5 quality players whose quality failed to show at Liverpool

When you think about transfer flops it’s easy to remember the likes of Djimi Traore, Milan Jovanovic, Andriy Voronin and Frode Kippe. But those were players who were signed with little money spent and who had no proven pedigree.

Then there are the major, expensive flops where money was splashed on potential, rather than proven ability.

But then there are those players who arrived with high expectations due to their reputation and proven pedigree. They brought an air of excitement and their signing was seen as a coup for the club.

They were quality players, but their quality just never worked at Liverpool.

Oh what could have been…

Nuri Sahin

Signed: August 2012 (From Real Madrid) Season Loan
Left: January 2013 (Loan Terminated Early)


The signing of Sahin was one of the transfer stories of the summer, with Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool fighting off competition from Arsenal to secure the highly-rated midfielder on loan from Real Madrid. It was a major coup for a team not able to offer Champions League football and Jose Mourinho had reportedly helped persuade Sahin to join Liverpool.

[sws_pullquote_left] “Nuri Sahin is a player with great technique and motivation and someone who will fit in smoothly to our playing model.” – Brendan Rodgers. [/sws_pullquote_left]But the silky Turk has thus far been underused and used out of position in his 6 months on Merseyside, making just 12 appearances and now expected to have his loan deal terminated early.

Sahin’s form as a holding midfield player at Dortmund in the 2010-11 season – when Dortmund won the League and Sahin won Player of the Season – prompted Real Madrid to spend €10m on him. But Rodgers, even with Lucas out injured, has used him in a more advanced role.

In December, Sahin explained “I’ve played my whole career deeper – that’s my position. But I have played as a number ten here. It was new for me but I tried my best to help the team.”

Sahin’s quality is not in question, but so far it hasn’t flourished at Liverpool.

Update: Sahin’s loan has now been ended early and he’s returned to Dortmund.

Fernando Morientes

Signed: January 2005 (From Real Madrid) Cost: £6.5m
Sold: May 2006 (To Valencia) Fee: £3m

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OW37bkplsxg&w=600&h=450]

“You know you’re not taking a risk [signing Morientes]. It’s good from a symbolic point of view that we’ve signed someone who’s so renowned as a world-class player” remarked Steven Gerrard upon the signing of the recently crowned ‘European Striker of the Year’.

Morientes was a proven forward across Europe and had long been linked with a move to the Premier League. His signing was seen as a masterstroke from Rafa Benitez but sadly it didn’t turn out that way as he struggled to adapt to the English game (TM) and failed to find form at Anfield.

The Spaniard was cup-tied for the Reds’ Champions League victory in Istanbul and made just 15 appearances in his first half-season, scoring three times. 2005/06 saw him competing for a place up front alongside Djibril Cisse and Peter Crouch and Robbie Fowler. He started 33 games in all competitions, but scored only 9 goals.

After returning to Spain with Valencia after just 18 months on Merseyside, Morientes explained “I didn’t like the physical nature of the game in England or the referees who let more things go, and who blow for fewer fouls than they do here [in Spain]. A striker isn’t protected from rival defences there, and they gave me a really hard time.”

Jari Litmanen

Signed: January 2001 (From Barcelona) Free Transfer
Left: September 2002 (To Ajax) Free Transfer


Perhaps two quotes sum of the career of Jari Litmanen at Liverpool:

“We have signed a world class player. One of the most exciting signings we have ever made.” – Gerard Houllier.

“It’s strange that he was so pleased when he signed me and then decided to not use me. I cannot explain it myself.” – Litmanen.

What happened in the season and half Litmanen had at Liverpool remains a mystery that only Gerard Houllier can solve. The Finn arrived from Barcelona aged 30 but still with plenty to offer and had been described as the best attacking midfielder in the World during his time at Ajax before his move to the Nou Camp.

But Houllier signed the player and couldn’t find a way to accomodate him in what was a strong squad. The first half-season was the culmination of the treble Cup success, with Owen, Fowler, Heskey and Litmanen as the forward options. Mouthwatering. Jari started just 5 League games and wasn’t used in any of the three Finals.

Litmanen’s goal against Tottenham at the start of the 01/02 season from all of 40 yards remains one of my favourite ever Liverpool goals. Jari is probably the most talented Liverpool player to never make 50 appearances for the club. He was criminally underused by Houllier.

Harry Kewell

Signed: July 2003 (From Leeds) Cost: £5m
Left: July 2008 (To Galatasaray) Out of contract

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbHw0XZUX-c&w=600&h=450]

Liverpool signed the Australian winger and benefited from Leeds United’s financial ruin by picking up the talented winger for £5m. Gerard Houllier’s side had just finished 5th after failing to build on their 2nd placed finish the year before after a terrible summer that saw El Hadji Diouf, Bruno Cheyrou and Salif Diao arrive.

Kewell, unlike the previous summer’s signings, arrived with proven Premier League quality. He had been a key role of David O’Leary’s exciting Leeds side that reached the semi-finals of the Champions League just 2 years ago. At 25 years old he was in his prime, and as a boyhood Liverpool fan turned down more lucrative offers to sign for his club. It was the perfect signing.

His first season went okay, not great but maybe more because the season wasn’t great for Liverpool as a team – culminating in Houllier leaving the club. Kewell scored 11 goals in 49 games though. That summer saw Rafa Benitez arrive and Kewell’s injury problems took over. “One day Harry is okay, and the next he says he is unfit. We don’t know exactly what the problem is. It changes each day” remarked Benitez.

