With the European scene reeling from the news that Bayern have secured Dortmund’s hottest property, Greg Johnson looks at past transfers and contract wrangles that have left fans scratching their hands or worse…
The only thing more shocking than the timing and ruthless nature of Bayern Munich’s swoop for Mario Götze was the size of the release fee clause that allowed it.
At £31.5M it’s hardly an insignificant fee, but with the 20-year-old Götze perhaps the most highly rated youngster in European football, it’s an unforgivably low amount considering the price tags attached to the likes of Gareth Bale and paid for in the case of Javier Pastore.
Heartbroken by what feels like a technicality created by oversights and complacency with the paperwork, Dortmund’s Champions League flourish will now be punctured by the impending defection of their best player to their worst, competitive enemy (Schalke not withstanding). Jurgen Klopp isn’t the first coach to suffer the pain of badly written contract clauses and perplexing transfer decisions.
Below are 10 varieties of player moves that came to pass through underhand tactics, poor decision making, disloyalty and sheer stupidity.
Making a pig of yourself
The most obvious parallel to Götze’s impending switch to Bayern is Luis Figo’s unforgivable crossing of the Barcelona-Real divide in 2000. As the opening statement signing in Madrid’s first Galactico era, the controversial nature of the move drove up his price to a then record €60M.
Dortmund have called police to their training ground complex following threats in the wake of the Götze announcement but they may need to take further steps to temper their famously raucous crowd considering the reception enjoyed by Figo at the Camp Nou. Barcelona fans, incensed by seeing their former hero in the colours of los Blancos threw a pig’s head onto the pitch in protest.
The Bundesliga authorities must already be dreading the potential projectiles that could spring from the Westfalenhalle on Götze’s inevitable return next season.
Undervalued men who went on to become icons
In retrospect, it’s bewildering how little Leeds United and Real Madrid fought to retain Eric Cantona and Claude Makelele over their respective moves to Manchester United and Chelsea. In both cases, the departing players became catalysts for their new clubs while their former employers crumbled without their rare gifts.
Cantona cost Manchester United just £1.2M while Makelele joined Chelsea for over £16M almost a decade later.
At the climax of his career, Johan Cryuff defected to Ajax’s rivals Feyenoord in 1983 after being refused a new contract in Amsterdam. Cryuff had the last laugh however playing every single game of the season bar one and winning a league cup double – at the time, Feyenoord’s first Eredivisie title in a decade – at the tender age of 37.
A sudden change of destination on the way
“Nobody does this to Kenny Dalglish!” was the reaction Roy Keane received down the phone when informing the then Blackburn Rovers manager that he would be joining Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in 1993. Keane had returned to Cork after shaking Dalglish’s hand to agree a move to Blackburn but had a change of heart after taking a call from the Old Trafford boss.
Ferguson hasn’t had it all his own way when it comes to intercepting deals seemingly already done however. In 1988 he missed out on signing Paul Gascoigne after heading on holiday with a verbal agreement from the difficult Englishman that he would be signing from Newcastle. Unfortunately, while Ferguson took time out, Tottenham Hotspur made Gazza an offer he couldn’t refuse, gifting his mother a house in exchange for his services.
Contracts not worth the paper they’re written on
Di Stefano’s move to Real Madrid is arguably the most corrupt and important transfer in the course of club football’s history. Having agreed terms with River Plate, the club that held his official player registration, FC Barcelona assumed that they had secured The Blonde Arrow. Instead, Real Madrid hijacked the move, making a deal with the team the Argnetine was actually playing at, Millionarios: a rebel club in the Columbian Pirate League. A proposal supported by General Franco’s administration called for the player to play alternate seasons at each club, but the idea was unsurprisingly rejected by Barcelona, who relinquished their claim on the player. Alfredo Di Stefano went on to lead Madrid to five consecutive European Cups and eight La Liga titles.
While far less influential, Chelsea’s signing of Jon Obi Mikel in 2005 was also submerged in suspicions over stealing another club’s purchase. The dispute was settled out of court with Chelsea compensating Manchester United who had assumed they had signed the midfielder after he signed a contract and appeared at the press conference for the official announcement.
