20 Promising Youngsters Who Were English Football Transfer Busts
Sometimes, the kids aren't all right. With the January transfer window inching ever closer, the footballing world turns once again to its promising young wünderkinds. Sometimes, they end up in the EPL and do amazingly well—other times, not so much.
Here are 20 (in no particular order)—and I'm sure there are a whole lot more—of the promising young wünderkinds from England and abroad who struggled with top-flight transfers.
Some are still playing, a couple still have a shot with more time, some careers eventually recovered and a few weren't necessarily bad players; just a bad fit at their teams. For all intents and purposes, the cutoff age for this was 21.
As always, if there's anyone we forgot, have at it in the comments.
Bébé (Manchester United)
Bébé starts us off because he is still only 21 and there's still plenty of time for him to become great eventually.
But the young Portuguese international, who signed with Manchester United at the age of 20 after just five weeks with Vitória, costing the club £7.4 million, a rather sizable fee for a relative unknown.
Since his arrival at Old Trafford, Bébé has only appeared twice and has yet to score, resulting in a loan to Besiktas, where an injury will likely relegate him to the bench for now.
José Antonio Reyes (Arsenal)
He may have been a part of Arsenal's "Invincibles" squad, but José Antonio Reyes was certainly, well, vincible.
When the winger came to North London at the age of 20 under gushing praise from Arsene Wenger and with a price tag of £10.5 million, it was to quite a bit of bluster, as Sevilla manager Joaquín Caparrós wanted to keep him.
Reyes certainly wasn't the worst Arsenal signing in recent years, and he had his flashes of brilliance: he looked solid at the beginning of the 2004-2005 season and contributed goals towards Arsenal's still-unbeaten run.
But he quickly dropped in form and never really regained it consistently, and he struggled with homesickness despite his family living in England with him.
His most notorious moment came in 2005, when a Spanish radio station prank called him, leading to an admission that he wanted to transfer to Real Madrid. He got his shot at the Bernabéu in 2006 on a loan spell, but ended up making the full transfer to their crosstown rivals, Atlético Madrid.
Kevin Davies (Blackburn Rovers)
He's now the skipper at Bolton Wanderers, but at the age of 21, Kevin Davies' career almost took an irreparable flop turn. Declared a promising prospect at Southampton, Blackburn swooped in and brought him to Ewood Park in 1998 for 10 times what Southampton paid for him.
And that large chunk of change—£7.5 million, to be precise—would eventually go to waste: in 25 league appearances, Davies managed just one goal.
He would return to Southampton and struggle for first-team play and have a few more unsuccessful stints before landing at Bolton, where he is today.
Craig Bellamy (Coventry City)
Liverpool's Welsh hard man is now in his 30s, back into the top flight of English football after a loan spell at Cardiff and subsequent release from Manchester City, and he still has a bit of career left.
But the striker's first spell in the top division at Coventry City, where he arrived in 2000 for a fee of £6.5 million, left much to be desired.
Bellamy, then 21, only scored six goals on the season and hemmed and hawed about a possible move back to Norwich City as Coventry faced relegation. They ended up going down, and Bells went on to a decidedly more successful spell at Newcastle United.
Jermaine Pennant (Arsenal)
When he was 15, Jermaine Pennant was touted as the future of the Premiership, a cracking winger who Arsenal brought over from Notts County for £2 million, at the time an astronomical fee for someone still at the academy level.
But with discipline problems, homesickness and a failure to break into the first team among Pennant's issues with the Gunners, he ended up spending little time in an Arsenal shirt and most of his tenure there on loan spells.
Discipline problems would plague him on another move later in his career, this one on loan to Real Zaragoza.
Zoran Tosic (Manchester United)
In January 2009, after a string of impressive performances for the Serbian national team and Partizan Belgrade, Zoran Tosic, then 21, joined Manchester United for £8 million.
His equally promising Partizan teammate, Adem Ljajic, was also set to join the club at Old Trafford for a £16.3 million combined deal. But with the club citing work permit problems, the deal fell through and only Tosic remained.
He appeared only twice—both in substitutions—and spent the rest of his tenure at United doing rather well on the reserve squad but never breaking into the first team. He was loaned to Köln and then sent to CSKA Moscow on a net loss for United, but Tosic is faring better in the Russian Premier League.
