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The 5 Worst Transfer Deals Of The Decade

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The 5 Worst Transfer Deals Of The Decade

18 December 2019, by: Zach Lowy

The 5 Worst Transfer Deals Of The Decade

As we prepare to turn the page on a new decade, BETcoza takes a look back at the five biggest rip-offs of the decade. 

The criteria takes into account trophies and big-game performances (Fernando Torres is not here for this reason), ability to recoup a considerable portion of the original transfer value (Jackson Martínez), potential to recoup a considerable portion of the transfer value (Thomas Lemar), potential to turn his time at the club around (Ousmane Dembélé), and total transfer fee (Shkodran Mustafi). 

In order to not be overly reactionary, we have decided to omit all transfers that materialized during 2019. Without further ado, these are the five biggest wastes of money of the decade.

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When Diego Costa made his return to Atlético Madrid in 2017 for a then club-record fee of €65 million, it seemed like a fairytale. He joined the club as a teenager back in 2007, before bouncing around from loan to loan, earning a shot at first-team football under new manager Diego Simeone, and winning La Liga, the Copa del Rey, and the Europa League with Los Colchoneros.

He departed for Chelsea after the 2014 Champions League Final, winning two Premier League titles with the London club, before going so far as to make himself a club pariah to force a move back home. Both the club and the player had grown since his arrival as an 18-year-old, and after three long years, the prodigal son had finally returned.

Nevertheless, it’s been anything but a fairytale ending for Diego Costa at the Wanda Metropolitano. For the first time in his second spell at the club, Costa was relegated to benchwarmer status in November, before injuring his neck. He’ll not only be on the sidelines until February at the earliest, but he may just have played his final game for the club.

Atlético Madrid are producing the worst attacking numbers of the Diego Simeone era. The club, currently sixth (five points off Sevilla), have scored a measly 16 goals in 15 league matches this season. It’s a pathetic tally for a club who have spent enormous fees on Álvaro Morata, João Félix, and more only to suffer a persistent goal drought.

Costa, who was brought in to form an attacking duo alongside Antoine Griezmann, has struggled to recover his form from his first spell at the club. The physical wear-and-tear of the Premier League has taken a toll on his body, and at 31, his best days are in the rearview mirror.

President Enrique Cerezo looks set to reinvest more funds into the attack in 2020, targeting the likes of Edinson Cavani and Timo Werner. But due to La Liga’s salary cap rules, before Atlético signs anyone, they have to sell a player and clear plenty of space in their wage bill. The sacrificial lamb will likely be Costa, who is linked with a move back to his native Brazil.

Flamengo, unable to afford Inter’s increased asking price for Gabigol, have turned to Costa as his alternative, as the club aim to repeat a marvellous year which saw them win the Brasileirão and the Copa Libertadores. The likely transfer fee of £25 million would halve their initial investment, but Atlético will be desperate to recoup whatever they can for Costa to bolster their floundering attack.

Serie A is shaping up for the most exciting Scudetto race in years, with Antonio Conte’s Inter threatening to end Juventus’s ongoing dynasty, which was created under the leadership of Conte and Giuseppe Marotta, both at Inter now.

But while Marotta only called it quits on La Vecchia Signora last year, Conte abruptly walked away in the summer of 2014, after Marotta missed out on three of his transfer targets: Juan Cuadrado, Alexis Sánchez, and Juan Iturbe.

Iturbe burst onto the scene in the 2013/14 season, prematurely dubbed the next Argentine wonderkid to compete for Lionel Messi’s throne. Roma beat out interest from Atlético Madrid and Juventus to sign him for €22 million, splurging the club’s biggest transfer fee since their 2001 capture of Antonio Cassano from Bari.

It’s been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster for Iturbe since that move. The Paraguayan international only spent one and a half ill-fated seasons in the capital city before underperforming on loan at Torino and Bournemouth. He permanently cut ties with the Giallorossi in 2018, heading to Tijuana for a microscopic fraction of Roma’s original investment.

