1) Ali Dia (Southampton) November 1996.
We are in the office of Southampton manager Graeme Souness. The
telephone rings. It's - who else? - former World Footballer of the Year
George Weah, who, apropos of absolutely nothing, is offering the Saints his
30-year-old cousin Ali Dia, who he claims has played 13 times for Senegal.
Immediately, Souness agrees to take Dia on loan for a month and puts his
budding superstar on the bench for Saturday's home game with Leeds despite
never having seen him in competitive action. Dia was scheduled to take part
in a reserve game earlier in the week, but the weather intervened. After 32
minutes, Dia replaces Matthew Le Tissier. The sense is very much of a torch
being passed from one genius to another. Fifty-three jaw-dropping minutes
later, Dia himself is replaced, for the simple reason that he isn't a
footballer. Nor, it turns out, is he George Weah's cousin. Dia's agent,
however, does a Weah impersonation that is especially believable, if, like
Souness, you haven't actually met George Weah. Dia has not been heard of
2) Winston Bogarde (Chelsea)
When Chelsea thrashed Barcelona 3-1 in the Champions League in 2000,
assistant manager Graham Rix admitted they had targeted the defender they
perceived as the Catalans' weak link, Winston Bogarde. Curious, then, that a
few weeks later, having fallen out with the Nou Camp management, the
Rotterdam-born Dutchman who represented Holland in the 1996 European
Championship and 1998 World Cup in France became Gianluca Vialli's final
signing, a free transfer replacement for Emerson Thome, albeit one on weekly
wages of £42,000. Four years later, the loyal servant left London
proclaiming himself "the biggest outcast in England" after starting just two
league games, both defeats. Heartwarmingly, at the beginning of last season,
one for which he was not even allocated a squad number, he declared: "I will
fight for my place like everybody else." This season, after training with
Ajax while allegedly looking for a club, he sensibly spent the transfer
window on holiday in Surinam. "But I believe an offer will come. I hope it
comes quickly." Don't we all?
3) Massimo Taibi (Manchester United)
How, then, to replace Peter Schmeichel? In 1999, with Raimond van
der Gouw always wearing his bridesmaid's outfit and Mark Bosnich too cocky
by half, Sir Alex Ferguson splashed out £4.5m on Venezia journeyman Massimo
Taibi. The omnipresent tracksuit bottoms should have caused Ferguson to
pause for thought. Instead, Taibi conceded two sloppy goals at Liverpool on
his debut and one to Wimbledon the following week. Then the fun began:
Southampton scored three at Old Trafford, including a Matthew Le Tissier
"shot" that trickled through Taibi's legs and was so soft, it barely crossed
the line. Eight days later, Chelsea put five past him at Stamford Bridge and
this Italian's job was over, little more than a month after it had began.
Taibi rotted in the reserves until Reggina took him on loan before a £2.5m
purchase at season's end. He was, noted a generous Roy Keane, "clearly a
good keeper". Clearly.
4) Marco Boogers (West Ham United)
In 1995, West Ham manager Harry Redknapp had the option of spending
£1m on Bristol Rovers sharpshooter Marcus Stewart or Dutch striker Marco
Boogers. Bravely, he plumped for Boogers, whom he hadn't actually seen play.
In the event, Boogers failed to start a game, but did achieve national
acclaim on his second substitute appearance when he was sent off for a
shocking tackle on Gary Neville, just 90 seconds after replacing Danny
Williamson. After two further substitute appearances against Aston Villa and
Blackburn, making a total of 83 competitive minutes in the Claret and Blue,
Boogers fled Upton Park to live in a caravan, accompanied by a doctor's note
saying he was mentally unfit to play football. After two years of Calor gas
canisters and chemical toilets, he returned to Dutch football with RKC
5) Elena Marcelino (Newcastle)
Having watched Marcelino play the proverbial blinder in the 1999 Cup
Winners' Cup final, Newcastle manager Ruud Gullit decided the
headband-wearing Spanish international defender was the man to shore up a
porous defence. He wasn't. Nor was he worth the £5.8m Gullit paid for him.
In his first game, the poor lamb hurt his groin and was substituted at
half-time. From there it was injuries all the way, including a lengthy
absence caused by a poorly finger. Four years and 19 calamitous starts
later, he was shipped back to Spain. In a crate, for all the Gallowgate End
supporters cared. "The fans called me a thieving Spaniard and a gypsy who
was robbing the club's cash," he said. For probably the first time in their
relationship, chairman Freddie Shepherd almost concurred: "They say you
should only say good things about people, so I'll say this: he's gone -
6) Corrado Grabbi (Blackburn Rovers)
How the Italians chuckled in 2001 when Graeme Souness, manager of
Blackburn Rovers, paid £6.75m for Juventus cast-off Corrado Grabbi, who had
just scored 19 goals in 34 Serie B (not to be confused with Serie A) games
for Ternana. Grabbi's work ethic was never in doubt, but two goals in 30
Premiership games suggested Souness might have been better buying a Serie A
player. After an especially profligate performance in the 2003 Uefa Cup
against Genclerbirgli, Souness lost patience. Grabbi was bought by Ancona.
The fee was undisclosed, but it wasn't £6.75m.
7) Sean Dundee (Liverpool)
In 1998, Karlsruhe were relegated from the Bundesliga. Their tubby
star forward, Sean "Crocodile" Dundee, scored just three times. These facts
did not deter Liverpool manager Roy Evans from splashing out £2m for the
German international who claimed to be as fast as Michael Owen. In fact, he
wasn't as fast as Liverpool fan Michael Howard. Liverpool's official website
raised the notion that Dundee was "possibly the worst player to have donned
the red of Liverpool".
8 ) Pal Lydersen (Arsenal)
Poor Pal. It wasn't really his fault that he wasn't up to the task.
The tall Norwegian full-back had been signed in 1991 by manager George
Graham, in effect, for a bung from Lydersen's disgraced agent, Rune Hauge.
Lydersen's positional sense gave Tony Adams the screaming heebie-jeebies,
and his overall standard was more Bury than Highbury. Graham was in a tricky
position, so he hit on the inventive wheeze of only playing him in
meaningless games, before releasing him four years later after 15 starts.
9) Wim Jonk (Sheffield Wednesday)
Not only did Jonk look like Michael Palin, but he was as tough in
the tackle as him. The Dutchman, signed for £2.5m from PSV Eindhoven in
1998, lolloped anonymously around Wednesday's midfield for two seasons, the
second of which saw them relegated. After experiencing the hurly burly of
two First Division games, he sat out the remaining year of his contract,
citing a tummy ache. At the end of that season, he retired to concentrate on
his poetry. Wednesday fans had their own rhymes for him.
10) Li Weifeng (Everton)
By remarkable coincidence, the moment Everton signed a sponsorship
deal with a Chinese company in 2002, two Chinese players arrived at
Goodison. Li Tie acquitted himself moderately well. The more introspective,
chronically homesick Li Weifeng, who spoke no English, did not, despite his
initial assertion that "I am very happy to be here because I like Liverpool
very much. The Beatles are very famous in China". He got himself booked in
his sole Premiership outing, a defeat at Southampton. Soon he was on a plane
home, and would not return to Merseyside for all the tea in China.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
1) Ali Dia (Southampton) November 1996.