JAMIE WHITEHEAD recalls a player who, during a four year spell in England, spent more time warming up than he did on the pitch. This is his shout for Aston Villa’s worst ever transfer…
Being asked to make a decision on who is Aston Villa’s worst ever signing is a bit like being asked who Jose Mourinho’s best ever signing was. It’s much easier to make a list of the polar opposite of the question than it is to think of something coherent of the task in hand, such has been the, ahem, level of quality that’s been brought into the club over the years.
Many will disagree on who I’ve made my ultimate choice, here (and I’m @jamiewh_ on Twitter should anyone want to come and have it out).
Bosko Balaban is the obvious choice, but honourable mentions must go out to Steve Sidwell, Milan Baros, and in my eyes, Savo Milosovic (but he gets let off due to his League Cup final goal of 1996).
We could also look at Ulysees De La Cruz, Eric Djemba Djemba or the inherently useless Robert Pires. The Frenchman himself was, in fact, a contender for this dubious award until I stepped back and realised that, actually, nothing much was really expected of a player who had nothing to prove and was going through the motions, as we expected. David Ginola was also in the running. But I met him recently and he was really nice, so he’s spared.
So, you can all come off the edge of your seats now. Since 1874, the worst signing to arrive at Villa Park…. is Moustapha Salifou.
Salifou arrived in an era before Vine, and therefore prior to the birth of the football hipster. Whatever you heard on the Holte End from your fellow supporters about him being really good, quite frankly, was a big massive lie. None of us knew anything about him.
And yet the media dubbed him the ‘Togolese Zidane’. If being compared to one of the greatest players ever wasn’t going to get the supporters in B6 excited, nothing would.
Signed by Martin O’Neill in 2007, Salifou came burdened with two other things along with his impressive comparison. Firstly, in a world where we were signing good, young English players like Ashley Young, James Milner and F****n D***h, Sali didn’t come with a British passport. Which felt luxurious. Also, he had a very singable name (“Sali, Salifou” to the tune of Daddy Cool). He was a Holte End hero before anyone knew who he was.
The subsequent four years were a total disaster. Four appearances. Yep. Four appearances in four years. Only playing 90 minutes once, in a European game away at Slavia Prague.
That Prague game was in 2008. And Salifou remained at the club until 2011. He didn’t make a single further appearance. Annoyingly for him, the arrival of Jean Makoun also saw Sali stripped of his number 17 shirt; he was compensated with the number 37.
Salifou wasn’t a bad signing in the way that Andrei Shevchenko was for Chelsea. He didn’t suddenly become rubbish overnight (having said that, if he had, there’s no way anyone would have known). It’s just between 2007 and 2011, he did…nothing. His debut was coming on as a 90th minute substitute in a 3-1 win over Reading. His other two domestic appearances came in defeats to Portsmouth and Manchester United.
We don’t hate you, Sali. Quite the reverse. Every time he’d warm up on the sidelines, a chorus of Boney M would reverberate around wherever we were. Moustapha Salifou was, and is, loved in certain parts of Birmingham.
But he was rubbish at doing what he went there to do. Play football.
Every now and then you’ll still see a shirt at a game with Salifou 17 on the back. And just for a moment, it takes you back to a better time when the club was finishing sixth each year and almost breaking up the Champions League monopoly even if our midfielder had absolutely nothing to do with it.
And I wish him well. Gone, but not forgotten.
Don’t ever, ever come back.
JAMIE WHITEHEAD IS A JOURNALIST WITH THE BBC. YOU CAN FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER @jamiewh_