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May 1, 2006

What a waste of money

No returns, no refunds, no satisfaction guaranteed: the football transfer market can be a harsh place, as even the finest managers have discovered.

And even the biggest cheque cannot ensure a successful signing... as the 10 worst signings of the last 12 months prove.

• 10. Abel Xavier (Middlesbrough, free)
A one-man boon to the peroxide industry, he illuminated the Riverside, albeit with a beard that, if it glowed any more, would be radioactive.

Sadly, his performances were less memorable. Indeed Xavier only managed four matches - one a home defeat to Sunderland - before failing a drug test. His protestations of innocence have fallen on deaf ears; perhaps those four games were enough to convince Steve McClaren he was better off with Stuart Parnaby.

• 9. Zvonimir Vukic (Portsmouth, loan)
It could have been almost any of the arrivals under Alain Perrin; indeed, even in his moment of triumph after preserving Portsmouth's Premiership status, Harry Redknapp was open in his contempt for his predecessor's signings. There were 15 players, he said, who were not good enough to play for Portsmouth. Without a doubt, Zvonimir Vukic was one such.

Undistinguished as he appeared, the Serbia and Montenegro midfielder was hardly helped by Perrin's baffling 3-3-3-1 formation. He has vanished under Redknapp, eventually leaving for Partizan Belgrade at the end of the January transfer window, and this is one signing that Portsmouth will be in a hurry to forget.

• 8. Per Kroldrup (Everton, £5million)
As compliments go, 'looked good in pre-season' ranks up there with 'good in training'; the unspoken implication is that they are less useful in competitive matches. Dane Per Kroldrup did indeed impress in pre-season, but injuries and a swift decision by David Moyes that he was insufficiently aggressive for the Premiership meant he was limited to a solitary league start. And even that was a 4-0 defeat to Aston Villa.

After six months, Moyes cut his losses and sold Kroldrup for £3million, preferring to bring back his predecessor, 34-year-old Alan Stubbs, on a free transfer.

• 7. Diomansy Kamara (West Brom, £1.5million)
While Nathan Ellington and, before his departure, Robert Earnshaw were regular sights on the bench at West Brom, Diomansy Kamara was alone among Bryan Robson's five forwards in invariably starting. Whether as a striker or a left winger, his pace posed problems.

The difficulty for West Brom was the Senegalese's capacity to fail to score from practically anywhere. Misses against Aston Villa and Birmingham must rank among the costliest of the season, and he still has a solitary Premiership goal for Albion.

• 6. Walter Pandiani (Birmingham, £3million)
Like a poor man's Christophe Dugarry, he excelled on loan and then failed miserably when the deal was made permanent. Birmingham, however, were £2million poorer after a six-month stint that only yielded two goals.

The brothers Gold and David Sullivan can surely afford it, but it set the tone for a season where Birmingham's strikers belied big reputations, price tags and salaries by consistently not scoring.

• 5. Wilfred Bouma (Aston Villa, £3.5million)
He arrived as a flagship signing, as part of David O'Leary's long-term plan to upgrade the Aston Villa squad. He ended the season, along with all his team-mates, available for transfer. And in between, little went right for Wilfred Bouma. There was a particularly inauspicious debut - a 4-0 defeat to West Ham - a miserable record (five wins in 20 games) and a demotion to the bench, even when Olof Mellberg, Martin Laursen and Mark Delaney were all injured.

If further proof of Guus Hiddink's managerial qualities were required, he contrived to take a team including Bouma to the Champions League semi-finals. O'Leary is unlikely to emulate him.

• 4. Jon Stead (Sunderland, £1.8million)
Much of Mick McCarthy's transfer policy can be faulted. A seeming insistence on signing a striker from the Championship resulted in the arrival of Andy Gray (one goal in 22 games). Jon Stead was a rare recruit from the Premiership and has proved still less prolific.

He broke his Sunderland duck in his 30th game; his recent record stands at three goals in 67 matches. Reasons abound for Sunderland's relegation, but buying a two-goal strike partnership ranks high among them.

• 3. Shaun Wright-Phillips (Chelsea, £21million)
At Manchester City, he was perhaps the Premiership's best right winger, prolific in an average team and a beguiling combination of fearsome pace and a ferocious shot. At Chelsea, seemingly weighed down by an enormous price tag and confused by Jose Mourinho's definition of a winger, he has failed to score in 37 games.

Indeed, he did not rate a place among the substitutes for the FA Cup semi-final, nor rate a mention when Mourinho berated his out-of-form wingers. Yet when he joined Chelsea, John Terry said Wright-Phillips had as much ability as Wayne Rooney; now, their World Cup places are in jeopardy for very different reasons. Another, rather cheaper, move is surely required.

• 2. Asier del Horno (Chelsea, £8million)
Jose Mourinho feels that rightful credit is denied him because of Chelsea's wealth. Soccernet, however, is keen to remedy that; two of the Premiership's three worst signings, at a combined cost of £32million, are Mourinho's buys.

Asier del Horno, the league's most expensive left back, has only served to illustrate how William Gallas excels out of position on his flank.

Del Horno's despairing lunge at Lionel Messi was a prime cause of Chelsea's Champions League exit and, substituted in the first half against Portsmouth and at the interval against Liverpool, he has become accustomed to not completing games. It is hard to envisage him seeing out his contract at Stamford Bridge, either.

• 1. Albert Luque (Newcastle, £9.5 million)
The Spanish economy has benefited to the tune of £15million from Newcastle's generosity in recent years. First there was Marcelino, the defender sidelined by the most insignificant of injuries. And now there is Albert Luque, signed as the supply line to Alan Shearer and Michael Owen and instead thoroughly upstaged by the teenager Charles N'Zogbia.

Newcastle supporters could have been forgiven for wondering whether they had lost their grasp on sanity when Real Madrid expressed an interest in Luque, despite his fine record with Deportivo la Coruna. Because, often omitted from the matchday 16, he has only managed six Premiership starts and one, rather meaningless, goal against Sunderland.

When Graeme Souness blunders in the transfer market - as Jean-Alain Boumsong shows - he does so catastrophically; had they succeeded, the Scot might still have a job.

Newcastle's next manager may care to note that, at the moment, excelling in La Liga appears a guarantee of infamy on Tyneside.


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