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Football injuries nearly destroyed Jim McMahon. Somehow, he keeps coming back

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Football injuries nearly destroyed Jim McMahon. Somehow, he keeps coming back

A mountain rises above sandy red dirt not far from Jim McMahon’s home in Arizona. There are saguaros, jagged rocks, maybe some rattlers. But no trail.

As he drives by, McMahon tells his friend, “I can’t wait to climb that.”

The idea would be ambitious for any 64-year-old, let alone for one who recently came close to losing his right leg.

At some point during a 15-year NFL playing career — he’s not sure when — McMahon broke his right ankle. Doctors kept telling him he didn’t. By 2021, the ankle bone had grown — the size of two golf balls, he says — and McMahon could barely walk. About two and a half years ago, the bone was shaved and spurs removed. The doctors said the surgery was a success.

They always say that.

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Four days later, McMahon felt a burning sensation. Blood seeped from an area on his leg far from his incision. His ankle was badly infected. Emergency surgery followed. And another emergency surgery.

“My foot literally exploded,” he says.

It looked like a chunk of flesh and muscle had been scooped from the front of his ankle. The open wound was about the size of a baseball and the colors of pizza.

McMahon was told if the infection reached his knee, his leg would be lost. As it crept up his leg — closer, closer, closer — he was as brash and irreverent as always.

“I’d be a sexy son of a bitch with one of those new prosthetics,” he told Kevin Tennant, a close friend of 46 years. “The women would love me.”

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Over two and a half years, he had six skin grafts, the last in November. All the while, amputation remained a possibility.

He couldn’t move his ankle for seven months. The joint calcified. His Achilles tendon shrunk. He couldn’t point his toes up or down.

McMahon recently started seeing Chicago chiropractor Pete Petrovas, who has used electronic stimulation, ultrasound, acupuncture and manipulation to restore function in the joint.

Finally, there is movement. Finally, mercy.

He wears a brace on his ankle and walks with a cane. But somehow, Jim McMahon has made another improbable comeback.

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McMahon’s first comeback happened early in the game of life.

At 6, he tried to untie a knotted shoelace with a fork. It slipped, puncturing his retina. Frightened, he waited six hours before telling his parents. After surgery, he was strapped down in his bed for a week so he wouldn’t scratch his eye.

Not long after he was untethered, McMahon played Wiffle ball in the hospital hallway and blasted a ball out of a window. Then he climbed out the window and down a few stories to retrieve it.

At 12, he was kicked off a baseball team when his coach, who also happened to be his father, caught him smoking cigarettes. He came back, though. In high school, McMahon played every position except catcher. At Brigham Young, he played outfield as a freshman.

But McMahon was a quarterback. Though his eye was light-sensitive and his vision was impaired, he could see the field better than almost anyone. At BYU, he set 75 NCAA records and led a comeback that was the football version of the Battle of Midway.

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With less than three minutes remaining in the 1980 Holiday Bowl, the Cougars trailed Southern Methodist 45-25. When fans headed for the parking lots at San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium, McMahon yelled at them, warning them the game was not over. Then he led two touchdown drives to get BYU within six. With the ball on the SMU 41, the Cougars had one more play. McMahon dropped back to the BYU 45 and put up a Hail Mary that landed in the hands of Clay Brown in the end zone. The extra point with no time remaining gave the Cougars a victory in a game now known as “The Miracle Bowl.”

The Bears chose him with the fifth pick of the 1982 draft and two years later, McMahon made a comeback that left doctors astounded.

McMahon, who played as if he were wearing a medieval suit of armor, ran for a first down against the Raiders, then kept running instead of sliding as two defenders approached. Then defensive tackle Bill Pickel put his helmet into McMahon’s lower back. McMahon stayed in the game but didn’t have the breath to keep calling plays. He was taken to the locker room, where his urine was the color of Concord grape juice.

At the hospital, he learned his kidney was torn in two places, with one part completely detached. He bled for three days and was hospitalized for 10. After a transfusion, he was told he needed surgery to remove the kidney. Knowing he couldn’t play football with one kidney, McMahon objected. He says he could feel it healing and asked doctors for one more night. By the morning, he says, it was reattached.

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“The big man upstairs knew the Bears couldn’t ever win s— if I wasn’t there, so he gave me another chance,” McMahon says. “He’s the only one who could have done what happened to my kidney. They just don’t grow back that fast.”

The following season, McMahon was not expected to play in a Thursday night game against the Vikings because of a back injury and leg infection that had him in traction earlier in the week. But the Bears trailed by eight in the third quarter and McMahon badgered coach Mike Ditka until Ditka relented.

On McMahon’s first play, Ditka called a screen pass, but the Vikings blitzed, so McMahon heaved one deep — a 70-yard touchdown to Willie Gault. His next pass was a 25-yard score to Dennis McKinnon. And his seventh was a 43-yard touchdown to McKinnon.

“All I remember is I almost fell on my face because I had so many muscle relaxants and painkillers in me,” McMahon says of the 33-24 victory. “I was barely able to stand up.”

At the end of that season, McMahon led the Bears to their only Super Bowl victory — after coming back from a rear-end bruise that was so sore he could barely sit.

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Through 11 weeks of football in 1986, the Bears appeared well-positioned to repeat as champions. Then Packers defensive tackle Charles Martin changed the trajectory of their season — and McMahon’s life.

