With the world’s richest teams looking to buy-in whole chunks of Borussia Dortmund rather than their individual stars, Greg Johnson looks at 10 examples of clubs who purchased more than just the opposition’s players…
Having put four goals past Real Madrid in the first leg of Borussia Dortmund’s Champions League tie last week, Robert Lewandowski will step out onto the grass of the Bernabeu tonight as the game’s most talked about danger man. Over the past seven days the Pole has filled the column inches of the football press like expanding sealant foam, even eclipsing the box office media clout of Cristiano Ronaldo thanks to his impact last Wednesday.
Now perhaps the most fashionable striker in Europe, Lewandowski has made it known that he wishes to leave Dortmund at the end of this season, setting the continent’s most monied clubs on high alert to capture his signature.
Bayern Munich publicly deny that they wish to sign the forward in a move that would complete a devastating double swoop through the Dortmund ranks following their capture of Mario Gotze. Such a decisive move would likely cement the Bavarians’ position as top dogs in the Bundesliga, sparking a domestic monopoly their main yellow and black competitors couldn’t possibly hope to challenge.
However, Sir Alex Ferguson is said to be keen on bringing Lewandowski to Manchester United, reuniting the frontman with his own ex-Westfalenstadion playmaker, Shinji Kagawa. Should any more parts of Jurgen Klopp’s team drift off to Manchester or Munich, the Dortmund manager could be forgiven for thinking other clubs are seeking to dismantle and reassemble his side in their own colours. Perhaps they are?
In football, individuals alone are rarely enough, with the combinations and relationships between players vital to producing the best football and securing the greatest triumphs. Below are 8 examples where clubs have looked beyond the individual and decided to import partnerships and buy-in whole sections of teams from other successful sides and international squads.
Buying into a philosophy: Barcelona purchase Total Football from Ajax
In 1971 Rinus Michels left Ajax to take over at Barcelona, bringing with him the ideas and methods of Totaalvoetbal. After recruiting his star pupil Johann Cruyff in 1973, and the talented hardman Johann Neeksens in 1974, Michels and his fellow Dutchmen set about injecting the fluid, position-switching style they had perfected at Ajax into the Catalan’s football DNA.
While the style didn’t initially bring success on the same scale the trio had enjoyed at Ajax – Cruyff and Neeskens had collected a hattrick of European Cups between 1971 and 1973, the first of which was won under the tutelage of Michels – total football became engrained in the club’s ethos. Acting as both a foundation and ideal to strive for, the assimilation of Michel’s ideas led to and informed Barcelona’s later successes; from the return of Cruyff and his Dream Team to Pep Guardiola’s more recent unstoppable Tiki-Taka machine.
Opportunity knocks: Manchester United buy the best of City at auction
During the first few years of the 1900s, Manchester City were considered to be the team to beat in Manchester due to their superior player roster and FA Cup success in 1904.
However, after the FA discovered City had been making additional payments to their players – a practice banned in the wage-capped years before professionalism – the club were severely reprimanded with a £250 fine with their manager of the time, Tom Maley, handed a life-time ban from the sport and 17 of their squad also fined and suspended. Ordered to sell their disqualified players in disgrace, City auctioned off their stars at a special sale at the Queen’s Hotel in Manchester in 1906, attended by Ernest Mangnall, the manager of their cross-town rivals Manchester United.
Mangnall snapped up City’s best players: locally born left back Herbert Burgess, Scottish forward Sandy Turnbull who would go on to score 100 goals for United in 245 games, inside-right Jimmy Bannister, and the “Welsh Wizard” Billy Meredith, purchased for £500.
Celebrated for his immense skill, turn of pace and flair filled trickery, Meredith became the fulcrum of the talented quartet of new recruits who inspired United to their first league title in 1908 and an FA Cup in 1909.
A fine vintage: Boca snap up Riquelme and the rest of Argentinos Juniors’ youngsters
Juan Roman Riquelme is today seen as something of a relic – the last of a dying tradition of the old style Argentinian Engache – yet the enigmatic playmaker was once touted as the heir to Maradona’s throne after he emerged from Diego’s former club Argentinos Juniors as a youngster.
Carlos Bilardo paid out $800,000 in 1995 to bring the then 18-year-old Riquelme to Boca Juniors, but the talented midfielder didn’t make the move alone. Having spotted more potential amongst the ranks of Argentinos Juniors’ youth prospects, Bilardo encouraged Boca president, Mauricio Macri, to bring more of the club’s youngsters across Buenos Aires to La Bombonera.
The president heeded Bilardo’s recommendation and secured a whole batch of young Argentinos recruits for Boca. That such a wholesale purchase of talent failed to uncover any other player of note suggests that Boca’s bulk buy didn’t bring the bounty of future stars the expected.
Tried and tested on the international stage: AC Milan bring Gre-No-Li to the club scene
Gre-No-Li were the legendary strike-force of Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Leidholm who lead Sweden to Olympic gold in 1948.
