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Irish Hammer 10:49 Thu Jun 17
Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
Never has a player who was so fucking shit seen so much hype and interest. Enjoy chaps !



The disastrous signing of Savio Nsereko

“One minute he would show moments of brilliance and then the next day he would just be absolutely useless. Honestly, it felt like he had won a competition to play for West Ham.”

It is a transfer that is ladened with sadness and one that West Ham United probably still regret to this day. Over time, you come to realise that the majority of people who encountered Savio Nsereko during his ill-fated six months in east London are not particularly complimentary. One of his former team-mates, who spoke on condition of anonymity, is still unable to compute it all.

“We had great coaches at West Ham at the time and (Gianfranco) Zola was a lovely guy who wanted to help everyone,” he tells The Athletic. “Zola really wanted to work with Savio and try to get him where he needed to be. I would be on the side stretching after training and Zola would be helping Savio with his crossing but out of five crosses, one would be accurate. I remember watching it and thinking, ‘Fucking hell, this is our record signing’. You could tell Zola must’ve been thinking, ‘What on earth have they given me here?’ It was an impossible challenge for Zola.

“He was West Ham’s record signing but it was very bizarre. We had absolutely no clue who he was. I tried to search for him online and I still couldn’t work out who he was. So it was a case of having a look at him in training but within the first five minutes, you could tell he was out of his depth.”


(Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
A quick search of Savio Nsereko online pops up with articles labelling him a flop, stories of a fake kidnapping and articles about him being widely considered as the worst signing in the Premier League era. On January 27, 2009, West Ham broke their transfer record to sign him from Brescia for £9 million on a four-and-a-half-year contract. One week prior, Craig Bellamy was sold to Manchester City for £14 million. But despite a key player leaving midway through the season, there was real excitement from the hierarchy about Nsereko’s arrival.

“He is an exciting prospect who Gianfranco Zola believes will be a valuable asset from this club now and in years to come,” Scott Duxbury, West Ham’s CEO, said at the time.

But it would prove to be a disastrous spell for the attacking midfielder, who failed to score a single goal in 10 appearances. So why did the club feel so compelled to break their transfer record on an unproven teenager?

It was during the 2008 UEFA European Under-19 Championship that West Ham first viewed Nsereko as being an exciting prospect. The gangly 18-year-old caught the eye in Germany’s group stage opener against Spain and 10 days before his 19th birthday, he scored his first competitive goal for the under-19s in the 3-0 win against Bulgaria. It was his only goal of the tournament but his performances helped lead Germany to the final.

They would beat Italy 3-0 and Nsereko, born in Uganda, was named in the team of the tournament. His confidence was so high he envisioned a career at the highest level.

“For the future, my dream is to one day play in Serie A, the Premier League or the Bundesliga — the best European leagues,” said Nsereko.

“He was a big talent at the time,” Freddie Sears, his former team-mate, tells The Athletic. “I remember playing against him for England under-19s.”

Nsereko played for Germany at under-16, under-19 and under-20 level, winning 21 caps. He was on the books at Serie B side Brescia, whom he signed for in 2005 aged 16. He made 23 appearances for Brescia in all competitions, scoring three goals and then it was off to West Ham.

West Ham were delighted with their acquisition as they had seen off competition from Bayern Munich, Napoli, Palermo and Juventus. And it must have helped Nsereko’s arrival to east London that Gianluca Nani, West Ham’s technical director, was the ex-son-in-law to Luigi Corioni, president of Brescia.

The £9 million fee was greater than the club’s previous biggest outlay of the £7.5 million they spent on signing Bellamy from Liverpool in 2007. But in the first few weeks of his arrival, Nsereko was desperate to return to Italy. One club insider at the time feels the club cannot have done enough due diligence on the player and the club acted too quickly to sign him. Nsereko struggled to adjust to life in London and could not acclimatise to the different culture.

There were also reservations about the attacking midfielder having the No 10 shirt. It had become available following Bellamy’s departure and it is a number that had been previously worn by Sir Trevor Brooking, Tony Cottee, Paolo Di Canio, John Moncur, Sir Geoff Hurst and Billy Bonds. But due to Nsereko being the record signing, the club were insistent on him having that number.

“He was in a new country and probably found the whole experience to be a bit daunting,” says Sears. “Zola was really good with the young boys at the time and the price tag and expectations, plus the size of the shirt, didn’t help. It probably got the better of him. If he had come in as a £1 million signing from Germany, then there wouldn’t have been too much made of it. But when you’ve come in as the club’s record signing, you have to play. It was strange because in the youth tournament he obviously had something but it just didn’t click for him at West Ham.”

Nsereko made his debut for the club as a late substitute against Hull City (below). He played for three minutes. Over six months, that would become the theme: being summoned from the bench.


(Photo: Hamish Blair/Getty Images)
Josh Payne, now at Ebbsfleet United, was on the fringes of the first team and got his chance when several injuries resulted in Zola giving young players an opportunity. Payne’s promotion from the youth team was around the time Nsereko joined the club. They both sang their initiation songs at the Four Seasons Hotel in Canary Wharf and often sat next to each other on the bench.