McMahon was walking away from the play after throwing a second-quarter interception when Martin grabbed him from behind and slammed him to AstroTurf, which might as well have been concrete. Martin, whom they called “Too Mean,” left McMahon there like roadkill.

A concussion and neck and shoulder injuries meant the end of his season, but not the end of his football comebacks.


Never one to shy away from the limelight, “the Punky QB” was the center of attention at Super Bowl XX media day in New Orleans. (Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)

The Bears gave up on him. He came back with the Chargers. The Chargers cut him. He came back with the Eagles. He was supposed to sit out a 1991 game against the Browns because of a broken elbow and torn tendon. McMahon could barely move his arm, but 45 minutes before the game, it was decided he would play. His second pass was a pick-six, and the Eagles trailed 23-0 by the second quarter. Then McMahon threw three touchdown passes, including one with 5:19 left that gave the Eagles a 32-30 win.

McMahon played for four more teams. His final game, as a 37-year-old with the Packers, came as Brett Favre’s backup in a Super Bowl XXXI victory. He retired with a .691 winning percentage, eighth highest of the modern era. Of the players who rank ahead of him, three are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Roger Staubach, Joe Montana and Peyton Manning), one will be soon (Tom Brady) and two are active (Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson). The other is Daryle Lamonica.

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He didn’t throw passes as pretty as Dan Marino’s or John Elway’s, he had a better winning percentage than either. McMahon didn’t play in the high-flying offense Dan Fouts did, but he has two more Super Bowl rings.

He didn’t have the athleticism of Steve Young, but Young credited McMahon with teaching him how to pass when they were teammates at BYU.

He didn’t benefit from the genius coach and GOAT wide receiver that Joe Montana did, but he had a 4-1 record against him in head-to-head starts. McMahon’s only loss was in the NFC Championship Game in 1989, when his injured knee never gave him a chance.


A 14-year-old McMahon was hanging out with his baseball teammates when one of his friend’s older brothers “tossed us a bone.” That was the first time he smoked a joint. He kept smoking as a teen and throughout his playing career.

These days, indica and OG strains are his favorites, but he likes trying different ones. Every few hours, McMahon lights up either with a bowl or a dogwalker.

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“It makes me not think about the pain,” he says.

He has had 25 surgeries: seven right knee, six ankle, five left knee, four right shoulder, two left shoulder and one eye. When he reaches to shake a hand, he winces. If he remembers, he pulls golf clubs from his bag with his left hand.

McMahon doesn’t work out much because he can’t lift his arm sideways. His right shoulder has been a problem since the first game of the 1986 season. After shoulder surgery that year, he says he was supposed to sit out two seasons, but he came back in 10 months. Now McMahon probably needs a replacement.

And then there is his head.

McMahon was a teammate of Andre Waters in Philadelphia and Dave Duerson in Chicago. When each killed himself, McMahon was stunned. He wondered what could make them feel so despondent. In 2012, he was enlightened.

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“I started feeling the same things about a month or two after Duerson (died),” he says. “Then I understood.”

McMahon experienced debilitating headaches — it was like an ice pick in his skull. For months, he mostly stayed in bed with the shades down.

“If I had a gun, I would have blown my f—— head off,” he says. “It hurt that bad. I spent weeks at a time thinking, ‘What are you going to do?’ But I didn’t want to do that to my kids, my folks and my family.”

McMahon found relief through Scott Rosa, a New York chiropractor who traced some of the problems to old neck injuries. He sees Rosa a few times a year, whenever headaches worsen.

McMahon’s wit remains sharp, but his memory has dulled. He can relay 30-year-old reminiscences and nail every detail, but ask him what he did this morning and he might struggle to answer. He forgets appointments even though he enters them in his calendar. He occasionally loses his train of thought in mid-conversation.

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He was one of the plaintiffs in the concussion lawsuit against the NFL. A settlement was agreed upon in 2015 and the NFL has paid nearly $1.2 billion to former players and their families, but McMahon has not collected.

“They said I wasn’t impaired enough, that I don’t have full-blown dementia,” he says. “They want you to die before they admit there was something wrong with you.”

He was one of several players who sued the league for illegally dispensing narcotics and other drugs without regard for long-term health. At one point he says he was taking 100 Percocet pills monthly, but the medication made it difficult to sleep.

At least he has marijuana.

Along with former NFL players Kyle Turley, Eben Britton and Ricky Williams, McMahon owns Revenant, a cannabis business. He and Williams recently visited Capitol Hill to lobby for more lenient federal marijuana regulations.

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A look at McMahon’s busy travel itinerary is enough to make him want to take a toke. Much of his travel involves golf, where he somehow manages to crush his drives despite playing one-legged, spreading his legs as far as possible and putting all his weight on his left foot.

“I told him he plays as good with one foot as he did two,” his son Sean says.

An excellent golfer, Sean tries to give his father pointers but says Jim doesn’t take to coaching very well. Ditka could have told him that.

When he’s on a course, McMahon almost always has a Coors Light in his hand. Time has diminished neither his thirst nor his legendary capacity.

“Me and Horne (former teammate Keith Van Horne) did a good job at a bar the other night,” he says, pausing to spit tobacco in a cup. “It was probably funny watching him and me trying to walk out of this place.”

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Drinks in the Chicago area are almost always on the house — or on the guy at the end of the bar wanting to take a selfie. A fan paid his lunch tab at a Greek restaurant the other day. They love him not just because he helped win a Lombardi Trophy but because of how he did it — with rebelliousness and recklessness. An icon in the lineage of Broadway Joe Namath and Kenny “The Snake” Stabler, McMahon was who football fans wanted to be.