[sws_pullquote_right]Kewell came off injured in three successive finals; against Chelsea in the League Cup in 2005, Milan in Istanbul 2005 and West Ham in the FA Cup 2006. [/sws_pullquote_right]That first season under Houllier proved to be Kewell’s most productive in terms of appearances and goals – with just 5 more scored over the next 4 seasons.

The defining image of Kewell’s LFC career was as he left the field, injured, after just 23 minutes of the 2005 Champions League Final.

The most frustrating thing about Kewell, was that he had the quality and we saw glimpses of it. He could have been the perfect signing and finally provided a solution to the long-running problem on the left of Liverpool’s midfield. Alas, it just didn’t work out.

Stan Collymore

Signed: July 1995 (From Nottm Forest) Cost: £8.5m
Sold: July 1997 (To Aston Villa) Fee: £7m

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AHFILS2d-k&w=600&h=450]

Collymore arrived at Anfield as Liverpool – and Britain’s – most record signing and left as Liverpool’s most expensive sale two years later.

When you think about Collymore there are several things that come to mind – his 25-yard screamer against Sheffield Wednesday on his debut, the last-minute winner in the 4-3 thriller against Newcastle, then those cream suits in the 1996 FA Cup Final and the controversies of his second season at the club.

Collymore lost his place in the side after the arrival of Patrik Berger and was in and out of a team that was, several times, leading the Premier League. “Stan knows the reason why he has been in and out of the team. In a word, inconsistency. It’s up to him” said manager Roy Evans.

Later, Evans explained that Collymore’s unsettling influence in missing training played a part in his eventual departure from Liverpool. Collymore was fined for refusing to play for the reserves and his off field antics were shrouded in controversy during a Spice Boys era that promised much but delivered little.

Had Collymore have worked out, he could have played a key role in Liverpool winning their first Premier League trophy.

[sws_red_box box_size=”600″]Who else arrived at Liverpool with proven quality and high hopes but never delivered? Let us know in the comments below. [/sws_red_box]

* Stats and quotes sourced via the fantastic LFChistory.net.

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Co-founder of This Is Anfield. Writer for Bleacher Report and Metro newspaper.
All posts are reactively-moderated and must obey the comment policy.
  • Olof

    Joe Cole, Robbie Keane.

  • auldsxool

    damn..houllier would’ve won the league if he used litmanen more often and could’ve saved his career at liverpol as well..

  • Yashasvi

    Alberto Aquilani. I still rate the guy as a footballer.

    • junior galtieri

      How did Aquilani not make that list – he’s the best example of a quality player who failed to shione at Liverpool

      He was signed by Rafa but not played and Hodgson, Dalglish and Rodgers weren’t inetested – preferring the inferior talents of Adam, Henderson and Joe Allen

      So too Joe Cole and Robbie Keane

      All three of those are better examples than Harry Kewell, who despire not living up to his billing, wasn’t a complete flop

      • Beave

        Agree about the Kewell bit

  • RedChica

    Aquilani and Babel are fine footballers too, in terms of ability. Maybe not in terms of mentality. That tells us that the mentality is as equally, if not more important than technical skills, stats, etc.

    • http://www.thisisanfield.com This Is Anfield

      Babel wasn’t a proven player when we signed him, he was potential.

  • Zak the RED

    The one and only ANDY “DONKEY” Caroll.£35 million,its seriously like flushing the money down the loo,next up Downing £20 million waste Hendo £16 mill n Adam £7million £78 million of wastage. Is that the legacy of KING KENNY????

    • http://www.thisisanfield.com This Is Anfield

      Carroll was not a proven player when he signed. Nor is he now.

      • http://www.facebook.com/john.beb John Beb

        “Nor is he now.” Well played sir…

  • Zak the RED

    Difference between us and United is that their flops are papered and disguised by their success. How do we justify the monstrous waste of dough

  • http://twitter.com/eeko87 Eeko Eight-Seven

    I thought Litmanen was fantastic. I was a bit younger then and didn’t realize until now that he was 30 when we got him!! I assumed he was like Gary Mac, 34; 35 or 36. Now I’m even more pissed Houllier never played him that often. A damn shame.

  • Scousser

    Jovanovic was choosen for the Best player in Belgian League in 2012, for the second time. He had a little chance to prove the quality in Lpool because he was brought to club by leaving board and Rafa. Another Dalglishs miss

  • EYE El Magiko

    Alberto Aquilani- I am still surprised that 3 managers couldnt utilize his talents.

    El Hadji Diouf-arrived as the 2-time African Player of the Year and also made Pele’s FIFA100, couldnt find the net with the Reds

  • Viewpoint_X

    “Barnes, Rush, Barnes, still John Barnes, Collymore closing in! Liverpool lead in stoppage time!! Kevin Keegan hangs his head…….he’s devastated!!”

    Ohhhh, I’ll never forget that, just fantastic, still to this day. :)

  • Ob1

    Litmanen was the biggest waste of a player, the guy was an incredible player and never got a chance to shine.

  • Joe

    I have no sypathy for that Collymore. He scored the goal that beat Newcastle and help Manure win the league

  • Stanley Tan

    Nigel Clough, Dean Saunders, Joe Cole, Nick Barmby, Christian Ziege…

  • CookeyLFC

    Robbie Keane…

  • Barry Buckle

    Kewell wasn’t that big a flop when he was actually fit to play. His next 3yrs at Galatasaray were very good with plenty of goals. He should’ve stayed another year at Liverpool on a lesser salary when they finished 2nd in the league. Gala offered him ridiculous money and he left.

    • Beave

      Very good player when fit, his first year under Hollier was a very good year. Doesn’t deserve to be in this list although he was a slight flop overall