“I found it a bit strange that he was training with players like myself a lot,” says Payne. “Then after a while, I thought to myself, ‘This guy is nowhere near it’.

“I remember we trained at Upton Park the night before a game, which we did quite frequently. I remember him having a really good training session thinking, ‘Oh ok, now I can see why they signed him’. That session was probably the best I’ve seen him play. It felt like Savio had finally arrived moment and then he was just shit again after that.”

“London was the turning point,” Nsereko told Bild in a 2013 interview. “It has been downhill ever since. I made a lot of wrong moves and was never able to get on my feet again. I did everything wrong I could do wrong.” He said he had spent much of his money, adding: “Cars, clothes, women — I skipped nothing.”

In the canteen at West Ham’s training ground, Nsereko often shared a table with David Di Michele and Diego Tristan but started to go into his shell towards the latter stages of his time at the club and played only 245 minutes during his six months there. His only start was against West Bromwich Albion. His main contribution was in a game against Manchester City game, when he had a shot and Jack Collison scored off the rebound.

“We were all just confused as to why he signed for us,” says the anonymous former West Ham player. “Most of the lads wanted to help him and gave him time but it was just so apparent that it was going to be tough to get anything from him. I don’t even remember him leaving and just thinking about it now, it’s actually a sad story.

“He had some decent attributes, he was quite quick so he wasn’t completely useless. But he just didn’t have that decision-making to do well at a big club. To be honest, I’m struggling to find positive things to say. For most players who start badly at clubs, it can be tough to turn it around and in the end, I felt for him. He was the club’s record signing and he just didn’t seem able to cope with the pressure. I don’t think it helped him because he had a bit of a downward spiral after.

“It was so bad Zola couldn’t put him in the team. All West Ham could give him was five or 10 minutes, they just couldn’t start him.”

Nsereko’s last appearance for West Ham was against Chelsea on April 4, 2009. He was once again brought off the bench but having finished ninth in the league, the hope was he would settle once he returned for pre-season. So it came as a big surprise to some of his team-mates when he could not be seen.

“By the time he was sort of settling in, he was gone,” says Sears. “We came back for pre-season in the summer and Savio was gone. It was really strange. At the end of the season, everyone went away with their families. First day back for pre-season and Savio was nowhere to be seen. This went on for about a week. A few people were getting worried and no one really knew what was going on. It was really strange.

“Then loads of stories were coming out like he’s gone missing. People were really concerned. I actually liked him and it’s a shame it didn’t work out for him.”

The reason Nsereko had failed to show up for pre-season was that he had been sold to Fiorentina for £3 million, with Manuel da Costa heading in the opposite direction. West Ham retained the rights to 50 per cent of Nsereko’s sell-on fee but his return to Italy was not successful. He failed to make a single appearance for Fiorentina and during the three-year spell, he was sent out on loan to 1860 Munchen, Chernomorets Burgas, Juve Stabia, Vaslui and SpVgg Unterhaching.

Nsereko has joined 14 clubs since leaving West Ham in the summer of 2009. It was alleged by Bild that while Nsereko was playing in the German regional leagues for FC Viktoria Koln, he stole a watch from his team-mate, Salvatore Amirante, though The Athletic has been unable to stand up whether this allegation was true. A former club employee declined The Athletic’s interview request. “I don’t want to speak about him,” was the response.

In the intervening years after Nsereko departed from West Ham, Karren Brady was still mystified about his signing. “The deal is something I’m investigating,” she said in her column in The Sun in November 2012. “Just before this board took over, the club paid a huge amount to Brescia for the Germany Under-21 international who took part in a handful of matches and then departed for Fiorentina at a fraction of the price.” It is unclear if that investigation ever took place.

Perhaps the most bizarre story to emerge in the years after Nsereko’s departure was he had faked his own kidnapping in Thailand to try to extort money from his family.

Nsereko, a 23-year-old at the time, was reported in the Thai press to have called his family from Thailand telling them his “captors” were demanding a ransom of 3,000 euros (£2,400) for his safe release. But in an interview with Bild in 2013, he denied the allegation: “There was no mocked kidnapping and I was not in prison,” he said. “My relatives misunderstood a text message and erroneously contacted the German embassy.”

As recently as last year, Nsereko coached the youth coach at Armin Munchen and when The Athletic travelled to Germany to the club’s training ground, staff described Nsereko as being a likeable guy. Now he is on the coaching staff BSC Sendling.

“It’s crazy what’s happened to him since he left West Ham,” says Payne. “A lot of people consider him to be the worst signing in West Ham’s signing. He was really reserved at the club. It’s such a sad story.”

The Athletic tried repeatedly to contact Nsereko for this piece but he chose not to respond.

