By Chris Hammond
Football is not an exact art. Heroes can swiftly become villains, great sides can crumble into nothing overnight and sometimes even the least talented journeyman can propel a team to glory. Occasionally though a club makes a signing which really looks like adding something to the side yet somehow the player fails to deliver at every attempt. Scotland’s top teams are littered with big money flops, overseas internationals who couldn’t hack the cold and also Scottish stars happier to pick up a pay cheque and go for a pint than put any effort into their time on the pitch. Here is a selection of the worst buys from Scotland’s biggest clubs.
Nigel Pepper (Aberdeen, 1997)
When Sky money was much more abundant in the SPL, the board at Aberdeen weren’t shy in opening the purse strings. Their signing of injury magnet Paul Bernard for £1 million remains the record transfer fee of any non-Old Firm side in the country. And while most Dons don’t look on the Scotland midfielder as a bargain, he wasn’t nearly as bad as Nigel Pepper. Pepper was the blood and thunder captain of mighty Bradford City and made the move from the English Championship to the SPL for a cool £350,000.
He was a disaster from start to finish. Sent off after 17 seconds on his debut against Celtic for a career threatening challenge, he then managed to muster 14 games for Aberdeen in a stay many thought 13 games too long. While Dons fans have always appreciated a combative midfielder they are also quick to turn on one who can’t pass, shoot, run, dribble or simply stay on the pitch for a full 90 minutes. For all Nigel’s commitment his crapness and cost mean he won’t even be remembered as fondly as other disasters such as chain smoking, strip club residing gnome Ilian Kirakov or Leon Mike, a former Coronation Street extra who masqueraded as a striker.
Raphael Sheidt (Celtic, 1999)
John Barnes managed Celtic like a six year old would manage a team on Football Manager. Indeed much fuss was made in the media at his signing of Brazilian international defender Raphael Sheidt for a massive £5 million. South American sources said he was a poor footballer and questioned the buy, but the fans and press over here were seduced by the prospect of one of the Samba Boys turning out in Celtic colours. The move was a complete disaster and perhaps mercifully the cumbersome; accident prone defender was only allowed to disgrace himself three times for the Glasgow side.
Other notable big name Celtic shockers include fellow Brazilian Juninho, former Real Madrid carthorse Thomas Graveson, panic stricken ex-Chelsea stopper Magnus Hedman and the tough as toilet paper Eyal Berkovic.
Walter Rojas (Dundee Utd, 1991)
Sometimes in Scottish football something so sublimely silly occurs it becomes instant legend. The signing of Argentinean ‘winger’ Walter Rojas by Jim McLean rates as one of the beautiful game’s most ludicrous moments. In Walter Rojas Dundee Utd thought they were getting a man on the cusp of international stardom, a player so good he could become the next Maradonna. He came in, he played once and he left. Myth suggests that they signed the wrong Argentinian, or that they signed the brother of a professional player, or that Walter’s agent had in fact punted him to Scotland as a footballer when he in fact he played basketball.
Whatever the truth of it, Walter Rojas remains one of Scotland’s most embarrassing signings. Despite having their fingers burnt Utd raided South America once more ten years later, conjuring up a trio of equally untalented super stars. While they didn’t last long in Dundee, better known and more expensive Scottish duds such as Paul Ritchie and Lee Miller will perhaps merit as much mockery as their more exotic predecessors.
Mirsad Bešlija (Hearts, 2006)
You could write a book about the odd comings and goings at Hearts in recent years. Actually you could write more than one. The Edinburgh club have had so many signings and loan players through their doors it’s no wonder even the best accountants at HMRC haven’t got a clue who is or was employed by the city’s most successful side. Bosnian winger Misrad Bešlija was very definitely employed by Hearts, but that’s only because UEFA threatened the Gorgie Giants with a transfer embargo after the player’s £850,000 transfer fee seemed to go missing in the post. Finally though the payment to Genk was made and the allegedly tricky, allegedly talented Bosnian international clocked in with nine instantly forgettable cameo appearances. He now plays (sporadically) for Željezniar in his homeland after being released in 2008.
Bešlija’s dubious honour is no small achievement when you consider other catastrophic buys such as Kevin James (the world’s tallest traffic cone), Gordan Petric (£500,000 of pure mince) and Christian Nade a striker so ineffective Hearts would have been better off playing with ten men.
Nuno Capucho (Rangers, 2003)
From the gold plated Tore Andre Flo (good but not worth £12 million) to the mysterious Daniel Prodan (£3 million for zero appearances) Rangers have a hall of shame so extensive and expensive only their Glasgow rivals could possibly compete in the dud-stakes. Yet who was the worst buy of all time? Grumpy World Cup winning ‘striker’ Stephane Guivarch? Or maybe the inexpensive but inexplicable Marcus Gayle? No, our choice of the worst buy ever was the highly skilled, highly decorated, highly disappointing Nuno Capucho.
As a Porto legend and regular Portugal international Capucho undoubtedly had talent, yet he seemed intent on making sure nobody during his stay in Scotland witnessed any of it. Lazy, bored and overweight he stalked the line at the pace of a gout riddled golfer. Despite the odd goal, he was so utterly hopeless Celtic fans cheered him onto the pitch during his last Old Firm encounter.