Remembering Rafa Benitez's Maddest Signings at Liverpool

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Rafa Benitez spent six years at Liverpool, leading the club to famous Champions League and FA Cup triumphs, while simultaneously making signings that ranged from the brilliant to the absolutely barmy.

Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Pepe Reina were all recruited during Benitez’s tenure, and went on to forge stellar careers for the Red side of Merseyside and beyond.

But for every Torres, Alonso and Reina, Benitez snapped up at least one Jan Kromkamp…


Josemi

Liverpool’s Spanish Josemi (L) vies with

Start as you mean to go on. Josemi was Benitez’s maiden signing at Liverpool and was quite the statement of intent from Benitez.

The statement being ‘I’ll be recruiting some real curveballs lads, strap in’.

The right back (born in the classic haunt of generations of sunburned Brits abroad, Torremolinos) joined for £2m from Malaga, and although he mustered just 21 league appearances in 18 months before moving to Villarreal, he sure was prolific…in one sense.

During his debut Premier League season, Josemi featured 15 times and picked up seven bookings.

Despite barely featuring in the competition, he still managed to cheekily weasel his way to the front and centre of Liverpool’s Champions League celebrations. I mean you would, wouldn’t you?


Antonio Nuñez

Liverpool v Everton

Benitez went up a gear with signing number two.

Nuñez was brought in from Real Madrid in a part-exchange for Actual Michael Owen.

In exchange for Liverpool’s beloved boy wonder (still only 24 and a Ballon d’Or winner), the Reds got £8m and a clearly midfielder who only played 18 times before moving to Celta Vigo after a year and spent much of the rest of his career in Spain’s lower tiers.

Weirdly, Nuñez’s only goal came in the League Cup final defeat to Chelsea, while he managed to do what Ronaldo Nazario, Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Michael Ballack and countless others never could by bagging himself a Champions League winner’s medal as an unused sub in the final.


Mauricio Pellegrino

With Liverpool in need of some defensive reinforcements in January of 2005, Benitez turned to his old club Valencia picking up a cheap deal for not Roberto Ayala or Carlos Marchena but 400-year-old Pellegrino whose pace at this stage of his career was best described as glacial.

Liverpool’s first-ever Argentine (at two-time La Liga winner and 1994 Copa Libertadores champions) made 13 fairly excruciating appearances for the Reds, in what was not a particularly dignified end to an otherwise distinguished career.


Mark Gonzalez

Hailed as ‘Speedy Gonzalez’ on his arrival, Liverpool fought for a work permit to bring the South African-born Chile international over from Albacete in Spain, in a move that was ultimately not worth the hassle.

The winger, who had never played top-level league football in Europe before and was coming off the back of a cruciate ligament injury, looked out of sorts at Anfield and scored just twice in his only season at the club between 2006/07.

To be fair, Liverpool did make a profit on Gonzalez who went on to play for Real Betis, CSKA Moscow and was a part of the 2016 Copa America-winning Chile squad.


Jan Kromkamp

Josemi was exchanged for Kromkamp, in what transpired to be a perfectly fair swap, as the Dutchman turned out to be just as ineffective.

Kromkamp faced the same problem that Josemi had; he was not as good at right back as Steve Finnan.

His spell at Anfield was even shorter, and just six months after signing, Kromkamp was sold to PSV. Got himself an FA Cup winner’s medal though.


Gabriel Paletta

Gabriel Paletta (right) signs for Liverpool

Paletta joins the long list of quirky defenders bought by Benitez at Liverpool.

He signed a four-year deal after joining from Argentinian side Banfield for £2m, but would only last 12 months and make three league appearances before being shipped off to Boca Juniors.

Despite the Liverpool rejection, Paletta eventually went on the forge enjoy a relatively solid career, becoming a real fan favourite at AC Milan and earning three caps for Italy.


Sebastian Leto

Benitez raided Argentina once more the following summer, this time for forward Leto.

Despite this being Liverpool football club and not a League Two side on Football Manager, Leto never made a single league appearance due to having a request for an Italian passport revoked, and a work permit request subsequently denied.

The £1.85m signing left for Panathinaikos after two years on Merseyside without ever featuring in the Premier League.


Philipp Degen

Fulham v Liverpool – Premier League

Degen was snapped up on a free transfer from Borussia Dortmund, and began his Liverpool career in style by fracturing two ribs and puncturing his lung on his debut.

He broke his metatarsal during his first game back, and then suffered an identical injury two months later.

Degen’s first Premier League start came 15 months after signing for the club. He was sent off.

Nine months later, Roy Hodgson – the man who brought Paul Konchesky to Anfield – deemed Degen not good enough for Liverpool and surplus to requirements.


Andriy Voronin

Liverpool v Stoke City – Premier League

Fernando Torres wasn’t the only statement signing with luscious locks and an eye for goal to arrive at Anfield in the summer of 2007.

Voronin was signed on a free transfer from Bayer Leverkusen and is still often cited as one of the worst value transfers in Liverpool history.

To be fair to the goalshy Ukraine star, he did score five goals during his first Premier League season, before suffering an ankle injury in January.

He would never score in the Premier League again though, and while Torres would go on to command a £50m move to Chelsea, Voronin moved to Dynamo Moscow for £4m.


Andrea Dossena

Liverpool paid £7m to prise Dossena away from Udinese in 2008. He lasted just 18 months, which consisted of four very successful days, and sadly not a lot else.

Dossena grabbed his first Liverpool goal against the might of Real Madrid in the Champions League, and within the space of a week he scored a volley against Manchester United to seal a 4-1 victory.

Six years later he was released by Leyton Orient after their relegation to League Two.


David N’Gog

Liverpool fans were given an absolute treat in the 2008 transfer window. If the signing of Andrea Dossena wasn’t enough to whet their appetite, they also signed the similarly baffling David N’Gog.

Benitez was full of praise for his scouts after securing the forward’s services for a measly £1.5m, saying: “They are finding players like N’Gog, players with quality who are not a high price.”

You’re half right, Rafa.

After nine Premier League goals in three years, Liverpool remarkably made a profit on N’Gog, as Bolton forked out £4m to bring him to the Reebok.


Albert Riera

Liverpool v Birmingham City – Premier League

Benitez completed a hat-trick of headline summer signings in 2008 with the £8m capture of Riera from Espanyol.

The deadline day move came from nowhere, but the Spaniard enjoyed a fairly decent debut season at Anfield, as Liverpool missed out on the league title by just four points.

However, within two years his relationship with Benitez had soured. Furious with his diminishing first team opportunities, he branded the club “a sinking ship” (via BBC Sport) and publicly criticised his manager. He was sold to Olympiacos four months later.


Alberto Aquilani

Hull City v Liverpool

Benitez’s final big-money signing at Liverpool was the capture of Aquilani from Roma.

The midfielder arrived with an ankle injury and didn’t make his first appearance until November. Things picked up for Aquilani in the second half of the season with a couple of promising Champions League performances.

However, he became another victim of the Roy Hodgson cull, spending the next two seasons out on loan before being sold to Fiorentina in 2012.

Billed as the Xabi Alonso replacement, this was not the smartest £17m Benitez has ever spent.


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