Amanda White returns with another Worst XI and this time she’s looking towards the Gunners…
Richard Wright – 22 appearances
Sometimes a flop signing cuts both ways – not only does the player end up in snarky lists like this and costing the club money and points, but it also ends up changing an entire career. Step forward Richard Wright, signed from Ipswich in 2001 for a wildly variable fee (anywhere between 1 and 6 million) where he had been a key member of an upwardly mobile side. Already an England international, Wrights signing was seen as an obvious long term replacement for an aging, struggling for form David Seaman. However Wright lost all sense of form and confidence himself, scored a horrendous own goal against Charlton, and ultimately wound up behind Stuart Taylor in the pecking order before departing for Everton – where injuries falling out of his loft and tripping over a Stamford Bridge sign while warming up in the penalty area that said “don’t warm up in the penalty area” made him a sort of Tony Hancock figure and continued a new career of being a highly paid back up keeper unable to force his way into starting line-ups. And yes, he is still on the books of Manchester City as of right now…
Gus Caesar – 51 appearances
Is it possible to be objective about Gus? I mean after THAT mis-kick against Luton, he was clearly fouled by Mark Stein just before Danny Wilsons goal that condemned him to infamy? And he was injured during the game…and he did make an impressive debut against Manchester United…of course, Caesar simply has to be here, having been turned by Nick Hornby into a cautionary tale and punchline as long ago as the early 90s. Caesars decline began against Luton in the 1988 Littlewoods Cup Final where his errors turned a 2-1 lead into a 3-2 defeat in the blink of an eye, including the aforementioned mis-kick. Soon after that his reputation was shredded with a series of nervous performances, almost incomprehensible blunders and derision from the boo boys, and Caesar wound up on a career decline that lead to him sitting on the bench at Airdrie unable to displace Jimmy Sandison and Walter “Zico” Kidd. And of course he got his own paragraph in Fever Pitch about how sometimes you get found out at the highest level or something. And there was also a failed trial at Partick Thistle, which might tell you a lot as well if you are so inclined.
Igor Stepanovs – 31 appearances, 1 goal
Sometimes as with Ian Andrews or William Prunier, it’s really not your fault, and history recalls your contribution to a terrible loss as being worse than it actually was. And sometimes, as with Igor Stepanovs, it really is your fault. Bought for a million pounds from Skonto Riga to replace an injured Tony Adams, Stepanovs (stop me if you’ve heard this before) played well on his debut, scoring against Ipswich in the League Cup. Then came Old Trafford, and a lunch time showdown with Manchester United where Stepanovs was pressed into service in a makeshift centre back pairing with Gilles Grimandi that went about as well it sounds. 5-1 down at half time and ripped to shreds by Dwight Yorke, his performance was described in an online Telegraph match report as “a newly born reindeer running on ice“, and Arsenal fan forum as the “Rodney Trotter in Arsenals history“. Stepanovs was the victim of one of Wengers all time worst ever dressing room tirades, and never trusted again, he was shipped off to “strategic partner” Beveren as soon as it was humanly possible.
Pascal Cygan – 98 appearances, 3 goals
It’s sometimes hard to come up with new ways to write about bad footballers, particularly when they don’t have any amusing anecdotes. There’s only so many ways you can say someone like Pascal Cygan simply at a particular stage in his career lacked pace, was frequently left for dead by opposition defenders, and that he conceded one of the single worst individual goals I’ve seen in watching football – a goal against Middlesbrough where he headed the ball 10 yards into the middle of the pitch, stood and watched it as a Boro player picked it up, and then while still in his day dream played Maccarone onside when the Italian ran in and scored. A 2 million pound signing from Lille, there’s not much more I can say about Cygan that could sum it up anymore than his usual chant – “He’s bald, he’s shit, he plays when no-ones fit…Cygan…Cygan...”
Jimmy Carter – 29 appearances, 2 goals
Carters stint at Liverpool was a lot more infamous, particularly as Graeme Souness substituted after he had come on himself as a sub for the act of being physically afraid of Andy Townsend, but his stint at Arsenal was equally awful. Perhaps the two most striking recollections of Carters stint at Arsenal were that he would very often chase an opponent and get near them, only to physically freeze at the thought of tackling (one Liverpool forum says rather than tackle, he jiggled and mimed a tackle when he needed to) and of course, standing near the corner flag retreating from the ball in the hope no one would ask him to do anything. After 29 performances that only had two modes (disastrous and anonymous) Carter ended his career at Portsmouth, and now weirdly bobs up in a variety of places and football “legends” games where an ex Arsenal player is required.
Alberto Mendez – 11 appearances, 2 goals
There was a time many moons ago when Arsene Wenger could – seemingly – do no wrong. In this exotic time people would whisper in hushed tones about the Frenchman doing crazy things like getting players to train harder, stop drinking and eat healthy foods, and his ability to find transfer gems everywhere, even in the German fifth division. Signed on the cheap from SC Feucht, the strange thing about Alberto was that with Wenger scouting him (among a crowd of 50 other people) he played terribly. He still turned up at Arsenal, and perhaps not surprisingly for a German fifth division footballer, he was horrendously out of his depth, playing just 11 games for the Gunners. He did score in the Champions League against Panathinaikos, before footballs strangest fairytale run petered out and he wound his career up with stints at Racing Ferrol, Terrassa and SV Sandhausen.
