What would it take for a move to make it to the most controversial football transfers of all time? – A move to direct rivals or ditching a club after agreeing a transfers only to move to their rivals instead? – There have been many instances of such controversies in football’s unique history. Make sure you check out my previous article on the greatest premier league XI who never played in the Champions League.
Most controversial football transfers of all time
12. Carlos Tevez – Manchester United to Manchester City
Argentine striker Carlos Tevez was on loan at Manchester United from Media Sports Investment, agent Kia Joorabchian’s company for two years between 2007 and 2009.
The Red Devils are alleged to have told Tevez they would sign him permanently, but never actually went ahead with the deal, allowing City to swoop for him and sign him on a free transfer.
11. Ashley Cole – Arsenal to Chelsea
A classic example of “tapping up” a player saw Jose Mourinho meet Arsenal‘s defender Ashley Cole at a restaurant to convince him to move to Chelsea.
This meeting was declared an illegal approach by the Premier League. Cole was fined £1000,000, reduced to £75,000 appeal, Mourinho was fined £200,000 and Chelsea were fined £300,000.
However, Chelsea did end up getting their man the following summer in a swap deal for William Gallas.
10. Jon Obi Mikel – Manchester United to Chelsea
Probably the weirdest transfer in modern day, something even Jon Obi Mikel doesn’t understand to this date!
In January 2005, Manchester United officially announced they had an agreement to sign Obi Mikel in January 2005, only for Chelsea to claim they had an agreement with the player too.
FIFA had to intervene between the clubs with the decision resting on the player and Obi Mikel chose Chelsea. The Blues had to pay £12 million to Manchester United for a player the Red Devils never actually signed.
Speaking of the whole saga, Obi Mikel said, “It was really confusing, and I was a kid, you know?”
9. Giuseppe Meazza – Inter to AC Milan
Widely believed to be the greatest Italian footballer of all time, Giuseppe Meazza was a revolutionary player who almost bridged the intense rivalry between two greatest Italian clubs, Inter and AC Milan.
Meazza had already attained legendary status at Inter, becoming their greatest ever player and goalscorer before he controversially decided to move to AC Milan. In doing so, he stamped his legacy throughout the iconic city.
In 1979, a year after Meazza’s death, the San Siro was renamed in memory of the two-time world cup winner.
8. Johan Cruyff – Ajax to Feyenoord
The inventor of “Total Football”, legendary Johan Cruyff is till date one of the greatest footballers ever to grace the game.
He spent much of his career’s prime at Ajax before moving to Barcelona. Cruyff moved to the MLS and later returned back to the Netherlands with Ajax, enjoying another two successful years with his boyhood club.
Cruyff was then refused a contract extension by Ajax. This angered him and he chose to join their arch rivals Feyenoord, leading them to the KNVB cup and league title, their first for a decade! Weird way of flexing, but if someone could do it, it was Johan Cruyff!
7. Roberto Baggio – Fiorentina to Juventus
Roberto Baggio moved for a record transfer deal in 1990 to Juventus, which ended up triggering riots in the city of Florence, resulting in injuries to 50 protestors.
In his first game against Fiorentina for Juventus, Baggio refused to take a penalty, leading to him being substituted.
When he was substituted, a Fiorentina scarf was thrown at Baggio, which he picked up and kissed.
6. Sol Campbell – Tottenham to Arsenal
One of the greatest footballers in Tottenham Hotspur history, Sol Campbell never actually won a trophy with the club despite playing for close to a decade.
In the summer of 2001, when his contract at White Hart Lane expired, the Spurs fan favourite and club captain decided to move to Arsenal despite repeatedly promising fans he wouldn’t.
He became a hated figure at Spurs.
5. Denis Law – Manchester United to Manchester City
Part of Manchester United’s holy trinity “Best-Law-Charlton”, Denis Law actually played one season for Manchester City in 1960-61 before moving to Torino for the 1961-62 season.
In 1962, he joined Manchester United and went on to play over 300 games for the Red Devils, winning numerous titles and a Ballon d’Or in 1964.
In 1972, he returned back to Manchester City. In the penultimate clash of the 1972-73 season, what became the last club match of his career, Law scored a back heel against Manchester United to defeat them 1-0, thus relegating the Red Devils from the English first division.
4. Eric Cantona – Leeds United to Manchester United
A transfer forever remembered when it comes to controversial transfers in football history, Leeds began the saga by trying to sign United full-back Denis Irwin in 1992, but were rejected by Sir Alex Ferguson, who wanted to keep the then future club legend in Manchester.
What Sir Alex did next was quite a masterstroke. During the time Leeds enquired about Irwin, the Scottish manager sent in an offer worth £1.2 million for a striker named Eric Cantona.
Cantona went on to create a legacy at United, winning four Premier League titles and two FA Cups.
3. Mo Johnston – Celtic to Nantes to Rangers
With so many big names discussed earlier, with all due respect, one wouldn’t expect Mo Johnston to be number three in this list. But, here he is!
In 1989, Johnston was expected to be returning to Celtic after his two year spell in France with Nantes. He even publicly said, “There’s only one team I want to play for and that’s Celtic.”
But, in came Graeme Souness and swooped for Johnstone in what led to sectarian violence between the two clubs’ supporters and he became equally unpopular with Rangers’ fans as it was Celtic supporters.
Celtic fans termed Johnston as “Judas” and even threw a pie in his face after he scored against them in the Old Firm derby.
Rangers fans too did not want a Catholic playing for their team and burned scarves outside Ibrox in protest. Even the Rangers’ kit man joined protests by refusing to arrange his kit. Johnston left Rangers after just two seasons.
2. Robin van Persie – Arsenal to Manchester United
Arsenal have faced a fair share of their legends leaving the club for better projects in order to win silverware. Legends like Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and stars like Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Adebayor had left the club in the past, but Robin Van Persie’s £24m departure to Manchester United took Arsenal fans’ anger to another level and he is hated by them to this day!
Fair to say Van Persie achieved what he set out to as he won the Premier League title in his first season at Old Trafford with 26 goals in 38 games.
1. Luis Figo – Barcelona to Real Madrid
The transfer of Luis Figo from Barcelona to Real Madrid actually became a national event in Spain.
In the year 2000, Los Blancos president Fiorentino Perez was trailing in the election polls and he knew that he needed to create an incident of seismic proportions to win the elections, and he did so by offering Luis Figo an agreement guaranteeing him around £1.6m: if Perez lost, Figo would keep the money, but if Perez won, Figo would either have to move to Real or pay Perez around £19m in compensation.
Figo felt it is a bet he would definitely win, but Perez won the elections in incredible fashion and paid his release clause of £38m, concluding a transfer that shocked the world.
When the Portuguese legend returned back to Barcelona for the first time since the transfer, he was hurled by fans with various objects from the stands, including a pig’s head.
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