Football’s transfer window is an exciting time of the season. Players frequently switch teams and sometimes even join their club’s rivals, which gives the game greater variety. While some clubs lavishly spend money to chase success during the season, others flex their muscles in the transfer market to show off their wealth. In terms of money, records are broken in the transfer window very frequently.
Some players go on to become enormous successes, while others vanish into obscurity. Some individuals come in search of large sums of money but fall short of expectations. In light of that, let’s have a look at some of the worst transfers in the history of football.
12 football transfers that were a major flop
Philippe Coutinho: Liverpool – Barcelona (2018)
The worst transfer in Barcelona’s history but one of the most significant in Liverpool’s. Barcelona agreed to spend €120m (£100m/$130m) for a player that they genuinely didn’t need, plus €40m (£34m/$43m) in potential bonuses. Was he an offensive or defensive midfielder, or was he both? Even though Josep Maria Bartomeu had no idea, he made a special effort to sign the Brazilian.
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His two goals against the Catalans in 2020 while on loan to Bayern Munich were his most noteworthy accomplishment throughout his four years at Barca. As they frantically tried to regain some financial stability at Camp Nou after very nearly going bankrupt under Bartomeu, they allowed Coutinho to join Aston Villa for just €20 million (£17 million/$21.5 million) in 2022. This was after years of unsuccessfully trying to sell Coutinho.
Eden Hazard: Chelsea – Real Madrid (2019)
Eden Hazard’s transfer to Real Madrid, which had been in the works for ten years, looked hopeless the moment the winger showed up overweight for preseason practice. To be fair to Hazard, he was incredibly unlucky with injuries, given that he was virtually injury-free throughout his tenure at Chelsea. But even when he’s been able to string together a few matches in Spain, he’s come off as a pretty shoddy replica of the guy who shone in the Premier League for several years.
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Although Hazard has won numerous prestigious awards, including the Champions League, he contributed about as little to Real Madrid’s 2021–22 victory as Gareth Bale. Eden Hazard admitted that he expected more from his time at Real Madrid and regretted not being able to make an immediate impact. He also claimed that the transition from the Premier League to La Liga was more difficult than he anticipated.
Paul Pogba: Juventus – Manchester United (2016)
Paul Pogba was a pointless departure from Manchester United in 2012. In 2016, United re-signed Pogba from Juventus for a record-breaking £89.5 million. However, ten years later, it occurred once more. Most fans were overjoyed to see the departure of a player that they had lost hope in and believed was never going to consistently show his world-class quality.
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Several incensed fans on the Stretford End yelled, “F*ck off, Pogba!” in addition to booing the France midfielder during the Premier League match against Norwich in April 2022. Still, it was painful to lose such a valuable asset for free. Pogba eventually made his way back from where he came after six seasons, one Europa League victory, one Carabao Cup triumph, a series of dreadful performances, and repellent come-and-get-me appeals to rival teams.
Romelu Lukaku: Inter Milan – Chelsea (2021)
Given that he had only managed to score once during his prior stay at Stamford Bridge, Lukaku said that his decision to return to Chelsea was motivated by “unfinished business.” Although the striker ended the 2021–22 season as the club’s top scorer, his second stint was significantly worse than his first. Considering the club-record investment of £97.5m ($119m) in his services, 15 goals from 44 appearances was a pitiful return.
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Midway through the season, Lukaku gave an unapproved interview to Sky Sport Italia in which he expressed his undying love for his old team Inter and, even more incredibly, questioned Thomas Tuchel’s tactics. This was solely Lukaku’s fault. He never really recovered from betraying his manager and Chelsea’s fans, which made his loan back to San Siro inevitable.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Inter Milan – Barcelona (2009)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is an absolute legend of the game, as he would be the first to tell you. But his transfer to Barcelona is one of the worst business decisions ever. Remember that in addition to paying Inter €69.5 million (£59 million/$75 million) for Ibrahimovic, Barcelona also gave up 2009 Champions League champion Samuel Eto’o, who later went on to help Inter Milan in winning the treble after knocking out Barca in the semifinals.
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By that time, Pep Guardiola, the then-manager of Barcelona, and Zlatan had completely fallen out, with Ibrahimovic accusing the Catalan of having “no balls” and “sh*tting himself” in front of his old boss Jose Mourinho. The late Mino Raiola, the striker’s agent, called Guardiola a “coward” and even attacked him before the 2012 Champions League final. However, it’s crucial to remember that Ibrahimovic had a goal total of 21 throughout all competitions, but this is possibly the greatest personality clash in football history.
Antoine Griezmann: Atletico Madrid – Barcelona (2019)
In 2018, Antoine Griezmann sparked anger among Barcelona fans after teasing them with the possibility of a €100m transfer to Camp Nou, only to publicly reject it in a video documentary produced by Blaugrana defender Gerard Pique. The fans were indignant. They were through with the Atletico Madrid star.
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However, Bartomeu strangely pursued Griezmann again the following year, willing to pay the Frenchman’s contract buy-out clause of €120 million (£100 million/$130 million), as if trying to make a point. In 2021, Antoine Griezmann returned to Madrid and rejoined Atletico on loan before making a permanent move back to Diego Simeone’s side. Despite being a talented attacker, his tenure at Camp Nou was brief and largely unsuccessful.
