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From Djemba-Djemba to Di Maria: Worst Manchester United signings XI

Since Alex Ferguson took the helm at Manchester United, we’ve seen the club unearth some real transfer coups, be they the signing of relatively unknowns who have gone on to greatness, like current manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, or taking the risk of spending big money and getting paid back in spades, like Andy Cole, signing promising teenagers who went on to achieve world-wide acclaim like Cristiano Ronaldo, we have made some sensational signings.

On the flip side of that, there have been signings that have ranged from head scratching insanity signing a player off the streets, to dropping multi million transfer fees on players who quite simply flopped.

In today’s article we take a look at the former, the weird and not so wonderful world of the ones we simply got wrong.

Massimo Taibi

Arriving in 1999 as United needed to replace Peter Schmeichel, Taibi was a £4.5m singing to come compete with Mark Bosnich and Rai Van Der Gouw for the spot between the sticks.

Injury to his goalkeeping colleagues saw him line up against Liverpool at Anfield for his debut, where the Italian won the man of the match award for a somewhat solid performance, although marred by an error which saw him flap at a free kick and allow Sami Hyypia score for the Scousers, United ran out 3-2 winners thanks in no small part to two Jamie Carragher OG’s.

His career highlight ended there, a 1-1 draw against Wimbledon and “that mistake” against Southampton in a 3-3 draw, was capped off by a 5-0 hammering against Chelsea which spelt the end for the now nicknamed “Blind Venetian”.

11 goals conceded in 4 games, with some terrible  goalkeeping gaffs was enough for Ferguson to shoehorn Massimo Taibi into folklore in January, and out of the club.

Guillermo Varela

A David Moyes masterclass, Varela arrived at United a complete unknown, and left in not much better standing. Signed from Peñarol, Varela was the mooted signing of Moyes summer window in Manchester and spent more time in the reserves (including Real Madrid Castilla on loan) than in any senior sides. He did, however, make 11 appearances for the first team and even managed to chip in with an assist, but his rare sightings only showed how utterly useless Varela was. Now at FC Copenhagen, at least he’s found himself a home.

Neil Whitworth

Another strange signing attributed to Sir Alex, in 1990, when Ferguson decided to bring in third division Wigan’s 18-year-old centre back Neil Whitworth for £45,000.

Facing competition from Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister, the youngster was unlikely to ever really force his way into the side, and didn’t make his debut for a further 9 months after signing, it would remain to be his only appearance in a United shirt.

Managing to spend 4 years on the books at Old Trafford, albeit on loan for the most part, he stuck around until 1994 when the then double winners and the defender parted ways as he quietly departed for Scottish side Kilmarnock.

Although not a big money signing, his solitary appearance and failure to have any impact over the course of a 4 year career with the Red Devil’s must surly raise eyebrows as to what it was Ferguson saw that prompted him to bring the lad to Old Trafford in the first place?

Pat McGibbon

After a single professional appearance for Portadown in Northern Ireland, Ferguson parted ways with the princely sum of £100,000 to secure the signature of defender McGibbon, who was highly regarded in the youth setup, that was until he finally made his debut.

A seemingly “easy game” in the league cup against York City in 1995 saw United embarrassingly hammered 3-0 and McGibbon was sent for an early bath seeing a red card brandished in his direction.

This was to be his sole highlight at United, and having never made it a full 90 minutes in his 5 years on the books, he departed for Wigan after a spell on loan with Swansea City.

Alexander Buttner

Having handed the league title to our noisy neighbours the season previous, Alex Ferguson vowed to turn things around, and brought in Dutchman Robin Van Persie, the exciting Shinji Kagawa, and a £4.5m 23 year old Dutch defender Alexander Buttner to deputise and challenge Patrice Evra for the left back spot.

At 23, he had surpassed the “young prospect” stage of his career and it seemed like a strange signing, so strange in fact that even Dutch Media claimed they couldn’t understand why we signed him.

His debut silenced any critics, scoring a wonder goal and chipping in with an assist, we thought we had unearthed a diamond in the rough once again!

That was September, we didn’t see Buttner again in a league game until the following March. He featured in Sir Alex’s final game, which saw him get on the scoresheet, while conceding 5 to West Brom, and after David Moyes entered the fray and the Dutch defender failing to convince his new manager before he was unceremoniously sacked, Buttner limped out of Old Trafford thanks to Louis Van Gaal, with a handsome 13 league appearances in 2 years, and headed for Russia, never to be seen again, however he left with a Premier League medal, something he threw a dig at Steven Gerrard about in later years in the media…

