Hit or miss? Gianfranco Zola, Mario Balotelli and the most high-profile Italians to have played in the Premier League as Sandro Tonali completes Newcastle move

Mario Balotelli Paolo Di Canio Gianfranco Zola Italians Premier League GFX
With the AC Milan star on his way to St. James' Park, GOAL grades the most famous - and infamous - Italians to have played in England since 1992

There is no denying that Italy has played a hugely influential role in the development of the Premier League. In recent years, coaches such as Claudio Ranieri, Carlo Ancelotti and Antonio Conte have been responsible for title wins and tactical trends that changed the English game.

Before that, players like Gianfranco Zola, Gianluca Vialli and Paolo Di Canio improved the standard of play in the Premier League, adding a combination of quality and character, as well as an international flavour, that helped transform the competition into the global brand that it is today.

However, not every Italian has made such a positive impact. Below, GOAL grades the most high-profile Italian players ever to ply their trade in the Premier League, running through all of the greatest hits, and most miserable misses...

  1. Gianfranco Zola

    Gianfranco Zola

    A massive hit, the biggest of all, in fact. Zola isn't just one of the best signings Chelsea have ever made - he's one of the best in Premier League history. The diminutive, fleet-footed No.10 won seven trophies during seven seasons at Stamford Bridge, including the Cup Winners' Cup, and was also named Football Writers' Association (FWA) Player of the Year in 1997. Just a true Premier League legend. Verdict: HIT!

  2. Gianluca Vialli

    Gianluca Vialli

    Vialli may have been past his very best, but the striker still made a monumental impact at Chelsea, first as a player, and then as a coach. Indeed, he was very much part of the first wave of superstars to play in the Premier League, and he scored 21 times in 58 appearances before hanging up his boots in 1999.

    By that time, though, he had already won the League Cup and the Cup Winners' Cup as Chelsea's player-manager, having succeeded Ruud Gullit at the helm. He would spend four years in west London in total and his recent passing was meant with devastation among a fanbase that will forever adore Vialli. Verdict: HIT!

  3. Fabrizio Ravanelli

    Fabrizio Ravanelli

    Ravanelli announced himself to the Premier League in sensational fashion in August 1996, scoring an opening-day hat-trick against Liverpool. The former Juventus forward would go on to net 31 times in all competitions, as Middlesbrough reached the final of both domestic cup competitions. However, they won neither and were also relegated from the Premier League.

    Ravanelli, therefore, couldn't wait to quit the Riverside, having repeatedly complained about the facilities, the standard of training, the quality of English football and Middlesbrough itself. So, while the £7 million ($9m) signing may have lived up to his billing on the field, he ultimately proved more trouble than he was worth. Verdict: MISS!

  4. Benito Carbone

    Benito Carbone

    May not have made quite the same impact in England as former Sheffield Wednesday team-mate Paolo Di Canio, but Carbone is still fondly remembered by many fans because of some of the magical goals he scored during his three-year spell at Hillsborough. A subsequent switch to Aston Villa didn't go well, and he quit the Birmingham-based club after a solitary season, but there were some more memorable moments during his time at Bradford City.

    Carbone clearly wasn't the easiest character to manage and it felt like he was always at loggerheads with his employers, but the little forward was a joy to watch at times. Verdict: HIT!

  5. Roberto Di Matteo

    Roberto Di Matteo

    Another former Italy international who shone at Stamford Bridge, Di Matteo joined Chelsea from Lazio in the summer of 1996 and quickly endeared himself to his new fans by scoring the winner on his home debut, against Middlesbrough. In total, he would bag 26 goals for the Blues, three of which arrived in cup final victories at Wembley.

    The awful shame is that Di Matteo's career was cut short by a horrific leg break in 2000, but he would go on to lead Chelsea to Champions League glory as manager in 2012, thus sealing his status as a club hero. Verdict: HIT!

  6. Gianluca Festa
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    Gianluca Festa

    Another high-profile player drawn to the Riverside during the free-spending era of Steve Gibson, Festa was signed midway through the 1996-97 season to help the club avoid relegation. He failed in that regard, but the centre-back endeared himself to the club's fans by staying with Boro even after so many of his well-paid team-mates had departed.

