As we rapidly approach the January transfer window, football fans up and down the land will now be scratching their heads as to who their club may sign in the coming weeks.
Over the 25 years I have followed Palace, we have signed some very bad players, normally strikers, for a lot of money. To coin a phrase, I don’t think Palace “have ever been any good with money”. Here, I list, in my own opinion, the worst eleven million pound plus signings we have made over this time.
1. MARCO GABBIADINI (1991-1992, 25 appearances, 7 goals)
“Marco Goalo” arrived at Selhurst Park in September, 1991 with a very good reputation at doing what his nickname suggested – banging in the goals.
With a near average of a goal every other game at Sunderland, we had great reason to believe that he would turn out to be a fantastic signing. Unfortunately though, it just never happened for Gabbiadini at Palace. Purchased as the replacement for the legendary Ian Wright, Gabbiadini was already on to a sticky wicket, and would always struggle to fill the former’s boots. His case was not aided by the shocking admission of our manager at the time, Steve Coppell, that he had never even seen Gabbiadini play, and the £1.8 million invested in the striker was a “knee jerk” reaction to the sale of Wright to Arsenal.
Alongside Mark Bright in the Palace attack, Gabbiadini never adapted to Palace’s direct style of play, and he it was soon deemed best for all parties that he moved on. Gabbiadini made 25 starts in total, scoring 7 times, before being sold to Derby County in February, 1992, for a reduced price of £1 million.
2. GARETH TAYLOR (1995-1996, 23 appearances, 3 goals)
Newly relegated from the Premier League, the autumn of 1995 saw Palace re-build their squad following the mass exodus of most of the previous side.
We bought in a young, pacey goal scoring striker, by the name of Dougie Freedman. We also, inexplicably, purchased the wrong half of the hugely successful Marcus Stewart/Gareth Taylor Bristol Rovers strike force. Stewart stayed at Rovers and went on to bang goals in for fun that season, whilst Taylor (far right) toiled, laboured and struggled to justify his £1.25 million pound price tag in the famous red and blue. A “target man” due to his 6ft 2in frame, Taylor actually played more like a defender in his time with the club, and just never really settled into life in South London.
Thankfully, in the spring of 1996, he was moved on to Sheffield United, in a cash plus player exchange deal, which saw the legendary Australian goal scorer extraordinaire, Carl Veart come to Palace in a move that suited all parties.
3. KEVIN MILLER (1997-1999, 66 appearances)
A talented goalkeeper, but I would even now go so far as to say that Kevin Miller is arguably still the most disliked player I can think of to play for Palace over the last 25 years.
He joined the Eagles for £1.5 million after promotion to the Premier League in the Summer of 1997, and went on to displace the fans’ favourite, and better goalkeeper in my opinion, Carlo Nash between the sticks. Playing behind a hugely leaky defence in 97-98 was not the fault of Miller, but the following season was when relations deteriorated between Miller and Palace. Financial difficulties, and Mark Goldberg’s lack of real capital had jeopardized the clubs very existence, and a large number of the playing squad were forced to accept reduced salaries, and in some cases were even asked to play for the club for free. Miller dug his heels in, insisted on collecting his salary, and then played probably the very worst game of his career on the penultimate day of the 1999 season, conceding six goals at Queens Park Rangers, enabling the Hoops to retain their First Division status. I was at that game, and can recall the sentiments amongst Palace fans was that “Fat Kev” had not even tried for Palace during that game.
Thankfully, he was sold to Barnsley that summer, but was always ridiculed and barracked on any future return with any of his other clubs.
4. ITZIK ZOHAR (1997-1998, 6 appearances)
A full Israeli international, Itzik Zohar was one of many new signings the club made in the summer of 1997, following promotion back to the Premier League.
Being 6ft 1in, Zohar was very tall for an attacking midfielder, and always appeared slightly awkward on the ball to me, and at £1.2 million, sadly represented another poor investment for Palace at this time.
