For every great signing, there are three bad ones. But which transfer went most badly wrong in Europe this season?
As more and more money gets pumped into the European game, clubs are getting better and better at flushing their transfer budgets down the toilet in the form of ill-judged signings.
The 2022–23 campaign has been a particularly poor year in terms of recruitment across the continent.
It won’t surprise you to hear that Premier League clubs were the worst offenders, but sides in Italy, Germany, Spain, and beyond have all proven their incompetence in the transfer market in recent times, too.
Overpaying is not the only sin that has been committed by Europe’s top clubs this season, though.
There have also been failures in due diligence and scouting, with several signings clogging up a space in the squad when anyone with half an idea about football might have realized that they weren’t suited to that particular club.
Below, we’ve taken a look at this campaign’s worst transfer offenders by ranking the 21 most disappointing signings in Europe.
Matt Doherty (Atletico Madrid, free)
Doherty never truly settled at Tottenham, and who can blame him? Back in October, when Antonio Conte was asked why he wasn’t selecting the Ireland international, he replied, “I am not stupid. I don’t want to lose.”
In January, Spurs agreed to cancel his contract so he could join Atletico Madrid, a move he hoped would reignite his faltering career.
Fellow ex-Spurs man Kieran Trippier enjoyed success in the Spanish capital, but Doherty has not followed suit. Overall, he’s tasted just 16 minutes of La Liga football. Perhaps another contract termination is needed this summer.
Renato Sanches (Paris Saint-Germain, £13m)
Sanches’ topsy-turvy career has continued this season. After rekindling his ailing career at Lille and helping Les Dogues secure a shock Ligue 1 title in 2021, he opted to return to Europe’s top table by joining Paris Saint-Germain this summer.
It has proved to be an error of judgment, with the Euro 2016 Young Player of the Tournament struggling to break into the first team in another injury-plagued campaign.
He could still emerge on the other side of this latest setback, with PSG poised for another squad reset at the end of the season, but a loan move elsewhere could also be on the cards.
Calvin Bassey (Ajax, £19m)
Ajax paid the second-highest fee in Eredivisie history to tempt Bassey away from Rangers, but he has ended the season sitting on the bench following a string of questionable performances.
It was rumored that an unnamed Premier League club tabled a £20 million bid for the defender ($24.8 million) with a view to him moving in the summer, which the Dutch giants rejected.
Wesley Sneijder doesn’t buy it, though, saying recently, “I really don’t believe any of that. I think what has happened is that Ajax want to take the pressure off themselves a bit, having just lost the cup final as well as their league standing. I am afraid it can’t really be true that Ajax would seriously turn down such an offer for Calvin Bassey.” Scathing stuff.
Divock Origi (AC Milan, free)
Origi traded cult-hero status at Anfield for a shot at regular football in Milan. However, he’s spent the majority of the season playing second fiddle to Olivier Giroud, desperately failing to find the back of the net, and struggling for fitness.
Even accounting for a few niggling injuries, a goal tally of just two is nowhere near good enough for a player on his wages. The Rossoneri will surely be looking for an alternative Giroud successor this summer.
Charles De Ketelaere (AC Milan, £30m)
De Ketelaere was one of the hottest properties in Europe last summer, with AC Milan narrowly beating the likes of Leicester and Leeds to his signature.
The Rossoneri invested £30 million ($37.1 million) in the Belgian, and he has failed to score a single goal.
Creatively, he’s also struggled, registering just a solitary assist in almost 40 appearances.
De Ketelaere was not expected to arrive in Milan as the finished article, but his meager return is a serious worry for the Serie A giants.
It was telling that he did not feature at all during Milan’s Champions League quarterfinal and semifinal ties.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Chelsea, £12m)
Aubameyang seemed pretty happy in Barcelona, so it was a surprise to see him arrive at Stamford Bridge.
His performances have been even more shocking, with the center-forward netting just three times in all competitions for the Blues.
Horrendous displays in both Premier League meetings with former club Arsenal were particular low points, but slinking off to Barca to celebrate their Clasico victory during a period when he had been frozen out by Graham Potter was another farcical moment.
Both parties will want to sever this relationship in the summer, but finding a club bold enough to cover his obscene wages will be challenging.
Luis Maximiano (Lazio, £9m)
Strap in; this is a great story. Following the departures of Pepe Reina and Thomas Strakosha in the summer, Lazio brought in Luis Maximiano from Sporting CP to be their new number-one goalkeeper.
However, just six minutes into his Serie A debut against Bologna, he seemingly forgot the laws of the game, rushing outside of his penalty area and clumsily handling the ball.
