The kidnapping of West Ham United’s record-breaking signing

Ben Mountain

Excuse the menacing and unintentional Saw reference but let’s play a game. He signed at the youngest age allowed by UEFA for international transfers in 2006. He had a record breaking £9 million, four and-a-half year contract in 2009 aged just 19 where he played under Gianfranco Zola. And he played 14 games in just three years for the German Under-19s and Under-20s, winning the European Under-19 Championship whilst at it. Best of all, he’s known by his first name. He was firmly on the road to stardom, but can you guess the player?

Here, we’ll help you out a little. Does the name Savio ring any bells? Savio Nsereko? No, we wouldn’t have clocked it either; so don’t beat yourselves up. But Mr Anonymous was once on the fringes of becoming one of the Premier League’s best players. His story really is an interesting one. It involves a kidnapping, which is always a laugh, so it must be something…


When West Ham United sold their star winger in the summer of 2009, Craig Bellamy, there was much concern about who could possibly replace him. With a lump to the tune of £14 million to play with, the Hammers were promised that some considerable talent would be on its way. Breaths were held across east London until, who should step forward but Savio Nsereko himself. The man, the myth, the legend. For the Hamsters; the Messiah. The much anticipated second coming was here in the form of a spotty teen and West Ham fans were in awe. Donning the number 10 shirt and having broken the club’s record for a transfer buy, there was some pressure on the shoulders of this fresh-faced 19-year-old. But he could withstand it, he was Savio the Saviour after all.

Especially given that he was fond of coming out with Playboy-worthy quotes like “Cars, clothes, women – I really have nothing left out,” – much was expected from this youthful winger.

Having started his professional career with Brescia in 2006, where he signed at just 16, Savio was snapped up by an ambitious West Ham move in January 2009 by the then-owners, a consortium from the Icelandic bank Straumur. The move was quite shocking, given that the teenager had only made 22 appearances for his adopted Italian club across three years. It was later described by Karren Brady, who now co-owns West Ham, as the following:

“The club paid a huge amount to Brescia for the German Under-21 who took part in a handful of matches and then departed for Fiorentina at a fraction of the price,”

Very scathing, Baroness Brady. Anyway, there are no prizes for guessing the prodigal son’s next move. After an unsuccessful spell in London that saw just ten appearances (nine from the bench) and not one goal scored, Savio was sent packing to Fiorentina. West Ham seemed to not have even bothered working to improve the talent of this formerly heralded prospect. We can only assume that several scouts were swiftly fired however, as what follows is nothing short of agonising. Between 2010-2012, Savio was loaned out to six different clubs and made a total of 21 appearances whist scoring no goals whatsoever for any of them. So that’s less than four caps per club and still no goals anywhere. For a young star on the wing, he was proving to be quite the disappointment.

SEE ALSO: The short career of Japan’s prodigal son, who promised so much more

But the fella wasn’t done yet. Far from it.

Determined to salvage his footballing career, Savio made the permanent move across to Viktoria Köln in the German third division. Salvation was imminent, then. But, no, this move failed as well. Six games and no goals lead to his spectacular departure for the football capital of the world. You guessed it, Kazakhstan. In between these moves, Savio appears to have taken a brief vacation in Israel, of all places; reportedly playing for Hapoel Ironi Akko. Although there’s nothing official to confirm this, so we wonder if it was just a quick holiday kick about with the a lazy reporter conveniently watching at the time.

Guess how the officially recognised spell in Kazakhstan went. Terribly you think? You unfaithful pigs, you. We got a goal! It was on his debut! Voted goal of the season! So, here we come to the part of our story where everything picks up happily ever after. Hang on. No we don’t, sorry. Savio left FC Atyrau with only the fond memories of his goal of the season after just ten games and with no other goals to leave memories of. At this point, his career reached an all-time low.

SEE ALSO: Jermaine Pennant: football’s greatest shame

Travelling around for a while, the future of football himself embarrassingly had three clubs refuse to offer him a contract after watching him on trial. These clubs were Kazakhstan’s FC Irtysh Pavlodar, Beroe of Bulgaria and then back in Kazakhstan with FC Shakhter Karagandy. Kudos for knowing any one of those places, by the way.

Finally, some kind of settlement did seem to come for our poor protagonist as FK Lietava Jonava in Lithuania took pity and offered Savio a contract that lasted a meagre five months. This lifeline was terminated by mutual consent.

Wow, quite the fall in grace, then. But what about the kidnapping? Ah, well the best part of all this comes in three installments, you lucky drama-hungry buggers. Yes, there were three cases whereby Savio was reported missing and all three of them lead to his club contracts being terminated. One time, the Ugandan was arrested in Thailand for demanding a €25,000 ransom from his family on the back of a false kidnapping claim. The other two occasions saw him turn up in London again, without telling anyone after having played only one game with Juve Stabia. He he was then found at his sister’s house after a week of being ‘missing’; which caused his loan with TSV 1860 München to be terminated.

Perhaps that was what prevented this once £9 million player’s career to go down the pan. He compulsively goes missing or gets himself kidnapped every now and then. Nightmare. But, hey, he’s still only 27; at the peak of his career, surely. Yes, all of that occurred in less than ten years. So who are we to say that the great Savio hasn’t got more to give? Remember the name, he’ll be back. Defenders will be quaking across the country, once more. Oh and that goal of the season was quite the stunner, just so you know…

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