Non-footballers, smoke and mirrors
Anyone who believes that Bebe was a fairy tale transfer come true is in denial. We may never know whether the formerly homeless Portguese winger was a bung to super agent Jorge Mendes or an expensive PR stunt to bolster United’s reputation.
Famous for bluffing his way onto the pitch for Graeme Souness’ Southampton, Ali Dia was an opportunist chancer trading off the bogus claim of being George Weah’s cousin. While he only managed to secure a trial period at Southampton, he still managed some competitive game time against Leeds United. Substituted on for Matt Le Tissier, he lasted just 53 minutes before his manager realised his folly.
Boardroom business decisions
David Beckham may be doing his age group proud with his season long cameo for Paris Saint-Germain but his attraction to clubs no longer comes from his crossing ability – arguably, it never has considering the boost in shirt sales and merchandising his name brings to a team.
Moving to Liverpool on a free after being released by Chelsea in 2010, Joe Cole was initially seen as something of a coup for the Reds. Steven Gerrard declared Cole could do anything Messi could, yet after failing to take off on Merseyside following injury and suspensions galore the ugly truth has laid bare. Cole was a boardroom purchase by Liverpool’s Managing Director Christian Purslow; signed without the agreement or consultation of the coaching staff. The attacking midfielder arrived at Anfield as a welcoming gift to Roy Hodgson who had no say over the signing of a player who would become a unmitigated financial disaster for Liverpool. A director’s vanity project costing approximately £20M in wages and release fees. That’s right: they paid him to leave rather than fulfil his contract.
When it comes to player CVs few can hold a torch to the impressive employment record of Nicolas Anelka who has played for Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester City, Fenerbache, Bolton Wanderers, Chelsea, Shanghai Shenhua and his current club Juventus. A seemingly insatiable desire for signing-on fees and ever increasing conditions, Anelka’s incredible career has been driven and directed by his agent and brother Claude, who is seemingly always on the look out for the next juicy opportunity for his cash cow client sibling.
A football club or a staging post?
Genoa don’t sign players, they accumulate assets like a rental firm. From Kevin Prince-Boateng and Migeul Veloso to this season’s signing of the Brazilian Anselmo who immediately left on loan to Palermo, the North Western Italian club are one of the most bizarre transfer market operators around.
Robbie Keane is the player with a childhood club for every occasion, but as a Liverpool player his stay at Anfield was short and extremely bitter. Arriving at Anfield in the summer of 2008 for £19M, the Irishman spent 6 months on Merseyside before he returned to his previous club Tottenham Hotspur for £12M.
Running down the clock and burning bridges
At least Dortmund will receive some measure of compensation for Götze’s departure – a luxury not afforded to Tottenham Hotspur when Sol Campbell decided to run down his contract for a lucrative move across North London to Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. The French manager soon discovered what goes around comes around however, with Ashley Cole tapping himself up to flee Highbury for the riches of Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea. Arsenal only received William Gallas in return due to Cole’s determination to push the deal through.
Carlos Tevez may have been surprised by the fury that greeted him on his return to Old Trafford after moving to Manchester City, but it was hardly an unpredictable reaction. After playing the fans off each other and Sir Alex Ferguson, the Argentine and his representatives refused to reduce their demands to make his loan stay permanent, regardless of the wages and success granted to him by Manchester United.
Selling out while trying to keep your integrity
When Roberto Baggio left Fiorentina for Juventus, full-scale riots erupted on the streets of Florence, injuring fifty people. It was an extreme, emotional reaction to a palpable sense of loss and betrayal over Baggio – a cult figure to Viola fans who long assumed their hero’s feelings were reciprocal.
This wasn’t just the lose of an icon but the start of war, with Fiorentina accusing Juventus of stealing their Scudetto through a series of controversial referee decisions. Baggio’s capture only fanned the flames.
The striker was determined to show his true colours and make amends however. After refusing to take a penalty in a game against Fiorentina for Juventus he was substituted for his insolence. On his way to the bench Baggio picked up a purple Fiorentina scarf that had been thrown onto the pitch and kissed it proclaiming, “deep in my heart I am always purple”.
Mario Götze is a child product of Borussia Dortmund’s celebrated youth academy, and like Baggio, fans assumed he was committed to the colours of their club. Perhaps we might see a similar attempt at conciliation and redemption from the German in the fiery clashes that await in the seasons ahead?