With the 2019 summer transfer window well and truly open until 8 August, we thought we’d take a look back over some of the most controversial football transfers of all time.
Many of the greatest clubs in football history have had at least one transfer move that has either defined the club’s path to greatness, caused upset or made the headlines due to controversy.
Take a look at some of the most dramatic and start getting excited, or nervous about the upcoming football transfers on deadline day!
Denis Law was a true Manchester United hero, in his 11 years at the club he scored 237 goals in 404 games, won two league titles, the European Cup and the European Player of the Year award. However, prior to his United career he had started out with rivals Manchester City.
In 1973, Manchester United were in decline and Law was given a free transfer by manager Tommy Docherty. Law chose to return to the club’s intra-city rivals.
At Maine Road on the final day of the following season, Law scored a back-heeled winner in the 81st minute against his former team. Believing his goal would relegate United, Law refused to celebrate and left the field with his head down. As it transpires, United were doomed regardless of Law’s goal, but he remains remembered as the man who downed his old club.
When two of the most exciting young prospects announced they would be moving from Corinthians to the Premier League, not many expected them to end up at West Ham. One of the most ground-breaking football transfers of all time, this deal had controversy written all over it.
The Argentine duo’s rights were owned by third parties MSI and Global Soccer Agencies, their move to Upton Park involved dodgy undisclosed fees which sparked an investigation by the Premier League into the nature of the signing. It was later revealed that West Ham had purchased the players from MSI and owned the registration rights to the players.
The ownership issue was not resolved by the end of the 2006/07 season when West Ham and Tevez’s future club Manchester United sought FIFA’s assistance. Tevez was loaned out to United after MSI released him from his contract.
In football, when you swear you’ll never to play for your club’s biggest rivals, it’s a promise you really ought to keep. However, Sol Campbell obviously didn’t feel the same way. He had been at Tottenham for nine years, captained the side for four years, and told one eager journalism that he would never play for Arsenal. But when faced with another year without Champions League football, Campbell traversed North London in 2001 on a free transfer.
If this was not enraging enough for fans, the news came as a complete surprise, even to reporters at the press conference who thought they were witnessing the unveiling of goalkeeper Richard Wright. The move proved fruitful for Campbell, who netted two league titles and three FA Cups at Arsenal, but he’ll likely have to shoulder the “Judas” label from Spurs fans forever.
— Spurs Nostalgia (@thfcnostalgia) 6 October 2014
Paul Ince was a product of the West Ham youth team and was very popular with the fans. However, West Ham were rapidly falling down the table and by the end of the 1988 season they were relegated to Division Two. Fans may have forgiven Ince for a move to a better performing club, however it was the manner of his move that caused controversy. In 1989, the Daily Express printed a picture of the midfielder wearing a Manchester United kit, long before any news of a move had been announced.
Ince claimed the photo was taken to promote the move before he went on holiday and had been leaked early. However, his name was now mud to the East Londoners. Fortunately for Ince, he passed his medical for Manchester United and escaped the enraged Hammers fans. The England international went on to win two Premier League titles at Old Trafford, before buffering another controversial move to Liverpool with two seasons at Internazionale.
After having just enjoyed his best season with Barcelona, Figo made a shocking move to rivals Real Madrid in a world record £37 million transfer in 2000. On his first return to the Camp Nou, the legend was given a heated reception by former fans, objects were pelted at him, burning effigies where displayed in the stands and one fan even sneaked a pig’s head into the stadium and proceeded to throw it in Figo’s direction.
Despite all of this, he never regretted his move to Real Madrid, stating in 2011: “There was a lot of pressure on me, but looking back I think I made the right choice as joining Real Madrid allowed me to win many trophies.”
At Fiorentina in Florence, Baggio made a huge impression, he was a favourite with the fans, breaking through to become one of the club’s star players. However, when the club sold him to Juventus for a world record fee in 1990, angered supporters took to the streets to protest against the decision. Around 50 people were injured in the demonstrations that turned into riots.
However, for Baggio it was a dream move and he explained that he was “compelled to accept the transfer”. When Juventus faced Fiorentina at the start of the new season he refused to take a penalty against his former club. The forward was substituted later in the game and as he walked off the pitch he picked up a Viola scarf that had been thrown by fans and kissed it as a sign of his enduring love for the club.
Back in August 2009, Joleon Lescott was the subject of significant interest from Manchester City whilst he was an Everton player. City’s then manager Mark Hughes looked to sign him, but former Toffees boss David Moyes set out his stall to retain the talented centre-back.
Lescott has admitted that he had his head turned by City’s desire to win silverware, however his decision to hand in a transfer request was a test to see what Everton would do once they gained hold of his written request.
The result was that Lescott was kept at Goodison Park against his will for much of the summer but, after he played his part in a 6-1 demolition at the hands of Arsenal on the opening day, was sold to City much to the dismay of the fans.