Maximiano was sent off, and he hasn’t played for the club in Serie A again, with fellow summer arrival Ivan Provedel keeping a firm hold of the gloves since.
Dele Alli (Besiktas, loan)
Oh, Dele, where did it all go wrong? Once tipped as the future of English football, the former Tottenham star’s talent further unraveled during the 2022–23 campaign.
After making no impact at Everton, Dele was shipped out on loan to Besiktas. A ridiculous sequence of events followed.
A poor start led to him being booed by Besiktas fans after he was hauled off half an hour into a Turkish Cup game in December.
A few months later, there was a bizarre saga where the club claimed he had failed to report to training.
After his loan spell was cut short, a video appeared on social media of Dele inhaling nitrous oxide, or ‘hippy crack,” as the English tabloid media so ingeniously dubbed it. Who knows where he goes next, but Besiktas certainly won’t want him back.
Arthur Melo (Liverpool, loan)
What a waste of everyone’s time this turned out to be.
Liverpool have been crying out for midfield rotation all season, but Arthur’s inability to stay fit means he will depart Anfield having barely made it onto the pitch.
The Reds are understood to have paid a loan fee close to £4 million ($5 million) for the Brazilian’s services, and they’ve essentially gotten nothing in return.
Ryan Gravenberch (Bayern Munich, £21m)
Gravenberch has been spoken about as one of the best talents of his generation for some time, but his progress has stalled dramatically since joining Bayern Munich.
The Joshua Kimmich-Leon Goretzka pivot has proved more difficult than he imagined to break, with the 21-year-old frustratingly left to rot on the bench for the majority of the campaign.
He’s made no secret of his displeasure either, saying in April: “A year of training and playing at the top level is beautiful and instructive.
“Although it is playing, it is mainly training. That has to change next season, and then I really want to play weekly again.
“I haven’t spoken to the club management yet, so just wait and see what happens. But it is clear that this role does not match my expectations.”
It’s clear that Gravenberch feels he’s been shortchanged by Die Roten, and he is expected to cut his time in Bavaria short, with Liverpool at the front of the queue to sign him this summer.
Raheem Sterling (Chelsea, £47.5m)
It’s been sad to watch how far Sterling has fallen this season. Thrown into a pit of dysfunction at Stamford Bridge, the England international has struggled to justify his eye-watering price tag.
There have been a few moments of note, including a recent brace against Nottingham Forest, but in general, it’s been a testing campaign for Sterling.
Throw in a few niggling injuries as well as the break-in that forced him to return home early from the World Cup, and you could even argue that it’s been his worst-ever season.
Callum Hudson-Odoi (Bayer Leverkusen, loan)
A long list of Premier League players have found a new lease on life after venturing outside of England; Hudson-Odoi is not one of them.
Sent out on loan to Bayer Leverkusen, giving him a chance to work with Xabi Alonso after he took over in October, he has spent more time on the sidelines than on the pitch.
After failing to impress during a stint with the first team at the beginning of the campaign, Hudson-Odoi has slipped further and further down the pecking order.
He’s only managed two goal contributions and faces an uncertain future with Chelsea looking to sell some of their homegrown assets at the end of the season.
Anthony (Man Utd, £85m)
If there’s one thing Ajax knows, it’s how to sell players. Few sales exemplify this ability more than Antony’s move to Manchester United this summer.
They played the Red Devils perfectly here, standing firm and only selling when they received an unholy offer late in the window.
The price tag has hung over Antony all season, haunting every unnecessary spin, missed chance, and wasteful pass.
That’s not to say he’s been a complete flop, with his debut goal against Arsenal likely to live long in the memory.
However, after splashing out such an exorbitant fee, United would have at least expected double figures for goals or assists this season.
Sadio Mane (Bayern Munich, £35m)
Mane was supposed to be the man to replace Robert Lewandowski at the Allianz Arena, but his first season will be most keenly remembered for the time he punched teammate Leroy Sane in the dressing room.
This wasn’t the only instance of off-field strife, either. It was reported that Mane had a tumultuous relationship with Julian Nagelsmann prior to his sacking, and the club also privately raised concerns about his fitness in March.
Playing centrally didn’t seem to suit him at all, and a readjustment is needed this summer if Mane is to reproduce the form he showed at Liverpool for so many years.
Mykhailo Mudryk (Chelsea, £88.5m)
While Mudryk was not expected to start his Premier League career at 100 miles per hour, Chelsea would have hoped for at least one goal after spending almost £90 million ($111.6 million) on the Ukraine international.
