The Hard Tackle takes a look at five of the most controversial transfers in modern football the wake of Neymar’s sensational move to PSG
The biggest transfer in footballing history was sealed earlier this week as Neymar completed his €222 million move to PSG. While the transfer sent shock waves across the footballing world, it also had its fair share of controversies.
La Liga alleged Financial Fair Play infringement from Les Parisiens, before they were shot down by UEFA. Meanwhile, Barcelona are reportedly only willing to pay only a certain percentage of the €26 million loyalty bonus that Neymar’s father has been due to collect this week.
Amidst all the controversies that are likely to continue cropping up in the near future, The Hard Tackle takes a look back at five of the most controversial transfers that have taken place in modern football.
Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich, 2013
Mario Gotze was the toast of German football at the start of the decade as he progressed through the ranks at Borussia Dortmund before breaking into the senior side at the nascent age of 17. The player had such a telling impact early on in his career that he was famously labelled as the ‘German Messi’.
Thus, the future of Dortmund was in safe hands with Gotze, who also had players like Marco Reus, Shinji Kagawa and Robert Lewandowski for company to run riot in the Bundesliga. However, before his career even took off, the shock news erupted in April 2013.
Bild’s famous cover post read “Gotze Zu Den Bayern [Gotze to Bayern].” And the inevitable was confirmed by Dortmund in due course. Gotze was set to join Bayern Munich in the summer transfer window of 2013.
The timing of the announcement was far from ideal – just days before Dortmund were set to play their first UEFA Champions League semifinal since 1998, against Real Madrid. The timing was also suspect as the announcement came in the wake of Bayern president Uli Hoeness being stuck in a tax evasion quagmire.
Die Schwarzgelben eventually overcame Real Madrid rather comfortably before facing arch-rivals Bayern Munich in the final. Unsurprisingly, Gotze was excluded from the match day squad and his Borussia Dortmund journey had ended prematurely (although, he did rejoin the club in 2016).
The controversy didn’t just end there though, as the player came at the receiving end of fans’ backlash who didn’t just stop at booing him at every opportunity. Gotze’s family bore the brunt of fan abuse, a direct consequence of which saw his brother, Felix join Bayern in 2014 as well.
The player is now back at the Signal Iduna Park, having re-signed with them last summer as his stint at Bayern ended with a whimper. He would now be eager to resurrect his stuttering career, following recovery from a muscle disorder.
Corinthians to West Ham United; Manchester United to Manchester City (2006; 2009)
One of the most controversial individuals when it comes to transfers. Carlos Tevez was one of the most promising young players in Argentina when he, alongside Javier Mascherano made their way to relegation-threatened West Ham United in 2006.
The move raised a lot of eyebrows as the highly rated duo were heavily linked with the biggest clubs in the Premier League. The real controversy, though, surrounded the illegal nature of the transfer. The duo were owned by a third part, Media Sports Investment, which was against the laws of the Premier League.
The now-infamous goal that Tevez scored against Manchester United (more on them in a bit) ensured West Ham retained their top flight status, albeit illegally. As a result, the Hammers had to pay a fine of £5.5 million for breaching Premier League rules while Sheffield United, who were relegated at their expense received a compensation of £18 million.
Tevez’s time at West Ham, though, was short-lived as he joined Manchester United in 2007 in a two-year loan deal. The Argentine’s time at Old Trafford was quite the topsy-turvy ride as although he was one of the most consistent performers for the Red Devils, he often found himself relegated to the bench.
This led Tevez to sensationally claim he was not wanted enough by Sir Alex Ferguson, although he was a fan favourite at Old Trafford. Nevertheless, Manchester United tabled a staggering contract offer to the player following the end of his loan spell, but he refused to pen the deal, instead opting to sign for their bitter rivals, Manchester City.
The transfer coincided with the rise of the Citizens as a force in English football and following the completion of the move, the infamous “Welcome to Manchester” poster was paraded across the city to rub salt into United fans’ wounds.
And it didn’t just end there. When Manchester City won their first Premier League title in 44 years in 2012, Tevez sparked a lot of furore as he unfurled the “RIP Ferguson” banner, leaving United fans vexed. And so, the entire saga transformed Tevez from a fan favourite to a villain in the eyes of the Manchester United fanbase.
