Liverpool’s recent success under Jurgen Klopp has been propelled by excellent work in the transfer market – but that hasn’t always been the case at Anfield.
Every club signs its fair share of duds, but Liverpool have been through a couple of periods during the Premier League era now when they seemed to do so more than most. The Reds have undergone a rather significant rebuild this summer, and need their fresh faces to hit the ground running.
With that in mind, we’ve taken a look back at 13 players who were meant to be the b*llocks on Merseyside – but sadly weren’t.
Arriving at Liverpool in a helicopter for a British record £35million fee was always going to heap expectation on Carroll’s shoulders, and it was always going to be difficult to live up to that for a player who at the time still had just 14 Premier League goals to his name.
“When I was leaving Newcastle for Liverpool, I was in the helicopter on the way down and I had to go to Google to find out who their players were, looking on the phone,” Carroll told the Daily Mail in 2017. “I was signing and I didn’t know who my team-mates would be!
“I knew Stevie and some of the others but not all of them. And I loved it at Newcastle. I wasn’t ready to leave. It came as a shock.
“I’d had a season ticket, it was my club and it was a shock to move. I was 22. I could never get a grip at Liverpool.”
From one big man who struggled to live up to a £30million+ transfer fee to another.
Benteke’s return of a Premier League goal every 168.9 minutes in his solitary season at Liverpool is not to be sniffed at, but the striker’s face never quite fit at Anfield, especially once Jurgen Klopp became manager and it became clear he would not suit the German’s playing style.
Given the fact the Belgian has averaged six Premier League goals a season since leaving Liverpool for Crystal Palace, it seems strange to look back to the start of the Reds’ 2015-16 season and see Benteke leading the line with Roberto Firmino on the bench.
Liverpool fans were against the idea of Gareth Barry replacing Xabi Alonso at the base of Rafa Benitez’s midfield, but once Alonso had been sold to Real Madrid, Aquilani literally sounded like a much sexier name to replace the Spaniard.
Even looking back, a £17.1million Italy international from Roma on a five-year deal seems like it should have worked, but the midfielder struggled to stay fit and was loaned out to Juventus and Milan for the following two campaigns before being sold to Fiorentina.
We can’t help but think these supporters regret having this banner made.
Liverpool received £65million for Luis Suarez in the summer of 2014 and spent £20millon of that on Markovic. Bloody hell.
True to form, upon signing for Liverpool in 2008, Keane said: “I would specifically like to thank chairman Daniel Levy for understanding, that, as a fan, joining Liverpool is a lifelong dream of mine and one I couldn’t let pass me by.”
That lifelong dream didn’t last much longer, however, as halfway through his debut campaign at Anfield he returned to Tottenham, scoring against Liverpool on the final day of the season.
🗣 “The idea was for me and [Fernando] Torres to play together.”
Robbie Keane explains why it never worked out at Liverpool. pic.twitter.com/7wxS1PjtMb
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) April 25, 2022
“I’ve said in earlier interviews maybe I should have stayed one or two more years in Holland,” Babel told The Guardian in January 2019.
“I had been living with my parents so it was the first time living abroad and by myself. There are lot of things coming at you at the same time – different country, different culture. You’re basically by yourself and you have to make sure you deal with it as good as possible. That wasn’t always the case [with me].”
Such reasons for young footballers struggling to adapt to new countries often go overlooked, but Liverpool still expected more than 22 goals in 146 matches from the forward signed as one of the Netherlands’ hottest prospects in an £11.5million deal in 2007.
Still, maybe it was all worth it for Babel tweeting out a picture of Howard Webb in a Manchester United shirt after awarding the penalty which Ryan Giggs converted as Liverpool were beaten 1-0 by their great rivals in 2010.
On this day in 2011, Ryan Babel became the first player to be fined for a Twitter post, having to pay £10k for uploading a picture of Howard Webb in a Man United shirt 😂 pic.twitter.com/xO3F7obkcu
— Empire of the Kop (@empireofthekop) January 18, 2019
Stewart Downing was very good for Aston Villa as part of an excellent midfield which also included James Milner and Ashley Young.
In his first season at Liverpool, Stewart Downing, a winger, failed to contribute a single goal or assist in 36 Premier League games.
Stewart Downing, it’s fair to say, was not very good for Liverpool.
Morientes was still just 28 when Liverpool signed the striker in a £6.3million deal from Real Madrid in January 2005. He had shone for Monaco the previous season, firing the French outfit to the Champions League final at the expense of his parent club.
