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GOAL Releases Ranked 21 Most Disappointing Signings of the EPL Season
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GOAL Releases Ranked 21 Most Disappointing Signings of the EPL Season

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In the English Premier League (EPL) this season, GOAL revealed that there have been a host of transfer missteps in the English top-flight this term, but which stands out as the worst of all?

Premier League clubs shelled out just shy of £5 billion ($6bn) on new players across the two 2022-23 transfer windows as unprecedented new spending records were set, and that culture of excess only continued last summer. According to Deloitte, a final outlay of £2.36bn ($3bn) was recorded when the summer market closed on September 1, which smashed the previous record mark by £440m ($550m) – raising fears over an unsustainable future for the English top flight.

Profit and sustainability rules (PSR) took centre stage in January after breaches from Everton and Nottingham Forest, both of whom ended up with point deductions, and the rest of the clubs in England’s top division reacted by tightening the purse strings, leading to a spike in loan deals and free transfers. Still, another £96m ($120m) went out in the winter window expenditure column to take the overall number for the campaign beyond the £3bn mark once again, and there are plenty of teams who may now be regretting their recruitment decisions as the campaign reaches its conclusion.

Some players haven’t come even close to justifying their huge fees, while others have barely been worth the time and effort of chasing in the first place, and may not get another chance to prove themselves at Premier League level.

GOAL has ranked the 21 most disappointing signings of the 2023-24 season below, starting with a Dutchman who has struggled to hit the ground running on Merseyside…

21 Ryan Gravenberch – Liverpool (£34m)

After Liverpool admitted defeat to Real Madrid in the race for Jude Bellingham, they turned their attention to Ryan Gravenberch, who was looking for a clean slate after a frustrating first season at Bayern Munich. The Reds invested £34m ($42m) in the Netherlands international despite his failure at the Allianz Arena and tied him to a five-year contract, with Jurgen Klopp describing him as an “exceptional talent” with a great future ahead of him.

Gravenberch has shown glimpses of that potential at Anfield this term, and can turn defence to attack in the blink of an eye when firing on all cylinders, but has only started 12 Premier League games as he’s fallen behind Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai, Curtis Jones and Wataru Endo in the midfield pecking order.

It has been reported that Liverpool could cut their losses on Gravenberch amid interest from Turkey, which would be a mistake; he’s still only 22 and could thrive under Klopp’s successor Arne Slot. However, there is no denying that he’s proven to be a poor alternative to Bellingham so far, and will have to start showing he can deliver on a consistent basis to turn his Anfield career around.

20 Christopher Nkunku – Chelsea (£52m)

Christopher Nkunku has missed 39 games through injury for Chelsea this season, and so judging his first 12 months at Stamford Bridge fairly is a difficult task. But the warning signs over his fitness were there at RB Leipzig, and the Blues ignored them when handing the France forward a six-year contract after agreeing a £52m ($65m) deal with the Bundesliga outfit.

In the 12 games Nkunku has played for Chelsea, he’s generally fared quite well, but a return of just two goals and no assists highlights the fact he’s yet to take to the pitch in top physical condition. Nkunku was an explosive, agile forward who struck fear into opposition defenders at Leipzig, and he’s versatile enough to play as a winger, a No.9 or even as a traditional No.10. He showed signs of forging a strong partnership with fellow summer signing Nicolas Jackson in pre-season, too, but Chelsea need attackers they can rely on to deliver the goods week in, week out.

It’s important that Nkunku doesn’t rush his return to the pitch after his latest fitness setback, or else he may never become the same talismanic presence for the Blues as he was for Leipzig.

19 Arnaut Danjuma – Everton (loan)

Arnaut Danjuma famously snubbed Everton to join Tottenham on loan from Villarreal in January 2023, only to flop spectacularly in north London. The Toffees gave the Netherlands forward a chance to make amends when taking him on loan for the 2023-24 campaign, but he’s been little more than a utility man for Sean Dyche and can’t really take any credit for their successful survival bid.

The former Bournemouth attacker just doesn’t seem to be cut out for the Premier League, and it would be a huge surprise if Everton tried to sign him outright. Danjuma clearly peaked during Villarreal’s outstanding 2021-22 season, which included a surprise run to the Champions League semi-finals, and no longer looks capable of making a decisive contribution at the top end of the pitch.

