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10 most controversial transfers of all time

  • A detailed look at the transfers that proved to be the most controversial in the history of football.
Sumedh Pande
Top 5 / Top 10
Modified 20 Dec 2019, 09:57 IST
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

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.

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Published 04 Mar 2017, 09:34 IST
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