He still is. Kind of.


These days, “Papa Jim” enjoys his time with his six grandchildren. (Photos courtesy of Sean McMahon)

Sean says when his father is with his friends, he acts no differently than he did 30 years ago. When Tennant is around, they golf and play cards, backgammon and dominoes for hours on end, insulting one another and laughing like they have for 46 years.

“I kick his a– every time, or almost every time,” Tennant says.

“He’s full of s— most of the time,” McMahon says.

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Where gel-spiked hair once was, there is now a shaved scalp. The sturdy chin wears a white goatee. With his still-light-sensitive eyes obscured by blue-lens sunglasses, he looks more like a villain from a Marvel movie than a stereotypical grandfather. But to Maverick, 7, Macy, 6, Gibson, 5, Ryder, 5, Walker, 3 and Brooks, 1, he is “Papa Jim.”

McMahon downplays the significance of being a grandfather. Then he shows off videos of the kids.

Papa Jim gets on the floor to play cars with Walker. He takes Macy to her tennis lesson. Maverick and Ryder bruise him up with their toy nunchucks and swords. He plays catch with the kids but throws left-handed or underhanded because the arm that launched 2,573 NFL passes can no longer make a gentle overhand toss without stabbing pain.

Divorced for 15 years and unattached, McMahon appreciates time with his grandkids, four children and 88-year-old parents, Jim Sr. and Roberta. He didn’t always get along with his mother and father during his NFL days, but time heals the wounds it can.

Some of his injuries during football made him feel like crying, but he always held back tears. He didn’t want to show weakness. That has changed.

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“My physical therapy makes me cry every time,” he says. “I even catch myself tearing up while watching TV commercials. I asked my doc, ‘Am I going f—— crazy?’ He told me it’s part of maturing.”

So, McMahon has matured?

“It’s awfully bold of you to assume I have,” he says with that familiar grin. Then he pauses.

“I mean, you’re getting closer to death, so you’re trying to put your life in perspective,” he says. “You’re trying to finish out the last few years and make them good so you don’t have to wait too long in line when you get up there, if that’s the way I’m headed.”

McMahon is headed somewhere else now, hobbling away to meet a former teammate. He will drink too many beers, stay out too late and tell stories his grandchildren probably should not hear. And when tomorrow dawns, Jim McMahon, deep in the game of life, will reach for his cane, light a bowl and make another comeback.

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(Illustration: Dan Goldfarb / The Athletic; photos courtesy of Sean McMahon; Peter Read Miller, Focus on Sport / Getty Images; Paul Spinelli / Associated Press)

Culture

Coco Gauff to be flag bearer for Team USA at Paris Olympics

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Coco Gauff to be flag bearer for Team USA at Paris Olympics

Coco Gauff will become the first tennis player in history to act as Team USA flag bearer when she joins LeBron James at the opening ceremony for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Gauff, 20, is the world No. 2 and defending U.S. Open champion. She will also become the youngest American flag bearer in Olympic history, overtaking Cindy Nelson, who fulfilled the role at the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Games in Austria.

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Gauff is representing Team USA in the women’s singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, joining world No. 6 Jessica Pegula in the women’s doubles and men’s No. 11 Taylor Fritz in the mixed event.

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She had initially been selected to play in the Tokyo Games, but a COVID-19 diagnosis forced her to sit out in 2021.

The favorite for the singles title is world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, who has won the last three French Open titles at Stade Roland Garros in Paris, the venue for the Olympic tennis events. Swiatek has an 11-1 head-to-head record against Gauff, including a recent victory in the semifinals of this year’s French Open in June.

Gauff, who won the women’s doubles title at that tournament with partner Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic, will hope to defeat her during the Games, where Siniakova will play with Wimbledon champion and 10-time doubles Grand Slam winner Barbora Krejcikova.

The draws for the tennis events will take place Thursday at 11 a.m. in Paris/5 a.m. ET.

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'Bleak', 'Gutting', 'Disastrous': What was your Premier League club's worst transfer window and why?

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'Bleak', 'Gutting', 'Disastrous': What was your Premier League club's worst transfer window and why?

When transfer windows go right, they can set a manager and a team up for a successful season or kick off a new era.

When they go wrong, however, they can go very wrong.

From the early departures of managers after a disappointing summer to relegations or even financial turmoil, a disappointing transfer window can prove disastrous for clubs.

Having already brought you our selection of the best transfer windows for each club last week, now it’s time to look at those that didn’t quite work out so well.


Get the latest transfer news on The Athletic¬

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Worst window: Summer 2015

If there was a window to sum up the frustrations with Arsenal’s passivity in the market it was summer 2015, when their only signing was a 33-year-old goalkeeper.

Though that goalkeeper was Petr Cech — who later kept 16 clean sheets to win the Golden Glove — the 2015-16 campaign was one of opportunity. Arsenal’s traditional rivals faltered and they finished second, 10 points behind Leicester City and there has always been a thought of ‘what if’ had they invested in even one outfield player that summer.

A close runner-up is the summer window of 2011. Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy — all entering their mid-20s — left despite being vital parts of Arsene Wenger’s side. Arsenal then signed Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and although their deadline-day dash brought Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker, it was a scattergun end to a gutting summer.

