The best and worst mid season signings
Jimmy Greaves – AC Milan to Tottenham – December 1961
Having proved himself a natural-born goal-scorer at Chelsea, Greaves left for AC Milan after four years in 1961. On the field, he proved an instant success in Italy, scoring nine goals in 12 appearances, but things were not so good off the field. Greaves did not settle into the country’s culture and tactics, and had an instant dislike for coach Nereo Rocco, whom he described only this summer as a “horrible Italian” and a “dictator”.
In December, Spurs boss Bill Nicholson completed the deal to take Greaves back to London for a fee of £99,999 – avoiding the pressure of making him the first £100,000 player – as his side targeted success in the league and European Cup. They were beaten in the semi-finals of the European Cup by eventual winners Benfica, and missed out on the title to Sir Alf Ramsey’s little-heralded Ipswich side. Nonetheless, Greaves helped fire the side to FA Cup glory that season and he went on to become one of the biggest legends in the club’s history.
Rodney Marsh – QPR to Manchester City – March 1972
QPR fans were left devastated when England striker Marsh left the club for Manchester City in a £200,000 deal. City fans were by the end of the season, too: they had been clear at the top of the table at the time of his arrival but ended up finishing fourth.
Asked recently if he’d destroyed City’s chances, he told the Guardian: “Yeah. You’d have to say I did. We were five points clear when I joined in the March. It did mess up the balance. I’d be a liar if I said my arrival didn’t change things. There was one game when we lost at home – I forget who against – and that was the day Derby caught us up and we all knew it was over. That night I went out on my own and got absolutely slaughtered.”
QPR, meanwhile, went unbeaten for the rest of the season and used the Marsh money to bring in the great Stan Bowles.
Trevor Francis – Birmingham to Nottingham Forest – February 1979
After proving himself a sensational talent at Birmingham throughout the 70s, Francis became the first £1 million player when he signed for Forest after a loan spell in the NASL with Detroit Express.
Brian Clough tried to play down the pressure of the move in his customary and eccentric style, claiming the deal was only £999,999 and that 24-year-old Francis had “great potential”. He also turned up late to his meeting with Francis, having played a game of squash, and told him to “just give the ball to John Robertson – he’s a better player than you”.
Many feel the move to Forest was, ultimately, not the success expected. However, he scored the only goal of that year’s European Cup final against Malmo, heading home Robertson’s cross to give Forest the continent’s greatest prize.
Ronnie Rosenthal – Standard Liege to Liverpool (loan) – March 1990
Widely remembered for his failed attempt to place the ball into an empty goal against Aston Villa in 1992, Rosenthal nonetheless played an important role in Liverpool’s most recent title success. Playing for Standard Liege, he had a brief spell on loan with Udinese in the 1989-90 season before heading to Luton for a trial. He scored two goals in three games for their reserves, but the clubs couldn’t reach a deal and Liverpool swooped in.
He made an instant impact, scoring a hat-trick on his first start, and then added four in their final six games of the season as they clinched the league by nine points. Liverpool made the deal permanent that summer for £1.1 million.
Eric Cantona – Leeds to Manchester United – November 1992
An instant success upon his arrival in England, Cantona helped Leeds to the league title in the 1991-92 season and became recognised as a truly exceptional talent. He began his second season in fine form, too, scoring a hat-trick in the 4-3 Charity Shield win over Liverpool and another in a 5-0 win over Tottenham later that month, but his relationship with Leeds boss Howard Wilkinson had deteriorated and it was an open secret that he was unsettled at Elland Road.
In November, Leeds made an unlikely offer for Denis Irwin of Manchester United – Leeds’ arch-rivals and their closest challengers the previous season – which was rejected, but United chairman Martin Edwards asked Leeds counterpart Bill Fotherby about Cantona and a deal was agreed for £1.2 million.
By Christmas, he was conducting the orchestra at United, bringing the best out of talents like Mark Hughes, Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe. United were suddenly playing with a verve they’d been lacking in a season that had looking in danger of foundering, and they eventually finished ten points clear at the top of the table.
For defending champions Leeds, the season was disastrous as they finished 17th, two points clear of relegation.