18 Andrey Santos – Nottingham Forest (loan)

There was a lot of excitement in west London when Andrey Santos finally arrived at Chelsea from Vasco da Gama last summer, as the teenager played a key role in helping the Brazilian club gain promotion back to Serie A. Santos was even being touted for a leading role in Mauricio Pochettino’s side initially amid comparisons with his compatriot Casemiro, given his status as an all-action, box-to-box midfielder with a penchant for popping up with important goals.

By the end of pre-season, though, Chelsea decided that a loan move was best for Santos’ development following the arrivals of Moises Caicedo and Romeo Lavia, and he joined Nottingham Forest on a season-long deal. That move turned out to be a disaster, however, as the midfielder featured in only two games before being recalled in January.

He failed to impress either Steve Cooper or Nuno Espirito Santo during his time at the City Ground, and while he has shown improved performances during a loan spell at Strasbourg during the second half of the campaign, it remains to be seen whether he can cut it in the Premier League.

17 James Trafford – Burnley (£19m)

James Trafford’s stellar performances between the sticks were vital during England’s run to glory at the 2023 Under-21 European Championship as he went through the entire tournament without conceding, and ultimately convinced Burnley that he was worth a £19m ($24m) transfer fee as they subsequently struck a deal to lure him away from Manchester City.

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But as it turns out, the 21-year-old just wasn’t ready for the rigorous demands of the Premier League. Burnley boss Vincent Kompany waited until March to drop Trafford for back-up goalkeeper Ari Muric, by which point his team were already doomed to relegation.

Promoting Muric sooner may not have saved Burnley, but Trafford’s awful distribution and weak physical presence certainly cost them valuable points. He was once being touted as England’s future No.1, but now has a long road ahead of him to rebuild his reputation after fumbling his first opportunity in the top flight.

16 Ibrahim Sangare – Nottingham Forest (£30m)

This time last year, Ibrahim Sangare was one of the most sought-after players in Europe. Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea were among the clubs credited with an interest in the Ivory Coast international, and so it felt like a big coup for Nottingham Forest when they won the race for his signature, snapping him up from PSV for a cool £30m ($38m).

Unfortunately for Forest, Sangare has since turned out to be a complete waste of money. The 26-year-old has looked way off the pace in the Premier League, taking way too long on the ball and giving it away far too cheaply, and has been gradually reduced to a bit-part role in Nuno’s set-up.

Injuries haven’t helped Sangare, who was part of the Ivory Coast’s AFCON-winning squad, and might be a different player for Forest after a full pre-season, but it remains to be seen whether he can convince Nuno of his worth, having initially been brought in by Cooper.

15 Robert Sanchez – Chelsea (£25m)

More than a few eyebrows were raised when Chelsea forked out £25m ($31m) to sign Robert Sanchez, who was displaced as Brighton’s first-choice goalkeeper by Jason Steele in his final season on the South Coast. The Blues were still hopeful that Sanchez would be an upgrade on Kepa Arrizabalaga and Edouard Mendy, the latter of whom departed for Saudi Arabia last summer, but he was just as error-prone as that divisive duo in the first half of the season.

In the second, fitness problems have exacerbated Sanchez’s woes, and Djordje Petrovic has proven to be more than just a stand-in as Chelsea’s form has gradually improved under Mauricio Pochettino. It’s difficult to see Sanchez snatching the No.1 jersey back at this stage, and he’s almost certain to miss out on a place in Spain’s Euro 2024 squad after a frustrating maiden year at Stamford Bridge.

14 Mahmoud Dahoud – Brighton (free)

“I’m sure he is going to be a top player for us,” Brighton boss Roberto de Zerbi said after snapping up Mahmoud Dahoud on a free transfer. “I’m excited to have Mahmoud in my team. I wanted him when I was at Sassuolo.”

Borussia Dortmund decided against handing Dahoud another contract after his injury-ravaged 2022-23 campaign, but it still felt like he had the pedigree to be a real asset for Brighton after a largely impressive six-year spell in Germany. De Zerbi’s excitement soon gave way to frustration, though, as it became clear Dahoud was not going to fit into his set-up at the Amex Stadium.