Art de Roché

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Should Arsenal have gone stronger in summer 2015? (Ian Kington/AFP via Getty Images)

Worst window: Summer 2015

The summer of 2015 was when everything went wrong. The season started — and basically ended — in Bournemouth on the opening day, where new signing Rudy Gestede scored the only goal to give Villa three points and the only sense of optimism in an altogether horrendous campaign, finishing rank bottom with 17 points.

That opening-day win served as a false dawn, with Micah Richards captain and one of 12 new signings that joined. Gestede came and went, the three Jordans — Ayew, Veretout and Amavi — became annoyingly good once they left Villa, as did a young Adama Traore.

Scott Sinclair was already on the slide and Joleon Lescott’s time at Villa would be known for his apparent accidental tweeting of a new car immediately after relegation was sealed. Idrissa Gueye was the only solid buy. A bleak summer.

Jacob Tanswell

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Worst window: Summer 2022

Bournemouth’s hit rate since their first promotion to the Premier League in 2015 has been good, based on recruiting unearthed gems and, recently, young talent from abroad.

Still, Scott Parker’s brief top-flight stay in 2022 was littered with in-fighting and squabbles over recruitment, exacerbated by the ownership flux, with incoming owner Bill Foley waiting to be rubber-stamped.

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It meant Parker had what he viewed as little support in the market, claiming his side were “under-equipped”. Goalkeeper Neto and midfielder Joe Rothwell signed for free, while resources stretched to sign Marcus Tavernier and Marcos Senesi — two good players who are flourishing under Andoni Iraola, but not who Parker wanted.

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Jacob Tanswell


Worst window: Summer 2022

Fans thought the 2020 window had been a disaster after Brentford lost the Championship play-off final to their west London rivals Fulham and then sold Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma. But Ivan Toney and Vitaly Janelt arrived and Brentford finished the season by winning the play-offs so it looks far better in hindsight.

The reverse logic could be applied to 2022. Keane Lewis-Potter, Aaron Hickey and Mikkel Damsgaard were signed for around £45million ($58.1m at today’s conversion rates) combined but injuries and dips in form mean they have not shown their best. Thomas Strakosha arrived as competition for David Raya but left after two years having made more appearances for Albania (12) than Brentford during that time (six). Ben Mee joined for free but Christian Eriksen turned down a contract to join Manchester United.

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It may be too soon to definitively call this their worst window in history but it certainly stands out as being below par by Brentford’s lofty standards over the last decade.

Jay Harris


Worst window: January 2018

Brighton’s business has not always been as good as it has been in the majority of recent windows.

The outcomes were sketchy when they were still finding their feet as a Premier League club after promotion in 2017.

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In January 2018, they splashed out around £14million on Jurgen Locadia, a club-record outlay at that time. The forward proved a big disappointment, playing only 46 games and scoring six goals. Brighton make big annual profits now, but they were still incurring substantial losses back then, so it was a costly mistake.


Jurgen Locadia was a club-record signing at the time (Steve Bardens/Getty Images)

The same was true of Alireza Jahanbakhsh in the summer of 2018 for £17million from AZ Alkmaar, but fans still fondly recall the Iran winger’s overhead kick against Chelsea. Also, his arrival was accompanied by Yves Bissouma and Jason Steele.

Andy Naylor


Chelsea

Worst window: Summer 2017

The disastrous summer of 2017 still sparks shudders in Chelsea supporters.

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Fresh from winning the Premier League title, Antonio Conte felt he had earned a big voice in Chelsea’s recruitment. He submitted a list of high-profile targets that included Romelu Lukaku, Virgil van Dijk, Alex Sandro, Radja Nainggolan and Kyle Walker.

Chelsea tried to bring Lukaku back from Everton but were outflanked by Jose Mourinho and Manchester United, before pivoting to Alvaro Morata of Real Madrid. Conte also had to settle for Davide Zappacosta (Torino), Tiemoue Bakayoko (Monaco) and Danny Drinkwater (Leicester City), with the latter pair becoming liabilities long before they were released as free agents.


Danny Drinkwater was among Chelsea’s 2017 signings (Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images)

The sale of Nemanja Matic to United for £40million aged well but deprived Conte of vital midfield experience. The club also took a loss on sending Juan Cuadrado back to Serie A and sold Nathan Ake to Bournemouth for £20million — much less than his peak transfer value.

Liam Twomey


Worst window: Summer 2017

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A memorable window for all the wrong reasons with Palace’s new manager Frank de Boer sacked 10 days after it closed, just four games into the Premier League season — all of which his team lost, all without scoring.

Mamadou Sakho joined from Liverpool for £26million after an excellent loan spell in the second half of 2016-17 but was unable to reach those same levels again. Jairo Riedewald arrived from Ajax for £8m, and although he proved to be an excellent mentor for the club’s younger players, his contribution on the pitch was limited. He did, however, spend seven seasons at Palace covering various positions and made 106 appearances in all competitions.

Midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek impressed to such an extent on a season’s loan from Chelsea that he made the England squad for the following summer’s World Cup, but Timothy Fosu-Mensah struggled at right-back after being loaned from Manchester United.

The squad had been insufficiently strengthened in this window but De Boer’s replacement Roy Hodgson was still able to guide them to an 11th-place finish.

Matt Woosnam

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Everton

Worst window: Summer 2017

There is an obvious answer here for anyone who follows Everton; one that shines a light on the glaring dysfunction of the Farhad Moshiri years.

