Football: Goodbye from the bad buy

Stephen Brenkley watches the exit of the Leeds Swede, labelled the big foreign failure
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Amid sparkling champagne and flat smiles Tomas Brolin took his leave of Leeds last week. It was a bizarre little ceremony at which the Swede declared his intention to revive his stalled career.

"I want to show the world I am still a good player," he said. "I still believe I have something to offer and I hope someone in Europe believes me. I want to show a lot of people they were wrong about me."

If the formal gathering hanging on those words was a reminder of precisely how big a star Brolin remains in Sweden - and his performances had surely helped us to forget - it also illustrated the serious prospect of failure which lurks in wait for foreign players in England.

Nobody would doubt their profound influence in the past three seasons; few would question the general view that such as Dennis Bergkamp and Gianfranco Zola have enhanced the game. But by no means have all of them cut the mustard.

Brolin exemplified that. He played only 19 games and scored four goals for Leeds in the two years following his signing from Parma for pounds 4.5m. It was difficult to think him of as a prominent character in the 1994 World Cup when Sweden finished third.

He severed his doomed links with Leeds only days after Glenn Helder left Arsenal following nearly three years of under-achievement costing pounds 2.5m. While Brolin makes desperate appeals for an employer of suitable standing, Helder at least has found a club. He is now back in Holland with NAC Breda.

"I know Glenn's football very well because I was working with him at Vitesse for 18 months before he went to England," said the Breda coach Herbert Neumann. "He is likely to be a significant player here in the next two or three years." Neumann said he had initially expected Helder to succeed in England but as time went by was unsurprised by his inability to make an impact. He was a player who prospered on self-confidence.

The signing of many imports (cheap and, with luck, cheerful) is a calculated gamble. Harry Redknapp at West Ham has had his successes but on those nights when sleep does not come immediately Marco Boogers and Florian Raducioiu probably still stalk his brain.

He was clearly exasperated by both men. The Dutchman, Boogers, an emergency purchase, refused to train when he first arrived because he disliked the Hammers' methods. It was clear almost from the start that the Romanian Raducioiu did not have the appetite for the English fray. Outstandingly skilful, he was rarely involved in matches, the fringes of the action being much too close for him. "No it hasn't put me off, you just get on with it and hope you choose better next time," said Redknapp.

The man who signed Brolin was Howard Wilkinson, now the FA technical director. "There is no argument that outstanding players who are exceptional, both in terms of footballing ability andcharacter, can raise our game no end," he said, though it was difficult to imagine he had the Swedish forward in mind. "I can understand why managers are attracted to foreign players but there are too many in the game and we have to try to reduce them."

While risks sometimes have to be taken on foreign players and managerial reputations thus staked, David Pleat at Sheffield Wednesday tries to avoid it. "There's too much short-term buying," is his mantra. "You've got to plan for the future."

This might explain why he deliberated for so long before signing Regi Blinker, another Dutchman, two seasons ago. But his caution did not prevent Blinker, who was endlessly exciting but often proceeded down blind alleys, serving a long sentence on Wednesday's bench. Similarly, the Yugoslavian, one Darko Kovacevic, quickly faded from the limelight. Pleat has been better rewarded by others such as Benito Carbone, but the fact that a strategist as careful as him has been caught out encapsulates the high risk factor.

On the day Brolin left Leeds, Andrea Silenzi was summoned back to Nottingham Forest, though probably not to add to his five starts since being signed for pounds 1.8m in 1995. For almost a year, since a transfer deal to Venezia fell through, he has languished in Italy, still being paid by Forest.

But Silenzi can be hailed as a spectacular success compared to a player who appeared for Southampton last November. Aly Dia, from Senegal, came on as substitute, almost scored with his first touch and 53 frenetic minutes later was himself substituted. Apparently, he had been recommended by World Player of the Year George Weah to the then Southampton manager Graeme Souness in a phone call which proved to be a hoax. Dia was heard of no more. It did not require a champagne reception to mark his going.

Don't Forget Your Passport XI

Jorgen Nielsen Liverpool

Substitute goalkeeper who has yet to make his first team appearance despite the poor form of David James

Branco Middlesbrough

World-class Brazilian defender who joined his compatriots Juninho and Emerson but lasted just five matches at the Riverside

Michael Frontzeck Manchester City

Veteran German stopper who after 23 matches went to Freiburg

Ned Zelic Queen's Park Rangers

Much-heralded Australian, signed by Ray Wilkins and away after four matches

Glenn Helder Arsenal

Dutch international, signed by George Graham, who swiftly lost confidence and form under new management

Ilie Dumitrescu Spurs/West Ham

Talented Romanian who could not fit in at two clubs in 21 appearances

Marco Boogers West Ham

Rush signing lucky to last four matches

Florian Raducioiu West Ham

Romanian flair could not conceal lack of steel in eleven starts

Andrea Silenzi Nottingham Forest

Non-English speaking, uncommunicative, home sick, rarely given chance to fit Forest's style

Thomas Brolin Leeds United

Came as overweight, stayed so, blamed others, now seeks club after pounds 140,000 handshake

Aly Dia Southampton

One strange Premiership outing for Southampton as sub, neither his nor Graeme Souness's finest 53 minutes