Fergie’s 10 Worst Signings

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Fergie was here

As everyone who has some form of communications device from a newspaper upwards knows, Sir Alex Ferguson has decided to conclude his 26 and a half year reign as manager of Manchester United at the end of this season.

Among his myriad achievements in the game, Ferguson was credited, rightly, with being able to take his team, rebuild it and make it successful again season after season. It’s said, indeed that one can point to six different core sides which Sir Alex used. Players from Cantona to Cleverley have been in Fergie’s squads; some have been utterly world class. Others, less so; it is the latter variety we celebrate here.

1. Bebe

Carlos Queiroz has a lot to answer for. A class assistant manager and coach, a terrible manager and a worse discoverer of diamonds in the rough. Bebe, a Portuguese striker of Cape Verdean descent, was signed on Queiroz’s recommendation in the summer of 2010, a matter of weeks after he had signed for Vitoria Guimaraes in Portugal. Manchester United paid £7.4m for the services of the 20-year-old, Ferguson meeting Bebe the day before the Portuguese applied ink to his contractual documentation. In his odd appearance for United he has looked largely utterly off the pace; he’s currently on loan at Portuguese Primera Liga club Rio Ave. He scored once for United in a Champions League dead rubber, and has bagged one league goal for his current club.

Even the one interesting tidbit regarding the Bebster – that he had played in the Homeless World Cup – turned out to be an urban myth. As it stands, he will go down as a multi-million pound punt on a Queiroz hunch that didn’t work, like so many of Carlos’s other managerial decisions.

2. Ralph Milne

The man whom Fergie himself proclaims to be his worst ever signing, Milne was a fellow Scot who cost Manchester United £170,000 in 1988 from English Third Division (when it was the third tier) side Bristol City. 23 games, 3 years and a meaningless loan spell at West Ham United later, he was gone, a brief spell at now defunct Hong Kong side Sing Tao standing between him and retirement.

Milne, though, holds no bitterness against the man who let him go at the end of his contract; indeed, he seems (like many former Dundee United players) to hold his greatest grudge against Jim McLean, who seemingly did him out of a World Cup appearance in 1986.

3. Eric Djemba-Djemba

As the hideously worn out joke goes, so good they named him twice. The Cameroonian central midfielder cost Manchester United £3.5m in 2003, his signing coming at the end of a season in which United unexpectedly pipped Arsenal to the Premier League title. It’s thought to be mere conicidence that during his first full season Arsenal went unbeaten.

In 18 months at the club he made 39 appearances in all competitions, scoring twice. The man whom Fergie touted as a potential replacement for Roy Keane was shipped off to Aston Villa for £1.5m in 2005, making even less of an impression than he did in Trafford borough before he went to Qatar, then Denmark. Eric can now be found being a footballer in the Israeli Premier League with Hapoel Tel Aviv.

4. David Bellion

I must admit I have always found the purchase of M. Bellion a strange one. Having scored precisely one goal in his two years at Sunderland, Sir Alex made a move for the young French striker, acquiring him (amid allegations of “tapping-up”) for £2m in the summer of 2003.

In three years at Manchester United Bellion bagged 8 goals in 40 matches, in a better return than he managed for Sunderland – what was clear throughout his spell at Old Trafford was that he was simply never anywhere near Manchester United class. Having gone via Nice and West Ham, Bellion is now with Bordeaux. And for a striker, he still doesn’t score many goals.

5. Kleberson

The third part of what everybody’s calling the “Djemba-Djemba Triumvirate” with Bellion and Eric, Kleberson signed for United in the summer of 2003, costing Manchester United £6.5m, or 186% of Eric Djemba-Djemba. The Brazilian midfielder was at that time, of course, a World Cup winner, having been part of the Selecao squad in 2002.

Having played 20 league games and scored 2 goals in a 2-year spell in Manchester, he shipped off to Besiktas, and now finds himself in the MLS with Philadelphia Union. Kleberson was another of those Ferguson punts that promised a lot if it came off; sadly for him and the Klebs, the Brazilian left his allegedly dance-based skills at home. Or didn’t possess them at all.

