There have been plenty of disappointing signings down the years and for many different reasons. I am looking at the players who promised so much more than they ultimately delivered and why it was things didn’t work out for them.
This is my ‘Disappointing Liverpool XI’…
Kirkland arrived from Coventry City in August 2001 for a then British record fee for a goalkeeper of £6m – despite being just twenty years of age. He joined on the same day as Polish international Jerzy Dudek, who was signed from Feyenoord. Arsenal were also said to been on signing the player once described by Gordon Strachan as a “big bambi who couldn’t kick the ball out of the penalty box”. But the lad looked like he could be something special and was tipped by many as a future England number one. Things didn’t work out that way, however, and a series of injuries saw his bid to become first-choice under Gerard Houllier fall away. He did manage a couple of stints as first-choice, as well as starting four of the matches in the 2005 Champions League run, but injuries put paid to that – as well as a place on the bench in Istanbul. He spent time on loan with West Brom and Wigan Athletic before completing a permanent move to the latter in the Summer of 2006. Things could have been so much better for Kirkland had injuries not blighted his career. I ran into him in town once and he didn’t look like he was made of glass, but I could be wrong.
It was a toss up between Jones and Markus Babbel for the right-back position. Both were excellent in the position and injury cut short both their spells at Anfield and careers in general. Jones was discovered when Liverpool boss Graeme Souness went to watch Crewe Alexandra play in late 1991. The Scot was scouting a different player, but Jones caught his eye and a £300,000 bid was made and subsequently accepted. His debut came a few days after signing on 6th October 1991 at Old Trafford against Manchester United in a 0-0 draw. Jones was named man of the match after dominating United youngster Ryan Giggs. He spent the next four years as a regular fixture in the Liverpool side and looked on course to occupy the same role for England. Things started to go wrong for Jones in 1996 when he was told to rest for six months following the FA Cup final defeat against United. The next couple of years were blighted by injury and Jones was allowed to join West Ham on a free transfer in the Summer of 1999. He only made two appearances for them before retiring due to his knee injury flaring up. He didn’t make it to thirty years of age as a professional player. It was a huge shame for Jones and the club – and it also meant that Gary Neville was free to collect more England caps than he would have otherwise.
The Danish international arrived at Anfield in September 1992 in a deal agreed by Graeme Souness. He was part of the Denmark squad that famously upset the odds to win Euro 1992 and had looked good in the final. He managed just seventeen appearances in his time at the club and decided to move back to his homeland after Roy Evans replaced Souness in 1994. He went on to play for Denmark at Euro 96 in England before calling it quits at international level soon after. He carried on playing club football for AGF Aarhus until 1999. To be fair to him, he came into a struggling side and was billed as a replacement for Anfield legend Alan Hansen. He was never going to live up to that. But his first-half display against Andy Cole, who scored a hat-trick in a 3-0 win for Newcastle United, will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
The Portuguese youngster arrived at Anfield in the Summer of 2013 after the club agreed a fee of around £7m with Sporting Lisbon for the London born centre-back. He was a highly rated teenager and the English FA had approached him to try and initiate a change of allegiance. Ilori was touted as a future regular and praised for his pace and technical ability. Liverpool fans didn’t ever get to see any of this in the Premier League, however, as he failed to make a single appearance during the 2013/14 season before spending the next two seasons on loan at Granada and Bordeaux. It looked like supporters would get a closer look at him when he agreed to join Aston Villa for the 2015/16 season, but he was recalled in January 2016 after again failing to make any impact. He made three appearances in the FA Cup before finally ending his Anfield misery by joining Championship club Reading for £3.75m in January of this year. Some blame Brendan Rodgers for not giving Ilori a chance to show what he can do, while others point to how he’s played elsewhere as reason why he didn’t feature here. Either way, he was a big disappointment.
The Germany international arrived in bitter circumstances from Premier League club Middlesbrough in the Summer of 2000. He had a release fee in his contract of £5.5m – which Liverpool met. Boro were angry because they had other offers for considerably more, but were obliged to allow him to speak to and subsequently sign for us. Knee injuries and the emergence of Jamie Carragher meant that Ziege was restricted to just sixteen appearances in the Premier League during the marathon 2000/01 campaign. Both Ziege and the club were handed retrospective fines in 2002 for his move in 2000. He was sold to Spurs after just one season at the club and went on to spend three injury plagued years at White Hart Lane before retiring in 2005 after a brief spell in Germany with Borussia Monchengladbach. He had looked a genuinely exciting talent at Bayern Munich and AC Milan before arriving in England. It was a disappointment for the club and supporters, who finally felt that the troublesome left-back spot had been solved.