Replies - Newest Posts First (Show In Chronological Order)

Nagel 12:43 Fri Jun 18
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
Bonzo also played as a number 6, as you can see in the video of him scoring vs Palace in 1978.

https://rednbluearmy.co.uk/articles/18-11-16-back-day-november-18th-staunton-halfway-line

, 12:07 Fri Jun 18
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
Bonzo played his first three seasons for us as a right back wearing the number 2 shirt. When Greenwood converted him to midfield after that he took on the number 4 shirt.

In those days players wore shirt numbers according to their position in the eleven their being no such thing as squad numbers.

gph 4:34 Fri Jun 18
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
Can't be arsed to go through seasons match by match, but the first game Bonds played in 84-85, he was wearing No 8

http://www.westhamstats.info/westham.php?west=5&ham=3396&united=27_Aug_1984

Transfermarkt reckon his number in 84-85 was No 8.

arsegrapes 2:13 Fri Jun 18
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
I agree only remember bonds with 4 and brooking 10. If bonds wore 10 what was brooking wearing?

SDKFZ 222 2:06 Fri Jun 18
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
gph 5:29 Thu Jun 17

According to the history of Transfermarkt, the website was formed in 2000 by a German and it is based in Germany. I doubt that their research into Billy Bonds has any basis or strength to it.

Billy Bonds was signed from Charlton in 1967 as a right back and played during that period with the number 2 on his shirt. I started watching West Ham in 1972 and Bonzo definitely and mainly wore number 4 from that time onwards.

I don’t recall him wearing any of the other numbers that Transfermarkt has quoted, in particular 5, 8 or 10. Even though squad numbers didn’t exist during those days, certain numbers were familiar with certain players, like 10 for Brooking, 8 for Paddon, 4 for Bonds, and so on.

Rather strangely, Devonshire was more closely associated with the number 6 shirt than any other during his time with us, although I also saw him wearing 7 and 11 on occasion during his earlier years with us.

Westham67 1:19 Fri Jun 18
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
That's right mallard I forgot that old formation

Jasnik 12:42 Fri Jun 18
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
do you have any happy stories.

If its not this it is Tevez...

mallard 11:43 Thu Jun 17
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
Old numbering stems back from …

1 Goalkeeper
2 Right Fullback
3 Left Fullback
4 Left Half
5 Centre Half
6 Right Half
7 Outside Right
8 Inside Right
9 Centre Forward
10 Inside Left
11 Outside Left

Billy Blagg 8:40 Thu Jun 17
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
"The worst signing in West Ham's history" That is some prize there!

Westham67 6:31 Thu Jun 17
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
The old numbering was right back 2 centre backs 4 and 5, left back 3. Right wing 11 or7 ? inside right 10 centre forward 9 inside left 8 and left wing 7 or 11 ?

gph 5:37 Thu Jun 17
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
Of course, over BB's career, the number belonged to the position, not the player, so Transfermarkt probably means that the number that they call his squad number for the season was just the number he wore most often in that season.

Westham67 5:35 Thu Jun 17
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
Only West Ham could buy this bloke and Boogers

gph 5:29 Thu Jun 17
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
According to transfermarkt, Billy Bonds wore 2 for seven seasons, 5, 8, 10 and 12 for one season each, and 4 the rest of the time.

Coffee 4:46 Thu Jun 17
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
SDKFZ 222 3:36 Thu Jun 17

Toe Rag 4:10 Thu Jun 17
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
The whole sorry episode has the massive whiff of money laundering about it.

Far Cough 3:38 Thu Jun 17
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
Hahaha anyone remember Nani participating in the stand up if you hate Millwall thing?

SDKFZ 222 3:36 Thu Jun 17
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
I only ever recall Bonds wearing number 4 and very occasionally, number 2.

Russ of the BML 2:30 Thu Jun 17
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
But in an interview with Bild in 2013, he denied the allegation: “There was no mocked kidnapping and I was not in prison,” he said. “My relatives misunderstood a text message and erroneously contacted the German embassy.”

Text from Savio: Hi Mum, Thailand is wonderful. So much to see and do. Lovely weather and great food. Wish you were here xx

Family Response: Ring the German Embassy! Our boy has been kidnapped!

Sven Roeder 2:26 Thu Jun 17
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
Not sure if anyone has ever done a financial reckoning of this whole deal between Nani and his father in laws club.

My recollection is that we later gave Brescia Daprela for 'nothing' and Diamanti for a suspiciously low fee so always presumed there was some sort of offset for moneys still owed on the glorious Savio.
You only needed to watch Savio for 2 mins to recognise he wasnt a £9m player capable of cutting it in the Premier league.

Mad Dog 2:06 Thu Jun 17
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
Did Billy bonds often wear #10

I cant recall him in anything except number 4

gph 2:03 Thu Jun 17
Re: Article on the Club Legend that is Savio Nsereko
Ex-son-in-law, which doesn't say very much of itself.

Ex-sons-in-law and ex-fathers-in-law must have very varied relations - usually bad after a bad divorce, probably usually good after a widowing and remarriage. (Nor sure if it's actually ex in the latter case)

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