Lukaku, Pogba and the biggest Premier League flops
Romelu Lukaku’s move back to Inter concludes one of the oddest transfers in Premier League history. Lukaku’s £97.5 million switch to Chelsea last summer, returning to Stamford Bridge, was hailed as the final piece of the puzzle for a Blues side that had just won the Champions League.
But the deal did not work out. Lukaku started strongly but scored just eight times in the Premier League, with the big Belgian infamously managing just seven touches of the ball in a game against Crystal Palace, with one of those coming from the kick-off. He has been a huge flop.
Indeed, Lukaku can be considered among the biggest wastes of cash in the Premier League era. Here are some of the other top flops whose moves to elite clubs did not pan out well.
Paul Pogba: Juventus to Manchester United – £89.3 million
Pogba’s return to United, who he left on a free transfer earlier in his career, set a new British transfer record at the time. The midfielder had been expected to have a transformative effect but his vastly expensive signing has come to represent a period of waste and drift at Old Trafford.
The France international has never looked as influential in club colours as he does for his country, with Pogba having played a central role when Les Bleus triumphed at Russia 2018.
A succession of United managers have struggled to work out what to do with Pogba and while he was reportedly offered a lucrative contract to extend his stay, he opted to walk away instead.
A return to old club Juventus seems inevitable as Pogba enters the next stage of his career.
Nicolas Pepe: Lille to Arsenal – £72 million
Pepe was touted as one of the most exciting attackers in world football when Arsenal paid out what was a club record transfer fee to snap up the Ivory Coast international in a deal from Lille.
But the Gunners have struggled to see a return from a winger who had produced 23 goals and 11 assists in his final season across the Channel in Ligue 1. Pepe has so far managed 27 goals and a further 21 assists in 112 appearances for Arsenal, far below what had been expected.
The 27-year-old has duly lost the faith of manager Mikel Arteta, who started him just five times last season with the likes of Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli preferred.
Pepe scored only once in the 2021-22 Premier League season and Arsenal are ready to cut their losses on what has been yet another expensive failure for the club in the transfer market.
Arsenal are reportedly working on the signing of Leeds United winger Raphinha, with the arrival of the Brazil international set to push Pepe even closer to the exit door at Emirates Stadium.
Kepa Arrizabalaga: Athletic Bilbao to Chelsea – £72 million
Spanish stopper Kepa became the most expensive goalkeeper of all time when he joined Chelsea in 2018, supposedly as a ready-made successor for Thibaut Courtois. But while Courtois has gone on to become the world’s finest goalkeeper at Real Madrid, Kepa flopped.
After Kepa struggled to adapt to the Premier League, Chelsea brought in Rennes goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and the Senegal international quickly took over as the Blues’ number one. Kepa is paid a reported £150,000 a week despite now featuring now only rarely as Mendy’s backup.
Harry Maguire: Leicester City to Manchester United – £80 million
United made Maguire the world’s most expensive defender when they bought him in August 2019, but the England centre-back has rarely looked to be worth even half of his vast fee.
While Maguire has been made captain at Old Trafford, there is speculation that new manager Erik ten Hag may opt to move the armband elsewhere after taking charge of the Red Devils. Like Pogba, Maguire has come to represent United’s underwhelming post-Alex Ferguson era.
Alvaro Morata: Real Madrid to Chelsea – £60 million
Morata was Chelsea’s record transfer when he made the move in 2017 but his time at Stamford Bridge got off to an inauspicious start when he missed a penalty on his debut for the club.
The Spain striker contributed 15 goals in all competitions in his first Chelsea season, yet things quickly went sour as he fell out of favour. Having scored five times in the next Premier League campaign, Chelsea opted to send Morata to Atletico Madrid on an 18-month loan deal.
Chelsea eventually received most of their money back for Morata when Atletico completed a permanent deal for him, yet he cost around £3 million for each goal he scored for the Blues.
Tanguy Ndombele: Lyon to Tottenham – £63 million
Another London club regretting their record signing is Spurs, whose vast outlay for mercurial midfield talent Ndombele has proven to be a colossal waste of a vast sum of money so far.
Ndombele had shone for Lyon in the Champions League and was considered one of Europe’s best young players, but Tottenham have failed to get the best out of him over three years. The Frenchman suffered public criticism from Jose Mourinho over his fitness levels and found himself shunted to the fringes at Spurs, resulting in a January loan move back to Lyon.
Ndombele appears unwanted by Spurs boss Antonio Conte and, as he still has three years left on his lucrative contract, finding a club to take him off their hands might be a large challenge.