Swansea, West Brom and Stoke: Why signing players from top clubs does not always work

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REUTERS/Rebecca Naden

Only in England is there so much media attention around transfers.

With clubs often having more money than sense, the transfer market is a very important part of the spectacle of football in England, far more than in other major leagues across Europe. 

Deadline Day on Sky Sports is an encapsulation of the wonderment and hectic nature of player signings: from Jim White’s infamous shouts of “breaking news” to the cold, disgruntled presenters waiting at training grounds to explain that 'No, nothing has happened' in the five minutes since they last reported in. 

With all of this furore around the transfer market, when a big name arrives at a club struggling against relegation or stuck in mid-table the excitement is palpable. Be it Renato Sanches coming to Swansea from Bayern Munich, Grzegorz Krychowiak going to West Brom from PSG or Joe Hart to West Ham from Manchester City, these names brought with them huge expectations, and more than a few shirt sales.

And yet their failures should not be a complete shock to anyone. The signs were there that they would struggle, signs that were not picked up on. Signing players just because of their star reputation or the club they come from does not guarantee success, far from it, and many clubs fell into that trap this season.

In the rest of this article, RealSport look at why these transfers often fail and why the players often struggle to fit in at their new clubs and their new environment.

Poor form...

One of the biggest and most obvious reasons for these players’ failures is their poor form at their previous club and it is baffling as to how this is not considered prior to their signing. 

Joe Hart is one of the clearest examples of this. Shipped out by Guardiola from Manchester City almost immediately, he spent an unsuccessful season on loan at Torino with club president Urbano Cairo admitting that they “probably didn’t expect so many mistakes from an England international”. 

Yet West Ham thought he would be the perfect first-choice goalkeeper. For what reason? His past reputation or the fact he was still on the books at Manchester City? 

These should not be the only reasons for a signing: Hart’s struggles were unsurprising, boasting one of the lowest save percentages this season.

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REUTERS/David Klein

Wilfried Bony’s return to Swansea was a little different with the hope being that the Ivorian striker would find the prolific form that saw him leave the Swans for Manchester City in the first place. 

However, the same obvious signs he would struggle were there. His only full season for City saw him score only four goals in 26 appearances in the Premier League before being shipped on loan to Stoke to add a whole two more goals to that Premier League tally. 

Seemingly, Swansea saw enough from this to sign him for over £11 million and his failure to help them in any meaningful way to avoid relegation is, once again, unsurprising.

These two are just examples of a bigger trend of ignoring past form, hoping just signing a player from a big club will magically improve the team. It does not work like that and clubs are learning that lesson.

…If they even play

Not only this, but some of these players have arrived in the Premier League without anything like a representative sample size of minutes on which to assess them.

Renato Sanches and Grzegorz Krychowiak had very little form to be judged on at Bayern Munich and Paris Saint Germain respectively with the two of them having only 13 starts between them at their clubs. In fact, Krychowiak played no part in the PSG squad for their last nine league games. Yet both were expected to be key for Swansea and West Brom.

Elsewhere, Daniel Sturridge, Kevin Wimmer and Guido Carrillo all played little league football before their transfer. 

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Reuters/Jason Cairnduff

The more you look, there are countless examples of players signed from bigger clubs who are not match fit, or not used to playing ninety minutes week-in-week-out. Once again, then, it comes as no surprise they struggle to do so when asked. 

This kind of conclusion is not difficult to draw. Finding out a player’s minutes played does not require a huge scouting network, a quick Google search would suffice. 

Now, of course, minutes played is not everything, and players should not be completely discounted because of a lack of game time, but to sign these players in the hopes of instantly throwing them into the starting eleven and expecting them to play consistently for a full season is naïve.

From 'Champions League' to 'bottom of the league'

All transfers, when a player moves from one country to another, present the same problems. 

We often forget that footballers are people too, and issues like learning a new language, trying to settle with a family, moving to a new house and adapting to a new culture are all common problems that foreign players face. 

But many of these big-name signings have another problem to overcome and that is the drastic change from challenging at the top of the league or dominating it to scrapping at the bottom.

Remember, Renato Sanches is still just 20 years old. His career has consisted of winning the Portuguese league with Benfica, winning the European Championship with Portugal and winning the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich. A stunning career for a 20-year-old, but in a different world to the threat of relegation. 

Sanches was given time in Portugal before being thrown into the first team and Bayern played him occasionally, allowing him to spend time out of the team when struggling. 

Swansea could not afford to give Sanches that luxury. He started the first few games, picked up an injury, and then was left out of the squad due to his poor performances. 

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REUTERS/David Klein

What at first seemed like a great opportunity for Sanches to play regularly and gain experience turned into a nightmare and he turned into a player that Swansea could not pick to start in their battle against relegation.

That is the biggest problem with joining a relegation-threatened squad when not at the peak of form, time will not be afforded to improve, to adapt to a new environment or new teammates. 

Joe Hart was given several games to find his form, but when he failed to do so even he was dropped in favour of Adrian. Kevin Wimmer was not even in the squad for Stoke’s last 15 matches, playing more games with the youth team at that stage. 

These players, if given time and the right coaching, might find their feet again. Sanches, in particular, should not be written off because of this season, as many players have failed to impress at Swansea. 

Instead, his experience should be a warning to both clubs and players, that just because the player comes from a top European side, does not mean the move will work out.

It can be done right

As has been proven occasionally, though, it can be done right and it can be done well.

Perhaps the best example this season is the signing of Nathan Ake by Bournemouth from Chelsea, who has won both supporters’ player of the season and players’ player of the season. 


Ake originally impressed on loan last season and Bournemouth took up the option to purchase. He had also already spent a season on loan at Watford and played regularly in the Premier League.

Using the loan market is vital, and while the likes of Renato Sanches, Krychowiak and Sturridge were unsuccessful signings, they were at least loans, whereas in the cases of Wilfried Bony, Kevin Wimmer and Guido Carrillo the clubs have been burdened with failed, expensive players they will struggle to get rid of, and certainly not at a profit. 

Mamadou Sakho, while limited by injury this season, is another example of the loan market used right, to find a player that suited and then signing him permanently. His loan season allowed him to settle at Crystal Palace, and his transfer last summer brought with it considerably less risk.

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REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Ruben Loftus-Cheek is at that first stage, having just finished a highly impressive season on loan at Crystal Palace. The Eagles would undoubtedly love to sign him, but it remains to be seen whether Chelsea would let him go permanently.

Ake and Loftus-Cheek are both young prospects, like Renato Sanches, and yet there was far less pressure on their shoulders. 

To use Ake as an example, Bournemouth had experienced players in Steve Cook and Simon Francis in his position and Ake had little involvement in his first eleven games in the 16/17 season. He was given time to adapt, and when the club felt he was ready he was brought in and responded with some incredible performances.

A little more thought...

Signing players from top clubs can be done correctly. 

They can bring with them incredible results. These players have access to some of the best coaches and facilities in the world and come into the club with confidence and a winning mentality. 

But this on its own is not enough to make a signing and more factors need to be considered such as those mentioned above. Players need to be signed on merit, not on name alone. 

Clubs risk ignoring this at their peril, as Swansea, West Brom and Stoke have learned this season.