Robert Rosario – Coventry to Nottingham Forest – March 1993
If Brian Clough’s signing of Trevor Francis had been a limited success, his transfer dealings in the 1992-93 season could only be viewed as a failure. Teddy Sheringham scored the first ever Premiership goal in August 1992 but was allowed to join Tottenham the same month. Forest suffered badly and Clough – by now in heavy decline as a manager – made Rosario, who had never been a prolific striker, his final ever signing in a last-ditch attempt to steer the club from relegation.
It failed, with Rosario scoring just one goal in his ten Premiership appearances and Forest finished bottom, nine points from safety.
Andy Cole – Newcastle to Manchester United – January 1995
Having established himself as a phenomenal goal-scorer at Newcastle with 55 goals in 70 appearances – including 34 in 40 games in the Premier League in 1993-94 – Cole was the star man as the Magpies topped the table for much of the first half of the 1994-95 season.
It came as something of a shock, then, when Cole moved to Old Trafford for a then-record British transfer fee of £6 million plus Keith Gillespie – not least for Toon supporter Robert Nesbitt, who had an Andy Cole tattoo inked on his thigh two days before the deal.
Manager Kevin Keegan felt obliged to defend the decision on the steps at St James’ Park, but Newcastle’s title challenge fell to pieces and they had to settle for sixth. The season didn’t pan out as exactly as hoped for Sir Alex Ferguson either, though. With Eric Cantona incurring an eight-month ban as a result of his infamous attack on a Crystal Palace fan two weeks after Cole’s arrival, the new boy struggled to cope with the burden.
He scored 12 goals in 18 appearances – including five in one match against Ipswich – but his positive contributions to the cause that season were ultimately undermined by the costly misses at Upton Park on the final day as United squandered the title.
Faustino Asprilla – Parma to Newcastle – February 1996
Newcastle were top of the table when the eccentric Colombia striker Asprilla arrived, clad in a fur coat, in a £6.5 million deal. However, in a side featuring Les Ferdinand, Peter Beardsley, David Ginola and Keith Gillespie, Kevin Keegan’s entertainers were perhaps in greater need of defensive recruits.
Asprilla certainly showed flashes of his quality, but he was also a controversial and inconsistent figure, and results such as the 3-3 draw against Manchester City and the 4-3 defeat to Liverpool proved Newcastle’s undoing as they passed up a 12-point advantage to United, who eventual clinched the league at a canter.
Gianfranco Zola – Parma to Chelsea – November 1996
Still one of the most successful foreign imports to the Premier League, Zola joined Chelsea for £4.5 million after Carlo Ancelotti, a few months into his role as Parma boss, decided that Zola couldn’t fit into his 4-4-2 formation. “Probably I made a mistake with him,” Ancelotti said last year.
Zola made an instant impact at Stamford Bridge, named the Premier League Player of the Month in December, and he won the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year despite not having played a full season. He finished the campaign by helping Chelsea to FA Cup glory, the springboard for their Cup Winners’ Cup success the following year.
John Hartson/Paul Kitson – Arsenal/Newcastle to West Ham – February 1997
With West Ham bottom of the table, Harry Redknapp moved to reinforce his strike-force with Hartson for £3.2 million and Kitson for £2.3 million. The move paid off, with the pair scoring a combined 13 goals and lifting the team to a final position of 14th. The following season, Hartson was the second-highest scorer in the Premier League, but Kitson’s form tailed off and he subsequently found himself making a series of less-than-successful moves.
Jurgen Klinsmann – Sampdoria to Tottenham (loan) – December 1997
A huge success during his first stint at White Hart Lane in 1994-95 as he scored 29 goals in all competitions, Klinsmann nonetheless returned to Bayern Munich after Spurs failed to qualify for the UEFA Cup, prompting then chairman Alan Sugar to say he wouldn’t even wash his car with the shirt the striker wore in his last appearance for the club.
Klinsmann’s return to Bayern lasted one season before he moved to Sampdoria, and he wasn’t there long before heading back to Spurs on loan, with the Sugar incident seemingly all forgotten. “I had a fantastic year here,” Klinsmann said upon his return. “I was made to feel very comfortable by everybody.” Sugar added: “It is perfect for both of us.”
Spurs had been battling relegation under the much-maligned, tube-ticket carrying Christian Gross, but Klinsmann’s goals – including four against Wimbledon in the season’s penultimate game – rescued them. He then played for Germany in the 1998 World Cup before retiring from the game.