fares no better so Ali, if you happen to read this, give us a shout and let us know what you’re up to mate.
“Champion goalkeeper? Champion of the kebab shop, maybe,” was Harry Redknapp’s frank admission when asked about his signing of Greek international Konstantinos Chalkias, whilst in charge of Portsmouth in the mid-noughties. It looked like Harry had got his hands on a little gem when he convinced the Euro 2004 winner to come to Fratton Park, but five appearances, four defeats and 11 goals later, Chalkias was replaced in the starting XI by Jamie Ashdown.
Ruud Gullit’s time in charge at Newcastle United can be perfectly summed up by his signing of Spanish centre-half Marcelino for £6m from Mallorca in 1999. The player made 17 appearances for The Magpies in the top-flight over a four-year period, which ultimately damaged his reputation and his chances of a successful international career. Gullit and the managers that followed accused him of being a lazy b**tard who never wanted to play, whereas others around St James’ Park confessed to him being imprisoned by the contract he was on at the club. You do the math.
Liverpool had still not learned their lesson in 1999 when they signed Dutch striker Erik Meijer from Bayer Leverkusen. The big man was brought in to add some brutality to a forward line already boasting Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler and became a Kop hero thanks to never scoring a top-flight goal for the Merseysiders. 12 months after his arrival he was replaced by Emile Heskey, but the chant of, “He’s big, he’s red, he’s off his f*****g head” can still be heard in certain sections of Anfield.
Deadline Day panic buys; you can’t beat them and our squad of Premier League misfits is completed by Honduran striker Milton Nunez who was brought to Sunderland by Peter Reid in 2000. The £1.6m spent to bring him to The Stadium of Light has gone down in Sunderland folklore because rumour has it that Reidy actually bought the wrong player. Nunez was playing for PAOK when Reid went to take a look and the story goes that the player he was really after was Nunez’s Colombian team-mate Adolfo Valencia. Nunez made just one appearance for the Wearsiders and in 2017 he admitted that maybe he had been the wrong choice seven years earlier.