It’s been a baptism of fire for the forward since he arrived in England.
Off the pitch, there have been issues, with Mudryk being criticized for his use of social media.
On that front, things have been equally disappointing. He’s only started a few games and has been an unused substitute three times in the league.
Competition for places is not going to get any less fierce at Chelsea next season, and right now, Mudryk looks like one of the most embarrassing overpays in football history.
Jesse Lingard (Nottingham Forest, free)
Lingard is reportedly Nottingham Forest’s highest earner by some distance. With great financial reward come great expectations, and the former Manchester United man has completely failed to meet these this season.
Prior to the World Cup break, Lingard was simply another face in the crowd as Forest’s new-look squad sank into the relegation zone.
During his side’s first Premier League match back after the tournament, he suffered an injury.
He’s featured three times since, watching on from the bench as his lesser-paid teammates rallied to keep Forest in the division.
He only signed a one-year deal, making the move relegation-proof, but it’s hard to imagine any top-flight side taking a chance on him this summer unless he significantly lowers his wage demands.
Kalvin Phillips (Man City, £42m)
There’s been a lot of discourse about whether Manchester City’s dominance is bad for English football.
Regardless of what side of the debate you fall on, we can likely all agree that City’s treatment of Phillips this season has been a bit of a shame.
Once one of the most effective midfielders in the division under Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds, he has been reduced to a cheerleader at the Etihad.
The only time he hit the headlines this season was when Pep Guardiola called him a fatty. £42 million ($52 million) is a hell of a lot of money for someone who, it seems, City have no intention of ever playing regularly. The funds surely should have been spent better elsewhere; perhaps on a left-back, for example?
Sergino Dest (AC Milan, loan)
Dest’s loan switch to Milan has been a disaster for all parties.
After failing to convince Xavi he was up to life in Barcelona’s first team, a move to Serie A was supposed to be an ideal platform for the USMNT star to get back to his best.
Instead, the loan spell has just raised more question marks over whether Dest is good enough to play at the elite level.
He started a few games at the beginning of the season but regularly saw himself hooked at halftime.
This was a sign of things to come, with Dest being left out of Milan’s second Champions League squad in February.
He hasn’t played since and endured the ignominy of featuring in an all-North American USMNT squad this spring. It was a brutal reminder of how poorly his spell in Milan had gone.
Marc Cucurella (Chelsea, £63m)
Cucurella’s struggles at Chelsea should act as a warning to Brighton stars Alexis MacAllister and Moises Caicedo, both of whom have been linked with moves away from the Amex this summer.
The defender looked like a world-beater for the Seagulls last season, but he’s been a fish out of water in the bright lights of west London.
Costing Chelsea a ridiculous £63 million ($77.9 million), Cucurella has underwhelmed in every area of his game.
Defensively, he’s flailed around helplessly in several high-profile matches, and he’s not been much better in possession.
The Spaniard has recorded just two assists and also attracted the ire of Mudryk for his overly safe passing since the turn of the year. A huge improvement is required under Mauricio Pochettino.
Richarlison (Tottenham, £60m)
Richarlison’s brief cameo against Liverpool in April summed up his pitiful season.
Introduced as an 86th-minute substitute, he was riding high after finally ending his wait for a Premier League goal, a header that drew his side level at Anfield.
He pulled out all the stops for his celebration, popping his shirt straight off, shushing the Liverpool fans, and even pulling out his signature constipated-pigeon celebration. Less than two minutes later, Diogo Jota scored to win it for the Reds.
Richarlison’s arrival was part of a spate of summer signings that were supposed to catapult Tottenham into possible title contention under Antonio Conte.
But Conte never trusted him, refusing to select the Brazilian even when Son Heung-min couldn’t hit a barn door. £60 million ($74.3 million) looks like horrendous value at present, especially as Everton are in such a weak selling position.
Paul Pogba (Juventus, free)
Juventus must be cursing their decision to bring Pogba back to the club.
Although the former Manchester United star cannot be blamed for his body failing him, football is a cruel world, and there is no way to spin the Old Lady’s decision to hand him a fat contract as anything other than a disaster of epic proportion.
Pogba didn’t even make his first start until May. Even then, he only lasted 23 minutes against Cremonese due to a quadricep injury.
He left the field that night with tears in his eyes, likely the emotion of a turbulent season, during which he was also the subject of an extortion plot from his own brother, boiling over.
There have been some suggestions that Pogba may move on at the end of the season.
That would be a pretty sour way to part ways with a club to whom he brought so much joy during his first spell in Turin.