Iturbe chalked up 5 goals and 4 assists in 3,025 minutes of football at Roma (in contrast, he picked up 6 yellow cards). He left as one of Roma’s most bizarre signings from the pre-Monchi era.

In terms of financial investment weighed against performance, this is without a doubt the most egregious transfer. Coutinho joined Barcelona in January 2018 after a prolonged transfer saga in which he nearly missed out on a move to the Camp Nou months prior, faked a back injury to force through the transfer, and paid €10 million of his own money just to get the €160 million move across the line.

The blockbuster deal, which ranks as the third most expensive transfer fee of all time, not only lives on in infamy for Coutinho’s horrendous performances, but for its ramifications on Liverpool. Thanks to the Coutinho sale, Liverpool had the money to bring in Virgil van Dijk and Alisson.

As Liverpool completed their remontada in last season’s Champions League semifinals against Barcelona, Alisson and Van Dijk stood tall as two of the key pillars behind the comeback. They lifted the Champions League trophy in Madrid together, and they might just do the same next year in Istanbul.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have attempted to cut their losses after a season and a half of exponentially poor performances, sending the Brazilian out on loan to Bayern Munich. The Blaugrana club attempted to use him as a makeweight in a deal for Neymar last summer, but the move fell apart after Coutinho refused to join Paris Saint-Germain.

Barcelona have managed to get him off their payroll, for now, but they’ll struggle to find a permanent home for him next summer, with Bayern likely to pursue a younger option in Kai Havertz.

Perhaps Messi and him were never going to work. Perhaps he’d have performed better in a different system under a different manager. But Coutinho shares the majority of responsibility for why his dream move to Barcelona fell apart. A club hero at Liverpool turned into a punch line; a record signing at Barcelona turned into an unforgivable waste of money.

January 2018 left drastically different fortunes for the reigning champions of Europe and Spain. But it also produced equally unappetizing results when Arsenal and Manchester United completed a swap deal that pleased nobody except Mino Raiola.

In a desperate bid to recoup cash value for a player who was set to leave for free in a few months, Arsenal swapped unsettled star Alexis Sánchez for Henrik Mkhitaryan, who was deemed surplus to requirements at Manchester United. Raiola, Mkhitaryan’s agent, pulled the strings for the deal as usual.

Fast forward 23 months, it’s been a nightmare spell for both of them. Alexis never managed to fit into José Mourinho’s or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s systems, and Mkhitaryan had similar luck under Arsène Wenger and Unai Emery. Both players moved to Serie A on loan during the final days of last summer’s transfer window, yet neither have gained consistent minutes so far due to injuries.

If Arsenal can’t get Roma to take him off their shoulders for good, they’ll struggle to find another buyer for Mkhitaryan, who still has one and a half years of his £200,000-a-week deal remaining. The cost of Alexis, under contract until 2022, is even more staggering. He earns £500,000 a week at United, and even after joining Conte’s Inter, United are still splitting the bill, paying him £300,000 a week to play for a different club.

Arsenal would have been better off letting El Niño Maravilla leave for free. United, on the other hand, will never shake the regret of how one of the most explosive players in England turned into one of the most embarrassing flops in football history.

Andy Carroll to Liverpool

Arda Turan to Barcelona

Danny Drinkwater to Chelsea

Álvaro Morata to Chelsea.

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Zach Lowy is the co-creator of Breaking The Lines (@BTLVid) and a freelance soccer journalist for various websites such as BET Central, Soccer Laduma and Hudl Analysis. He is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese and is the host of the Cortalinhas podcast, a weekly podcast that discusses Portuguese football. Zach has accumulated a wealth of experience and knowledge in football and has written about various subjects for BET Central ranging from Barcelona's financial difficulties to the 'lost generation' of South Africa's Amajita class of 2009.

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