He did arrive with a proven pedigree though, and perhaps with more time and encouragement, Zohar could have done better at Palace. He memorably finally reached the end of the road at Selhurst Park when stepping up to take a penalty against Southampton in a crucial “must win” game for the Eagles. His shot was weak, easily saved, costing Palace the 3 points and losing him any remaining trust from the supporters. Indeed, as recently as 2012, Zohar was rated as Palace’s “worst ever foreign player” (and we have had a lot to choose from, believe me..), by TalkSport magazine.
Zohar was transferred back to his homeland in 1998, Maccabi Haifa snapped him up, putting him out of his Palace misery once and for all. Zohar then went on to become something of a controversial celebrity back in Israel, a beach football star, and the face of Gillette, but I think it’s fair to say that he probably never reached his full potential in his football career.
5. NEIL EMBLEN (1997-1998, 13 appearances, 2 goals)
I can recall watching Neil Emblen play for our great rivals Millwall against Palace some years prior to his move to SE25. He resembled a calm, assured central defender, comfortable with the ball at his feet, and all in all, a very good player. He even marked Chris Armstrong out of the game, quite some achievement,
given the prolific season Armstrong had that year.
Quite what happened to Emblen in the interim time between then and 1997, nobody can guess, but when Emblen signed for Palace from Wolves for £2 million, I think it’s fair to say that the majority of Eagles fans were very pleasantly surprised, and excited to have this classy defender on board.
Perhaps it was the step up to the Premier League that was a bridge too far for Emblen, the team struggled very badly that season, but due to his awful form and our impending financial difficulties, Emblen was “sold” back to Wolves a year later, for err… nothing. The only comforting part of this deal for Palace was Wolves’ agreement to waive any further payments from the initial transfer. He went on to star for Wolves in a further advanced attacking midfield position, but for me, it was a real shame it didn’t work out for Emblen at Palace.
6. MICHELE PADOVANO (1997-1998, 12 appearances, 1 goal)
Signed for £1.7 million from Italian giants Juventus soon after the arrival of the legendary Attilio Lombardo, the excitement amongst the Palace fans was immense following the signing of Padovano, a natural goal scorer who we had all watched on Channel 4’s Serie “A” coverage, banging them in for Juve, even collecting himself a Champions League medal along the way. However, any comparisons with his compatriot Lombardo ended here. Whilst both Italians suffered harshly with injuries in their maiden seasons in the English game, Lombardo at least endeavoured and showed flashes of immense quality that have seldom been repeated in the years since his premature departure. The same could certainly not be said of Padovano, who (symbolically for me) waved at the fans on his final appearance for the club when substituted.
As happened with so many new players at the club in the disastrous 97-98 season, their Palace careers came to quite an abrupt end. Padovano fell into this category, and was shipped off to Metz – until a case of deja vu, and coupled with injury and financial problems at the French club, Padovano was without a club. Perhaps what makes him one of the biggest villains in Palace history is the fact he returned to us to make a multi-million pound claim for lost wages when the club was on its’ knees financially, which, thankfully, he failed to recover.
7. VALERIEN ISMAEL (1998, 13 appearances)
Valerien Ismael was signed by Palace from Strasbourg in January 1998, for a then club record fee of £2.75 million. He was one of France’s leading young prospects at the time, so arrived at Selhurst Park with a very good reputation to build upon.
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go to plan with Ismael, and his stay in SE25 was limited to a mere ten months. I can remember one week night game against Wimbledon, when the horrendous Carl Leaburn (I can’t believe Palace never signed him – he was that bad), made Ismael look anything other than a multi-million pound player, humiliating him in an emphatic Dons victory.
Perhaps the Frenchman also struggled with the language, and English culture, but he was certainly a very good footballer ultimately. His career blossomed after leaving Palace, taking in spells at Lens, Werder Bremen and the mighty Bayern Munich. Ismael is now retired, but still in Germany, and is manager of Hannover 96 currently. Definitely an enigma. An expensive one, at that..
8. SASA CURCIC (1998-1999, 23 appearances, 5 goals)
I would hazard a guess that the selection of Sasa Curcic will spark debate on here – many of our fans would see Curcic’s spell at our club as good value for the £1 million we paid Aston Villa for his services in March 1998. I, on the other hand, am not so sure.