Angel Di Maria

It all started off so well for the Argentinian, signed for a record fee. His goal against Leicester was sublime, and he showed real flashes of the brilliance that led Louis van Gaal to signing him. Unfortunately, he never wanted to be in Manchester and had his sights set firmly on a move to PSG which meant he began sulking and throwing his toys out of the pram. Di Maria’s spell at United was that underwhelming he’d be forgotten about if he weren’t such a rat, however 4 goals and 12 assists looks better than what it was. Since leaving, Di Maria has returned just once, and hilariously got wiped out by Ashley Young, with United overturning an unlikely deficit to qualify at the French clubs expense. I don’t wish ill on him, but…

Nick Powell

The man with the potential. Sir Alex signed Nick Powell from Crewe for £6.75m, and there was a real buzz about him following a blockbuster season the one before. He was scoring goals left, right and centre for the League Two side in their quest to the playoff final and was genuinely touted to be the next big thing to come out of the lower leagues. Powell had a succession of loan spells, and impressed at Wigan before he finally got something of a season at United (including that fabled Wolfsburg game under LvG). Injuries and attitude combined to bringing Powell’s shot at the big time to an abrupt end, and he is now playing for Stoke whom he joined on a free transfer in the summer. Powell REALLY wasted his potential.

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Eric Djemba-Djemba

So good they named him twice. That’s what many fans were singing upon his arrival at the club in the summer of 2003. A transfer window that proved to have been an extremely mixed bag. It netted us a young Cristiano Ronaldo but also two candidates that will be mentioned here. Eric 2D had impressed as a solid, no-nonsense tackler during his spell in France with Nantes. He chased and tackled everything in an away shirt in a champions league encounter as the home side drew 1-1. Ferguson recognised the fact that Keane was moving on age wise and looking towards his eventual replacement. He didn’t last long though. He failed to ever stamp his authority on the team, generally looking nervous in possession, rash when tackling and being mostly shit.

It was no surprise that he did not last longer than 18 months. The fact that Villa paid £1.5 million to sign him after all that. Just because he wasn’t good enough for Utd didn’t mean he wouldn’t do us a job. Nope. He was as anonymous at Villa Park as with us. Failing to get in ahead of the likes of Steven Davis and Gavin McCann. Martin O’ Neill shunted him out on loan to Burnley before Villa released him. Subsequent moves to St. Mirren, Odense, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Partizan Belgrade proved that he was never destined for the top. Certainly not following the lines of Eric Le Roi.

Gabriel Obertan

If the 2003 transfer window was a mixed bag, then dealings six years later was equally desperate. The club was receiving a hefty cheque from Real Madrid for the services of Cristiano Ronaldo and fans were expecting an equally major signing to replace him. This did not transpire, however. A winger from Wigan, the free transfer Michael Owen and another candidate who will be mentioned later on. Europe look out! It is true that United had reached two straight European Cup finals but recruitment let themselves down. Gabriel Obertan was part of these signings, having arrived from Bordeaux. He was a graduate of the famous Clairefontaine academy but not every attendee can make it. And he never seemed up to the task. A winger is designed to excite fans and get them on their feet. Obertan only inspired groans.

Before too long, he was packed off to Newcastle for around £3 Million. He did not exactly pull up too many trees in the North East either. Injuries did not help his cause too much, but the fans never took to him either. Going on to represent clubs in countries as diverse as Turkey, Bulgaria and Russia had him pegged as a quintessential journeyman player. He is not remembered by too many fans or with much fondness either.

Dong Fangzhou

Players are signed for various reasons. Pace, skill, goalscoring abilities, and so on. An extensive amount of scouting usually takes place prior to any signing. Certainly not anything as cynical as bringing a player in merely to appeal to a certain demographic. United would never do anything like that. Surely. He had impressed while playing for Dalian Shide in the Asian version of the Champions League. This had seemingly been enough for the reds to step in and buy him. It was not as easy that. Because of inability to obtain a work permit, he was unable to play for United at the start. A spell out in Belgium with Royal Antwerp was done in order to get over this and allow him some game time. He did not exactly rip up the scoring records but impressed enough to be recalled. But this was a time when the club had the likes of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Louis Saha and Ole Solskjaer. You had to be doing a hell of a lot more to get into the squad than be promising. Chances were few and far apart. Indeed, most fans can only recall a match at Stamford Bridge where the title had already been won. He was eventually let go at the end of the 08/09 season.

He was sent back to his former club but failed to really make an impact. He tried his luck with Legia Warsaw but looked badly out of his depth. He is currently playing in the Chinese second division on the last bit of information I was able to get on him. He seemed to have had the physical attributes to be able to make it in England. He was well-built, with good pace and strength but wasn’t ever able to put it altogether when it counted. Unfortunately, it seemed to be an exercise in selling shirts in a potentially lucrative market. His transfer was a disaster for all parties concerned. But he did have a funny sounding name.

