The ubiquity of televised football over the past two decades has resulted in foreign teams losing the sense of exoticism they carried in the 1970s and 1980s. It would be impossible now for players such as Teofilo Cubillas and Roger Milla to sneak under the radar and take the World Cup by storm. The increased knowledge of football outside of British shores has resulted in an unstoppable influx of foreign players into the Premier League.
Most of these signings are undoubtedly based on months of careful scouting, however, when the World Cup comes round, it can be tempting for managers to take a punt on the talent on show, even if it is only exhibited over three games against often mediocre opposition. These ten players are examples of why it is perhaps a little foolish to judge on the basis of tournament performance alone.
Jones is still the United States’ record cap holder, having appeared 164 times for his country, encompassing three World Cups. It was after an impressive tournament in his own country, where he featured in a strong performance against eventual winners Brazil, that Coventry City boss Phil Neal decided to take a chance and bring Jones to England. The Sky Blues had an impressive strike force at the time; Jones came into a side also featuring Dion Dublin, Peter Ndlovu and countryman Roy Wegerle.
However, this being before the advent of the MLS, Jones had never previously played professional football before, and struggled to adapt to the English game. He scored only twice, against relegated Norwich and Crystal Palace, as Coventry did their traditional job of just avoiding relegation. Jones left after a season to join Brazilian side Vasco da Gama. Later a club legend at LA Galaxy, the dreadlocked midfielder was obviously a very good player, perhaps equal to Landon Donovan in terms of popularity, but the move to the Premier League came a couple of years too early for him.
Middlesbrough were known for the influx of Samba magic and flair they brought to England in the mid-90’s, most notably in the shape of the Brazilian internationals Juninho, Emerson and Branco. However, the first South American to play for them was actually Jaime Moreno, a Bolivian who signed from Colombian side Independiente Santa Fe. A young forward for a Bolivia side who failed to emerge from an admittedly tough group at USA 94, Moreno, like his compatriot Marco Etcheverry, was a graduate from the much-vaunted Tahuichi Academy, and was expected to take Division One – and its rough-house style of football – by storm.
In the days when Boro still trotted out at the dilapidated Ayresome Park, Moreno wasn’t trusted to start games, often appearing as an impact substitute. His goal return suffered as a result: just two, one of them in the Anglo-Italian Cup. Bryan Robson’s side won the division and gained promotion to the Premier League, and Moreno gained the honour of becoming the first Bolivian to appear in English football’s heralded league. Despite this, Moreno soon left for DC United, where he became the record goalscorer, and Juninho instead became the South American hotshot the club were searching for.
The common claim is that France won the 1998 World Cup without a striker. Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet were still raw, underdeveloped talent, Bernard Diomede barely appeared and Stephane Guivarc’h was, well… ‘terrible’. Yet, it was Guivarc’h who started as the lone striker in the crushing three-goal victory over Brazil in the Final. Despite not scoring in the competition, Guivarc’h was praised for his role as a ‘pivot’ by coach Aime Jacquet, which obviously convinced Newcastle United manager Kenny Dalglish to part with £3.5m to secure the Frenchman’s signature.
Dalglish, perhaps as a result of a transfer policy that saw him waste money on the likes of Andreas Andersson and Jon Dahl Tomasson, was soon sacked and replaced by Ruud Gullit, who saw Guivarc’h score on his debut. However, that was the only time the Frenchman caused the net to ripple in the English game, and by November of 1998, he was a Glasgow Rangers player. The Daily Mail later ‘awarded’ Guivarc’h the title of ‘Worst Ever Premier League Striker’. At least he has a World Cup Winner’s medal to comfort him.
Margas was the defensive mainstay in a Chile side that progressed to the second round of France 98, fired purely by the goals of Marcelo Salas and the workrate of Ivan Zamorano. Chile actually failed to win a game at the tournament, but they had conquered the group stage for only the second time in the 36 years since they hosted the competition, and thus their players’ stock immediately rose. Salas joined soon-to-be Italian champions Lazio, whilst Margas was snapped up by Harry Redknapp at West Ham. The Chilean centre-back gained the adoration of the Upton Park faithful by dyeing his curly hair claret and blue, but the fact that this is remembered speaks volumes about his impact on the actual pitch.
Margas made just three appearances in his first season in London; he was homesick and thus went missing on a number of occasions, only for it to be discovered that he had returned to Chile. Unlike previous signing Marco Boogers, a full breakdown was averted, and Margas returned, eventually playing for the Hammers until his retirement in the summer of 2001. He never really replicated his France ’98 form, yet is still remembered by West Ham fans, as the club went through a golden spell under Redknapp.
Acimovic’s performance for Slovenia against Paraguay in 2002, where he scored the 100th goal of the tournament and also hit the bar, was one of the few memorable moments from an otherwise miserable first World Cup campaign for the former Yugoslav nation. Their star player Zlatko Zahovic had been sent home after a monumental bust-up with coach Srecko Katanec, and thus it was left for Acimovic, plying his trade with former European Champions Red Star Belgrade, to fulfil the glitzy playmaker role for the Slovenes.
