Seven years ago this summer, Manchester United completed arguably the most bizarre transfer in Premier League history, signing little-known Portuguese striker Bebe from Vitoria.
In four years at Old Trafford, Bebe made just seven appearances, scoring twice, and spent the rest of his time out loan.
Rather than simply falling into the category of flop, however, the circumstances surrounding United’s shock swoop for the then-20-year-old still raise eyebrows, not least because United could have signed him for free just one month earlier, and for less than the £7.4million they eventually paid a matter of weeks earlier.
Indeed, Bebe tore up his contract with second-tier side Estrela and effectively became a free agent, at which point United seemingly had no interest in him. He then signed for Vitoria but impressive performances in pre-season convinced them to raise his release clause to £7.4million. Not long after, apparently on the advice of Carlos Queiroz, Sir Alex Ferguson swooped.
To this day, it remains one of the most mystifying transfer sagas in Premier League history, but can any deals from the last 25 years rival it as the Premier League’s most bizarre signing of all time? FootballFanCast takes a look at the contenders…
A Football Manager legend, a 131-cap Sweden international and a talented midfielder during his days in Ligue 1. The only problem with Arsenal signing Kim Kallstrom on a short-term loan in January 2014, despite it being the direct antithesis of the exciting mid-season addition Arsene Wenger had alluded to as the Gunners entered the January transfer window in first place, is that he had a broken back.
Nonetheless, Wenger persevered with the deal and the Swedish playmaker, allowing him to finish his recovery in north London (seemingly at Arsenal’s rather than parent club Spartak Moscow’s expense) just in time for him to make four appearances as the campaign drew to a close. Unsurprisingly, Arsenal elected not to sign Kallstrom permanently and his arrival did not sustain their title charge, eventually ending the season in their habitual fourth place.
Once upon a time, Roger Johnson was gaining a reputation for himself as one of the better centre-halves outside the Premier League’s top clubs, as one of the key components of a Birmingham outfit that finished in the top half during the 2009/10 season and won the League Cup the year later.
But by the time West Ham moved for him in January 2014, Johnson’s career had plummeted, falling all the way down to League One with Wolves. The first half of the season was spent on loan at Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship, after which Sam Allardyce unexpectedly swooped as he looked to jostle a relegation battle, the FA Cup and a run in the League Cup.
The criteria for signing Johnson appeared to be that firstly, he was very tall and secondly, that he wasn’t cup-tied. Come the close of January, after Johnson had started both legs of a League Cup semi-final that West Ham lost 9-0 to Manchester City, his use had already expired. The Englishman made one more start for the Hammers before returning to Molineux. He’s now without a club after being released by Charlton Athletic.
Signing an unknown, beastly defender from South Africa is the kind of move that likely would have paid off during the exceptionally attritional early years of the Premier League. In fact, Leeds cult hero Lucas Radabe provides the perfect example of such a cavalier recruitment strategy.
But in 2011, the Premier League had become a little more sophisticated – it was now arguably the hardest league in the world to walk into. Regardless, Tottenham Hotspur still saw fit to take a £1.5million punt on Bongani Khumalo from SuperSport United.
Four and a half years after his arrival, Khumalo returned to SuperSport United without a single competitive appearance to his name. The entirety of his White Hart Lane career of loan spells, four in the Football League and one 22-game stint with PAOK. £1.5million well spent.
Manchester United aren’t getting off lightly. Bizarrely, the Red Devils boast an almost identical forebearer to Bebe in not-so-prodigious one-time Chinese strike prodigy Dong Fangzhou. Actually, that’s deceptively flattering description; before signing for United in 2004, Dong had scored just two goals in 26 league appearances, both of which came in the Chinese second division.
Nonetheless, Sir Alex Ferguson felt compelled to give the forward a chance, making him the first East Asian footballer to sign for United in a £500k deal. However, due to work permit problems, the Chinese international spent his first two years with United out on loan at Royal Antwerp.
34 league goals in 71 appearances and finally a British work permit earned Dong a new contract and even a shirt number ahead of the 2008/09 season. A few weeks after being named the new No.21, however, United and Dong parted ways by mutual consent. He bizarrely ended up playing two games for Legia Warsaw a few years later, but has spent the majority of his career back in the Far East.
The most recent deal to make this list, Steven Caulker is a decent centre-back who’s sadly lost his way in football after not reaching the potential shown in his youth; although that may have something to do with the fact the two sides he started regularly for, Cardiff City and QPR, spectacularly plummeted out of the top flight with the one-time England international arguably their best performer in both instances.
Clearly a widely held belief, two Premier League clubs elected to sign him on loan from the Championship during the 2015/16 season. Whilst he simply couldn’t force his way in at Southampton during the first half of the campaign, however, largely due to the presence of Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool’s swoop for Caulker in January soon proved to have ulterior motives.
Indeed, as Liverpool faced a 3-2 home defeat to Arsenal at Anfield, eyebrows were raised when Klopp asked Caulker to warm up and get himself ready to come on in the 87th minute. But it quickly became apparent why the German international had signed him; Caulker was Liverpool’s new emergency striker. Three substitute appearances totalling just five minutes later, all of which came in January, and Caulker didn’t feature for the Reds in the Premier League again.
Depending on how you look at it, Julien Faubert was either a full-back who couldn’t be trusted in defence or a winger who didn’t produce enough to play in midfield. Either way, his £6.1million move to West Ham didn’t prove to be the greatest bit of business from the east Londoners.
Nonetheless, during his time in the Premier League, the France international had seemingly gained a fan in Juande Ramos, who ended up taking the job at Real Madrid just a matter of months after being sacked by Tottenham Hotspur.
And another two months after that, Ramos actually snapped up Faubert midway through a very unspectacular season at West Ham, signing him on loan for the remainder of the season with a view to a permanent deal.
In six months at the Bernabeu, Faubert made two appearances, was pictured falling asleep on the bench and missed training because he thought he had the day off.
As Paul Merson once said, his agent deserves a knighthood.