A genuine character, and even a political pioneer, life with Sasa at the club was never dull. Signed as a playmaker, he had all of the talent necessary to be a top, top player, but time and again, his attitude and wild lifestyle would be the downfall of this particular maverick. Curcic began his Palace career very well, and his skills shone through in a side bereft of any hope of survival in the Premier League.
Following relegation, he remained at the club, and played a key role in the early months of the season, endearing himself further to the Palace faithful with his outrageous style of play. Curcic’s time with the club will probably be best remembered though for his protest against the NATO bombing of his homeland, Yugoslavia. He paraded the Yugoslav flag around the pitch prior to a home game, in a one man protest. Sasa fell out of love with football, and his career can be best be summed up here in an interview at the “end” of his career. “I would not sign for another club, not even if I was offered 15 million dollars. However, it would be different if they were to instead offer me 15 different women from around the world. I would tell the chairman: “Please let me make these women happy – I will satisfy them like they have never been satisfied before.”
9. ADE AKINBIYI (2002-2003, 24 appearances, 3 goals)
Like a 'must have' piece of clothing or car, some footballers are 'must have' commodities at certain times. I believe that Ade “Akin-bad-biyi” fits this description perfectly. There is no other reason on earth why Wolves, Leicester, and subsequently Palace all fell for this big burly centre forward to the combined tune of £11.2 million? Leicester were the biggest losers of all, and parted with a whopping £5.5 million for the services of Akinbiyi, and then took a £3.2 million hit on him when selling him to Palace in February, 2002.
Right from the off at Selhurst Park, it was obvious that this move wasn't going to work out. New manager Trevor Francis wanted to stamp his own authority on the camp, and Akinbiyi was the man Francis believed could become our main striker. Given the squad number “5+5” as “10” wasn’t available, didn’t aid Akinbiyi’s cause at all, and Francis’ alleged praising and parading of Akinbiyi’s self-strength and massive muscles to the rest of the squad in the centre circle could well have caused jealousy and resentment towards him from other squad members too.
Unfortunately, Akinbiyi also arrived at Palace under something of a cloud, having suffered a disastrous season with Leicester in the Premier League the season before. Media ridicule had turned him into a laughing stock, he had zero confidence in front of goal, but Simon Jordan and Trevor Francis thought the transfer to South London would somehow galvanise him. Suffice to say, it didn’t, and Akinbiyi incredibly joined Stoke on a free transfer in the summer of 2003, after a successful loan spell in the Potteries.
10. IVAN KAVIEDES (2004, 4 appearances)
As with any other newly promoted team, Palace were offered several players by agents aiming to make a quick buck back in the summer of 2004. So, Simon Jordan and Iain Dowie took a punt on an unknown Ecuadorian striker, named Ivan Kaviedes, who in his early career, had shown much promise with a very decent goal scoring ratio. Palace paid a fee reported to be £2 million to secure the forward from Barcelona SC, although it was never proven if this was a transfer fee, or a “loan fee”. Sufficed to say, the striker struggled for any kind of form in the Premier League, and with Dowie opting to only play only one striker in the team – the in-form Andrew Johnson – Kaviedes’ opportunities would always be sparse.
He left Palace in the January transfer window of 2005. I rarely saw him in action, but as he was part of the Ecuador World Cup squads of 2002 and 2006, Kaviedes must have been more than a half decent player after all.
11. SHEFKI KUQI (2006-2009, 78 appearances, 17 goals)
Shefki Kuqi is again another striker who split opinion within the Palace faithful. At £2.5 million, he should have showed more quality than he did in his spell at Selhurst Park.
A bustling, aggressive centre forward, for me, his work rate was never really questionable, but his attitude at times, and finishing skills were at best – debatable. One fingered gestures to your own fans never wash very well wherever you play, and Kuqi sealed his Palace exit, when in 2008, he stuck his finger up at the fans in response to being booed for getting substituted after a poor performance against Wolves. It was also well documented that Kuqi had weight and diet issues, so coupled with his disciplinary issue, there was no way back for Kuqi at Palace under our manager of then, Neil Warnock.
A talented striker, he is again a player who will go down in history as one who didn’t really live up to his full potential, and at the price he cost Palace in the transfer fee and wages, was in no way value for money either.