He showed none of the playmaking prowess that made him such an important member of Dortmund’s squad in his first 14 games for Brighton, and was shipped out on loan to Stuttgart in January after losing his place in the team. The Bundesliga side have the option to make the move permanent, which Dahoud will surely push for himself, having looked like a fish out of water from day one outside of Germany.

13 Matt Turner – Nottingham Forest (£10m)

Matt Turner made the jump to Forest from Arsenal after playing second fiddle to Aaron Ramsdale throughout the 2022-23 campaign, but has since been unable to prove himself as a top Premier League goalkeeper. The United States shot-stopper has been dropped twice by Forest this term, with Odysseas Vlachodimos initially taking his spot before the more recent emergence of Matz Sels.

Forest looked far more vulnerable at the back when Turner was the No.1, and it’s tough to see what he can do to usurp Sels now. The 29-year-old doesn’t command his box and puts Forest under pressure with his erratic kicking, which is why his future is now very much up in the air.

Turner is still the leading man for his country heading into the 2024 Copa America, but may need to seek another transfer at club level to hold onto that spot in the long-term, while also working harder to cut out the basic errors that have crept into his game.

12 Nicolo Zaniolo – Aston Villa (loan)

Aston Villa have exceeded all expectations by fighting for a top-four finish this season, with Youri Tielemans, Pau Torres and Moussa Diaby among those to have made a big impact after their summer moves to the Midlands club. The signing who generated the most hype among supporters has contributed practically nothing to their cause, however, with Nicolo Zaniolo set to return to Galatasaray after failing to meet the criteria for Villa to trigger their “conditional compulsory purchase option” on the midfielder.

The former Roma star was once considered to be among the most promising players of his generation, but hasn’t been able to force his way into Unai Emery’s starting XI at Villa Park. When he has played, Zaniolo has looked a shadow of the unpredictable, technically superb player he was in his youth, and the intensity of the Premier League has been too much for him.

The 24-year-old is still young enough to get his career back on track, but he will have to show far more grit and determination if he is to permanently escape the Turkish Super Lig and have any hope of becoming one of Italy’s main men in the future.

11 Matheus Nunes – Manchester City (£53m)

Pep Guardiola gave Matheus Nunes a billing as “one of the world’s best players” after his £53m ($66m) move to Manchester City from Wolves, which felt like a stretch at the time, and put unnecessary pressure on the Portuguese midfielder’s shoulders. Inevitably, Nunes hasn’t lived up to that statement, starting only seven Premier League games, with five of those coming against bottom-six clubs.

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Nunes hasn’t looked out of place on the rare occasions he has featured for City – he remains a masterful ball=carrier who can operate in the tightest of areas – but he gives up possession more often than City’s first-choice technicians such as Bernardo Silva, mainly because he often goes for the risky passes instead of taking the simple option.

Guardiola only really uses Nunes when City are in a comfortable position in games, which shows he doesn’t yet enjoy the manager’s full trust. The situation is salvageable for the 25-year-old, who still has the prime years of his career ahead of him, but he will have fully embrace City’s unique tactical philosophy and work hard to improve his ball retention during pre-season.

10 Armando Broja – Fulham (loan)

Chelsea started the season with Armando Broja as their only natural No.9, but he struggled for form and fitness between August and January, netting just once in 13 Premier League outings. Still, Pochettino insisted that the Albanian is blessed with “amazing potential” and he was the subject of an intense bidding war between Fulham and Wolves in the winter window, with the Blues’ west-London rivals eventually coming out on top by tying him to a short-term loan agreement.

Broja’s fortunes haven’t improved at Fulham, though. In fact, he had to accept being their third-choice striker behind Rodrigo Muniz and Raul Jimenez almost instantly, and looks set to finish the campaign without a single goal to his name for the Cottagers.

Chelsea still have Broja on a contract until 2028, but has has been reported they will look for a full sale this summer. Broja hasn’t shown he can finish or create chances consistently in the Premier League, and it might now be necessary for the 22-year-old to head abroad in search of regular playing time.

9 Gio Reyna – Nottingham Forest (loan)

Forest signed another United States star in January in the form of Gio Reyna, who had little choice but to leave Borussia Dortmund on loan after falling out of favour with head coach Edin Terzic. The 21-year-old hasn’t been able to rediscover his rhythm at the City Ground, though, as he’s found regular minutes even harder to come by under Nuno.