The Spaniard joined a healthy contingent from his home country at Rafa Benitez’s Reds which featured Antonio Nunez, Luis Garcia, Josemi and Xabi Alonso, but was unable to feature in their Champions League triumph as he was cup-tied.
Morientes left after an underwhelming 18 months in which he scored 12 times in 60 appearances in all competitions, only to bag 19 goals the following season for Valencia.
El Hadji Diouf
In the summer of 2002, Liverpool appeared ready to kick on and break the duopoly Manchester United and Arsenal had established in England after the Red Devils wobbled amid uncertainty over Sir Alex Ferguson’s future.
Under Gerard Houllier, Nicolas Anelka had shown promise on loan at Anfield over the second half of 2001-02, but a permanent move broke down and Liverpool instead splashed £10million on making Diouf the second most expensive player in the club’s history.
Admittedly, Diouf had impressed for Senegal at the 2002 World Cup, but we don’t need Jamie Carragher to tell you the forward’s Liverpool career did not go to plan.
Like many players on this list, it’s easy to forget they all arrived with decent reputations, given their careers ultimately panned out.
Kewell is perhaps the perfect example, having established himself as one of the Premier League’s best talents at Leeds United and attracted interest from Arsenal, Manchester United, Barcelona, AC Milan and Chelsea.
Indeed, at one stage Leeds rejected a £25million bid from Inter for the winger, only to be forced to sell Kewell to Liverpool in a cut-price £5million deal in 2003 due to their financial troubles.
Yet injuries meant Kewell never recaptured his Leeds form on Merseyside, and the sight of the Australia international limping out of the 2005 Champions League final after just 23 minutes to boos from Liverpool fans who thought he was faking the injury pretty much summed his Reds career up.
Signing Balotelli is always a risk. Spending £16million on Balotelli in the hope he can replace the goals of Luis Suarez is probably taking the biscuit.
Given his solitary season included being banned for posting anti-semitic content on social media and had to wait until February before he scored his first Premier League goal for the club, it’s safe to say it wasn’t a risk worth taking – and that’s without mentioning Liverpool eventually had to allow the striker to leave on a free transfer.
As Steven Gerrard wrote in his 2016 book My Story: “In my last season, Brendan Rodgers came to me at Melwood one day in mid-August.
“We had a chat on the training pitch. He said, ‘You know we’ve missed out on a couple of signings. I’m basically left with no option but to have a bit of a gamble.’
“Brendan paused before he spoke again. ‘The gamble is Mario Balotelli.’ My instant reaction was, ‘Uh-oh.’”
With a decent goalscoring record in the Bundesliga and having been convinced to snub South Africa, the country of his birth, to switch international allegiances to Germany, hopes were high for Dundee when he arrived at Liverpool from Karlsruher in 1998.
Robbie Fowler was injured at the time and Roy Evans turned to Dundee to fill that void, only for his own fitness issues to prevent him from breaking into the team ahead of a young Michael Owen and Karl-Heinze Riedle.
“It’s easy to blame different people, but I wasn’t fit enough when I went there,” Dundee told us in 2018. “That was my first mistake, I had to catch up a little bit. When I did get fit I got injured and that was it.
“When Roy left my time there was over. Gerard didn’t want me. He didn’t want a lot of other players either. You have to accept that. I knew I had to leave.
“In the time I was injured my biggest mistake was doing a lot of gym work, and that slowed me down. I thought pumping iron was the thing to do, but I should have worked on other things.”
As devoted Joe Cole propagandists, we really wanted this to work out so he could rediscover his mojo at Anfield after never truly recovering from a serious injury suffered during his Chelsea pomp.
Steven Gerrard was even more excited than we were, saying at the time: “Messi can do some amazing things, but anything he can do Joe can do as well, if not better. He used to shock us in training by doing footy tricks with a golf ball that most players can’t even do with a football.
“I really fancy Joe for the [player of the year] award this season.”
After being sent off on his Premier League debut against Arsenal, Cole missed a penalty in his next Liverpool appearance and that set the tone for his time at Anfield. After one season, he left on loan for Lille.
“I can only play for teams that I’m passionate about and I think that’s what went wrong for me at Liverpool,” Cole later reflected. “I didn’t feel a connection with the club or the place that I had at Chelsea and West Ham.
“I had seven great years at Chelsea but the club wanted to go in a certain direction and I wasn’t involved. So I was left with two real options – Liverpool or Spurs.
“Spurs was probably the best option because they were offering me a five-year deal and it meant I could stay in familiar surroundings. But I just couldn’t do it, I just couldn’t see myself pulling that Spurs shirt over my head. With the rivalry between Spurs and West Ham and Chelsea, it felt a bit mercenary.”