Football is full of transfers that don’t work out. Some of the most expensive moves in the sport’s history turned out to be flops.
But every so often you get a transfer that seemed doomed to be a sh*tshow from the very start – and proved to be exactly that. Jordan Henderson isn’t the first footballer to make an ill-advised move, and he won’t be the last.
We’ve taken a closer look at eight players that absolutely f*cked it by making transfers that were always doomed to be failures.
Jordan Henderson – Al Ettifaq
Having been a vocal ally of the LGBTQ+ community during his time as Liverpool captain, it wasn’t a good look when Henderson signed for Al Ettifaq to become one of the poster boys for the Saudi Pro League – given Saudi Arabia’s infamously poor record on LGBTQ+ rights.
Shortly after making the move, Henderson went on the defensive in an interview with The Athletic that proved to be a PR disaster.
“I think there was always going to be criticism regardless of what I did, whether I stayed, whether I went,” Henderson explained.
“So basically I had to make the decision on what was best for me and my family. So the football is the football side. So do I go somewhere to try something new, to grow the game that I love in another country, and grow the league into one of the best in the world? That excites me because I want to grow the sport all over the world. And that got me going, really.”
Just four months later, Henderson has cancelled his contract and is set to return to European football with his reputation in tatters. Was half a season of that ludicrous salary worth it?
Jota – Al-Ittihad
It appears Henderson isn’t the only high-profile player to regret their summer move to Saudi Arabia.
Jota was adored by the fans at Celtic Park, but he left it all behind for a big-money contract at Saudi Pro League champions Al-Ittihad.
The Portuguese winger is just 24 and still has his prime years ahead of him, and he’d barely kicked a ball when stories began to emerge suggesting he’d regretted his decision.
He’s since been removed from their squad list and as a result is ineligible to play in the Saudi Pro League, having made his last appearance in the competition at the start of September. A return to Europe now looks inevitable.
Romelu Lukaku – Chelsea
After a strange up-and-down career, Lukaku worked so hard to make it to the top and find a home where he was truly loved after an awkward stint at Manchester United never quite worked out.
He was at the peak of his powers, scoring 64 goals in 95 appearances during his first stint at Inter, their main man in the memorable 2020-21 Scudetto triumph under Antonio Conte.
Given the Nerazzurri’s financial woes, it made sense for Inter to cash in on the Belgian when his stock was at its highest, selling him to Chelsea for £100million.
But he never looked a natural fit for Thomas Tuchel’s gameplan and seemed to regret his San Siro departure from the day he turned up at Chelsea. Perhaps more ill-advised than the move itself was a tell-all interview in which he professed his undying love for Inter, giving the distinct impression of an unhappy partner still hung up on his ex.
“Now it’s the right time to share my feelings. I have always said that I have Inter in my heart: I know I will return to Inter, I really hope so,” he told Sky Sports Italia.
“I am in love with Italy, this is right moment to talk and let people know what really happened. I really hope from bottom of my heart to return to Inter not at the end of my career, but when I’m still at top level to win more together.”
Lukaku’s Chelsea career – and his career in general, let’s be honest – has never really recovered from there.
Antoine Griezmann – Barcelona
Perhaps we shouldn’t expect great decision-making from a bloke who once used blackface for a basketball player Halloween costume.
Not long after making his overwrought La Decision documentary inspired by Lebron James in which he ‘announced’ his desire to remain at Atletico Madrid, Griezmann did a U-Turn and moved to Barcelona anyway.
As pointed out by Spanish football writer Sid Lowe, he went to the only club where there was a better player in his position in world football – Lionel Messi – so it was no major surprise to see it never really took off for him at the Camp Nou.
To make matters worse, he watched as his former club won the La Liga title in 2020-21. He’s since returned to Atleti and refound his best form to become the club’s all-time top scorer – underlining how he really never should have left.
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Jozy Altidore – Villarreal
The American striker became a punchline in England following a hapless period of leading the line for Sunderland and Hull City. Those moves are best forgotten by all concerned, but it was his first move away from the United States that was most regrettable.
Villarreal spent a reported fee of $10million to sign Altidore from New York Red Bulls when he was just 18. He was an exciting prospect at the time, but moving to a major European league was too much, too soon.
Altidore made just six appearances for the Yellow Submarine, scoring once, and was just too raw. Who knows if he might have made a success of his time in Europe had he not made the jump so early in his career.
Alexis Sanchez – Manchester United
It’s easy enough to write Sanchez off as a simple flop. He’d been exceptional for Arsenal, was still in his twenties when he moved to Old Trafford, and there was a certain degree of logic in Manchester United signing proven Premier League pedigree.
But the man himself regretted the move almost as soon as he’d put pen to paper. Sometimes the vibes are just off and this was one of those occasions.
“The first days that I was with my colleagues, sometimes there are things that you do not realise until you arrive,” Sanchez candidly reminisced years later, speaking on Instagram Live.
“The first training I had I realised many things. I got home and I told my representative: ‘can’t the contract be terminated to return to Arsenal?’ They start laughing and I told them that something did not sit right with me. It had already been signed.”
“I joined Liverpool. It was the worst mistake of my life,” Balotelli explained of his move away from AC Milan – replacing Luis Suarez – in the summer of 2014.
“Apart from the fans – who were fantastic with me, I must be honest – and the players, who I had a good rapport with, I didn’t like the club.
“I had two coaches, Brendan Rodgers and Jürgen Klopp. As people, they didn’t make a good impression on me. I didn’t get along with them.”
Balotelli has threatened the odd resurgence during his journeyman career over the years, but his Anfield fiasco marked the death knell for his place at the table of Europe’s elite.
Seventy percent of the record transfer fee received for Fernando Torres – gone, just like that.
A move to Liverpool is usually the stuff of dreams, but it wasn’t for Geordie boy Carroll – who never wanted to leave his beloved hometown club Newcastle United and had a bad feeling as his £35million transfer went through.
“I wasn’t wanted by them and they made it clear they wanted the money. Then I flew down in his [Mike Ashley’s] helicopter. I didn’t want to leave,” Carroll recalled years later.
“I’m gutted that I wasn’t wanted at my home team after everything I’ve done and progress I’ve made. I didn’t want to leave at all.”
The ponytailed striker never lived up to his infamous £35million transfer fee and while he’s had his moments over the years, his career never really recovered from there.
We’d be fascinated the player Carroll would’ve become had he stayed put on Tyneside like he wanted to.