And for what it's worth, Adem Ljajic, who was supposed to join him at Old Trafford, is now lighting up the pitch at Fiorentina, has been called "the next Kaká" and looks poised to attract interest from top-flight clubs soon, and likely for way more than United would have snagged him.
Georgios Samaras (Manchester City)
The Greek attacker has had a generally solid career, but his brief foray into the English Premier League was a disaster.
In 2006, a slightly more cash-strapped Manchester City plunked £6 million on Georgios Samaras to bring the promising winger over from Heerenveen, where he served the Dutch club well and rode in on a wave of hype.
Sadly, it was not a good match. Over the course of his time with City, Samaras failed to find a place in the first team and only scored five goals in 16 appearances, making him one seriously expensive chronic substitute.
He was loaned to Celtic and has been a fixture at the Scottish club ever since.
Francis Jeffers (Arsenal)
Francis Jeffers was a teenage dream at Goodison Park—making his Premier League debut at the age of 16, he impressed against Manchester United and scored 20 goals in 60 appearances while at Everton.
Naturally, the so-called "fox in the box" caught the eye of Arsene Wenger, who brought him to Arsenal for a then-massive £8 million.
But the fox was dogged by injury and a lack of consistent form, and Jeffers only scored four goals for the Gunners before being shipped off to Charlton Althetic—not exactly a return on Wenger's investment.
Jon Dahl Tomasson (Newcastle United)
Another example of a good player in a mismatched role. The Danish striker—one of the best players on the national team in recent times—came to Newcastle United riding a wave of hype, thanks to great performances at Heerenveen.
Kenny Dalglish wanted to bring him on as an attacking partner for Alan Shearer, and so in 1997, he arrived at St. James' Park.
But Tomasson's fortunes alongside Shearer were not to be—he scored just three goals in his only season with the Magpies before being shipped off to Feyenoord.
Poor Denílson—like quite a few of his counterparts on this list, he wasn't a bad player and had some good moments on the pitch, but it just never quite came together.
A promising star upon his arrival at Arsenal despite his status at a reserve player at São Paulo (although he did impress as the captain of the Brazil U17 national team), he could never quite return on the promise the club saw in him.
Denílson had a few great matches in his second season with the Gunners, but his defensive struggles, injury woes, a sharp drop in form his last two seasons (and confidence) and the arrival of midfield starlet Jack Wilshere all contributed to the departure of Denílson, now on loan at his old club, São Paulo.
Hugo Viana (Newcastle United)
The midfielder, now a veteran at Braga, won European Young Player of the Year following an impressive debut season at Sporting CP, leading to Newcastle United bringing him to St. James' Park in 2002 for an amount believed to be around €12.4 million.
At Newcastle, Viana failed to gel with his teammates, often finding himself on the bench and only scoring four goals in two seasons with the club.
His fortunes changed when Newcastle sent him back to Sporting on a loan spell in 2004, where he helped lead his old side to a UEFA Cup final.
Steve Simonsen (Everton)
The goalkeeper cut his teeth as a teenager at Tranmere Rovers, earning seven consecutive clean sheet, testing his mettle and impressing enough that Everton signed him in 1998 for £3.3 million, a record for a teenage signing and a goalkeeper at that.
But it would be a long time before Steve Simonsen would see the first-team action he craved: he made just two league appearances in his first two seasons at the club and three in his last as David Moyes took him out of the first team.
He was eventually released and allowed to go to Stoke City on a free transfer, where he set the record for the Potters' goalkeeper with the most consecutive clean sheets (again, seven).
Mark Kennedy (Liverpool)
Mark Kennedy was lightning in a bottle as a teen at Millwall, developing into a contender and shocking British football fans when an impressive strike eliminated Arsenal from the FA Cup in his last season at The Den.
Kennedy caught the eye of Liverpool, who signed him for £1.5 million, then setting the transfer record for a teenage player. But the left-sided player failed to break into the first team, making just 16 appearances over the course of three seasons.
After a loan spell at Queens Park Rangers, Kennedy went on to stints at Wimbledon and Manchester City before settling in at Wolverhampton.
