Lukaku, Torres, Pogba: The biggest flop XI in Premier League history

  • Kobe Tong
Chelsea's Lukaku gesticulates.

Romelu Lukaku’s return to Chelsea must go down as one of the worst transfers in Premier League history.

Having sniffed out the chance of a fairytale comeback to Stamford Bridge having last played for the club in 2013, Lukaku waved goodbye to Inter Milan after two seasons to the tune of £97.5 million.

However, to say that Lukaku’s return to west London blew up in his face is the mother of all understatements because he’s now on the verge of re-signing for Inter just 12 months later.

Lukaku’s doomed Chelsea return

While Lukaku might have finished the 2021/22 campaign as Chelsea‘s top goalscorer with 15 goals in 44 games, the simple fact of the matter is that Thomas Tuchel had stopped trusting him by the second half of the season.

Looking like a square peg in the round hole of Chelsea’s football under Tuchel, the Belgian striker was regularly stapled to the bench in a dire situation perpetuated by his infamous Sky Italia interview in December.

It quickly became apparent that Lukaku wasn’t enjoying life at Chelsea anywhere near as much as he lapped up his two years at the San Siro where he arguably reached the zenith of his career.

Chelsea's Lukaku clapping.
Soccer Football – Premier League – Watford v Chelsea – Vicarage Road, Watford, Britain – December 1, 2021 Chelsea’s Romelu Lukaku applauds fans after the match Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or ‘live’ services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club /league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

And all that has led to a remarkable situation where the 29-year-old is on the verge of returning to Inter Milan on a one-year loan deal just a single season on from becoming Chelsea’s all-time record signing.

As such, we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised to see that the Blues’ doomed £97.5-million investment has slotted into a damning XI of the Premier League‘s biggest ever flops.

The biggest flop XI in Premier League history

On the back of Lukaku’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it return to Stamford Bridge, The Sun has built what they consider to be a line-up of the English top-flight’s most expensive flops since its 1992 rebranding.

With Lukaku leading the line along with cursed signings for Manchester United and Arsenal, it doesn’t half make for a cringe-worthy roster of players who simply couldn’t repay their big-money fees.

So, without further ado, be sure to check out who joins Lukaku in the damning XI of the Premier League’s biggest and most expensive flops down below:

GK: Kepa Arrizabalaga to Chelsea

Who else? The Blues spending a world-record fee for a goalkeeper for Kepa’s services has aged like milk with the Spaniard now reduced to their number two shot-stopper behind Edouard Mendy.

Once purported to have the worst save percentage in Premier League history, the Blues’ £71.6-million signing will perhaps worryingly be best remembered for Carabao Cup final antics: refusing to be substituted and missing a deciding penalty.

Kepa has struggled at Chelsea.
Soccer Football – Carabao Cup Final – Chelsea v Liverpool – Wembley Stadium, London, Britain – February 27, 2022 Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga looks dejected after the match REUTERS/David Klein

DF: Phil Jones to Manchester United

A bit harsh, no? While it’s certainly damning that Jones re-signed at United as recently as 2019 despite playing in just six Premier League games over the last three seasons, the club have still gotten over 200 matches out of their £16.5-million buy.

DF: Shkodran Mustafi to Arsenal

A transfer of catastrophic proportions with the Gunners shelling out £35 million on a player who ultimately became lamented week in, week out for individual errors until his contract was eventually terminated in 2021.

Mustafi warms up for Arsenal.
Soccer Football – Europa League – Group F – Arsenal v Standard Liege – Emirates Stadium, London, Britain – October 3, 2019 Arsenal’s Shkodran Mustafi during the warm up before the match REUTERS/David Klein

DF: Eliaquim Mangala to Manchester City

Snapped up in a £43.5-million deal and pocketing £12.5 million in wages, Mangala essentially cost City an eye-watering £1 million per game and only managed to recoup a pitiful £9 million on his original price tag.