    Festa, who popped up with an important goal or two, helped Boro get back into the Premier League and ended up spending five years at the club before joining Portsmouth. Verdict: HIT!

  7. Paolo Di Canio

    Paolo Di Canio

    A controversial character responsible for some of the most memorable moments in Premier League history. Di Canio's time in England looked set to come to an abrupt end after he was banned for 11 matches for pushing referee Paul Alcock while playing for Sheffield Wednesday. However, Harry Redknapp took a gamble on the volatile forward, and it paid off spectacularly, with Di Canio going on to become an idol at West Ham.

    He was so good that Sir Alex Ferguson even tried to sign him for Manchester United, while his scissor-kick stunner against Wimbledon in March 2000 is still regarded by many as the best goal the Premier League has ever seen. Verdict: HIT!

  8. Alessandro Pistone

    Alessandro Pistone

    Snapped up by Kenny Dalglish in 1997 after a breakout season at Inter, the versatile full-back's time in England looked set to come to a rather abrupt end after the Scot was sacked as Newcastle boss and replaced at the helm by Ruud Gullit, who didn't even give Pistone a squad number and sent him out on loan to Venezia.

    However, when the Dutchman was fired himself, Pistone returned to St. James' Park and became a regular again under Bobby Robson. Pistone was eventually sold to Everton, but while he would spend seven years at Goodison Park, his stay was ruined by a succession of injuries. Verdict: MISS!

  9. Attilio Lombardo

    Attilio Lombardo

    Perhaps no other player on this list made such an impact on an English club in such a short period of time. While several Italy internationals were turning up in the Premier League in the mid-to-late-90s, nobody expected to see Crystal Palace sign Lombardo from Juventus.

    Lombardo quickly became a cult hero at Selhurst Park, with the supporters almost inevitably nicknaming him 'The Bald Eagle'. Palace were relegated at the end of the 1997-98 campaign, but that was mainly because of an injury which ruled their star winger out of a significant chunk of the season.

    Lombardo, who had been appointed player-manager by that stage, also further endeared himself to the fans by staying at the club following their relegation, and he only left in January 1999 to help alleviate the club's financial problems. Tellingly, despite making only 49 appearances, Lombardo was voted into Palace's centenary XI. Verdict: HIT!

  10. Francesco Baiano
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    Francesco Baiano

    The striker was part of the Italian influx in 1997, joining Derby County alongside Stefano Eranio, but didn't have anything like the same profile as many of his compatriots. However, with his trickery and dynamism, Baiano proved a big hit at Pride Park, scoring 16 goals in 64 outings. He left after just two seasons, but is still recognised as one of the best foreign players ever to line out for the Rams. Verdict: HIT!

  11. Stefano Eranio

    Stefano Eranio

    Eranio was more well-known in England than Baiano, given he had spent the previous five years at AC Milan, but there were doubts over how much the winger had left in the tank, given he was 30 at the time of his arrival. However, Eranio impressed all and sundry with both his skill and his work-rate. He would end up spending four years at Derby. Verdict: HIT!

  12. Nicola Berti

    Nicola Berti

    A short stay at Spurs for the Inter legend but we'd argue a successful one. When the midfielder arrived in January 1998 on a free transfer, Tottenham were battling relegation, but he helped them finish in mid-table with three goals in 21 appearances. However, the arrival of Christian Gross as manager changed everything and Berti was released to join Alaves after just six months at White Hart Lane. Verdict: HIT!

  13. Samuele Dalla Bona

    Samuele Dalla Bona

    After being prised away from Atalanta as a teenager, Dalla Bona earned quite the reputation for himself as a goalscoring midfielder at under-age level for Chelsea. He was still only 18 when he made his senior bow for the Blues, in November 1999. His game time steadily increased over the next few seasons but, after making it clear that he wanted to return to Italy, he fell out of favour with then-manager Claudio Ranieri before joining AC Milan in July 2002. Verdict: MISS!