Reyna has started only twice for Forest in his five months at the club, and hasn’t really made any meaningful impact in the Premier League, barring a corner-kick assist for Morgan Gibbs-White in a 2-2 draw with Wolves which went a long way to preserving the club’s top-flight status.

Nuno left Reyna out of his matchday squad entirely against Chelsea, despite the fact he was fully fit, and it’s safe to say Forest won’t be attempting to sign him outright. Reyna remains a huge name in his homeland and has plenty of ability, but the jury is still very much out on whether he can cut it at the top level of the game.

8 Sofyan Amrabat – Manchester United (loan)

Most casual fans were introduced to Sofyan Amrabat at the 2022 World Cup, where he carried an unfancied Morocco side all the way through to the semi-finals and went viral for a lung-busting recovery run and tackle on Kylian Mbappe. United supporters thusly hoped that Amrabat would be the answer to their long-standing defensive midfield woes after his loan move from Fiorentina, but have not seen him expend even close to the same level of energy for Erik ten Hag’s team.

Amrabat has actually been a liability defensively as he’s been constantly caught out of position, while he’s also been one of United’s most careless players on the ball. It certainly hasn’t helped that the 27-year-old has been asked to play in a number of different roles amid a build-up of injuries to key personnel, but he doesn’t seem to have the engine for full 90 minute games anymore, or indeed the enthusiasm.

United certainly won’t miss Amrabat when he heads back to Fiorentina, and he will be remembered as little more than another panic purchase highlighting just how disorganised the club’s recruitment has been in recent years.

7 Beto – Everton (£30m)

Everton lost their first three games of the season without scoring a single goal, which led Dyche to swoop for Udinese frontman Beto, who scored 10 goals in 34 Serie A appearances in the 2022-23 season. Those numbers were respectable considering Udinese’s status as a bottom-half side, but the Toffees’ £30m ($38m) bid felt like a bit too much of a gamble, and it’s backfired in spectacular fashion.

Beto has scored just three goals in 29 games for Everton, while missing a total of eight ‘big chances’, which highlights the fact that finishing is not one of his strengths. The 26-year-old is physically imposing and his movement off the ball isn’t terrible, but he’s also too clumsy to make the grade in the Premier League and doesn’t have the technical chops to be a proper target man.

It’s a miracle that Dyche managed to keep Everton up with Beto filling in for the injury-plagued Dominic Calvert-Lewin so often, and it’s highly likely they will look for potential suitors when the transfer window reopens.

6 Andre Onana – Manchester United (£48m)

United desperately needed an upgrade on David de Gea, who had been in major decline for a good four years before the expiration of his contract at Old Trafford last June, and Andre Onana appeared to be the ideal man for the job after helping Inter reach the 2023 Champions League final. Ten Hag had previously worked with Onana at Ajax, too, and United were praised for signing a ‘keeper known for his ability to play out from the back in their bid to cut the gap to Manchester City and Arsenal after an encouraging third-place Premier League finish.

But Onana hasn’t looked like a £48m ($60m) goalkeeper in his first season at Old Trafford. In fact, many supporters would welcome De Gea back with open arms after watching the Cameroon international flap at crosses, let simple shots slip through his gloves and stay rooted to his goalline when the United defence is bypassed time and time again.

Onana has actually made more saves than any other ‘keeper in the Premier League this season, but that’s only because United have conceded the second-highest number of shots – just ahead of bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United. The former Inter man can’t hide behind misleading statistics; he’s fallen well short of the required standards when it comes to basic handling and positioning, and even his kicking has been wildly unpredictable, making him a box-office watch for all the wrong reasons.

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5 Ansu Fati – Brighton (loan)

It seems like such a long time ago now, but Ansu Fati was once tipped to be Lionel Messi’s heir at Barcelona. The Spaniard burst onto the senior stage at Camp Nou as a 16-year-old in 2019 and looked almost like a street footballer with his dazzling dribbling skills, but soon succumbed to a series of injuries that cost him a regular place in the team.

The emergence of Lamine Yamal pushed Ansu further into the shadows, and Brighton pounced on the uncertainty surrounding his future last summer as they brokered a blockbuster loan deal. Ansu scored twice in his first five Premier League games for the Seagulls, but it soon became clear his body would not hold up to the physical demands of the English game.