Vicente Matias Vuoso (Manchester City)
20-year-old Argentine striker Vicente Matias Vuoso was set to be Manchester City's next big thing, and manager Kevin Keegan brought him over in 2002 to the tune of £3.5 million.
Vuoso did not appear once at Maine Road, but was loaned out to Santos Laguna in Mexico, and he's stayed in the league ever since, alternating stints at Santos Laguna and Club América, both to far more appearances and more goals.
Dong Fangzhuo (Manchester United)
When striker Dong Fangzhuo arrived at Manchester United at the age of 18, he was met with fanfare—he was the club's first Chinese player and impressed in youth matches for his national team.
He had to wait two seasons to make his debut at Old Trafford, though, due to work permit issues and his ineligibility to play, spending most of the time on a loan spell at Royal Antwerp (where he performed a lot better, scoring 33 goals in 61 appearances).
By the time he could actually play in the United first team, he made just one league appearance before returning to his old club, Dalian Shide.
Robert Rosario (Norwich City)
In a way, Robert Rosario was sort of doomed from the beginning: before he was signed anywhere, he had three failed trials with Brentford, Watford and Tottenham Hotspur.
Nevertheless, he impressed while in the Southern League at Hillingdon and the Canaries signed him at the age of 17. The following season, he impressed in his first start, a 6-1 victory over Watford.
After that, things never quite gelled for Rosario. He netted 29 goals in 161 appearances with Norwich City—not a terrible record, but nothing to write home about considering the hype that surrounded him as a teen.
He would go on to a more notable spell as a transfer bust at Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest later in his career—the side would be relegated in his first season, with Rosario his last signing.
El-Hadji Diouf (Liverpool)
Everyone's favorite tacky Cadillac Escalade-driving itinerant striker attracted the interest of Gérard Houllier after a standout performance at the 2002 World Cup for Senegal—he was instrumental in getting the side to the quarter-finals. Houllier chose him over Nicolas Anelka, to the tune of £10 million.
Although he had a few good moments, they were overshadowed by his inability to score consistently (just six goals in 79 appearances) and his tendency to stir up controversy, mostly by spitting at opposing fans in three separate incidents, one apparently at an 11-year-old Middlesbrough fan.
The lack of consistent good form and disciplinary problems led to a loan and eventual transfer to Bolton, where he fared better and became a fan favorite at the Reebok.
Nicolas Anelka, Houllier's other option, went on to Manchester City, where he fared decidedly better than Diouf did at Anfield.
Hélder Postiga (Tottenham Hotspur)
All too often, the man they called "The Postman" failed to deliver. In 2003, following his fantastic form as a teen at Porto, contributing to the Portuguese Liga side winning the UEFA Cup, 20-year-old Postiga was offered a €12 million contract to come to White Hart Lane.
The striker struggled to adjust to the Premiership and only managed to score one league goal for Spurs in 19 appearances before being sent back to Porto. The season after his return, he was sent to Porto's B team.
Jô (Manchester City)
After an impressive run of form as a teen at CSKA Moscow, Brazilian international Jô was brought to Manchester City for a fee rumored to be around £18 million—at the time, a club transfer record (my, how things change in so little time).
The striker ended up scoring one very expensive league goal in 21 appearances for City, who sent him out on a string of similarly quiet loan spells at Everton and Galatasaray before he returned to Brazil to try to reignite his career at Internacional.
Titus Bramble (Newcastle United)
Oh, Titus Bramble. When the defender, then 20, signed at Newcastle United in 2004 for £6 million, he said he wanted Sir Bobby Robson "to put him on the team sheet every week."
That plan didn't work out so well: in his second season with the Magpies, Bramble was named the "Worst Premiership Player of the Year" by The Fiver in The Guardian, beating Juan Sebastian Veron and Emile Heskey.
As David Ljunggren wrote:
"Titus's occasional flash of brilliance is heavily outweighed by the total inability to think before attempting what inevitably turns into a hashed clearance, a mistimed tackle, an own goal or a penalty for the opposition... Not even Mr Em [Emile Heskey] could play in the same team as Hugo Viana and Laurent Robert and still be the worst player on the pitch."