  14. Marco Materazzi

    Marco Materazzi

    During his time at Perugia, Materazzi had earned a reputation in Italy as a tough but talented centre-back with an eye for a goal. However, he only scored once in the Premier League after joining Everton in 1998 as his aggression took centre stage, with Materazzi managing to get himself sent off three times in just 27 appearances before being shipped back to Perugia. He would obviously go on to prove himself one of the most abrasive and controversial defenders the game had ever seen - just ask Zinedine Zidane! Verdict: MISS!

  15. Massimo Taibi

    Massimo Taibi

    One of the biggest flops in Manchester United's history, the goalkeeper was signed from Venezia in August 1999 following an injury to Mark Bosnich. Taibi was named Man of the Match on his Premier League debut, against Liverpool, but he made a notorious error against Southampton that effectively ended his Old Trafford career, when he allowed a daisy-cutter from Matt Le Tissier to squirm through his legs.

    He would play just once more for United before being offloaded to Reggina. All in all, one of the strangest signings Sir Alex Ferguson ever made. Verdict: MISS!

  16. Carlo Cudicini
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    Carlo Cudicini

    May not have played as much first-team football as he would have liked during his time in England, but Cudicini was on the books of Chelsea for a decade. He displaced Ed de Goey as No.1 shortly after arriving on a permanent transfer from Lazio in 2000 and he held onto the shirt until the arrival of Petr Cech in 2004. Thereafter, he served as a loyal understudy before leaving for Spurs in 2009 in search of regular game time. He didn't find it, and went on to finish his career in MLS with LA Galaxy. Verdict: HIT!

  17. Roberto Mancini

    Roberto Mancini

    When Sven-Goran Eriksson left Lazio to take charge of England, his still-playing assistant Roberto Mancini received several offers to continue his career in Serie A. However, the 36-year-old stunned everyone by electing to join Leicester City in 2001.

    All at Filbert Street were enthused by the arrival of the gifted No.10, who had won the European Cup with Sampdoria in 1992. "Everyone thinks the world of Robbie because he is such a star in Italy," revealed Foxes manager Peter Taylor. "Muzzy Izzet said he would move out of his mansion, let Robbie move in there and he would go and live in a caravan!"

    Unfortunately, permanent lodgings were not required, as Mancini never settled in Leicester and featured in just five games before returning to Italy to take on his first coaching role, at Fiorentina. Verdict: MISS!

  18. Corrado Grabbi
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    Corrado Grabbi

    One of the strangest and most infamous transfers in Premier League history, Grabbi was coming off the back of a prolific season in Serie B but nobody expected Blackburn Rovers to pay nearly £7m for his services in July 2001. It was a club-record fee for Rovers and proved a disastrous waste of money, with Grabbi, who struggled to settle in England and was hindered by injury, scoring only two league goals for the club. Verdict: MISS!

  19. Massimo Maccarone

    Massimo Maccarone

    The striker's time in England proved a real mixed bag. Signed for approximately £8m ($10m) from Empoli in 2002, Maccarone began brightly and scored 15 Premier League goals across his first couple of seasons in England, but never managed to lock down a regular starting spot. He spent his third season out on loan, first at Parma and then Siena, before returning to the Riverside to play the role of an unlikely hero in Boro's shock run to the final of the 2005-06 UEFA Cup, with key goals in both the quarters and the semis.

    However, he was eventually allowed to join Siena on a free transfer in January 2007 and after subsequently slamming former boss Steve McClaren, he was later branded a "fool" by Boro chairman Gibson, thus bringing an end to an eventful but ultimately underwhelming spell in the Premier League. Verdict: MISS!

  20. Lorenzo Amoruso

    Lorenzo Amoruso

    The centre-back should have proved an excellent signing for Blackburn Rovers, given he had been a colossus for former club Rangers, who only sold him because of their financial issues. However, his time at Ewood Park was completely ruined by injury and he was released in 2006 after just 18 league appearances. Verdict: MISS!