Let’s go back to the summer of 2017 and the arrival of not one, not two… not even three… but four No 10s in the form of Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Davy Klaassen and Nikola Vlasic.

Mad, right? Well, that’s what happens when so many different people are feeding into the recruitment process — owners, board members, managers and other staff — and each one gets a pick. The bizarre splurge left Ronald Koeman’s side lacking balance — particularly out wide — and also led to financial problems later on.

A case study on how not to do your recruitment.

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Patrick Boyland


Davy Klaassen failed to impress (Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Fulham

Worst window: Summer 2012

There have been some bad windows at Craven Cottage in recent years.

The summer of 2015 did bring Tim Ream, Tom Cairney and Ryan Fredericks, but it also brought nine other new players, the most notable of which was Jamie O’Hara. January 2014, meanwhile, saw a record fee spent on a striker, Kostas Mitroglou, who would play only 151 minutes (three appearances, zero goals) in the club’s unsuccessful fight against relegation.

But the winner here is the one at the start of the 2012-13 season.

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It set in motion a tricky decade, as Fulham sold Clint Dempsey and Mousa Dembele, their crown jewels at that time, to Tottenham Hotspur and their only signing that paid off was Dimitar Berbatov. The Bulgarian striker was a popular addition, but on his own couldn’t stem the tide.

This window marked the start of a downward spiral which would end in relegation the following season, and then four years in the Championship.

Peter Rutzler


Worst window: Summer 2020

Both of Ipswich’s summer windows pre-relegation featured costly mistakes: in 2001, destabilising a unified squad, and in 2018, replacing Championship players on the cheap with those of predominantly League One quality.

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But for the sheer volume of underwhelming signings, the 2020 summer transfer window takes it.

After ending the previous season 11th in League One — the club’s lowest finish since 1953 — just three permanent signings were made. David Cornell, Oliver Hawkins and Stephen Ward on free transfers in a feeble attempt to escape the third tier.

Only Ward became a regular and striker Hawkins managed just a single goal. All three left the club after one season.

Ali Rampling


Leicester City

Worst window: Summer 2021

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After just missing out on Champions League qualification in the previous two seasons, Leicester were looking to push to the next level as 2021-22 approached.

The business they did that summer may not have set the wheels in motion for a decline which brought relegation less than two years later, but it certainly was a factor. A total of £55million went on Patson Daka, Jannik Vestergaard and Boubakary Soumare, while Ryan Bertrand joined on a free.

Besides a few promising moments, striker Daka has not had the impact expected, and midfielder Soumare has also been a disappointment. Denmark international centre-back Vestergaard looked at first to be a disaster of a signing until his performances in the Championship last season earned him a new contract. Champions League winner and former England international Bertrand’s spell at Leicester was a mishap, due mostly to injuries, and he retired this summer aged 34.

The reality for clubs of Leicester’s stature is they must be prudent in recruitment and reinvest after selling a major asset. They cannot afford to get it wrong.

In summer 2021, when they didn’t sell a major asset, that’s exactly what happened.

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Rob Tanner


Worst window: Summer 2010

Rewind 14 years to the 2010-11 pre-season, and Liverpool were in a mess. Rafael Benitez’s reign had just ended, debts were piling up under the hated ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, and fan protests were gathering pace.

Liverpool appointed Roy Hodgson as manager at the start of July and, with money tight, what followed proved to be a dreadful transfer window.

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The hype that surrounded signing Joe Cole on a free transfer from Chelsea proved misplaced, as the England midfielder flopped badly. Milan Jovanovic was another free-agent arrival that summer who ended up costing Liverpool a fortune in wages.

The names Christian Poulsen (£4.5million from Juventus) and Paul Konchesky (a reported £3.5m from Fulham) still send a shiver down a Kopite’s spine as they struggled badly and looked completely out of their depth.

Raul Meireles (£11.5million from Porto) was the only one of the new arrivals to give the club any kind of return on their investment.

It was all too much for star midfielder Javier Mascherano as he pushed through a move to Barcelona before the deadline. You could hardly blame him.

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James Pearce


Paul Konchesky was one of Liverpool’s stranger signings (Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Worst window: Summer 2012

City famously built on their 2011-12 Premier League title by bringing in Javi Garcia, Jack Rodwell, Matija Nastasic, Scott Sinclair and Maicon.

In fairness to them, this was the same summer they also tried to sign both Robin van Persie from Arsenal, losing out to Manchester United, and Eden Hazard of Lille, who chose new European champions Chelsea instead.

City were clearly trying to put the hammer down and cement their place at the top of English football (not to mention the fact that a few months later they were pushing hard to bring in Pep Guardiola from Barcelona as manager, not long after Roberto Mancini’s finest hour).

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They obviously felt the signings they did make in that window, including two young English players seen as having bags of potential, would be able to take the club forward, but none of the moves worked out and summer 2012 has gone down in history as a missed opportunity.

Sam Lee


Jack Rodwell’s move to City did not work out (Paul Thomas/Getty Images)

Manchester United

Worst window: Summer 2013

It’s the obvious answer. Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill, the chief executive, had both departed at the end of the 2012-13 title-winning season. David Moyes had arrived from Everton as the new manager. Thiago Alcantara, Leighton Baines and Ander Herrera (who they did sign a year later) were pursued but eventually fumbled before Marouane Fellaini arrived on deadline day… for £4million more than the £23m release clause which ran out a month earlier.

