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5 strangest swap deals in football history

Arthur (left) and Miralem Pjanic (right) were part of one of the strangest swap deals in football history.
Arthur (left) and Miralem Pjanic (right) were part of one of the strangest swap deals in football history.
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Bhargav

Swap deals are a common mode of conducting player transfer deals between clubs. This can be beneficial for all parties involved.

A player may struggle to get going under a particular system or coach due to various reasons, but may thrive in another one. In such a case, his team may transfer the player to another club and pluck out another one from the destination club who would be a better fit.

Swap deals make sense from a financial perspective as well, especially if the market values of the two exchange players tend to be similar. There is very little cash transfer involved, which is helpful for cash-strapped teams.

With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on clubs' finances, swap deals have become the favored mode of business for many clubs. One such deal this summer involves Barcelona's Antoine Griezmann returning to Atletico Madrid and Saul Niguez going the other way.

With the Frenchman failing to find his footing at Camp Nou for two seasons, the deal is set to benefit both parties.

Barcelona need Griezmann's enormous wage bills off their books before they can make more summer reinforcements and also get Lionel Messi to sign a contract extension. Niguez, meanwhile, who has struggled in the last two seasons at Atletico Madrid, could flourish in his new surroundings.

However, not all swap deals make sense or produce the desired results for one or both clubs. On that note, let's have a look at the five strangest swap deals in the history of the game.


#5 Clarence Seedorf - Francesco Coco (2002)

Clarence Seedorf moved from Inter Milan to AC Milan in 2002.
Clarence Seedorf moved from Inter Milan to AC Milan in 2002.

The swap deal did not make any sense for Inter Milan. The Nerazzurri sent a 26-year-old Champions League winner, Clarence Seedorf, to their city rivals AC Milan, who were all too happy to send the struggling and injury-prone Francesco Coco the other way.

As things turned out, Seedorf went on to become a legend at AC Milan, winning two Champions League titles.

Coco, meanwhile, failed to overcome his injury woes, with the left-back making only 40 appearances in three seasons before calling it a day.


#4 Fabio Cannavaro - Fabian Carini (2004)

Fabio Cannavaro joined Juventus as part a swap deal in 2004.
Fabio Cannavaro joined Juventus as part a swap deal in 2004.

Inter Milan's decision to send centre-back Fabio Cannavaro to Juventus in exchange for the Bianconeri's Uruguayan goalkeeper Fabian Carini left experts scratching their heads in disbelief.

To say that it was an incredibly poor piece of business from the Nerazzurri would be an understatement. That's because while Carini, who was surplus to requirements at Juventus, failed to break into the first team at the San Siro either, making only four appearances,

Cannavaro, meanwhile, went on to form one of the most formidable defensive line-ups in club football with Gianluca Zambrotta, Lilian Thuram and Gianluigi Buffon helping the Bianconeri to consecutive Serie A titles. The second was stripped, though, because of the infamous Calciopoli scandal.

Fabio Cannavaro went on to win the 2006 FIFA World Cup with the Azzurri and won the Ballon d'Or award that year after joining Real Madrid.

#3 Ian Wright for a few weights (1985)

Ian Wright
Ian Wright

In arguably one of the most bizarre swap deals of all time, Ian Wright's transfer from Greenwich Borough to Crystal Palace did not involve any players, cash or a combination of both.

This deal happened in the summer of 1985 when Wright, a future England international, was plying his trade for a semi-professional side, Greenwich Borough, where he earned £30 a week.

Instead of offering the non-league club some cash, Palace offered them a few weights, which were surplus to requirements at their training ground. Wright would go on to score over 100 goals for Palace before he became the all-time top scorer at Premier League giants Arsenal in the 90s.

He also made 33 appearances for England, scoring nine goals.


#2 Alexis Sanchez - Henrikh Mkhitaryan (2018)

Alexis Sanchez
Alexis Sanchez

In one of the most surprising swap deals in recent memory, Alexis Sanchez left Arsenal for Manchester United in the winter of 2018, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan going the other way.

The deal raised quite a few eyebrows as Sanchez enjoyed a fairly successful stint in north London, scoring 80 times in 166 appearances. Mkhitaryan, though, failed to make the desired impact at Old Trafford, despite registering 24 goal contributions in over 60 games.

United thought they had prised out a world-class player from right under the noses of Manchester City, while Mkhitaryan received a pay hike and more game time at Arsenal. As things turned out, both players, especially Sanchez, struggled to get going in their new surroundings.

The Chilean was expected to hit the ground running at Old Trafford, but his form dipped to such an extent that he scored only once in 32 Premier League appearances. Touted as a big-money flop, Sanchez was shipped off to Inter Milan. Mkhitaryan fared better, but struggled to make the Arsenal first team as often as he would have wanted to.

Both players are presently plying their trade in Serie A, with Sanchez playing for Inter Milan and Mkhitaryan for AS Roma.


#1 Arthur Melo - Miralem Pjanic (2020)

Arthur Melo joined Juventus as part of a swap deal in 2020.
Arthur Melo joined Juventus as part of a swap deal in 2020.

Arthur Melo of Barcelona joining Juventus and Miralem Pjanic going the other way in the summer of 2020 has turned out to be a swap deal that benefitted no party.

The deal made little sense from a footballing perspective, although Barcelona ended up getting richer by about €10 million. Blaugrana literally pushed Arthur out, seemingly against his will, to better balance their books and not fall foul of the FPP rules.

The then 23-year-old Arthur made over 60 appearances for Barcelona and was being seen as a future leader for Blaugrana when the deal happened. Meanwhile, in exchange for the Brazilian, Barcelona received a 30-year-old player who struggled to make any impact at Camp Nou.

Arthur also had a tough time during his first season at Juventus, but with age on his side and his undeniable quality, the Brazilian is expected to fare better this campaign. Meanwhile, Pjanic, who made no goal contributions in 30 appearances, is already being deemed surplus to requirements.

If recent rumors are to be believed, the Bosnian international could be on his way out of Camp Nou after enduring a forgettable campaign.

Edited by Arnav Kholkar
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