Each year, some players earn designation as Premier League’s disappointing signings
This past season, EPL clubs spent a combined $1.8 billion on transfer fees for incoming players. Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City and Aston Villa led the way in spending this past year. Not all of these players lived up to the hefty investment.
It is premature to label some of these players as ‘flops.’ Yet, all came up short of expectations. These players could not replicate the consistency that earned lucrative deals.
Premier League disappointing signings in 2021/22
Jack Grealish looked set to light up the Etihad having signed a record deal last summer. His 18 goal contributions in his final season at boyhood club Aston Villa carried the side to an impressive midtable finish. The season prior, Grealish was the impetus for survival in the Premier League.
His dynamic dribbling and creative approach inspired Villa against some of the league’s top sides. Many expected him to hit the ground running under Pep Guardiola, a long-time admirer of the Villa captain. Unfortunately, his debut campaign in Manchester was underwhelming to say the least. Mediocre performances further dropped his place in the pecking order.
With his sporadic minutes off the bench, he was unable to impress. He amassed a total of 10 goals in 39 appearances across all competitions. Grealish celebrated his first Premier League title in style. Yet, his 40-minute cameo against Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals will forever loom in his mind. The English international came off the bench and immediately took control against the Spanish giants, creating opportunities left, right and center. Unfortunately, lackluster finishing, coupled with Courtois’ magnificent performance in goal, prevented City from scoring the game-sealing goal. Eventually, Real seized the opening with a pair of goals in extra time to break City hearts.
The Argentine International was earmarked as an incredible recruitment by Aston Villa to replace the now-departed Grealish. His 32 goal contributions in the Championship were critical to Norwich’s promotion, rightfully earning him the EFL Championship Player of the Season award. His initial $42m fee shattered Aston Villa’s transfer record and showed the continued ambitions of the side’s ownership.
Many expected the playmaker to make an immediate impact. In fact, he emerged as a preseason favorite across fantasy football leagues. Fantasy owners soon regretted that predisposition. A disappointing start to the season was, at the very least, shocking.
By the end of 2021, Buendía had only contributed to three goals and his Villa side sat a dull 13th in the table. Though the end of the season was slightly better for the Argentine under new manager Steven Gerrard, he still did not live up to his record-breaking transfer fee. For now, Buendía looks out of place at Villa Park. However with the right formation and manager, Villa fans hope he can unlock his potential.
Coming off a stellar season under Antonio Conte, Big Rom returned to Stamford Bridge for a whopping $115m deal. His dominant performances in Serie A earned him the MVP award. A dynamic partnership with Lautaro Martinez led the Nerazzurri to a 19th Scudetto. The Belgian scored 64 goals for Inter in just two seasons. His return signaled another successful campaign. After all, he appeared to be entering his prime at the age of 28.
Coming off a strong Euros campaign, Lukaku continued his success on his Chelsea debut. He bagged the winning goal against city-rivals Arsenal. Unfortunately, this early season form did not continue for the Belgian. An ankle sprain further impeded his performances on the pitch. Though his first few months were underwhelming, Lukaku’s real nightmare stemmed from a controversial interview with Sky Italia. Lukaku spoke out regarding his frustration with club tactics and his role under Thomas Tuchel. Lukaku voiced his desired to return to the San Siro, something that infuriated his Chelsea supporters.
Tensions peaked when Tuchel omitted Lukaku from the Liverpool squad. Then, Tuchel stood by Lukaku and continued to start him up-top in the Premier League. However, his January goal drought saw him fall down the pecking order. The Belgian striker remained on the bench for weeks on end, not even making the squad for the side’s crucial second leg against Real Madrid. Lukaku finished the season strong scoring a brace against Wolves and scoring another against Leeds the following matchday. Though he finished the season as Chelsea’s top goalscorer, the striker remained one of the Premier League’s disappointing signings. His off-the-field antics serve as an example of what not to do at your new club for years to come.
Finally, the English winger made his long-awaited return to England last summer. The Red Devils bought the Manchester City youth academy graduate for $100m after months of pursuit. Sancho’s stint at Dortmund was nothing short of magical. He scored 50 goals and contributed to a further 64 assists in 137 appearances for BVB. At just 21, Sancho’s form trailed a stellar campaign.
Acquired alongside Raphaël Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo, this was a dream transfer window for Manchester United. A title challenge looked in sight at Old Trafford. However, in post-SAF fashion, Manchester United fell far short of their expectations. Unfortunately, Sancho was a centerpiece of their disappointing start to the season. Often finding himself on the bench, Sancho had limited minutes under Ole Gunnar Solskjær. As a result, the winger only scored two goals come the New Year, with no assists to boot.
However, the new year brought renewed hope for Manchester United fans. Caretaker manager Ralf Rangnick looked set to bring a much-needed return to tactical discipline.
Though Sancho certainly revived some off his Dortmund form under the interim manager, United continued to disappoint overall. The Englishman was a lone bright spot in attack for United towards the end of the season, however he still failed to justify his astronomical transfer fee in the eyes of many. Sancho’s forgettable debut campaign went from bad to worse as United failed to qualify for the Champions League – a result that seemed unimaginable after their summer window.
The Brazilian fullback replaced Matt Doherty, a disappointing singing himself after a successful sting at Wolves. who had failed to live up to his exceptional performances at Wolves. Emerson’s $33m transfer fee seemed to be a bargain considering the huge demand for young fullbacks across Europe. Emerson had impressed in his two seasons on loan at Real Betis, prompting Barcelona to trigger their option to buy the 23-year-old. However, the Catalan side’s surplus of fullbacks triggered an immediate exit for the Brazilian.
His attacking prowess at fullback was a thorn for many La Liga sides. Plus, his consistency earned him a call-up to Brazil’s national team for the 2021 Copa America. With all this anticipation, Spurs fans were certain that the Brazilian would star in the 3-at-the-back system deployed by manager Nuno Espírito Santo. Though he was not awful under Nuno, he certainly came up short of expectations. Spurs, as a whole, continued to struggle under the Portuguese manager. Consequently, the club relieved the Portuguese of his duties. In place stepped for serial winner and world-renowned tactician Antonio Conte. Conte has a knack for letting wingbacks shine.
Spurs fans hoped Conte’s arrival would spark the Emerson of Betis. The story failed to unfold in that way. Defensive lapses and critical mistakes sent him to the bench, while Doherty upticked his form under Conte.
Emerson’s rejuvenated his form in the season’s closing weeks. He began displaying the potential that many knew he had. Overall, it may be harsh to call Emerson one of the Premier League’s disappointing signings. Regardless, his overall displays across the season were underwhelming. This is particularly true compared to right backs like Reece James, Trent Alexander-Arnold Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo.
Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
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