MF: Juan Sebastian Veron to Manchester United and Chelsea

Veron became the Premier League’s most expensive player in history when he signed for United to the tune of £28.1 million and reported wages of £90,000-a-week, which was bonkers for the time, only to flop…

He then signed for Chelsea with similarly staggering wages and a transfer fee of £15 million, only to flop all over again, scoring just one goal and only playing 14 games.

Veron during his Chelsea spell.
Chelsea’s Juan Sebastian Veron, of Argentina, pulls up his shorts during a training session at the Louis II Stadium in Monte Carlo, April 19, 2004. Chelsea will play Monaco in a Champions League semi-final first leg soccer match on April 20. REUTERS/Darren Staples MR/MD/AA

MF: Paul Pogba to Manchester United

Another player with a Premier League record fee attached to their name, Pogba was snapped up for an eye-watering £89 million only to leave the club six years later for absolutely nothing having only averaged 25 league games per season.

MF: Danny Drinkwater to Chelsea

The former England international has been bounded about Burnley, Aston Villa, Kasımpaşa S.K. and Reading, as well as being plagued by off-the-field issues, since a disastrous Chelsea switch that yielded just 12 league appearances.

Drinkwater plays for Chelsea in a friendly.
Soccer Football – Pre Season Friendly – Reading v Chelsea – Madejski Stadium, Reading, Britain – July 28, 2019 Chelsea’s Danny Drinkwater in action Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge

MF: Nicolas Pepe to Arsenal

Seldom has £72 million been spent so poorly in Premier League history with Pepe boasting a dismal record of just 16 goals and nine assists from his 80 league outings for the Gunners. He looks set to leave the club this summer.

FW: Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United

At a cost of £20 million per Premier League goal, United’s accountants must still be weeping over the decision to give Sanchez wages of £505,000-a-week when he ultimately lasted just two seasons and 45 matches.

In fact, Sanchez knew that he’d made a dreadful error from day dot, astonishingly remarking in 2020: “After the session I got home and I told my family and my agent ‘can you not rip up the contract to go back to Arsenal?’.”

Sanchez flopped at Man Utd.
Soccer Football – Premier League – Everton v Manchester United – Goodison Park, Liverpool, Britain – April 21, 2019 Manchester United’s Alexis Sanchez during the warm up before the match REUTERS/Andrew Yates EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or “live” services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

FW: Fernando Torres to Chelsea

‘El Nino’ certainly had his moments at Stamford Bridge, but there’s no denying that his £50-million departure from Liverpool was a doomed one, continuing Chelsea’s number nine curse with just 20 league goals in 110 games.

FW: Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea

The reason we’re here. While, on paper, Lukaku’s 15 goals might seem like a sound return, the wheels fell off from the moment that he gave the now-infamous Sky Italia interview that further nailed him to the bench.

Lukaku scores for Chelsea.
Soccer Football – Club World Cup – Semi Final – Al Hilal v Chelsea – Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates – February 9, 2022 Chelsea’s Romelu Lukaku celebrates scoring their first goal REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Expensive mistakes

Goodness gracious me. That’s a lot of money flushed down the toilet.

While football clubs might ultimately treat footballers like assets when they invest eight-figure fees in their services, there’s no guarantee that they’ll pay that back in the way that, say, technology might.

The brutal reality for these sporting institutes is that every now and again you probably will make a signing like Lukaku, Pepe and Sanchez that makes you question why you ever opened your wallet in the first place.

Pepe is Arsenal's record signing.
Soccer Football – Premier League – Brentford v Arsenal – Brentford Community Stadium, London, Britain – August 13, 2021 Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe reacts Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or ‘live’ services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club /league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

But when you’re dealing with human beings and real people, that’s just the way that things can be whether it transpires to be their fault or something out of their hands making life difficult.

Either way, there’s no denying that the Premier League’s so-called ‘XI of big-money flops’ doesn’t exactly represent the wisest spending that we’ve ever seen in English football. Better luck next time.

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