Tottenham Hotspur have been thriving under Antonio Conte and boast some of the most recognisable names in world football in their squad.
They were Champions League finalists just over three years ago and are pushing for the Premier League title this season with a frightening attacking of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min, Richarlison and Dejan Kulusevski. Then, of course, there is their glitzy, NFL-worthy hyperdome of a stadium.
Yet, some of their recruitment decisions over the Premier League era have been, well, slightly eccentric. For every Son, there has been a Vincent Janssen. For every Berbatov, a Rebrov. And then there have been some signings etched so deeply in Spurs folklore that there is legitimate debate as to whether they even existed: Benjamin Stambouli, for example.
But while everyone remembers the really terrible ones – poor old Bobby Soldado – there’s a veritable battalion of those who were so rogue, or so quietly terrible, that they have seemingly been wiped from the collective consciousness. Here’s some of them.
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Tottenham appearances: 5
Career path: Crystal Palace, Tottenham, Portsmouth (loan), Fulham (loan), Villa, Cardiff (loan), QPR, Newcastle, QPR (loan), Swansea
In fairness, some may remember this one. There was a good deal of fanfare around him back then, and his move in 2005 was meant to be a big step for the young Palace winger. And it was; too big, in fact. Some rotten luck with injuries and being used as makeweight in the Steed Malbranque transfer did it for him in the end. A good career, almost none of it at Tottenham, though.
Tottenham appearances: 15
Career path: Charlton, Tottenham (loan), West Ham, Fulham, Liverpool, Notts Forest (loan), Leicester, QPR (loan), Gillingham, Billericay, East Thurrock, Billericay
A classic of the Vincent Janssen genre of an unequivocally failed signing; albeit at Liverpool. However, that was back in those madcap years when £20m for Alberto Aquilani seemed a sensible idea. His time at Spurs – similar to a number of other hot, young, British prospects in the noughties – was short and uneventful. Both sides were reportedly interested in a permanent move but it never materialised, and off he popped to his boyhood club, West Ham.
Tottenham appearances: 14
Career path: Valur, PSV, KR Reykjavik (loan), Bolton, Chelsea, Barcelona, Monaco, Tottenham (loan), Stoke, Fulham (loan), AEK Athens, Cercle Brugge, Club Brugge, Bolton, Shijiazhuang Ever Bright, Molde, Pune
Better known for playing across London, Gudjohnsen was signed on loan by Spurs in January 2010, at the age of 32, to bolster options for the remainder of the season – a fact that feels so obviously Harry Redknapp that it’s surprising that this was in any way a surprise. “He’s a fantastic footballer, a clever footballer,” he said at the time, in a voice that still leaps off a page, twelve years on.
Tottenham appearances: 18
Career path: Ajax Cape Town, Ajax, Borussia Dortmund, Everton, Tottenham, Everton, Sunderland, Bidvest Wits
Very much in the Roberto Soldado mould of being excellent somewhere, going to Spurs and being bobbins, and then just quietly sidling back to wherever he was excellent in the first place to be pretty good once more. In fairness to him, and Spurs, there is a familiar tale of injuries restricting impact to be told here.
Tottenham appearances: 8
Career path: Christchurch United, DC United, Blackburn, Tottenham, QPR
With a face seemingly chiselled from the same antipodean granite as some of his more illustrious All Black compatriots, Nelsen’s career in England was All Blue (and White), most notably as the rock at the heart of Mark Hughes’ successful Blackburn defence. But towards the end, he also had a half-a-season at Spurs as cover for Sebastien Bassong. Another Harry classic.
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Tottenham appearances: 25
Career path: Hertha Berlin, Tottenham, Borussia Dortmund (loan), Portsmouth, Genoa, AC Milan, Schalke, AC Milan, Las Palmas, Eintracht Frankfurt, Sassuolo, Barcelona (loan), Fiorentina, Besiktas (loan), Monza, Hertha Berlin
It is fair to say that Boateng – brother of Germany centre-half Jerome and no relation to Premier League legend George – has itchy feet. And with a cyclical career spanning fourteen clubs, it kind of makes sense that those feet would have found their way to Spurs at some point, which they did, for £5.4m back in 2007. Winner of major honours in three countries, releaser of a number of rap records under the alias PRIN$$ Boateng, the man has done it all. Even, and far less explicably than his Spurs stint, won La Liga with Barca.
Tottenham appearances: 22
Career path: Man United, Antwerp (loan), Hull (loan), Tottenham (loan), Sunderland, Cardiff, Crystal Palace, Hull, Huddersfield
What was Fraizer Campbell? *Checks notes* correction: What is Fraizer Campbell? Too infrequent a goalscorer at Championship level to be lumped into the Cameron Jerome category, but also just better. For a bit, at least. Stuart Pearce certainly seemed to think so, giving him a full England cap when in caretaker charge back in 2012; as did Harry, who reportedly wanted to make his loan move permanent. It never quite worked out and he left with three goals to his name. And then whatever happened, happened.
Tottenham appearances: 1
Career path: Seattle Sounders, Tottenham, Sunderland (loan), Newcastle, Galatasaray, Inter Miami
A cornerstone figure of the soon-to-be-defunct iteration of Newcastle United that scrabbled about in lower-mid-table in front of an increasingly angry Sports Direct Arena, Yedlin was actually brought to these shores by Spurs. He only played 11 minutes, but regardless, he was technically there, so he counts.
Tottenham appearances: 1
Career path: Hajduk Split, Shakhtar Donetsk, Split (loan), Spartak Moscow, Tottenham (loan), Rostov, Deportivo La Coruna
Played 114 times for Croatia, including an (in)famous Wembley win that dashed England’s Euro 2008 hopes before they had begun, and birthed the now-mythic ‘Wally with the Brolly’ episode. He only played once for Spurs, however: a 4-1 home loss to Arsenal. Ouch.
Though, of some solace to the big man must be that in Goal 5: Revenge of the Goalkeeper – the fifth instalment in the novelisation of the classic Goal! film series – Pletikosa is the titular goalkeeper. He goes on a murderous rampage after protagonist Santiago Munez scores a World Cup penalty against him, which culminates in Santi knocking him off a building, to his death, with a football. Yes, this is really a thing. No, I don’t know where to buy it.
Tottenham appearances: 27
Career path: Nantes, Marseille, Tottenham, Burnley (loan), Monaco (loan), Besiktas
The second double-barrelled Kevin to grace our list, Nkoudou came with incredibly high hopes. At £11m and fresh from a season with Marseille that saw him finish 30th in UEFA’s best player poll, with the same number of votes as Kevin De Bruyne and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, he was meant to be good. Unfortunately, like most on this list, given the very nature of the thing, he was pants.
Tottenham appearances: 21
Career path: Parma, Fiorentina, Inter Milan, Tottenham, Alaves, Northern Spirit
Nicola Berti – pronounced Bear-ty if you are of a certain James-Richardson-with-a-pink-newspaper vintage, or are actually just proficient in Italian – is a giant of the game. A key part of a formidable, record-breaking, Scudetto-winning side at Inter, he also won two UEFA Cups back when they still mattered (scoring in both finals), and played every game in Italy’s run to the 1994 World Cup final.
Just a few years later, at the tender age of 30, he swapped the Nerazzuri for north London, and a man who played under such greats as Trapattoni and Sacchi and formed one of Serie A’s great midfield partnerships with Lothar Matthaus, suddenly found himself alongside David Howells and playing for Christian Gross. An utterly mind-bending turn of events.