Diao was a disappointment for a plethora of reasons. The Senegal international had looked decent as his country made their mark at the World Cup in 2002 following his signing from Sedan shortly before the tournament began. He scored against Denmark in the group stages before being sent off. Gerard Houllier didn’t do him any favours by playing him in a range of positions, but it didn’t seem to make much difference to the chaotic midfielder. When Rafa Benitez replaced Houllier in the Summer of 2004, the writing was on the wall for Diao. Xabi Alonso was the antithesis of the African and he made his final appearance in early 2005 against Norwich City before spending time on loan with Birmingham City, Portsmouth and Stoke City – with the latter signing him permanently in 2007. He asked not to be compared with Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira after Houllier had labelled him the “new Vieira” following his arrival, but those words would haunt him for the rest of his career. He still makes the odd appearances for the legends team, which is a tad generous to a player of such limited ability and impact.
Cole arrived at Anfield in the Summer of 2010 from Chelsea, where he had won three Premier League titles, three FA Cups and two League Cups. A lot of supporters were delighted with the signing and thought that he could recapture his best form from his days at Stamford Bridge. But his Premier League debut set the tone for his spell at the club when he was sent off after forty-five minutes for a rash challenge on Laurent Koscielny. He then missed a penalty against Trabzonspor before spending the rest of the season in and out of the side. He left for a relatively successful loan season with French club Lille in August 2011 before returning to Anfield in the Summer of 2012 when Brendan Rodgers took over from Kenny Dalglish. Rodgers gave Cole the chance to prove himself, but he rejoined boyhood club West Ham in January 2013 shortly after scoring against them in a 3-2 at Upton Park the month before. Some fans had predicted that Cole would be a flop after seeing his form decline at Chelsea, but he still went down as a big disappointment for the club.
The Australian winger was a boyhood Red and he turned down the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United, Arsenal, AC Milan and Chelsea to leave Leeds United for Liverpool. There was a dark cloud over his transfer, however, with Kewell criticising his former club and his agent, Bernie Mandic, reportedly collecting a large agent fee for the deal. But that was of little matter to many fans as he had shown what an exciting talent he was at Elland Road. His debut season in 2003/04 was a relative success, with Kewell scoring in a 3-0 Merseyside derby victory at Goodison Park and going on to be joint second top scorer behind Michael Owen and top scorer in the UEFA Cup run. When Rafa Benitez arrived in the Summer of 2004, he was pleased to see Kewell as part of his squad having been impressed by his Champions League form for Leeds previously. The Spaniard showed a lot of faith in Kewell by selecting him for both the League Cup and Champions League finals in 2005. He limped off injured in the first-half in Istanbul and did the same in the 2006 FA Cup final. After a couple more injury ravaged seasons, Kewell further upset Leeds supporters by joining Galatasaray (two Leeds fans died in clashes with the Turkish club in 2000). He did well for the SuperLig club, but it wasn’t how a player with his talent should have ended up.
“We have signed a world-class player. He comes with a massive reputation and I believe he’s one of the most exciting signings we have made.” said Gerard Houllier of the Finland international when he arrived from Barcelona on a free transfer in January 2001. Fans were excited by this deal. The attacker had been a revelation for Ajax during the nineties and was a boyhood Liverpool supporter, who grew up idolising Kenny Dalglish. But things didn’t work out for him at Anfield after an early injury ended his 2000/01 season. He was also used sparingly by Houllier, a move which puzzled Litmanen: “it’s strange that he was so pleased when he signed me and then decided to not use me. I cannot explain it myself.” he said of his treatment. He scored some important goals for the club and it looked like he might have a partnership with Robbie Fowler, but the form of Michael Owen and Emile Heskey put paid to it. He was allowed to rejoin Ajax on a free transfer in the Summer of 2002 and it was the end of what could have been a much better spell with the club.
The Spain international joined the club in the January of 2005 and there was a lot of excitement around the deal. He had been prolific for Real Madrid, the club which he signed from, as well as during his spell on loan with AS Monaco in 2003/04. But his debut, a 1-0 home loss against Manchester United, was to set the tone for his brief spell with the club. Morientes had scored on every other debut up to that point in his professional career and Reds everywhere were desperate for him to continue the streak. He managed to net just eleven goals in sixty appearances for Liverpool and it was a great disappointment for Rafa Benitez and the supporters. He left to join Valencia for a fee of around £3m in the Summer of 2006 and went on to recapture some good form in his partnership with David Villa. It was of little consolation to Liverpool fans, who had hoped that he would carry his prior form into Anfield.
The France international striker moved to Anfield in a loan deal from Paris Saint Germain in December 2001 and helped the club finish second in the Premier League table with four goals. He wasn’t as prolific as fans had hoped, but he settled in well and looked a good fit in Gerard Houllier’s side. But the manager decided against offering him a permanent deal and signed El-Hadji Diouf instead – on the recommendation of former Liverpool coach Patrice Bergues. It was a disastrous decision. Diouf went on to shame both himself and the club, something he still does today, and Anelka signed for Manchester City – where he scored a late double for his new side in a 2-1 win at Anfield. It’s unlikely that journeyman Anelka would have found a long-term home at the club, but he showed later at Chelsea that he had Premier League goals in him for the long-term.
A special mention has to go to Mario Balotelli, who was omitted from the XI, because many will feel he should have been in the side. But, in response, I would say that you have to have expectations to be disappointed.