  21. Bernardo Corradi

    Bernardo Corradi

    Unfortunately remembered for all the wrong reasons at Manchester City, who signed the striker from Valencia in 2006. Corradi was sent off in his first game and dismissed again just a few months later, after picking up a second yellow card for diving. It also didn't help that it took him 13 games to score his first goal for City. Unsurprisingly released a year before the end of his contract. Verdict: MISS!

  22. Vincenzo Montella

    Vincenzo Montella

    The striker scored freely for the majority of his Serie A career, but Montella struggled during his short stint in England in 2007, failing to see eye-to-eye with either Chris Coleman or Lawrie Sanchez at Fulham. Montella scored three times in the FA Cup but managed just two goals in the Premier League amid constant questioning of his fitness.

    'The Little Aeroplane' proved quite popular with supporters, but the fact that he was sent back to parent club Roma a week before his six-month loan deal was meant to expire tells you everything you need to know about the disappointing nature of his stay. Verdict: MISS!

  23. Rolando Bianchi

    Rolando Bianchi

    After a breakout season at Reggina, the centre-forward was sensationally snapped up in July 2007 by Manchester City, who paid just under £9m for his services. The transfer proved a total disaster for everyone concerned. Bianchi scored just four Premier League goals and left on loan to Lazio, after slating English food, the country's drinking culture and the standard of refereeing. Verdict: MISS!

  24. Federico Macheda

    Federico Macheda

    The teenage forward looked set for superstardom after coming off the bench to score a goal against Aston Villa in April 2009 that was as beautiful as it was important, given his sensational strike from the edge of the area earned Manchester United a 3-2 victory that played a pivotal role in Sir Alex Ferguson's side pipping Liverpool to the Premier League title.

    However, Macheda would go on to score just four more goals for United, after spending the majority of his seven years on the club's books out on loan, at the likes of QPR, Doncaster Rovers and Birmingham City.

    Of course, he remains a cult hero at Old Trafford for that crucial effort against Villa and he would eventually resurrect his career in Greece with Panathinaikos, but he never managed to prove himself in England. Verdict: MISS!

  25. Andrea Dossena

    Andrea Dossena

    Signed as a replacement for John Arne Riise, the former Udinese man would never achieve anything like the same popularity among Liverpool fans as the Norwegian. He did, however, have the week of his life in March 2009, when he scored his first goal for the Reds, in a famous Champions League demolition of Real Madrid, before then netting in another epic 4-1 rout of Manchester United at Old Trafford just four days later. That was to be as good as it got for Dossena in England, as he was sold to Napoli in January 2010 and later had short and unsuccessful spells at Sunderland and Leyton Orient. Verdict: MISS!

  26. Alessandro Diamanti
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    Alessandro Diamanti

    A frustratingly inconsistent attacker, Diamanti surprisingly joined West Ham in 2009 after a successful spell at Livorno. He proved popular with the London side's supporters and contributed seven goals in 27 Premier League appearances, but left after just one season, joining Brescia before then enjoying arguably the most productive period of his nomadic career at Bologna. Diamanti did briefly link up with Watford, but it was a brief and utterly forgettable affair. Verdict: MISS!

  27. Alberto Aquilani
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    Alberto Aquilani

    Very much a case of what might have been. Aquilani just couldn't stay fit for a significant period of time, and while the £20m ($25m) signing from Roma made 26 appearances in all competitions during his first season at Anfield, he rarely completed the 90 minutes.

    There were flashes of genuine quality, most notably in a Europa League clash with Atletico Madrid, but it was clear as soon as Roy Hodgson took over from Rafa Benitez in the summer of 2010 that the midfielder's days on Merseyside were numbered. Aquilani was allowed to go out on loan, first to Juventus and then AC Milan, before eventually joining Fiorentina on a permanent basis. Verdict: MISS!

  28. Mario Balotelli

    Mario Balotelli

    Di Canio may have courted controversy during his time in England, but it was a constant companion of Mario Balotelli. So many stories have been told about his spells at Manchester City and Liverpool, and while not all of them are true, there is simply no denying that the striker had a real problem with authority. Not even Roberto Mancini, who treated him like a son, could control 'Super Mario', labelling Italy's enfant terrible "crazy", so there was never any chance of Brendan Rodgers managing to keep him in line.

