Anthony Mounier: Lessons from football's 'worst signing'

Dominique Rocheteau and Anthony Mounier

Dominique Rocheteau and Anthony Mounier

ONLY the most ardent fans of European football are likely to have heard of Anthony Mounier.

The 30-year-old French forward is currently plying his trade in Greece, with Panathinaikos, having made just five substitute appearances during a loan spell with Atalanta last year.

Mounier could be the holder of a rather grand title though: football's worst signing. After all, how many players have been forced to exit just four days after signing for a club?

That's what happened to him during a calamitous week for St Etienne last January. Mounier's story is one which illustrates why it’s so important for clubs to do their due diligence on potential signings.

On the face of it, Mounier seemed a decent loan signing for Les Verts. They were desperate to add some attacking power without spending too much and he had a track record of scoring goals from midfield.

During previous stints with Lyon, Nice and Montpellier, Mounier had racked up more than 200 appearances and should have had no problem adapting to Ligue 1 again. Within hours of joining on a six-month loan from Bologna, things start to unravel though.

What Sporting Director Dominique Rocheteau either didn't know or wasn't concerned about was that Mounier had once sworn at a section of St Etienne fans after scoring two goals against them for Nice. Such things are not quickly forgotten by football fans.

The day after joining, supporters’ group The Green Angels put up a banner at the club’s Geoffroy Guichard stadium reading, "Mounier, our colours will never be yours."

Soon afterwards the player, who had grown up in a St Etienne-supporting family, started to receive death threats and had to be withdrawn from the club's matchday squad for their next match.

St Etienne asked Bologna to take the player back, but they said no. Now his very presence at the club was threatening to cast a cloud over the rest of their season. Eventually, after a hastily-agreed deal, Atalanta agreed to take Mounier on loan, with coach Christophe Galtier admitting, “Sometimes one does not need to be ashamed to take a backward step.”

The winger had been at the club for just four days and never played a game.

By now it was too late to find a replacement. Time and money had been wasted, and the club’s reputation – and its relationship with the fans – had been damaged.

Julien Simoes, recruitment partner at IBM, says: “All of this could have been avoided. I don’t think there is space for assumption and ‘gut feeling’ in this era of all things cognitive and data when it comes to a top football club and hiring players.

“If Saint-Etienne had had a solution [like Watson], not only would Mounier not have been a choice but a better player could have been targeted not only for his skills but also for personality resulting in an overall better cultural fit for the club.”

Mounier: Our colours will never be yours

Mounier: Our colours will never be yours

We have covered IBM's 'super computer' Watson and its ability to trawl unstructured data like interviews, reports and social media activity before. Crucially in this case, machine learning could also have enabled St Etienne to gauge the reaction of their fans to the potential signing.

As it was, former player Francois Clerc was left to succinctly sum up the situation.

“I can understand that fans don’t want to see a player who insulted them in the past,” he said. “I don’t understand why the club took him in the first place.”

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