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10 most controversial transfers of all time

BARCELONA - NOVEMBER 23:  Luis Figo of Real Madrid is booked during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid played at the Nou Camp Stadium, Barcelona, Spain on November 23, 2002. (Photo by Firo Foto/Getty Images)
Luis Figo did the unthinkable when he joined Real Madrid from FC Barcelona
Sumedh Pande

Bill Shankly once famously said, “At a football club, there's a holy trinity - players, managers and the supporters.” Of these three pillars of the game, supporters play the most crucial role. They are the ones who bring passion to the game and give their all, emotionally and mentally.

Local players who are born and bred and go on to make it at the highest level make their entire city proud. It is heartening for the fans to see a local lad play for their beloved club. Players like Francesco Totti, Steven Gerrard and Ryan Giggs are the epitome of loyalty in football.

Talented foreign individuals like Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba also go on to make a special place in a club's folklore.

But as history has suggested, for every Matt Le Tissier there has been a Robin Van Persie. Many players have changed clubs with a transfer to a direct rival which incurred the wrath of the fans who once adored these individuals playing for their own club. Right from throwing a pig’s head onto the field to calling a player ‘Judas’, football has seen a lot of controversies when a player switched loyalties to a direct rival.

Such transfers have caused outrage and shock in equal measures since ages with the player permanently getting in the bad books of his previous club's supporters. We bring you the 10 most controversial transfers of all time:


#10 John Obi Mikel - Lyn to Chelsea (2005)

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  John Obi Mikel of Chelsea holds off a challenge from Anthony Martial of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford on December 28, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
The Nigerian started a transfer battle between Chelsea and Manchester United

Mikel's arrival in the Premier League was marred by a huge controversy among two English heavyweights. It came to light that Manchester United had pressurised the then 18-year-old Mikel to sign a 4-year contract in the absence of his agent which would have seen him join the club in 2006. It was later discovered that Mikel had signed multiple deals with various sports agents in England.

After United’s advances, Chelsea then complained to the governing body that talks were held between Jose Mourinho and the player, which were denied by Norwegian side Lyn. Then in a bizarre turn of events, Mikel held a press conference wearing a Manchester United shirt and stated that he had signed a contract with the Red Devils. This resulted in threats from unknown sources for the player. His parent club, Lyn and Manchester United claimed that Mikel was kidnapped by either by Chelsea or by the media.

After nine days of his disappearance, Mikel and his agent miraculously appeared in London and revealed that he was forced to sign a contract with United and that his heart was set on joining Chelsea.

Manchester United then complained to FIFA but that fell on deaf years. In another dramatic turn of events, the three clubs reached an agreement when Chelsea agreed to pay £12 million to Manchester United and £4 million to Lyn for the signature of John Obi Mikel.


#9 Carlos Tevez - Corinthians to West Ham United and Manchester United to Manchester City (2009)

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 13:  (L-R) Roberto Mancini the manager of Manchester City and Carlos Tevez of Manchester City celebrate with the trophy following the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers at the Etihad Stadium on May 13, 2012 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Tevez made a controversial move to Manchester City from their bitter rivals

The Argentine arrived at Old Trafford on a two-year loan deal from West Ham United and quickly became a fan favourite. When his loan deal was coming to an end, fans wanted Sir Alex to offer him a permanent deal. At this exact time, Manchester City arrived at the scene with their huge war chest and swooped in for the striker.

With the rivalry heating up between the two Manchester clubs, City finalised a deal with Carlos Tevez and put up a "Welcome to Manchester" billboard atop Deansgate near Manchester to rub salt into United's wounds.

It got worse when City won the Premier League title in 2012 as Tevez unfurled a controversial banner that said 'RIP Ferguson' which was a dig at Ferguson's "noisy neighbours" taunt against City. This transfer transformed Tevez into a villain in one part of the city whereas, in the other part, he achieved cult status.

The Argentine's arrival in the league was also a controversial one. Tevez along with Javier Mascherano arrived at Upton Park amidst a lot of raised eyebrows. The controversy rose when the duo's illegal third party ownership issue came to the fore. West Ham were fighting for survival in Tevez's first season at the club where he scored the winner in their final game of the season and helped them avoid relegation.

This goal meant Sheffield United were relegated, albeit illegally. West Ham were fined £5.5 million for breaching transfer regulations while Sheffield United were given a compensation of £18 million after they were relegated on the final day of the season.