    In fairness, despite numerous red cards, Balotelli did play his part in City's epic 2011-12 Premier League title triumph with an assist for Sergio Aguero on the final day, but his time at Anfield was a complete disaster, yielding just one goal in 16 appearances. Verdict: MISS!

  29. Davide Santon
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    Davide Santon

    Newcastle thought they were signing the new Paolo Maldini - he had actually been compared to the Italy icon by Marcello Lippi - but the full-back never managed to live up to the hype he generated after breaking into Jose Mourinho's Inter side as a youngster. He was allowed to join Newcastle in 2011 and spent nearly four years on Tyneside, but he spent far more time apologising to the fans for costly errors than he would have liked. He was allowed to return to Inter in January 2015 after losing his place to Paul Dummett... Verdict: MISS!

  30. Fabio Borini
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    Fabio Borini

    There were high hopes for Borini when he joined Liverpool in the summer of 2012 because he had previously enjoyed a purple patch while working under then-manager Brendan Rodgers at Swansea City the year before. However, his first year on Merseyside was blighted by injury and poor form, and he never really recovered. A decent loan spell at Sunderland eventually led to a permanent switch to the Stadium of Light, but he never scored freely in the Premier League. Verdict: MISS!

  31. Emanuele Giaccherini
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    Emanuele Giaccherini

    Sunderland appeared to have pulled off quite the coup in August 2013 after signing an Italy international who had proved quite a useful utility man at previous club Juventus. However, while Giaccherini never lacked drive or determination, he failed to deliver quality on a consistent basis, primarily due to injuries. He joined Bologna on loan in 2015 before then sealing a permanent move to Napoli the following year. Verdict: MISS!

  32. Dani Osvaldo
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    Dani Osvaldo

    The striker's move to Southampton made sense on paper, given it meant a reunion with Mauricio Pochettino, his boss at one of his former clubs, Espanyol. However, while he showcased his talent with a couple of sensational goals, his temper drew more attention, with Osvaldo sent off for his role in a touchline dust-up against Newcastle, and then suspended by the Saints for a training-ground row with team-mate Jose Fonte.

    Osvaldo was allowed to join Juventus on loan in January 2014 - just six months after arriving at St. Mary's - and had further spells at Inter and Boca Juniors before eventually joining Porto. In a wholly unsurprising development, Osvaldo would later quit football to pursue his primary passion - music. Verdict: MISS!

  33. Graziano Pelle
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    Graziano Pelle

    An £8m ($10m) deal in July 2014 that made an awful lot of sense, with Southampton reuniting the Italy international with Ronald Koeman, whom he had excelled under at both AZ and Feyenoord. And it worked well, in fairness. There were some lengthy goal droughts but Pelle reached double figures in each of his two seasons at St. Mary's.

    He specialised in towering headers, but he is probably best remembered by Saints fans for his overhead kick against QPR. Ultimately, though, Pelle was tempted away by the prospect of becoming one of the world's best-paid footballers after being offered a lucrative move to Shandong Luneng in July 2016, which he gratefully accepted. Verdict: HIT!

  34. Matteo Darmian
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    Matteo Darmian

    A Louis van Gaal signing, Darmian arrived at Manchester United in 2015 for a fee in the region of £13m ($17m). The former Torino full-back impressed early on and featured regularly throughout his debut campaign, but despite being able to play on either flank, he never managed to lock down a starting spot.

    He featured as a substitute in the 2016 FA Cup final win over Crystal Palace, but Van Gaal's shock sacking after that game proved a disaster for Darmian, who never managed to fully convince the Dutchman's successor, Jose Mourinho, of his qualities. In 2019, the Italy international was sold to Parma, where he managed to resurrect his career. Verdict: MISS!