Junichi Inamoto – 4 appearances
Glenn Helder – 39 appearances, 1 goal
Back in the days when every foreign signing was a “star” and a “coup”, and every Dutchman was “cultured” (at least according to Shoot! Magazine) the signing of the cultured star Glenn Helder was indeed considered a coup. Signed for 2.3 million by George Graham a week before the Scotmans departure, Helder made a striking debut on and off the field – sharp suited and long haired at the press conference, and then bewitching Steve Chettle on debut and looking like a bargain. However, that was before another foreign/Shoot trope became apparent – “the enigma”. Helders form and mood veered wildly, he frequently looked dis-interested and sensitive souls Adams and Bould didn’t help by deciding to kick lumps out of him at training to see if he was more than a “a one-trick shuffle pony”. Gambling and personal problems also didn’t help, and within a few years Helder was playing part time football and the bongos in his Dads jazz band to make ends meet. It also says a lot about Helders impact at Arsenal that his poor form and enigmatic personality almost dissuaded Arsenal from signing another alleged Dutch enigma – Dennis Bergkamp.
Francis Jeffers – 39 appearances, 8 goals
Fans of historical accuracy might wish to know Thierry Henry, not Arsene Wenger, coined the infamous “fox in the box” terminology that was used to justify the signing of Francis Jeffers for 8 million pounds from Everton in 2001. “Jeffers knows what it takes to go to Southampton and Newcastle and fight” proclaimed Arsene Wenger at his unveiling. As it turned out, there was no fight in Jeffers. Dogged by injuries, a lack of workrate, and if we’re honest, ability, Jeffers was closer to Richard Wright than Ian Wright in hearts of the fans, and was a long way from being any kind of fox in the box. His stint at Arsenal ended with him being shipped off to Everton on loan and then permanently to Charlton and Australia, being last heard of fighting his father in a law with a broomstick in a minor tabloid tale. Of historical note, Jeffers was signed only after a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic had stormed out of Highbury when a deal was seemingly done. But whatever became of him anyway…
Ray Hankin – 2 appearances
You might have to take my word for it, and yes, I’m sure some poetic licence is involved, but ask any Arsenal fan of a certain age and they’ll swear Ray Hankin was the worst player ever to wear the Arsenal shirt. A 300000 pound capture from Vancouver Whitecaps, Hankins brief Arsenal career began with Terry Neill swearing he was a more than adequate replacement for the Manchester United bound Frank Stapleton. 2 games, both substitute appearances, might suggest flimsy evidence of ineptitude, but Hankin, never known for his subtlety, was vastly overweight (some suggest even 3 stone overweight), visibly unfit and in one of his 2 appearances (this one against Liverpool) made a lung bursting run into the box only to trip over his feet, to the joyous amusement of Kenny Dalglish. A clutch of equally inept displays in friendlies and reserve games simply built up the legend, and Hankin was soon on his way back to Canada via a clause in his contract, taking just 110 minutes to become an Arsenal legend for all the wrong reasons.
Peter Marinello – 51 appearances, 5 goals
If George Best really was the first celebrity footballer, Peter Marinello was the first celebrity who happened to play football for a living – and not particularly well as it turned out. If you judge Marinello’s stint in Arsenal in terms of visibility and endorsements, it was a raging success. There was a milk ad, there were nightclub appearances, there was even a strangely stalkerish appearance hosting Top of the Pops were he fixated on one of the Pans People dancers and her false eyelashes. On the field though, the new George Best was a disaster – unfit, shy, homesick, usually injured and battling drinking and personal problems. There was also the small matter of being a committed hellraiser and a bit of a maverick while playing under Don Howe and Bertie Mee, avowed old school clamp down on everything coaches. Marinello eventually walked out to sign for Portsmouth, and his career fell into oblivion, although he got to meet Vicki Michelle from ‘Allo ‘Allo according to his book. Stop us if you’ve heard this before though, his debut was quite good…
I’m assured by the record books and Brian Glanville that the answer should be Billy Wright (“out of his depth and frequently petulant towards criticism” says the bold Brian) but the memory of Don Howe’s long awaited managerial reign at Highbury sticks in the memory a lot more. There were managers with worse records than Don (including his caretaker replacement Steve Burtenshaw) and Don even went on a winning run just before he quit in 1986, but the main reason for his selection is the god awful football he inflicted on Arsenal. After all, according to Don, “a draw is never a defeat“. Celebrity “Gooner” Alan Davies once said “We would roll the ball along our back four, trying to draw the opposition midfield out…but that could take up to half an hour….” – anyone who sat up for a show like “The Big Match” in New Zealand (i.e. – me) who then found out they were watching Don Howe’s Arsenal can still shudder at the memory…
There are also a number of players who were horrible but not quite horrible enough to get into this XI so have to make do with a place on the bench. They are:
- Rami Shabaan
- Justin Hoyte
- Mikael Silvestre
- Carl Jenkinson
- Sebastian Squillaci
- Jason Crowe (red carded 33 seconds into his debut)
- Kaba Diawara
- David Hillier
- David Bentley
- John Hawley
- John Kosmina (famed for leaving his team down to 10 men to take a “leak for the ages”, at which point Red Star Belgrade scored to knock Arsenal out of the UEFA Cup)
- Tomas Danilcevius
- Park Chu-Young
Big thank you to Amanda for this edition of Worst XI. You can follow her on Twitter at @Jobbergirl1985. Do you agree with the selection? Who would you have in your Arsenal Worst XI? Let us know here or on Twitter (link on left). Stay tuned for more from The Long Ball coming soon.