#8 Johan Cruyff - Ajax to Feyenoord (1983)

23 Apr 1997:  A portrait of ex Ajax player Johan Cruyff watching the Champions League Semi-Final second leg between Juventus and Ajax at the Stadio Della Alpi in Turin, Italy. Juventus won 4-1 on the night and 6-1 on aggregate. \ Mandatory Credit: Shaun Botterill /Allsport
Cryuff caused much uproar in Amsterdam after he moved to Feyenoord

This was a case where one of the best footballers in the world had a low point in his career and proved that Dutch maestro John Cruyff was just human after acting spitefully. After leading Ajax to the Eredivisie title in 1983, Cryuff was not offered a new deal which made him do the last thing that any Ajax fan would have ever imagined.

Cruyff joined Feyenoord, Ajax’s arch rivals, on a one year deal which provoked massive unrest and fan protests throughout Amsterdam.

Though Ajax beat Cryuff's Feyenoord 8-2 in that season, Feyenoord eventually won the league and also did a double by winning the Dutch Cup. Fortunately for Ajax, Cruyff remained at Feyenoord for just one season before returning to Ajax in a coaching role. A glittering career for the Ajax man took an interesting turn of events due to his solitary season in Rotterdam.


#7 Robin van Persie - Arsenal to Manchester United (2012)

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 03:  A dejected Robin van Persie of Manchester United applauds the home fans following his team's 1-0 defeat during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Sunderland at Old Trafford on May 3, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
The Dutchman won the Premier League crown in his first season at Manchester United

The Dutchman was a fan favourite, captain and a striker who single-handedly carried their team on many occasions. Fans loved Robin van Persie and he loved them back.

But after a showdown meeting with Arsene Wenger and the club's board members in 2012, van Persie decided that it was time to leave the Gunners as he felt that he was not on the same wavelength with the club owners about Arsenal's future. The decision which infuriated the Arsenal fan base the most was Van Persie's decision to join their title rivals, Manchester United.

After the turn of the decade, the two sides were locked in many title fights. Hence when the Dutchman moved to the Theatre of Dreams, Arsenal supporters felt betrayed and termed him a traitor and a mercenary. Arsenal fans’ argument was that the club had stood behind the player during his injury problems but when the club needed its best player to stand with them, he left for greener pastures.

The tensions rose further when van Persie celebrated after scoring a goal against Arsenal at Old Trafford after being fed up of the hostile reception by the Gunners fans. van Persie won Manchester United their 20th league title during his first season at the club, much to the frustration of Arsenal fans.

#6 Ashley Cole - Arsenal to Chelsea (2006)

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  Bacary Sagna of Arsenal challenges Ashley Cole of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on November 29, 2009 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Ashley Cole faced the wrath of Arsenal fans after signing for the Blues

Ashley Cole has been at the centre of controversy for various reasons in his spell in the Premier League. He earned the title of - 'Cashley' from the Arsenal fans, thanks to his money-minded move to Chelsea.

A product of the Arsenal academy, Cole was a thorough Arsenal man who spent six seasons at his boyhood club. A season before he made a move to the other part of London, Cole had a secret meeting with Chelsea officials for which he was fined £100,000 by the FA.

Later, the Englishman signed a one-year extension with the Gunners but his wage demands forced Arsenal to sell him on a deadline day deal to Chelsea in 2006. Cole wanted £60,000 per week but Arsenal were ready to pay only £55,000. Chelsea swooped in with a £90,000 per week offer and lured the full-back to Stamford Bridge.

Cole later revealed that he felt like Arsenal were "feeding him to the sharks" as he was frustrated with the Gunners' resistance in offering him an improved deal. Till date, Arsenal fans hold a grudge against a player who once was one of their own.


#5 Roberto Baggio - Fiorentina to Juventus (1990)

Baggio moved to Juventus for a then world-record fee

Fiorentina's best player of all-time, Roberto Baggio was adored by the club's fans.

But later all that would change as he and the fans were in for a major shock when Fiorentina announced that Baggio was sold to Juventus for £8 million in the summer of 1990. The player claimed that he was compelled to accept the offer which further infuriated the fans to a great length. His transfer's impact was such that riots were held on the streets of Florence which left many injured.

When Juventus met Fiorentina the following season, Baggio refused to take a spot kick and was straight away substituted. As he was going out, he kissed a Fiorentina scarf to declare his love for his former club. He said at that time, "Deep in my heart, I am always purple." This was one of the most talked about transfer incident in the history of Italian football.

#4 Mo Johnston - Nantes to Rangers (1989)

Apr 1990:  Mo Johnston of Rangers celebrates victory after the Premier League match against Dundee at Tannadice Park in Dundee, Scotland. Rangers won the match 1-0. \ Mandatory Credit: Russell  Cheyne/Allsport
Mo Johnston’s transfer to Rangers became a major issue because of his Celtic past

Considering the history between two of the biggest Scottish clubs – Rangers and Celtic, a transfer of a player between the two clubs would not have even crossed anyone's mind in Scotland. The religious differences between the two Old Firm clubs made this derby unique than any other rivalry in the world.

