Saul Niguez, Lokonga and Europe’s most underwhelming signings of the season

Allan Ssekamatte

What you need to know:

  • Who can tell what has happened to Lionel Messi? He hasn’t been himself at all.

Aquestion that has been nagging every discerning football fan throughout this season is: why is Kylian Mbappe unsettled at Paris Saint Germain despite being offered one of the most lucrative contracts in history? An £85m sign-on fee on top of £800,000 per week wage would numb every other top footballer. So money can’t be his motivation. 

Like Neymar before him, the 2018 World Cup winner must feel a move to Real Madrid would enhance his chances of joining compatriots Raymond Kopa, Michel Platini, Jean Pierre Papin and Zinedine Zidane as the only French players to win the games biggest individual prize – the Ballon d’Or.

You would have expected Mbappe to think otherwise following a summer of massive recruitment that witnessed the arrival of seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi, twice European champion, World Cup winner and four-time Champions League titlist Sergio Ramos, Euro 2020 player of the tournament Gianluigi Donnarruma and one of the best wingbacks in the game - Moroccan Achraf Hakimi. 

Such a supporting cast would ordinarily be an enabler, rather than an impediment to Mbappe’s dream of reaching the pinnacle of individual success. Unless of course he was worried about being overshadowed by Neymar and Messi, or by the culture of European mediocrity at the Parc des Princes.

Which leads me to the gist of this article. In pondering which 10 signings have suffered the most underwhelming season, it’s difficult to overlook the PSG quartet. Despite PSG recapturing the Ligue One title, a catastrophic Champions League campaign and early French Cup exit point to a season of failed expectations. 

Only Hakimi has justified his vaunted reputation. Ramos, Messi and Donnarruma all make my list of underwhelmers. Ramos has basically been Absent Without Official Leave (AWOL); the stats machine that’s Messi would not like to compare his figures with Cristiano Ronaldo’s and Donnarruma will forever be haunted by his role in PSG’s 15 minutes of madness at the Santiago Bernabeu.

A huge price tag always raises expectations. That’s why it’s difficult to look past a cluster of Premier League players. In this regard, Manchester United pair Jadon Sancho and Rafael Varane top the list. £73m Sancho was a creative freewheeler at Borussia Dortmund where he dominated the Bundesliga with his goal involvement but did not even gain full fitness until January. 

The £50m Varane looks anything but a World Cup winner – his partnership with Harry Maguire is one of the most porous and therefore derided in the division. Despite his late flourish, £98m Romelu Lukaku appears a shadow of the monster who terrorised Serie A defences whereas £100m Jack Grealish’s stats of seven goal involvements makes for a sombre reading – outdone by Brentford’s Yoane Wissa.

The £22m man Boubakary Soumare arrived at the King Power expected to push Wilfred Ndidi for the holding midfielder’s role only to end the season fourth choice behind Nampalys Mendy and Kieran Dewsbury-Hall. Partnering Soumare in central midfield is Arsenal’s Albert Sambi Lokonga. 

The £17m capture from Belgian giants Anderlecht may only be 21 but that’s not a strong enough alibi for a series of anonymous displays that saw him drop to fourth choice behind Granit Xhaka, Mohamed Elneny and Thomas Partey in the Gunners engine room. 

Saul Niguez completes the compilation of underwhelmers. Niguez was so poor, I had to twice check  highlights of his Wanda Metropolitano displays to confirm the £3m Chelsea paid for his loan from Atletico Madrid wasn’t a waste of money.

The underwhelms
1.Gianluigi Donnarruma    PSG
2.Sergio Ramos     PSG
3.Rafael Varane    Man United
4.Boubakary Soumare    Leicester
5.Jadon Sancho    Man United
6.Albert Sambi Lokonga    Arsenal
7.Romelu Lukaku    Chelsea
8.Lionel Messi     PSG
9.Jack Grealish    Man City
10.Saul Niguez     Chelsea

Allan Ssekamatte is a seasoned pundit with over three decades in journalism

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