John Obi Mikel
Lyn to Chelsea, 2006
A transfer that is as bizarre as it is controversial. John Obi Mikel’s eventual move to Chelsea was one that had more twists and turns than your standard mystery film, one that is still talked about by football fans to this day.
In April 2005, a few days after Mikel had turned 18, Manchester United made an announcement to confirm that they had struck a deal with Lyn and the player to complete his move to Old Trafford in January 2006.
It later emerged that the Red Devils had bypassed the player’s agents and contacted him directly to get him to sign the deal worth £4 million. Meanwhile, reports had suggested that Manchester United had pressurised Mikel to sign the dotted line.
In a subsequent development Chelsea issued a claim saying they already had an agreement with Mikel and his agents, which was denied by Lyn. However, a few days later Mikel held a press conference during which he was wearing a Manchester United number, stating that he had signed with the club.
Following the press conference, Mikel received threats from unknown sources, and in a perplexing turn of events the Nigerian midfielder disappeared under mysterious circumstances which led to a police enquiry and claims that he had been kidnapped.
Nine days later, though, Mikel appeared in London, with his agent John Shittu, signing a contract with Chelsea before claiming that, as the earlier reports had suggested, he had indeed been pressurised into penning the deal with Manchester United, and that he always wanted to join Chelsea.
After a series of complaints to FIFA, the three parties settled the issue as Chelsea agreed to pay £12 million to Manchester United and £4 million to Lyn for the signature of Mikel, thus ending the long drawn out saga.
Tottenham to Arsenal, 2001
Another cross-city switch that saw the protagonist transforming into a villain from a fan favourite and vice-versa for either set of fans, Sol Campbell’s move from Tottenham to bitter North London rivals, Arsenal sparked a lot of controversy and for good reason.
The player had spent nine years of his senior career at Tottenham, having completed his footballing education with the Lilywhites as well. Campbell had also been the Spurs captain in the last four years of his time at Tottenham.
During this period, the English centre-back had famously exclaimed that he would never join Arsenal. But, with Spurs failing to qualify for the Champions League during Campbell’s time at the club, fans were expecting him to move away from White Hart Lane, considering he was regarded as one of the best defenders in the Premier League at the time.
But what the Tottenham faithful were not expecting was for Campbell to disregard sentiments and move to Arsenal on a free transfer, even as the likes of Barcelona and AC Milan reportedly tailed the player as well.
Campbell, though, had done the unthinkable, signing on the dotted line at Highbury before embarking on a fruitful, trophy-laden stint with the Gunners – the sworn enemy. This after he had promised the fans that he would stay even as his contract ran out gradually.
To this day, Spurs fans call Campbell ‘Judas’, a label that is likely to follow him forever.
Barcelona to Real Madrid, 2000
Perhaps the most acrimonious transfer in footballing history. Seldom has any footballer evoked such emotions from an entire set of fans. But then, Luis Figo’s move to Real Madrid from Barcelona was not an ordinary event either.
Prior to the controversial transfer though, Figo had enjoyed a fruitful five-year spell at Camp Nou during which he was given a legendary status by Barcelona fans. Indeed, Figo had been their best player for much of his stint at the club, leading the Blaugrana to back-to-back La Liga titles.
Then came the start of the ‘Galacticos Era’, Florentino Perez’s pet project that helped him secure a second term as Real Madrid president. And the player to become the first ever signing – a Galactico – as part of the period – Luis Figo.
Before the start of pre-season training in July though, news broke through that Figo had made the shock move to Real Madrid. In a bid to pacify Barcelona fans, the Portuguese forward ensured them that he would be reporting to Camp Nou for pre-season training on July 24.
The day came, but Figo never did, as Real Madrid announced that they had signed the player in the then-world record £37 million deal on July 24, much to the annoyance of their rivals’ fanbase. To rub salt on their wounds, he won the Ballon d’Or just months after completing his switch to Santiago Bernabeu.
Ever since then, playing at Camp Nou was never the same for Figo as he was subjected to intense backlash from Barcelona fans, the likes of which has never been since to the day. The player had coins, bottles, lighters, oranges and shockingly a pig’s head thrown at him while he was taking corners.
Suffice to say, he never took another corner at Camp Nou, although he was addressed as a “Traitor” and “Scum” among other things. Several players have made the switch between Real Madrid and Barcelona previously, but Figo’s transfer have, so far, spelled the end of high profile transfers between the clubs, for good.