Big money signings equal big money gambles

Angel Di Maria has joined Manchester United this week, setting a new transfer record for a signing made by a British club, surpassing the £50m spent by Chelsea on Fernando Torres in 2011. United’s drubbing at League One MK Dons has re-emphasised just how badly they need Di Maria to prove a success at the club, but a review of the other most expensive signings made by British clubs should give the fans and owners of United pause for thought.

Big signings don’t always guarantee big success – infact if anything, they simply represent big gambles. Let’s look at the other players who make up the top ten most expensive transfers in British footballing history and the impact they have had for their respective clubs.

Fernando Torres, Chelsea
Transfer fee: £50m from Liverpool in January 2011

An almost unmitigated disaster of a signing, the Spaniard who delivered so many goals at Anfield has managed just 20 Premier League goals in 110 games since signing for the Blues. No amount of qualifying statements about his ability to hold up the ball, or bring other players into the game will stop this transfer going down as one of the worst in the history of British football.

Verdict: MISS

Mesut Ozil, Arsenal
Transfer fee: £42.5m from Real Madrid in Summer 2013

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The German’s signing marked the end of Arsene Wenger’s seemingly self imposed ‘big transfer’ ban, and initially lived up to his reputation as the ‘assist master’ of Europe. However, his form faded badly last season, as the intensity of the Premier League, and injuries to himself and colleagues impaired his performances. Flashes of brilliance during the World Cup must give Arsenal fans hope Ozil will yet prove to be a big hit for the Gunners, but for now, the jury remains out.

Verdict: MAYBE

Sergio Aguero, Manchester City
Transfer fee: £38m from Atletico Madrid in Summer 2011

With Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale departing the Premier League in the last 12 months, Sergio Aguero has an extremely strong case to be the best player currently plying his trade in the Premier League. The diminutive Argentine may have had his struggles with injuries recently, but his record of 54 Premier League goals in 89 games, and the decisive role he played in securing Manchester City their first Premier League title, makes his transfer a certain hit.

Verdict: HIT

Juan Mata, Manchester United
Transfer fee: £37m from Chelsea in January 2014

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Seen at the time as a sign that David Moyes was capable of attracting the big names to Manchester United, the Spaniard has since notched 6 goals in his 17 first team starts for the Red Devils. However, Moyes’ tendancy to play Mata out wide nullified the impact the midfielder was able to have in the second half of last season, and the success of Mata’s move now depends on Louis van Gaal’s ability to meld his attacking options into a cohesive unit in the season ahead.

Verdict: MAYBE

Andy Carroll, Liverpool
Transfer fee: £35m from Newcastle in January 2011

Although often forgotten in the years since, Andy Carroll had actually been lighting the Premier League up for Newcastle before his big money move to Merseyside. The big Geordie had netted 11 times in 19 Premier League games in 2010/11, but would only score 6 in 44 league appearances for Liverpool, before being first loaned, then sold to West Ham for a knock down price. The former England striker’s career has yet to fully recover.

Verdict: MISS

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal
Transfer fee: £35m from Barcelona in Summer 2014

The second of Wenger’s big money buys since 2013, it is far too early to tell how big an impact Alexis will have in the Premier League, although his game certainly appears well suited to terrorizing opposition defenders. If he plays to the fullness of his potential, he may soon be regarded as a bargain for the Gunners.

Verdict: MAYBE

Fernandinho, Manchester City
Transfer fee: £34m from Shakhtar Donetsk in Summer 2013

The Brazilian midfielder has shown flashes of brilliance for the Citizens since his transfer twelve months ago, even if his partnership in the centre of the pitch with Yaya Toure has at times appeared strained. He has yet to demonstrate an ability to command games at the highest level, particularly in Europe, and Fernando’s arrival this summer shows there is no room for complacency.

Verdict: MAYBE

Robinho, Manchester City
Transfer fee: £32.5m from Real Madrid in Summer 2008

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The signing that started the revolution at Manchester City over six years ago was also one of the least successful of the Mansour era. At the time seen as a coup for City having beaten off competition from Chelsea amongst others for Robinho’s signature, the Brazilian enjoyed a strong first season in front of goal – netting 14 times in 31 appearances – even if his all round play often appeared lacklustre. A troubled second season followed however, with no goals in ten Premier League appearances, and he was soon shipped out to Santos on loan, and then sold to Milan for less than half the fee Manchester City had paid two years earlier.

Verdict: MISS

Eliaquim Mangala, Manchester City
Transfer fee: £32m from Porto in Summer 2014

Another new arrival in the Premier League, many within the game rate the former Porto defender extremely highly, and Manchester City would certainly benefit from another top defender to draw upon in the season ahead. However, it may not be wise to expect too much too soon. Mangala’s experience at the top of the game is limited, and he was unable to force his way into the French national side in Brazil this summer.

Verdict: MAYBE

What does this review tell us? Firstly, it reflects the fact that all of Manchester United’s main rivals have spent big and spent often in the past five years, so it’s no surprise that many are attributing a lack of decisiveness in the transfer market as a key factor behind United’s current malaise.

However, secondly, it reminds us the inherent risks involved with spending big money on seemingly talented players – the same risks that will apply to the Di Maria signing. Only one of the current top ten British transfers of all time could unequivocally be referred to as a success. For many it is too early to tell, but even then, many would argue that more could reasonably be expected of the likes of Mesut Ozil and Juan Mata upon being transferred – these are after all world class, experienced footballers.

It is also worth acknowledging however, that many big money signings sitting just outside of this top ten – the likes of Eden Hazard and Rio Ferdinand excelled for their clubs having been signed for large transfer fees. The point is, that plenty of others have not.

What cannot be in question is the pedigree that Di Maria brings to Old Trafford. Compared to many players on this list, he has already achieved virtually all there is to achieve within the game. His playing style should be well suited to the Premier League, and United fans can be forgiven for stressing the impact he will have, given their current difficulties. But they, together with fans of all clubs, should remember that big money signings represent big gambles – there is no guarantee of success.

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