Talented Players who Made the Wrong Transfer Moves

Josip Brajkovic
Josip Brajkovic
Published: 20.9.2023.

All the top players in the world have said it: talent isn’t enough. But the other mentioned ingredient to success - hard work, also isn’t enough often. Even when combined with talent. Picking the right club, at the right time, can make or break careers. Certainly slow them down and degrade their ceilings. Warning stories for other upcoming youngsters, here are the talented players who made the wrong transfer moves.

Here, we’re not talking about moves like that of Eden Hazard, because his physical demise wasn’t on the cards. It made all the sense for Real Madrid to bring him. The topic today is the moves where the picked destination could’ve been deemed as the wrong one from the get-go.

Sometimes is the itch to get at a top club the soonest, other times it’s the money on the table, yet football history is filled with talented players who made the wrong transfer moves. Often derailing their careers.

Joao Felix - Benfica to Atletico Madrid for €127,000,000

Joao Felix

It was supposed to be the transfer to crown Atletico Madrid as a club on the equal operating height to Barcelona and Real Madrid. The whole of Europe was after Benfica's new magician, and it was Atleti who gave the most to capture the Portuguese maestro. As Antoine Griezmann was leaving, Felix was viewed as the person to fill in his spot and be the new creative force behind the next era of Los Colchoneros.

The issue was, is that Griezmann is a one-of-a-kind. Yes, he has the technical skills and the footballing brain, but he also has the combativeness. Besides lacking the firey resolve of other Diego Simeone's bruisers, Felix also didn't have the physicality for it. While Felix is taller, he is also lankier than the sturdy Frenchman, who is gifted with athleticism that can't be tought. Ensuring he was the right pick for talented players who made the wrong transfer moves, when Felix joined the technical team of Barcelona, he cried tears of joy.

Luka Jovic - Eintracht Frankfurt to Real Madrid for €63,000,000

Luka Jovic

Luka Jovic has had quite the jagged career path for a man only 25. He was pumped in his home country as the next great striker only to be mediocre. Sold to Benfica still, where he was forgettable at best, and disappointing at worst. Yet, at Eintracht Frankfurt, the Serbian had two massive seasons. So good, that Real Madrid made quite a big bet on him. A fee of €63,000,000.

While the call of Real Madrid can, understandably, be too strong for anyone to reject, Jovic had a perfect example from his home country. Perica Ognjenovic was considered the greatest talent in Serbia (then Yugoslavia) in 1999. Yet, of all places, Perica chose Santiago Bernabeu. Although his fee was a minor one, his tale remains a warning sign for all talented players as to not make the wrong move, seeing how he only played in 22 games for Los Blancos. With his career down-spiralling fast afterwards.

Jovic and his surroundings were probably flying high when they ignored this Balkan folktale. Even though Karim Benzema, his positional competitor, was playing in the form of his life. Resulting in Jovic playing only in 51 games for Real, but averaging only 30 minutes per match. Although his downfall is also written down due to him becoming enamoured with his girlfriend, it's safe to say that had he picked a club where he would be a key player, he wouldn't had the luxury and the time to become docile.

Matthijs de Ligt - Ajax to Juventus for €85,000,000

Matthijs de Ligt

Even though he fell upward and joined Bayern Munich, there’s no denying that Matthijs de Ligt thoroughly disappointed in Turin. As evident by the majority of the interviews he gave about his Italy stay, even when he was still wearing the black and white stripes. The answers to the questions never changed, from his first days to the last moments of his third and final season. De Ligt admitted to having a tough time adjusting to Serie A. While he came from a league where attacking and technical football is the law, in Italy he faced a tactics first motto.

Despite learning from the best and 76 games of tutelage under Leonardo Bonucci, the Dutchman never got going playing in Calcio. De Ligt was THE defensive prospect of the last 10 years and it was expected that going to Italy was simply going to get his tactical work on the level of his technical and physical gifts. Yet all that happened was that the Eredivisie product brought down his own value. He is in a better, more fitting place of the Bundesliga, yet no one is expecting De Ligt to become a modern Paolo Maldini anymore, as they did following his Ajax days. Had he gone to Spain or Germany first, he could’ve had his reputation boosted, not dimmed.

Donny van de Beek - Ajax to Manchester United for €39,000,000

Donny van de Beek

Another one from Ajax’s latest golden generation. After De Ligt and Franky De Jong left, it seemed that Donny van de Beek was itching to move to a big club as well. Yet, he picked the club where by far the best player of the team shared the position with him. Bruno Fernandes is a lock and was so ever since he landed at Old Trafford. Talented without a doubt, yet there simply wasn’t space enough.

It saddens even the neutrals to see Donny van de Beek listed as one of the talented players who made the wrong transfer moves, considering his skillset and strengths are rare in modern football. DVDB has played 60 games for United, yet he averages 35 minutes on the pitch for them. A loan to Everton was cut by injuries. Seemingly, Donny couldn't catch a break. But he could've and - with hindsight - should've waited for the right destination. One where he would've filled in a gap.

Harry Maguire - Leicester City to Manchester United for €87,000,000

Harry Maguire

One might say that for a limited centre-back, it's a stretch calling Harry Maguire a talented player who made the wrong transfer move. Yet, talent isn't reserved just for technical skills. Which Harry, unfortunately, doesn't have in abundance. Something that a Manchester United defender has to have in order for the team to build from the back and be dominant.

Maguire excelled at LCFC, Hull City, and Sheffield United as a traditional, no-nonsense proper English centre-back. Yet, at Old Trafford, they believed they can simply upgrade his ball-handling enough for Harry to become a pillar of the team. They were so sure, that briefly they made him the most expensive defender of all time. Maguire made 176 appearances for United solely because he was overpaid and it's hard admitting to those mistakes. As for him, it's hard rejecting United. Yet his continued effort at the England national team with 59 caps shows that not just United had faith in him.

While the money was certainly great, Maguire would've had a better life had he picked a less demanding side. Or had he just postponed the move so that it wouldn't have warranted such a massive price tag? Would've saved him a lot of headaches by reacting to ridicule.


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