A special mention to the summer(ish) window of 2020-21.

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Disrupted by Covid-19 and a mere 35-day gap between completing one season and beginning another, United pushed and pushed and pushed for Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho, but to no avail. Instead, Edinson Cavani, Donny van de Beek, Alex Telles and Facundo Pellistri arrived in an assorted grab-bag.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did well in the season that followed, with United runners-up in the Premier League and Europa League, League Cup semi-finalists and reaching the last eight of the FA Cup, but the club missed a crucial opportunity to back their manager while rivals were in a mild state of flux.

Carl Anka


Worst window: Summer 1997

John Barnes. Stuart Pearce. Ian Rush. How is that a bad window? Because this was 1997, not 1990. Barnes was 33, Pearce was 35 and Rush was 35.

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Far worse windows (summer and winter windows were introduced in 2002) were to come in terms of talent, but this was the tipping point for the next two decades: the Kevin Keegan bubble had burst, replaced by Kenny Dalglish’s stultifying pragmatism. Jon Dahl Tomasson and Shay Given also arrived, but out went David Ginola and Les Ferdinand, and Alan Shearer had a long-term injury.

The boom was over, contraction taking hold, a club being deflated like a soiled airbed after a festival.


John Barnes joined Newcastle at the wrong end of the 1990s (Clive Brunskill /Allsport via Getty Images)

Pearce was fine, and Barnes played in all but one of Newcastle’s Champions League matches, including the 3-2 win against Barcelona. Barnes was also Newcastle’s top scorer in the league, but with just six goals — the Entertainers had been thoroughly dismantled.

The Champions League run ended at the group stage and Newcastle finished 13th in the Premier League. Joylessness loomed. The sad cherry on top? Signing Paul Dalglish. Nice work if you can get it, which you can if your dad’s the manager.

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Paul Dalglish: Coping with the family name, cracking America – and becoming an agent

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Andrew Hankinson


Worst window: January 2020

Before Cooper, there was Sabri Lamouchi. The old line about being able to cope with the despair but it’s the hope you can’t stand, was perfectly encapsulated for Forest fans by the 2019-20 season.

Under Lamouchi, Forest enjoyed a brilliant first half of that season. There were a few dips here and there but, by the end of January, they were not just ensconced in the unfamiliar surrounds of the play-off places, but knocking on the door of the automatics too. The first XI was good, but the thing that might have pushed them over the line was a few quality additions that January.

It would be unfair to blame the players who did arrive for the eventual collapse that would see them miss out on the play-offs in that Covid-interrupted season. But it did feel fitting that one of them, the striker Nuno da Costa, scored an own goal in the 4-1 home defeat to Stoke on the final day, which drove a stake through the already pretty dead heart of Forest’s promotion hopes.

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Nick Miller


Worst window: January 2018

Six words from January 2018 that are enough to bring back nightmares: Southampton sign Guido Carrillo for £19million.

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Guido Carrillo: The £19m striker chosen over Jimenez despite staff’s concerns

A few years on from the dreamy days of beating Inter Milan in the Europa League and Southampton’s infamous black box seemed to be faltering. Locked in a relegation battle under Mauricio Pellegrino — remember him? (Sorry for the reminder, these were desperate times.)

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Needless to say, striker Carrillo, the only arrival in that window despite the sale of Virgil van Dijk, was not the answer. He scored zero goals at a cost of £1.9million per appearance.

Nancy Froston


Tottenham

Worst window: Summer 2013

Supporters had to deal with the pain of waving goodbye to Gareth Bale in 2013 and, to make matters worse, Tottenham wasted the £85million they received from Real Madrid. Roberto Soldado scored 24 times for Valencia in La Liga during the 2012-13 season, which is more than he managed (16) across 76 appearances for Spurs in all competitions.

Erik Lamela is a cult hero but never truly fulfilled his potential following a £30million move from Roma. Paulinho lasted two years before he moved to China after barely making an impact. Nacer Chadli was a useful option from the bench but Etienne Capoue and Vlad Chiriches struggled.

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Apart from Lamela, the only other signing who qualified as a success was Christian Eriksen. He spent seven distinguished years with Spurs and was part of the team that came close to winning the Champions League in 2019.

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Jay Harris


Worst window: Summer 2022

In the summer of 2022, West Ham spent £165million on Gianluca Scamacca, Lucas Paqueta, Emerson Palmieri, Thilo Kehrer, Maxwel Cornet, Flynn Downes, Alphonse Areola and Nayef Aguerd — the most they had spent in a window.

But integrating eight players into the team proved difficult for manager David Moyes, which led to West Ham losing five of their first seven league games.

Scamacca and Kehrer have since joined Atalanta and Monaco respectively, Cornet has been an underwhelming signing, while West Ham are open to offers for Aguerd and Downes could rejoin Southampton having returned from his season-long loan. Only Paqueta, Palmieri and Areola have improved the side.

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Roshane Thomas


Worst window: Summer 2011

It may seem difficult to beat the summer of 2022, when Wolves spent a combined £80million on Matheus Nunes, Goncalo Guedes and Nathan Collins. But at least that side avoided relegation.

Eleven years earlier came a window just as poor but with worse consequences as Wolves broke up the limited but spirited squad Mick McCarthy had built and signed the higher-profile duo of Roger Johnson and Jamie O’Hara.

