With the Morata-Higuain ‘swap’, Chelsea are exchanging of one of European football’s most promising goalscorers for one of its most proven – but the former is the latest striker to leave the Premier League without establishing himself.
Eighteen months after his arrival in London – when he was expected to become a superior signing to Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku, who Chelsea had also sought – he continues to demonstrate few signs of progress, has lost Maurizio Sarri’s confidence, and ultimately underperformed for too long.
The Premier League may remain the world’s richest division and continue to attract the world’s leading managers, but in the 26-year-old Morata’s case, it has again proved a ruthless environment. But higher-profile players with superior reputations and goalscoring records have also struggled in English football…
Andriy Shevchenko (Chelsea, 2006-09)
There has perhaps never been a more proven goalscorer to join the Premier League. When the 29-year-old Ukrainian arrived at Stamford Bridge for a then-British record £30.8 million, he was considered one of the few players capable of improving reigning champions Chelsea.
Yet where he had once been so prolific – 175 goals in 322 appearances for Milan, after 124 in 249 for Dynamo Kiev – he struggled to fit into the Blues’ system and Jose Mourinho’s team became poorer as a consequence. His greatest success may have been inspiring Didier Drogba who, after an unremarkable 16-goal season, scored 33 in Shevchenko’s first campaign.
Fernando Morientes (Liverpool, 2005-06)
Liverpool appeared to have secured a bargain when recruiting Morientes, then 28 and considered at his peak, for £6.3m from Real Madrid in January 2005.
It was only at the Bernabeu, where Ronaldo, Raul and Michael Owen were also vying for selection, where he was likely to struggle for first-team football – particularly after his goals on loan at Monaco the previous season had led his temporary club to the Champions League final.
Beyond the occasional demonstration of his abilities, however, the three-time Champions League winner struggled for both fitness and form, and left for Valencia 18 months later having scored only 12 goals in 60 appearances. Often overlooked is that Rafael Benitez also signed Peter Crouch and attempted to pair them in a front two that suited neither player.
Alen Boksic (Middlesbrough, 2000-03)
If the great Croatian didn’t truly disappoint at the Riverside, there’s also no question that he arrived there past his best – earning what was then a staggering £70,0000 per week until his sudden retirement, mid-season, in February 2003.
He arrived aged 30 in 2000 from Lazio, and scored twice on his debut before Boro again began to struggle. Twenty-two goals in 64 starts was ultimately an encouraging total, but not what this Serie A great was capable of; the record for his final season read two goals in 19 appearances until that unfitting retirement, having last been substituted 70 minutes into a 2-2 draw with Southampton.
Hernan Crespo (Chelsea, 2003-06)
Another great – and graceful – goalscorer to struggle at Chelsea. The one-time world’s most expensive player managed 10 goals in 19 Premier League games at Stamford Bridge but rarely had the circumstances in which to truly excel.
He was regularly rotated in his first season under Claudio Ranieri, and in his second – which began a year later after a successful loan spell at Milan – he again struggled for regular starts when the (then) far-from-devastating Drogba was Jose Mourinho’s preference as a natural target man.
Radamel Falcao (Manchester United, 2014-15; Chelsea, 2015-16)
The Colombian had performed like a complete striker for Porto and Atletico Madrid until injuring his anterior cruciate ligaments at Monaco, but his arrival for a £6m season-long loan at Manchester United was not considered the significant risk it proved to be.
His signing also contributed to the departure of popular local boy Danny Welbeck, which, after the 28-year-old Falcao – on reported £265,000-per-week wages – scored four goals all season, proved an error of judgement.
A similar loan at Chelsea the following season represented another chance to rediscover his sharpness, but he scored only once at Stamford Bridge. Even if he is again playing with greater confidence at Monaco, El Tigre is no longer doing so as one of the world’s best.
Mario Jardel (Bolton, 2003-04)
The prolific Brazilian, then 29, arrived as a free agent having struggled with depression amid marriage problems at Sporting. But it was there where he’d scored a scarcely believable 42 league goals during his blistering first season of 2001/02.
But while there was optimism that he could again excel at Bolton as another of Sam Allardyce’s bargain bin Galacticos, he left a year later having scored only three times – all in the League Cup.
Sergei Rebrov (Tottenham, 2000-03)
The £11m Ukrainian, then 25, had been one half of what was arguably Europe’s most devastating strike partnership at Dynamo Kiev alongside the irrepressible Andriy Shevchenko.
Recruited to become the prolific goalscorer that Spurs lacked, Rebrov ultimately struggled to perform at anywhere near the same level and was overlooked for the 2002 League Cup Final when Teddy Sheringham and Les Ferdinand – at a combined age of 70 – were preferred.
Sixteen goals might have been an acceptable return for one season, but not his entire time there, which came to an end in January 2003 amid denials of him nearing a breakdown.
Adrian Mutu (Chelsea, 2003-04)
Them again? Chelsea occasionally teased the best out of the talented Mutu, particularly during an exciting start to his time in west London when he combined superbly with Damien Duff.
The Romanian’s form declined, not uniquely, as his first season at Stamford Bridge progressed without the winter break he had been accustomed to. At the age of 24, though, there was good reason to have faith in him gradually adjusting.
But Jose Mourinho’s subsequent arrival as manager wasn’t good for Mutu: the Portuguese’s preference for more physically-imposing strikers meant he was always unlikely to succeed at Chelsea, even if he inspired his own downfall after being sacked for cocaine use in September 2004.
Diego Forlan (Manchester United, 2002-04)
It’s tempting to wonder if Manchester United would have gone four years without winning the Premier League title, until 2007, had Diego Forlan combined with the similarly prolific Ruud van Nistelrooy as Sir Alex Ferguson had intended.
The Uruguayan’s disappointing haul of 17 goals in 98 appearances – the first not coming until his 34th game – did little to suggest that he was capable of becoming the goalscorer he did, although two memorable strikes at Anfield secured him a place in United folklore nonetheless.
After leaving for Villarreal in 2004, Forlan averaged roughly a goal every other game with 59 across three seasons, and then 96 across four as Fernando Torres’s replacement at Atletico Madrid.
Roberto Soldado (Tottenham, 2013-15)
Another Spanish striker to struggle in England, the then-28-year-old Soldado became Spurs’ club-record £28m signing after 30 goals in 46 appearances the previous season with Valencia. He left two years later for only £7m, following seven in 52 Premier League games.
But if Soldado rarely looked comfortable in English football, he also joined Spurs during a period of significant instability – as one of seven new first-team signings in the summer of Gareth Bale’s departure – and left as Harry Kane broke through.