Manucho

The first and to date, only, Angolan to play for the Reds, Manucho was signed through Carlos Quieroz’s network of contacts in Portugal and North Africa. Sadly this one proved a dud. He claimed an assist for Danny Welbeck on his debut, but that proved to be his only appearance for the club. A series of loan moves either side of his permanent move to Real Valladolid came to little and he now finds himself in the Spanish Third Division. Carlos was a great coach, but his talent spotting needs some work.

Subs

Ricardo

A number of goalkeepers were considered for this spot, but in the end the Spaniard won the toss by virtue of being the one who cost a fee. Signed a backup for Fabian Barthez he proved to be totally inept. He was at the club for three years playing five games in total for the club (one in the league) and conceding three penalties (though he did save one) and spending one year on loan. United have had some excellent backup keepers over the years (including now). Ricardo was definitely not one of them.

Fabio

Perhaps a little unlucky to make this list but there haven’t been many bad defensive signings. Fabio never achieved the cult hero status of his twin (we love you Rafa) and was even more unlucky in that whilst injuries to Gary Neville and Wes Brown opened up opportunities for Rafael, over on Fabio’s side Patrice Evra was an immovable object meaning he was just never able to break through in the same way. He had the odd moment, such as his goal against Arsenal in the FA Cup, but he never hit the heights his twin did. He spent a season on loan at QPR during their disastrous Premier League campaign of 2012-13 before moving on to first Cardiff, then Middlesbrough. He’s now joined his brother in France but whilst Rafa is turning out for perennial Champions League competitors Lyon, Fabio is with lowly Nantes.

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Kleberson

Jose Kleberson Pereira burst on to the scene during the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, going on to play a pivotal role as the Samba nation won the game’s biggest prize for a fifth time. A young player with flair and tenacity, Kleberson became Manchester United’s first Brazilian player, seen as a younger and perhaps more suited replacement for another expensive flop, Juan Sebastian Veron. Arriving at  Old Trafford at the same time as a brash, braided and teenaged tyro by the name of Cristiano, the careers of these two explosive young talents would soon take very different paths. There were flashes of the Brazilian’s potential – a pair of assists in wins over Aston Villa and derby success against City, and goals against Blackburn Rovers and Everton on Boxing Day. Yet for every lively, energetic showing, there were careless errors and a lack of confidence as the breakneck speed of the English game simply passed him by. What is it about Manchester United and Brazilian players – why do we always seem to get the naff ones? To be fair to Ferguson here, you could see why he signed him but it simply never worked out. Kleberson is now manager of the Philadelphia Union Academy in the USA.

Bebe

Speaking of transfer blunders, this one will take some beating. Bebe’s arrival was a classic rags to riches tale as the abandoned street orphan arrived at one of the biggest clubs in the world completely out the blue. It would either be a stroke of unparalleled genius or a catastrophe of Titus Bramble proportions. It didn’t take long to realise we were witnessing the latter. It was quickly apparent that Bebe was painfully out of his depth, tactically, technically and ability wise. He played only seven games and 334 minutes of football, and “If Bebe scores we’re on the pitch” became a terrace favourite. He did score too, against Bursaspor in the Champions League but was gone almost as quickly as he arrived. Bebe has since had a nomadic career, turning out for a string of clubs in his native Portugal and – still only 29 –  currently plies his trade at Rayo Vallecano in Spain’s second tier. To be fair, Bebe hasn’t done too badly since his ill-fated time at Old Trafford, but that doesn’t stop him ultimately being remembered as Sir Alex’s most infamous transfer and one of our worst ever players. He makes merely the bench because of his price tag (7.4m) in comparison to left-wing Angel Di M****a who was United’s most expensive signing at the time. Having said all that? Bebe 1-0 Gerrard…

Mame Biram Diouf

At least I could remember the other two flops we have here. This guy I genuinely had to Google to jog my memory and remind myself he played for us, so forgettable was he. A 47 cap Senegal international, Diouf is still playing for Stoke in the Championship and also turned out for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s former side Molde in two spells – sandwiched either side of his time at United.  Research tells me he had a promising start to life at United, and scored a header against Burnley on his home debut. He featured in two games against Leeds and Aldershot during United’s successful run to League Cup success, with Diouf an unused substitute in the final. His time at the club can best be described as fleeting and un-fulfilling. Diouf has since played for Blackburn and Hannover before arriving in the Potteries, where he has gone on to make over 100 appearances for Stoke.


This article was a collaborative piece done by Stretty News writers: Brian, Matt, Jamie, Jonathan and Philip.

READ MORE: Ultimate XI of Manchester United players who went on to shine elsewhere

More Stories Alexander Buttner Angel Di Maria Dong Fangzhou Eric Djemba-Djemba Gabriel Obertan Guillermo Varela Man Utd Manchester United Manucho Massimo Taibi Neil Whitmore Nick Powell Pat McGibbon