Acimovic’s efforts failed to earn Slovenia even a point, but he did come to the attention of Tottenham Hotspur boss Glenn Hoddle, who, perhaps seeing something of himself in the midfield maestro, brought him to White Hart Lane on a free transfer shortly on his return from Korea. Unfortunately, Acimovic could not make the grade in England, starting just four games in two seasons before moving to French club Lille. He is best remembered for an astonishing open-goal miss in the London derby against Fulham, which has to be seen to be believed. Acimovic is often cited alongside the likes of Hossam Ghaly and Grzegorz Rasiak as examples of foreign signings who flattered to deceive at Tottenham.
Already something of a club legend at Galatasaray (whom he helped become the first, and so far only, Turkish winners of a European trophy by beating Arsenal in the UEFA Cup Final in 2000) Sukur was part of the Turkey side that came third at the 2002 World Cup, by far their best-ever performance. Despite this, Sukur is often seen as having had a poor tournament individually, especially in comparison to the likes of Hasan Sas and Alpay Ozalan, who were named in FIFA’s Team of the Tournament. Sukur scored just one goal in Korea and Japan, the opener in the third-place play-off, which, coming after just 11 seconds, confirmed Sukur a place in the record books.
Blackburn Rovers had been struggling for a clinical striker ever since the departure of Chris Sutton in 1999 and, with the failure of players such as Egil Ostenstad and Corrado Grabbi to find the back of the net, Graeme Souness turned to the reputation of Sukur in December 2002, signing him on a free transfer from Italian club Parma. Sukur wasn’t as disgracefully bad as some say; he scored twice against Fulham in April 2003, yet he only featured on nine occasions overall. Indeed, compared to his mammoth 293 goals for Galatasaray, Sukur’s stint in England was fairly underwhelming.
In the summer of 2002, it seemed as if El-Hadji Diouf had the world at his feet. The outstanding talent in a Senegal side that had shocked the world by beating holders France and progressing to the World Cup quarter-finals, Diouf secured a £10m move from Lens to Liverpool, who, under Gerard Houllier, were confident of finally bringing the Premier League title to Anfield. Perhaps the best example of why not to judge players on a single tournament, Diouf was abysmal for Liverpool, and quickly became unpopular with the fans. Jamie Carragher said of him:
He has one of the worst strike rates of any forward in Liverpool history. He’s the only no. 9 ever to go through a whole season without scoring, in fact he’s probably the only no. 9 of any club to do that. He was always the last one to get picked in training.
Diouf scored just three times in his stint on Merseyside, which lasted until 2005. He later excelled in a Bolton side that featured regularly in Europe but, for a man who somehow made it into Pele’s selection of the 125 ‘Greatest Living Footballers’ in 2004, he is recognised more for in this country for his controversial behaviour, such as spitting at Celtic fans in a European game, rather than for his footballing prowess.
Like Diouf, Diao was a member of the powerful Senegal side in Korea and Japan, scoring the finest goal of the tournament against Denmark by finishing off a counter-attack he had started in his own penalty area. Like Diouf, he was snapped up by Liverpool after the World Cup. Like Diouf, he is seen as another one of Gerard Houllier’s bad buys. However, Diao arguably adapted to the English game better than his compatriot; Liverpool won over half of their games that Diao featured in their midfield, and fans appreciated his powerful playing style.
However, Diao’s reputation suffered from the Liverpool faithful’s over-hyped expectations. A second place finish in 2001-02 was seen as the final stepping-stone on the way to an inevitable title under Houllier, but signings such as Diouf, Diao and Bruno Cheyrou simply weren’t ambitious enough, and Liverpool failed to even qualify for the Champions League. Overall, Diao appeared on 61 occasions for the club, scoring three goals, before being loaned out to various English clubs on Rafael Benitez’s arrival. He was actually a Liverpool player until 2007, but, by that time, he was a relic of a gladly forgotten time.
Paintsil was signed for West Ham by Alan Pardew, on the back of a solid stint as right-back for Ghana in the 2006 World Cup. The ‘Black Stars’, featuring in their first ever tournament, had made it to the second round, with Paintsil playing every minute. Unfortunately for the Ghanaian, his arrival at Upton Park coincided with that of two Argentinian players, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, which sent shockwaves through the club so vast it resulted in the club being embroiled in a serious relegation battle. Paintsil made only five appearances that season, the message seemingly being that he was good enough for Africa’s best, but not sufficient for the Premier League’s worst.
However, West Ham survived, and Paintsil stayed on, playing a further fourteen games before moving onto Fulham in 2008. Paintsil was never a bad player, but he perhaps epitomises the gripe of nondescript, average foreign names being brought to the Premier League ahead of emerging British talent. Perhaps the most interesting tale of Paintsil’s time in the Premier League emerged from his name; due to a birth registration error, he was deemed by the Premier League to be ‘John Pantsil’, and had this nom de guerre printed on the back of his shirt.
One of a multitude of bad buys by Roy Hodgson during his ill-fated, six-month spell at Anfield, Jovanovic had scored the winning goal for Serbia against Germany in South Africa, and this, combined with his goal-every-other-game ratio for Standard Liege, convinced Hodgson to bring the forward-cum-winger to the Premier League in the summer of 2010. Apparently, ex-Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez had wanted Jovanovic at his new club Internazionale, but Hodgson pipped him to the signature.
It quickly became apparent that the 29-year-old was not a Premier League standard goalscorer, or player, for that matter, and the January signings of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll pushed him out of the picture for good. Funnily enough, by then, Hodgson and Benitez were both unemployed. Jovanovic is now retired, having returned to Belgium with Anderlecht. He played ten games for Liverpool in the league, failing to score.