It was supposed to take the club to the next level — but the next level was down. Two relegations in two seasons were the result of disturbing the dressing-room dynamic.

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Steve Madeley

(Top photos: Getty Images)

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'Take your time, you d*ck': 15 years of defending and deserving Andy Murray

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'Take your time, you d*ck': 15 years of defending and deserving Andy Murray

This feature has been updated upon Andy Murray’s confirmation that the Paris Olympics will be his final tennis tournament.


Andy Murray made you care.

That was his superpower. There were better players in his era; there were more stylish ones. But none possessed the ability to make you invest emotionally in their matches as much as Murray did.

As someone British, and the same age as Murray, I probably would have felt a degree of kinship however he’d played. But it went a lot deeper than that.

When he arrived on the scene as a scruffy 18-year-old in 2005, Murray seemed to experience tennis as I’d always experienced it: as an unbelievably frustrating sport that seemed almost designed to wind you up. Murray would moan and berate himself and do all the things that felt to me entirely natural. Why wouldn’t you scream in anguish after missing a shot you knew you should have made? That wasn’t odd. Even saying “Take your time, you d**k” after missing a serve, as Murray once did, wasn’t that odd to me. It was everyone else who was odd, somehow pretending that they were OK when they messed up.

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Andy Murray’s emotions on court were part of his magnetism (Elsa/Getty Images)

Defending Murray against accusations of dourness, rudeness, and surliness that arose from his on-court demeanour became a bit of a passion of mine around this time. The fact a lot of people didn’t get him only made me get him even more and when those anti-Murray views became more entrenched after he joked that he would be supporting “anyone but England” at the 2006 World Cup, so did my defence of him.

For me, very much a committed England supporter, comments like this just showed off his dry sense of humour and his ability not to take the media circus too seriously. On the court, his complete determination, raw emotions and supreme athleticism added to his appeal — even if the habit that he could never kick of berating his team was a bit much. Murray was not perfect, but that was kind of the point — throughout it all, he was a potent combination of the superhuman and the relatable.

When we thought Murray was about to retire in 2019, friends reminded me of my habit from the mid-to-late 2000s: spending student nights out earnestly trying to explain to unsuspecting revellers why Andy Murray was misunderstood. In the same period, I remember making this point to a woman in Bedford who was trotting out the usual lines about how rude and boring he was. Eventually I relented, but in my mind, she had shown her true colours: how one felt towards Murray was a genuine bellwether for me about what they were really like. If you were unable to look beyond the lazy tropes about him, then that was you pretty much written off.


Murray beamed around the world during Wimbledon 2009 (Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

On the flipside, bonds were strengthened with those people who could see how great and thoughtful Murray really was. “If you don’t like Andy Murray then we can’t be friends” became a good mantra to live by.

Clearly, this was all unhinged. But that’s the thing: Andy Murray made you care.

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Fifty Shades of Andy Murray


Now, England have reached another final and fallen at the last, and Murray has said farewell to Wimbledon after withdrawing from the singles tournament and making one last appearance with his brother Jamie in the doubles. He’ll play his final tennis tournament at the Paris Olympic Games, and I’ll no longer feel that I have to convince all and sundry of how special he is.

On those student nights and in my early days as a real adult at the end of the 2000s, it was apparent that Murray, a phenomenally talented player in his own right, had been dealt a hand of almost unprecedented difficulty. He was competing with two of the best players of all time in Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal; with Novak Djokovic, who was emerging and about to go supersonic; and with the weight of British tennis history growing heavier and heavier as his talent sharpened and the margins got finer. Murray was not a demigod like the elegant Federer or the muscular Nadal, but rather a man, growing into his ill-fitting clothes and trying to compete with them. Murray played the role of the outsider giving absolutely everything to stay on their otherworldly level perfectly.

At times he resembled Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Revenant, snarling and battling in the wilderness to stay alive, only for another terrifying beast to jump out at him moments later. And we were right there, living it with him. I remember watching his miraculous recovery against Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon in 2008 from the corporate marquee at the tournament where I was supposed to be working. Seven months later I stayed up until around 4am to see him lose to Fernando Verdasco in five sets at the Australian Open, in one of those infuriatingly tetchy and drawn-out defeats he would sometimes suffer at that time.


Andy Murray after his 2010 Australian Open defeat to Roger Federer (Jon Buckle/PA Images via Getty Images)

As he grew as a player, he was belatedly winning the hearts and minds that I couldn’t in those university nightclubs. Before he was crying on Centre Court at Wimbledon — as he delivered the “I’m getting closer” line that would become prophetic after losing the 2012 final to Roger Federer — he was crying in the Rod Laver Arena in Australia after losing to the same opponent in that final in 2010. “I had great support back home in the last couple of weeks, sorry I couldn’t do it for you tonight,” Murray said.

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“I can cry like Roger, it’s just a shame I can’t play like him.”

It was winning the 2012 Olympic gold medal — avenging his Wimbledon defeat to Federer on the same court — that secured him a place in most peoples’ hearts. He could soon and suddenly do little wrong, winning his first major at the US Open a month after the Olympic triumph, then ending Britain’s 77-year wait for a Wimbledon men’s champion the following summer, putting everybody watching through an excruciating final game. Speaking in Andy Murray: Will to Win, a new BBC documentary, he explains how much Wimbledon meant to him, but also to everybody watching him.

“After I won it was just relief,” he says. “It was my most important match, as I believe if I was sitting here today having not won Wimbledon, then everything else I achieved in my career wouldn’t matter.”