Joao Felix: Benfica – Atletico Madrid (2019)
Joao Felix said he had many offers during the summer of 2019, but he thought a move to Atletico Madrid would be beneficial for his future. He couldn’t have been more mistaken, as the forward utterly failed to earn back his €126 million (£113 million/$135 million) transfer cost. It’s still puzzling why Felix chose to play for Diego Simeone, who makes his attackers work just as hard as his midfielders and defenders, given that he said he merely wanted to “enjoy” football at the time.
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This deal didn’t seem to fit from the beginning, and it turned out to be the case when Atletico agreed to let Felix join Chelsea on loan for the rest of the 2022–23 campaign. Joao Felix scored just 25 goals in 96 Liga games. He did, however, extend his contract with the Rojiblancos during the process, although it is clear that this was only done to try to reclaim part of the money they spent on their record signing after what they think will be a fruitful tenure at Chelsea.
Ousmane Dembele: Dortmund – Barcelona (2017)
Barcelona was in a bind after Neymar’s shocking transfer to Paris Saint-Germain back in the summer of 2017. Even though PSG paid a record-breaking sum for the Brazilian, every club in the world was aware of Barcelona’s financial bonanza and their pressing need for a replacement.
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Barcelona made the ultimate panic purchase by paying an initial €105 million (£90 million/$112 million) for a player with just one successful Bundesliga season under his belt. Dortmund sensed Barca coming from a mile away and pressed hard on Ousmane Dembele until the Catalans buckled.
The quality of the France international is undeniable. He’s having a decent run of form right now. However, let’s face it: Dembele has utterly failed to live up to his price tag, spending the majority of his time at Camp Nou hampered by injury.
Harry Maguire: Leicester City – Man Utd (2019)
Harry Maguire displayed the potential to excel as a Premier League defender. At Leicester, he gave such proof. Even Pep Guardiola wished to sign the English defender in 2019. However, Maguire claimed he chose United instead, but the truth is that Manchester City resisted the offer because of the cost. City simply didn’t think Maguire was worth a defender’s world-record transfer cost, and their judgment was sound.
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According to Maguire, some of the vitriol he has endured from Manchester United supporters over the past three years has crossed “the line.” There is no disputing, though, that his trophy-less tenure at Old Trafford has been a painful letdown, and the choice to name him the club captain has long since come off as absolutely absurd.
In case you forgot, United spent £80 million ($100 million) on Maguire; the price they would receive today is hardly half that much. Although the England international is undoubtedly a tremendous financial waste, he may not be “sh*t,” as Rafael van der Vaar once claimed.
James Rodriguez: Monaco – Real Madrid (2014)
During Colombia’s 2014 World Cup run to the quarterfinals, Florentino Perez, the president of Real Madrid, fell in love with the young, skillful James Rodriguez, just like everyone else in the football world. James became Perez’s newest Galactico as the offensive midfielder with a knack for stunning goals had long fantasized about playing for Real Madrid.
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He showed glimpses of a Galactico during his debut season in Spain, finishing the season with 17 goals across all competitions. Although the 2016 appointment of Zinedine Zidane as manager was a significant turning moment in Madrid’s contemporary history, it also effectively signaled the end of James’ Real Madrid tenure.
Under the Frenchman, who once asserted that James had requested to be benched from a match against Athletic Club, the Colombian saw little action on the field. The €80 million (£68 million/$86 million) signing ultimately left for nothing after spending two years on loan at Bayern Munich and having a terrible final season in which he only made eight appearances. This is the ideal example of how much his stock had dropped since winning the Golden Boot in Brazil.
Kepa Arrizabalaga: Athletico Madrid – Chelsea (2018)
The priciest goalie in the world but not even close to the greatest. Although the £72 million price tag may have finally helped him recapture his starting position from Edouard Mendy, it would not be unexpected to see Chelsea want to offload the Spaniard at the end of the year, especially following his most recent error.
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Of course, there might not be many takers. Kepa is unquestionably not a top goalie. He will undoubtedly always be linked to the Carabao Cup. First and foremost, for ignominiously refusing to be replaced in the 2019 championship game, and secondly, for failing to make a single save and then missing the go-ahead penalty kick after being substituted just for the shootout against Liverpool in the 2022 tournament decider.
Alvaro Morata: Real Madrid – Chelsea (2017)
Many experts believe that Alvaro Morata’s agency is the greatest in the industry. What other explanation is there for a striker who has constantly had trouble finding the back of the net earning lucrative transfers to Europe’s top clubs? Morata did score 15 goals in La Liga in 2016–17, which persuaded Chelsea to pay £60 million ($75 million) to acquire him from Real Madrid.
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The Spain international’s unpleasant 18-month spell at Stamford Bridge was cut short in January 2019 when he was sent to join Atletico Madrid on loan with an eye toward a permanent transfer. He scored just 16 Premier League goals throughout that time. While in England, Morata believed that the media was too quick to blame him, but given the enormity of the outlay, it is tough to view his goal return as anything other than a disappointment.