Rangers had signed Catholic players unknowingly in the past, but it was in 1989, under Graeme Souness, that the Ibrox club embraced the idea.

Mo Johnston, a former Celtic player joined Rangers from the French club, Nantes. This move angered the Rangers fan base with the general secretary of Rangers' supporter's association saying, "It is a sad day for Rangers."

The club's kit man boycotted Johnston too and the player had to arrange his own kit before every game. He gradually won over the Rangers crowd by scoring 31 goals in one season.


#3 Alfredo Di Stefano - Millonarios to Real Madrid (1953)

25th October 1960:  Spanish footballer Alfredo di Stefano, one of the world's greatest forwards, spinning a ball on one finger during Spain's team practice at Roehampton in preparation for their match against England at Wembley.  (Photo by Terry Disney/Central Press/Getty Images)
DI Stefano’s move to Real Madrid was the biggest controversy of the 1950s

One of Real Madrid's greatest ever player, Alfredo Di Stefano could have signed for FC Barcelona back in the 1950s. One can't even fathom the course of Spanish and world football had Di Stefano joined the Catalans instead of Real Madrid.

Di Stefano left for Colombian club, Millonarios in 1949 from River Plate. The Argentine club had claimed that they still owned the player which meant that Barcelona could strike a deal with them.

When this was happening in Argentina, Real Madrid agreed a deal to sign the striker from the Colombian club. Many conspiracy theories emerged after Real announced the signing of Di Stefano.

Spain's dictator, Francisco Franco forced Barcelona to sell all of their rights to Madrid, Franco's capital, was one of the theories that were doing the rounds at the time. This political rivalry known as the El Clasico took a whole new meaning after the conflict over the signing of Alfredo Di Stefano.

#2 Sol Campbell - Tottenham Hotspur to Arsenal (2001)

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 14:  Tottenham Hotspur fans berate Sol Campbell of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane on April 14, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Spurs fans’ hatred of Sol Campbell was well justified

When the club's captain tells his club’s monthly magazine that he will never ever join their sworn rivals, fans are ought to believe his statement. In the end, Sol Campbell was a local North London lad who fulfilled his dream of playing for the club he supported as a child. The English defender made 315 appearances for the Lilywhites and was captain of the side for four seasons.

Campbell was considered as the Premier League's best defender at that time and had caught the attention of the likes of FC Barcelona and AC Milan. Spurs fans knew that their beloved leader was leaving White Hart Lane after failing to reach an agreement over a new deal. Little did they know that Campbell would go on and join their bitter rivals, Arsenal.

It was a surprise for the fans and reporters as well, who were surprised to see Campbell signing for Tottenham's eternal rivals. Adding insult to this move, Campbell went on to win two league titles and three FA Cups during his time with the Gunners. Spurs loyalists labelled him 'Judas' for his unthinkable move (from a fan's perspective), with the tag expected to follow him forever.


#1 Luis Figo - FC Barcelona to Real Madrid (2000)

BARCELONA - NOVEMBER 23:  Luis Figo of Real Madrid is bombarded by missiles as he attempts to take a corner during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid played at the Nou Camp Stadium, Barcelona, Spain on November 23, 2002. (Photo by Firo Foto/Getty Images)
A pig’s head aimed at Luis Figo is evident on the turf of Nou Camp

During his five-year spell at Camp Nou, Luis Figo achieved legendary status with the Catalans due to his flair which saw Barcelona lift consecutive league titles. At the same time, current Real Madrid president Florentino Perez was fighting for his second term as president and wanted to make a huge mark on the club by beginning what is now known as the ‘Galacticos era’. After consultation, a deal was signed with Luis Figo for a sum of £26 million which somehow got leaked to the media.

The Portuguese then issued a statement in a bid to pacify the Barcelona supporters by saying that he will be at Camp Nou on July 24, the date on which Barcelona were set to start the pre-season training to defend their La Liga crown. But, it was on this day that he was announced as a Real Madrid player for a world record fee of €62 million. Figo won the Ballon d'Or just months after joining Madrid, much to the despair of Barcelona fans.

Two years later, during a game at Camp Nou, Figo was subject to the Barcelona fan's ire as the raucous home crowd brought the game to a halt for 12 minutes. Along with the bottles, coins and lighters, a pig's head was thrown near the corner flag (close to where Figo was standing) which reflected the anger that the Catalans had in their hearts about this controversial transfer.

This hatred among the Barcelona fan base makes his move to the Bernabeu, the most controversial transfer of all time. Before him, 17 players had been transferred to Real Madrid from Barcelona but none of them met such a ferocious reaction from the Barcelona supporters.

Edited by Staff Editor

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