Another Wimbledon title and another Olympic gold, plus the Davis Cup and the world No 1 ranking, followed in the next few years. He was Team GB’s flag bearer at the 2016 Rio Olympics and between 2013 and 2016, Murray won three out of four BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards — voted for by the public and a sign of the complete transformation of perceptions about his, well, personality.


The Scot claimed his second gold by beating Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina in four sets (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Murray had well and truly gone mainstream.

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Sometimes doing that can bring out the worst in people, but Murray used his greater profile to talk about issues that mattered to him. Like gender equality, about which he has spoken frequently — including when he took the then and still unconventional step of appointing a female coach in Amelie Mauresmo, before defending her from the misogynistic criticism that followed.

He was also a great support to his compatriots, practising with them, offering advice, watching their matches even if it was late and cold and he was playing the following day. A couple of weeks ago, a day after suffering a bad injury at Queen’s, he was courtside watching the Scottish 17-year-old Charlie Robertson playing pre-Wimbledon qualifiers. In 2016, a few days after winning his second Wimbledon title, Murray flew to Belgrade to join up with the British Davis Cup team for their tie against Serbia. He was in no state to play, but there he was, cheering on his mates and acting as ball-boy in training.


On a personal level, I was now covering tennis professionally, getting to see Murray up close after following him from a distance. Never meet your heroes? Not so much. Murray was generally extremely impressive with the media and I was sat a few seats away when he reminded a journalist that only no American “male player” had reached a Grand Slam semi-final since 2009. Murray called out others, like commentator John Inverdale at the Rio Olympics, for similar slip-ups around the Williams sisters, eventually playing with Serena herself in the Wimbledon mixed doubles in 2019.

That “male player” line came after Sam Querrey beat Murray in the 2017 Wimbledon quarter-finals and the defeat represented the end of one chapter and the beginning of another for the Scot. Murray was the world No 1 at the time and a shoo-in for the closing stages of Grand Slams, but his hip was damaged beyond repair and Murray would never be the same again.

The next time he played was 11 months later, ranked No 156, post-first hip operation and with his movement hugely hampered. He tried and failed to get fit for Wimbledon and six months later was so broken at the 2019 Australian Open that he revealed that the end could be nigh. The event even put on a retirement celebration for him. Murray wasn’t quite done though and after a hip resurfacing operation, he came back and somehow won an ATP title nine months later in Antwerp.

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Since then there’s been a lot of struggle and it’s sobering to think of how long Murray has been so physically disadvantaged. It’s seven years since the first hip injury in 2017, barely shorter than the eight-year period when he was reaching major finals. For people of a decent age, the only Murray they’ll really remember is the one of the last few years, raging against the dying of the light and unable to have another deep run at a Grand Slam tournament — the third round is his best progress since 2017.

Winning that title in Antwerp with a hip replacement still has to rank as one of the outstanding achievements of his career and last summer he then climbed to a highest-ever post-operation ranking of No 36, which is a remarkable achievement considering the depth of talent and athleticism on the tour.

He still managed to produce one last mind-bending win at a Grand Slam — the epic, near six-hour, five-set comeback against Thanasi Kokkinakis at last year’s Australian Open, which finished after 4am local time and exemplified everything that made Murray who he was on a court. He had what felt like a magnetic attraction to drama; only two days earlier, he had been involved in another marathon win, this time over Matteo Berrettini, saving a match point in a contest that lasted more than four and a half hours.

Murray, fittingly, marked the Kokkinakis win with both a point of truly impossible defence and a soundbite for the ages: “It’s so disrespectful that the tournament has us out here until three, f****** four in the morning and we’re not allowed to take a piss.”

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“The GOAT when it comes to pure WTFery” I called Murray at this time, and at this point covering football, not tennis, my phone lit up with messages from fellow Murray acolytes during the Kokkinakis match saying, “Are you watching this?”

Many others would have been sending and receiving similar messages because this was what Murray did. He brought people together, united by a feeling of being part of a club that had always loved and understood him when others didn’t. Of messaging one another in the early hours when he was playing in Australia or the U.S. and asking: “You still watching?”

Of course we were. Just as whatever their job, so many would have been sneakily watching him playing Jordan Thompson at Queen’s hoping for some late-career fireworks. They didn’t arrive. Instead, there was more injury pain, a neural issue in his back that hampered him even walking up the stairs to the court and disappointment his many fans felt acutely as he tried once again to battle through the pain. He couldn’t recover from the subsequent surgery in time for this year’s Wimbledon.

It’s hard to imagine the sport without Murray, whose career lasted just over half my life. Players come and go all the time, but in individual sports, unlike team ones, you don’t make a decision in childhood about who you root for and then stick with it for life. You don’t know who you will have an affinity with until you watch them and often the ones you have that connection to surprise you. It’s a deeply personal thing and that’s what makes it special and powerful. People whose views you normally agree with can feel the exact opposite to you about a certain player because the chemistry is different.


The knowledge he had finally done it, after winning his first Wimbledon in 2013 (Bill Murray/SNS Group via Getty Images)

And so you find yourself arguing with them about those players in the early hours of the morning while others look at you and think, “What are you doing with your life?”

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But that’s the thing: Andy Murray makes you care.

(Top photos: Clive Brunskill, Rob Carr, Shaun Botterill / Getty Images; Design: Dan Goldfarb for The Athletic)

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