As the 2020/21 Premier League campaign comes to a conclusion, The Hard Tackle takes a look at three of the worst signings of the season.
The 2020/21 Premier League campaign is finally over – a season without fans and a congested fixture list that made team depth and weekly squad rotation more important in football than it has been ever.
Naturally, it forced top clubs across England to spend the big bucks on bolstering their options, especially in the attacking department. And while the Premier League did witness certain newcomers make a massive impact, after either arriving in England or joining a new club, there have been players who have faltered miserably, struggling to live up to the expectations.
The conclusion of the 2020/21 Premier League edition gives us an ideal opportunity to look back on some of those players who have emerged as a poor investment this past season. In some instances, their bad performances have even led to the team’s overall demise, as well as financially crippling the respective club.
Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will look at three such worst transfers in the Premier League this past season.
Willian – Arsenal
There was a sense of pessimism when Willian joined Arsenal in a free transfer from Chelsea, signing a three-year contract with the club. Many feared that the winger was well past his prime and will be nothing more than a liability.
The Brazilian, as a result, instantly became a first-team regular for Arsenal, but his performances eventually started to dissipate. He lacked ideas in the final third, often struggling to ever beat his markers in a one-on-one situation let alone penetrating the opposing defences.
Willian soon became a liability for Arsenal, one of the major reasons behind their lack of creativity going forward. In fact, the winger’s next goal involvement came two and a half months later, in the defeat to Wolves.
His performances forced Arteta to deploy Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the wide position, with Alexandre Lacazette as the striker. Fortunately for Arsenal, the Frenchman stepped up to the plate really well, while players like Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and new signing Martin Odegaard upped their game as well.
It saw Willian falling down the pecking order, ending the campaign with only one goal in 25 matches. The Brazilian’s lack of mobility and invention was a major reason behind Arsenal’s mediocrity going forward, and we head towards the summer transfer window, it won’t be surprising to see the ageing winger being asked to leave the club.
Rhian Brewster – Sheffield United
Rhian Brewster was another guaranteed pick in our list of three worst signings in the Premier League this season. A product of the Liverpool youth academy, the young forward was regarded as one of the best talents to come out of the club’s youth ranks in recent years, with many hailing him as the ideal long-term asset for the Merseyside giants.
Brewster had also racked up ten goals in the second half of last season for Championship club Swansea City. As a result, he was roped in by Sheffield United for a club-record fee of €26 million. He was brought in as an upgrade for Lys Mousset, as the Blades were eyeing for a potential finish inside the top seven, especially after a successful 2019/20 campaign under Chris Wilder.
Unfortunately, Sheffield United became a victim of the “second season syndrome” struggling to replicate their performances from last season, with Brewster’s frailties in the attacking department emerging as one of the main reasons behind their demise.
After scoring ten goals in the Championship, the former Liverpool starlet has embarrassingly failed to find the back of the even once for his club. In 27 league matches, Brewster’s goals tally read zero, with the forward failing to score even in the FA Cup, against teams like Bristol City and Portsmouth.
Although it must be pointed out that Sheffield United didn’t have the best of creative units in the league, Brewster was still extremely underwhelming in front of goal, failing to score in any of his 24 attempts on goal.
It forced Sheffield to reconsider their attacking options upfront, with the experienced David McGoldrick eventually emerging as their most lethal forward with eight goals. As for Brewster, he will have an opportunity to potentially redeem himself in a more forgiving nature of Championship next season, as the youngster looks to help Blades earn a direct promotion next season.
Donny van de Beek – Manchester United
Donny van de Beek was a bit of a difficult pick on this list, as unlike the two other players, the Manchester United newcomer was simply just unlucky due to a game-time. One of the protagonists from Ajax’s highly successful 2018/19 campaign, van de Beek was brought in for a fee of almost €40 million. It was a very illogical move on many aspects, given the fact that Man United already had a mercurial playmaker in Bruno Fernandes.
The midfielder himself was a bit unfortunate, too, due to the emergence of Fred as well as the rapid growth of Scott McTominay that made it even more difficult for him to get into the first-team.
And sure enough, van de Beek ended the 2020/21 campaign, featuring in just over 500 minutes of league football. He made only four starts in the Premier League, falling behind Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Fred and even Juan Mata in the pecking order.
Even when the Dutchman was given a chance to impress, he could not really capitalise, requiring time to settle into the game. It further reduced importance in the Manchester United first-team.
It was, therefore, a poor investment from the club’s perspective, and it won’t be surprising to see the midfielder leaving Old Trafford in the summer. It will be interesting to see the Red Devils can use van de Beek as a makeweight to sign top targets like Jadon Sancho in the upcoming transfer window, having been linked with such a move earlier this year.
Thomas Partey was a strong candidate for the number three position in our list, but van de Beek just edged out because of the fact that the Manchester United midfielder has no future at Old Trafford, while his Arsenal counterpart might play a role at the club in the years to come. Partey has been simply disastrous since his big-money move from Atletico Madrid. He has struggled with injuries and a lack of consistency, leading to Arsenal’s mediocrity this season.
Matt Doherty was brought in from Wolves to Tottenham, in order to provide competition for Serge Aurier. Unfortunately, the Irishman was never really a good fit in Jose Mourinho’s four-man defensive system. The right-back failed to impress under Ryan Mason too, and it won’t be surprising to see him depart north London in the summer.
Cengiz Under arrived at Leicester on loan from AS Roma, in order to enhance the club’s creative department. The playmaker ended up having a disastrous campaign, falling behind the likes of James Maddison, Marc Albrighton, Harvey Barnes and Ayoze Perez, mustering only one league start.
Ross Barkley was among the players who enjoyed a great start to the season. He developed a good attacking partnership alongside Jack Grealish and Ollie Watkins, but was never the same after a hamstring injury, lacking form and becoming a second-fiddle starter during the final stretch of the campaign.