  35. Angelo Ogbonna

    Angelo Ogbonna

    It hasn't always been plain sailing, but it's fair to say that West Ham's £10m ($13m) signing from Juventus has proven good value for money. He's completed eight seasons at the club, and while he's been hindered by injuries at times, Ogbonna has proven himself a dependable presence in the back-line, and a decent threat in the opposition box too. Verdict: HIT!

  36. Stefano Okaka
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    Stefano Okaka

    Another player who started well in England before quickly fading away, Okaka arrived at Watford in August 2016 after a decent season at Anderlecht. However, the striker only scored five Premier League goals across his first two seasons at Vicarage Road and was eventually offloaded to Watford's sister club, Udinese. Verdict: MISS!

  37. Manolo Gabbiadini
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    Manolo Gabbiadini

    After joining Southampton in January 2017 from Napoli, the striker enjoyed the most sensational start to his St. Mary's career, scoring four times in his first three Premier League outings, and twice in the club's League Cup final loss to Manchester United. However, Gabbiadini he would manage just six more goals over the next 18 months before being sold to Sampdoria. Verdict: MISS!

  38. Emerson Palmieri

    Emerson Palmieri

    A very curious case in that the West Ham man is the only player to have won all four of UEFA's current club cup competitions (the Champions League, the Europa League, the Conference League and the Super Cup) and yet isn't considered an especially good defender.

    Emerson, who joined Chelsea from Roma in 2018, was never a certain starter during his time at Stamford Bridge, even spending the 2021-22 season on loan at Lyon, while he was also in and out of David Moyes' line-up last season. So, while he's got the medals, he doesn't really command the same level of respect as the hits on this list. Verdict: MISS!

  39. Jorginho
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    Initially ridiculed by Chelsea fans as 'Maurizio Sarri's son' when he followed his former boss at Napoli to London in 2018, the Brazil-born Italy international went on to play a pivotal role in the club's shock Champions League triumph in 2021 with his pin-point passing and precise penalties.

    Jorginho, who also won the European Championship with Italy that same summer, ended up spending five years at Stamford Bridge before joining Arsenal in January 2023. He may not be a guaranteed starter for the Gunners, but he's long since silenced those who said he wasn't cut out for the Premier League. Verdict: HIT!

  40. Patrick Cutrone
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    Patrick Cutrone

    When he first burst onto the scene at San Siro, the striker was compared to Milan legend Pippo Inzaghi, but in the end, he proved more similar to another player to whom he had been likened, Mattia Destro - only not as good.

    Cutrone had cultivated something of a 'super-sub' reputation with the Rossoneri and the hope was that he would flourish after being promised more game time by Wolves, after arriving at Molineux in 2019. However, the forward mustered up just three goals in 28 appearances in all competitions before joining hometown club Como after loan spells at Fiorentina, Valencia and Empoli. Verdict: MISS!

  41. Moise Kean

    Moise Kean

    One of Italy's great hopes yet he disappoints so often. The striker certainly let Everton down after joining from Juventus in 2019 for an initial £25m ($32m). Kean scored just four times in 39 appearances in all competitions before returning to Turin after a successful loan spell at Paris Saint-Germain. The frustrating thing is that when it comes to Kean, the talent is clearly there, but his attitude remains highly questionable. Verdict: MISS!

  42. Wilfried Gnonto
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    Wilfried Gnonto

    Still early days for the versatile attacker, who only joined Leeds last summer, but Gnonto made a positive first impression during his first season in the Premier League, most memorably when he scored less than a minute into a 2-2 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford. The Italy international's future remains unclear following Leeds' relegation, but it should only be a matter of time before the youngster is snapped up by a top team. Verdict: HIT!

  43. Gianluca Scamacca

    Gianluca Scamacca

    The Italy striker's first year in England couldn't have gone much worse, as underlined by the fact that he is presently being linked with an immediate return to Serie A. Scamacca scored just three times in 16 Premier League appearances for West Ham before seeing his season ended early by injury, meaning he missed the conclusion of their triumphant Europa Conference League campaign.

    The £35m ($45m) signing from Sassuolo looked like he had the attributes to succeed in the Premier League but, right now, it looks like we'll never find out. Verdict: MISS!