A calf injury kept Ansu out of the entire festive period, and he hasn’t done enough to get back in De Zerbi’s line up since his return in February, with the Brighton boss admitting his fitness is still a big concern. The 21-year-old’s short time at the Amex has only fuelled critics who question whether he is robust enough to become an elite player, and it’s difficult to see how he will fit in at Barca when he returns to Xavi’s squad.

4 Mason Mount – Manchester United (£55m)

United didn’t need Mason Mount. That was clear to most outsiders when he completed his controversial £55m ($69m) switch from Chelsea last June.

Mount’s best performances came when he filled the No.10 slot for Chelsea as he led their press and had the freedom to express himself on the ball, but Bruno Fernandes does a similar job at Old Trafford, and predictably, Ten Hag has been unable to find a way to fit both men into his system.

The Dutchman also moved for Mount on the back of his worst-ever season at Chelsea, and he’s looked equally drained of confidence at United. Mount has only made 14 Premier League appearances to date as he’s been hampered by niggling fitness issues, but his involvement in those games was almost non-existent.

United aren’t going to get back to the top with this version of Mount on their teamsheet; the 25-year-old has seemingly lost his focus and passion for the game, and has just created another problem for a club that already had an endless list to deal with.

3 Kalvin Phillips – West Ham (loan)

Phillips’ first seasons at Manchester City was massively underwhelming, despite the fact he was part of a squad that won a historic treble. The England international didn’t really contribute to those trophy successes, and has never convinced Guardiola, who publicly criticised him for returning from the Qatar World Cup overweight.

West Ham offered Phillips an escape route from his Etihad nightmare in January, but the loan switch hasn’t shaken the 28-year-old back into life. He opened his Hammers career with two huge errors that led to goals against Bournemouth and Manchester United, and then got himself sent off in a 2-0 defeat against Nottingham Forest, with Moyes quickly losing faith in his ability as a starter.

Phillips returned to City early due to a calf injury, and Guardiola will surely look to offload him permanently in the summer, because he is no longer even close to the level he was when he initially moved to Manchester from Leeds United in 2022. The Euros will almost certainly pass Phillips by as a result, and he’s going to have to completely transform himself in order to get back into the England fold in the future.

2 Moises Caicedo – Chelsea

Chelsea smashed the British transfer record to lure Moises Caicedo away from Brighton, seeing off competition from Liverpool, who refused to match their staggering £115 million ($147m) bid. The Ecuadorian was sensational in his two years at the Amex Stadium, and was the main reason the Seagulls punched so high above their weight, but that kind of money is not usually invested in defensive midfielders.

The Blues needed Caicedo to be a real game-changer right from the off, and he crumbled under the weight of expectation. He always led the way for tackles and interceptions at Brighton, but wasn’t breaking up the play nearly as effectively for Chelsea, and seemed to be lacking the composure that had been a staple of his game.

To Caicedo’s credit, he has finished the campaign strongly, and it’s easy to forget he’s still just 22-years-old, while he also had to remain professional during a period when he feared for his family’s safety amid a wave of violence in his homeland. But there is just no escaping that price tag, and as of right now, Caicedo must be considered a massive failure.

1 Sandro Tonali – Newcastle (£60m)

Sandro Tonali became the most-expensive signing in Newcastle’s history when he completed his £60m ($75m) move from AC Milan last summer, but it didn’t feel like they had overpaid. Tonali cemented a standing among the finest playmakers in Italy during his time at San Siro and was exactly the kind of statement buy the Magpies needed after qualifying for the Champions League.

Or at least he would have been, had Newcastle done their proper due diligence. Tonali scored in a spectacular debut showing against Aston Villa and settled into life on Tyneside quickly, only to be hit with a 10-month suspension in October for breaching gambling rules during his time at Milan.

The whole saga has been embarrassing for Newcastle, who blew most of their summer budget on a player that had been struggling with a gambling addiction. He will be allowed to play for the club again from August, but the damage has already been done, as a lack of cohesion in midfield led to the Magpies missing out on silverware once again while losing their place in the Champions League.

Source/Photo Credit: GOAL

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