Want more content on Everton transfer deals that could happen? Check out our blog and start crossing your fingers.
In 2006, French centre back William Gallas boldly refused to sign a new contract with Chelsea after eyeing up a move to Serie A. However, his request was rejected and Gallas would eventually cross London to Arsenal as part of a deadline day deal that would see Ashley Cole move in the opposite direction.
In a bizarre turn of events, Chelsea released a statement claiming that the Frenchman had threatened to score own goals if he was made to stay at the club. However, Gallas denied the claims and was critical of the club’s leadership: “All this is very, very petty on behalf of Chelsea. But at the same time, coming on behalf of its new leaders, that does not surprise me. Even if Chelsea has much money, its new leaders lack class.” As far as controversial football transfers go, this is at the top of the list.
In the middle of an ownership dispute with then club Millonarios, Barcelona made what was deemed an illegal move for the great Alfredo di Stefano.
At the same time as this, deadly rivals Real Madrid agreed a separate deal for Di Stefano, resulting in the Spanish Football Federation ruling he should play for both clubs on alternating seasons. The resignation of the Catalan club’s president later signalled the end of Barcelona’s contract with Millonarios, leaving the footballing icon to join Madrid permanently.
John Robertson became a hero during his years at Nottingham Forest, providing the assist for Trevor Francis’ winning goal in the 1979 European Cup final and scoring the winner the following year against Hamburg. He was loved by fans and was soon referred to as ‘the greatest ever’.
However in 1983, Robertson moved to Derby to join Brian Clough’s former assistant Peter Taylor in a transfer that caused the managers’ friendship to be damaged irreparably. Clough called Taylor a “snake in the grass” and the two men sadly never spoke again before Taylor’s untimely death in 1990.
Next up in our list of the most controversial football transfers is our very own Golden Balls. His infamous transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid will always go down in history as one of the most dramatic of all time.
Midway through the 2002/03 season, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson kicked a boot in the dressing room whilst giving a team talk, which struck Beckham above the eye and he required stitches as a result. Ferguson became more and more adamant that Beckham felt he was bigger than the club and that he had to go, so Real Madrid pounced to purchase the former England captain for a fee of £25 million.
Possibly one of the most controversial football transfers of all time, Ashley Cole dramatically made the move from Arsenal to Chelsea in 2006.
Cole was an integral part of the Arsenal side that went a season unbeaten in 2003-4 and he had already won multiple honours with the North London side. However, in 2005-2006 Ashley Cole became involved in a major transfer saga with Chelsea.
The Blues were accused of making illegal contact with Cole and his relationship with the Gunners quickly turned sour after allegations of tapping up followed and Cole went on to meet Chelsea reps without Arsenal’s permission.
He was heavily fined by the Premier League for his misconduct and was forced to spend the rest of that season at Arsenal. In the next transfer window, Cole moved to Chelsea, but not before he had made matters even more controversial by revealing exclusive information in his autobiography.
He accused Arsenal of scapegoating and mistreating him, fanning the flames even more by revealing the anger he felt at being offer a new £55,000-a-week contract by Arsenal. This lead to him being referred to as Cashley Cole, though it should be noted that his quotes have been taken slightly out of context in that he believed he was being offered considerably less than the Gunners had initially promised to pay him.
Cole’s transfer was even more heated as he ended up leaving for just £5 million in a part exchange deal with William Gallas. It’s safe to say that Cole will probably never be warmly welcomed in North London.
Next up is one of those football transfers that highlights the phrase, it never hurts to ask.
In November 1992, Leeds attempted to sign Man United full-back Denis Irwin and were rebuffed. In a counter offer, the Red Devils put forwards a speculative offer for mercurial Frenchman Eric Cantona, who’d won the title with the Yorkshire club earlier that year.
Leeds boss Howard Wilkinson agreed to the £1.2m deal and Sir Alex Ferguson got his man. Cantona’s status as a hero among Leeds fans understandably disappeared, but a lot of anger was aimed at Wilkinson for letting him go for so little.
Last but certainly not least is one of our own former Toffees, who is certainly not in the good books with most Evertonians.
In the summer of 2000, Everton were shocked when Barmby rejected a lucrative new contract to stay at Goodison because he wanted to play for Liverpool. Everton chairman Bill Kenwright had previously pleaded Barmby’s case with England manager Kevin Keegan in an attempt to get his player more international recognition and was stunned when told of Barmby’s preference.
He become the first player to swap blue for red since Dave Hickson in 1959 and when the Everton fans gave him stick at Anfield in the October Merseyside derby, he popped up with a goal and celebrated wildly, as Liverpool won 3-1.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of some of the most controversial football transfers the world has ever seen. If you think we missed any dramatic football transfers, let us know on our Facebook page! And don’t forget, the official launched of the Dixie Dean Hotel is set to take place on 5th July, so not long to wait now! Giving Everton fans exclusive access to fascinating football history like this, we can’t wait to share more stories with you!
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