This is the definitive list of the worst XI soccer transfers in 2013. There are no substitutions or equivocations. Feel free to disagree in the comments, but know that you are wrong.
Carlo Cudicini, LA Galaxy
The LA Galaxy won the 2011 and 2012 MLS Cups, and then cut ties with goalkeeper Josh Saunders, deciding to finally invest in the weakest position on a championship team. In came 39-year-old Carlo Cudicini, who won a Premier League title with Chelsea but had spent much of the last decade as a substitute.
It didn’t pan out. The initial rust of his first few games gave way to persistent and simple mistakes. Coach Bruce Arena decided he was rusted to the core, so brought in Panamanian international Jaime Penedo. Panedo, who at $78,000 cost roughly half of Cudicini’s $150,000, and posted much better numbers. (MLS keeps a stringent salary budget of about $3m per team, so taking even a $150k loss hurts.) Cudicini allowed 1.29 goals per game and saved 57 percent of the shots aimed at his goal. Penedo posted a 0.78 goals-against average and 77 percent save percentage.
Cudicini didn’t even make it on the bench for the team’s last 17 games of the season.
Cristian Zapata, AC Milan
This one is cheating. Zapata technically first joined AC Milan (on loan) in 2012, but his full transfer didn’t go through until this year. He’s gangly, uncoordinated and impulsive. Milan hasn’t figured out how to use his sheer athleticism the way Udinese did. Instead, Zapata has become yet another in a series of underqualified purchases, as the class and mystique drains from Milan.
Think back a decade. Milan could still pick Paolo Maldini or Alessandro Costacurta. Think back even two years ago: Alessandro Nesta or Thiago Silva. Now? Zapata and Kevin Constant.
Manuel Friedrich, Borussia Dortmund
It’s harsh, I know. Manuel Friedrich, at 34, wasn’t playing professionally when Borussia Dortmund signed him for free and chucked him into the middle of an injury-decimated defense. He’s played four league games. In them, BVB has conceded nine and won zero.
Diego Lugano, West Brom
In 2010 Diego Lugano captained Uruguay to fourth in the World Cup. A year later, the nation of three million won the Copa America. Then came moves to Paris Saint-Germain, Malaga and West Bromwich Albion, with increasing futility.
The 33-year-old didn’t cost WBA much, but has only made two appearances since. The Daily Star called him “dopey” in a headline. The paper could have gone for “wooden” or “slow as hell” and kept the same emotional punch.
Nestor Vidrio, Chivas Guadalajara
The former Mexico youth defender joined Chivas ahead of the most recent half-season. In 14 appearances, Chivas conceded 25 goals and Vidrio picked up six yellows. The team finished one point off the worst team, and faces the real prospect of relegation in 2014.
Notably, Chivas picked up three defenders in the recent draft.
Etienne Capoue, Tottenham
His name rhymes with feces.
Marouane Fellaini, Manchester United
This seems to happen frequently in England. Take a big, bruising midfielder. Throw in a few easily-noticeable attributes: the best hair in the league, perhaps, or 11 goals in a season. That’s sure to lure the attention of a bigger team. The problem? Once he gets there, people realize the rest of his game is underdeveloped.
Fellaini can’t cut it on the ball for a team that wants to win the title. He’s a specialist: good in the air on set pieces and an intimidating physical presence. But he offers little else aside from that, and he is worth considerably south of his $45 million price tag.
Benat Etxebarria, Athletic Bilbao
Athletic Bilbao has a limited pool of potential purchases. The club famously only employs Basque players. That’s why Athletic Club was willing to let Fernando Llorente see out his contract and leave for free – even with a transfer fee, they couldn’t buy anyone near as good.
Even with that disclaimer, Benat has been a bust. He cost a reported 8 million euros from Real Betis, and, since, has started only 10 games and scored one goal. Only five players cost more in La Liga last summer.
Robbie Rogers, LA Galaxy
LA coach Bruce Arena is the best bargain hunter in the United States. He can do magical things with a salary cap. But this trade will go down as his worst ever.
When Robbie Rogers announced he wanted to resume playing, having retired at 26, the Chicago Fire held his rights. Rogers did all the leg work: telling various outlets he only wished to return to Los Angeles, where his family is based. The Fire had no hand. All it should have required was a draft pick, maybe some allocation money, to lubricate the deal. Instead, Arena sent Mike Magee back home to Chicago.
If Arena has any excuse, this was a very human deal. Rogers, the first openly gay U.S. player in a team sport, could live near the support of his family. And Magee could raise his new daughter back home in Chicago. But on the field? Woof.
Rogers struggled with fitness and usually took a backseat to a rookie forward when vying for his left wing spot.
Magee scored in each of his first seven games for Chicago. He won the MVP award. And, a playoff savant, the Galaxy missed his nous in the postseason, bowing out early.
Roberto Soldado, Tottenham
Tottenham sold Gareth Bale for $135 million this summer, and reinvested that money all over the squad. To replace Bale’s goals, Spurs plopped out $45 million on Soldado, a steady scorer for Valencia and peripheral Spanish national team player.
In 13 league starts and 1107 minutes of play, Soldado scored exactly one goal from open play. Sure, he’s got three penalties. But you’ll notice that as soon as Andre Villas-Boas got fired, the interim manager dropped Soldado to the bench and ushered Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe to the lineup.
There were more costly failures of Tottenham’s summer transfer window (hi, Erik Lamela!), but at 28 there’s little chance of Soldado developing into much more than he is now. And he represents Tottenham’s failure to build an attack without the unique skillset of Bale.
Narciso Mina, Club America
When Christian Benitez left, the biggest team in Mexico kept the replacement in-house: fellow Ecuadorian striker Narciso Mina.
Mina didn’t score in the 2013 Clausura.
And though he improved in the second half of the year, his inability to replicate Benitez’s record or potency came to a head in the 2013 Liga MX Apertura final.
America, the reigning champ, limped into the second leg with a 2-0 deficit to Leon. Miguel Herrera decided to shake things up, and put Mina in the lineup ahead of usual starter Luis Gabriel Rey. Of all the decisions Herrera, now coach of the Mexican national team, has made correctly over the past few months, this one was not among them. Mina missed chance after chance, and the 100,000 fans in Azteca Stadium booed him off the field.
America lost the final. Mina found a new team within a week: he’s now at Atlante.