6. Massimo Taibi and Mark Bosnich

These two deserve to get grouped together, as they were part of that rather desperate period after the Champions League final in 1999 which can basically be entitled “let’s try and find a decent replacement for Peter Schmeichel.”

To be fair to Bosnich, Fergie got one good-ish season out of him in 1999-2000. Given the former United trainee cost nothing, it may seem slightly unfair to stick him in a list of duds. It was the intervening period after Fabien Barthez joined, though, where Bosnich really hit the heights of doing naff all – perhaps other than get a bit chubby and (at some juncture in his career) indulge in a bit of cocaine use – which merits his place in this list.

Bosnich was Lev Yashin reincarnate, however, in comparison to his Italian team-mate, Massimo Taibi. Famous for letting in that goal and wearing jogging bottoms before Gabor Kiraly made them cool, Taibi’s 4 appearances for Manchester United cost them £1.125m each. What’s often forgotten in the midst of that Le Tissier goal is that he was so much worse in United’s 5-0 defeat away to Chelsea that season, jumping and flapping at anything that moved like a lost trout. He was swiftly moved on by our favourite ruddy-cheeked Scotsman, playing out the remainder of his career in the lower reaches of Serie A and B with Reggina and Atalanta, among others.

7. Roy Carroll

The last in the line of experiments in goalkeepers before Edwin van der Sar arrived, Carroll’s spell in Manchester is most famous for a goal that didn’t even count. Pedro Mendes’ attempted 50-yard chip, which Carroll goonishly fumbled about 2 yards over the line, didn’t count as far as the referee was concerned and an embarrassing defeat at Old Trafford to Spurs became an insipid 0-0 draw.

Otherwise, Carroll was an incredibly ordinary goalkeeper, another post-Schmeichel man who didn’t even vaguely touch the mustard, never mind cut it. Having spend 4 years at the Reds, making 72 appearances, he has now eked out a pretty decent career for himself in Greece, acting as the occasional first choice for perennial champions Olympiakos. His United years, though, are perhaps best forgotten.

8. Dong Fangzhuo
Dong Fangzhuo probably sums up in one man why modern football can be a rather cynical, irritating place. The first Chinese player to play for Manchester United signed for the club in 2004, costing an initial £500,000. Work permit-less, he was moved to United’s Belgian feeder club Royal Antwerp on loan, where his goalscoring record was pretty decent with 34 in 71 league matches. Dong finally made his league debut for Manchester United at the tail end of the 2006-07 season against Chelsea, in a game rendered meaningless by the fact United had already won the title.
By the time the beginning of the 2008-09 season came round it was clear that in 4 years, Dong had achieved little and would achieve little; what he cost Manchester United in wages was no doubt more than made up for in marketing terms in his homeland, Having drifted via Portugal and Poland, he now plays for the slightly comically named Hunan Billows in the Chinese second tier.
9. Jordi Cruyff and Karel Poborsky
What I like to think of as Sir Alex’s Euro `96 impulse purchases, the Dutchman and the Czech both arrived at Old Trafford having had an excellent English summer (Poborsky in particular). Both were, however, entirely ordinary in a red shirt – Poborksy lasted 2 years though did pick up a Premier League winners’ medal in 1997, while Cruyff hung around for 4 years (also collecting a medal in `97), contributing all of 8 league goals.
Poborsky of course went on to have a pretty, pretty good career, playing with Benfica and Lazio on leaving United and remaining in the Czech Republic squad up to and including the 2006 World Cup. Unfortunately for Jordi, the biggest he thing did post-leaving United was probably score the golden goal for Liverpool in the 2001 UEFA Cup Final. While playing for Alaves.
10. Gabriel Obertan
Another of Fergie’s underwhelming “punt” signings, Obertan cost United a reported £3m in 2009, having been voted best player at the annual Toulon Tournament that summer. Ferguson thought he had found a potential superstar – what he actually found was a fairly lightweight French winger who enjoyed getting stuck down blind allees (here all night).
After making 14 league appearances in a 2-year spell, and scoring once in a Champions League dead rubber, Obertan now runs blindly down the wing for Newcastle. Having played for France at every youth level possible, he is yet to make his full French debut. That statistic will probably remain in place for some time to come.