Milan moved to add this irresistible combination to their squad almost immediately, signing up Gunnar Nordahl for the 1948-49 season with Gren and Leidholm following their countryman to Italy a year later. Reunited at club level the trio scored an incredible 71 goals in 38 matches, firing Milan to the 1951 scudetto title in their second season together.
As the principal finisher of the group, Nordahl topped the Serie A scoring charts in five of his six seasons in Italy between 1949 and 1955 and remains the third-highest goalscorer in the history of the Italian top-flight.
Stamping the loyalty card: Leeds to Norwich, Arsenal to City, Napoli to PSG, Manchester United to Everton
Looking at the recruitment patterns of some clubs, the propensity to go back to the source of past trades can look like far more than a mere buyer’s preference.
Whether it’s due to a record of developing well-rounded, professional players, or good customer service at the selling club’s check-out, some sides appear to be addicted to the return purchase.
At Norwich City Luciano Becchio, Robert Snodgrass and Johnny Howson are all Leeds United old boys; Manchester City have become infamous for poaching from Arsenal’s roster with Emmanuel Adebayor, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure all making the move north to Eastlands; while Everton have looked like a blue kitted Manchester United B-team at times thanks to the presence of Louis Saha, Tim Howard, Phil Neville and Darron Gibson in their ranks.
If Arsenal were to run a loyalty card scheme, Barcelona’s accounts would be overflowing with bonus points, having siphoned off the likes of Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Sylvinho, Alexander Hleb, Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas and, more recently, Alexander Song.
Paris Saint-German may soon find themselves being accused of using Napoli as an international feeder club should their interest in signing Edinson Cavani result in a transfer for the Uruguayan. If Cavani does move to Paris this summer he would follow in the footsteps of his former team mate Ezequiel Lavezzi who made the switch last year, while there exists plenty of other gems in the ranks at Naples that could yet tempt the impulse purchase friendly owners at PSG, such as Marek Hamsik and Gokhan Inler.
Rent-a-team: Racing hire themselves out to play as Club Atlético Argentino
Historically considered to be one of the five big clubs of Argentinian football, Racing Club de Avellaneda spent two years in the Nacional B second-tier between 1983 and 1986. They returned to the top-flight Primera Divison in 1986 after a play-off victory against Atlanta, but ran into financial problems as the Argentinean league structure was reformed into a more European friendly format.
Facing up to a delayed fixture schedule and the lack of revenue this caused, Racing were desperate to raise funds, trying and failing to generate income from a number of overseas friendlies that failed to generate the cash required to maintain their facilities and staff.
Two of their fans from Mendoza in the west of Argentina found an unlikely solution to the Buenos Aries club’s woes: renting out the team to play in place for their local side Club Atlético Argentino in a regional tournament.
With their identical team colours and similar nicknames, Club Atlético Argentino paid Racing $150,000 per game for the services of their top-flight stars including Gustavo Costas, Walter Fernandez and Attadia Colombatti. Unfortunately local fans were far from happy with the arrangement, protesting the Racing players’ presence in place of their own squad. The bitter atmosphere translated to poor performances on the pitch with Club Atlético Argentino finishing fifth, failing to qualify for the final round.
Although hardly a roaring success, Club Atlético Argentino’s hiring of Racing Club’s players in 1986 is surely the only example of a club renting another team in football history?
Country before club: buying into nations
The balance of power in international football ebbs and flows as different nations flourish and fade – trends that clubs have often used to aid their transfer strategy.
Arsene Wenger’s decision to bring the crème de la crème of French football to Highbury in the 90’s lifted Arsenal to new heights, while Real Madrid gambled on another generation of Dutch masters when they signed up Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben in the mid-00’s.
While investing in Oranje didn’t quite pay off for Madrid, considering the past success Dutch players have brought sides, it’s easy to see where the idea came from.
Arrigo Saatchi’s legendary Milan teams of 1989 and 1990 were more than just double Dutch, with Ruud Guillet, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten inspiring the club to consecutive European titles following The Netherlands’ victory in Euro 1988.
Like Brazilians, who can forever rely on the past brilliance and success of Pele and co to sell their skills, Dutch footballers will always be in demand for their glamour and talent.
More recently, Graham Carr has led Newcastle United on a mission of plunder through France’s Ligue 1. Yet with the Magpies again struggling at the wrong end of the Premier League table, Newcastle fans will be hoping their signings can inspire a grand up-turn in fortune ala Arsenal and Milan rather than a severe version of Madrid’s disappointment.
Getting the band back together: Boca Juniors reunite Velez title-winners
A striking partnership can be a team unit unto itself. If a club can get the chemistry right upfront, then the resulting storm of goals can act as a deterrent to mask a multitude of tactical sins and weaknesses.
The best partnerships are imbued with an almost telepathic understanding as was the case with Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole at Manchester United, and to a lesser extent Shearer and Sutton and Cisse and Ba. Other variants include partnerships built on complementary skill-sets such as Heskey and Owen, a big-man-small-man routine that puts Liverpool’s present day attempt to rehabilitate Andy Carroll to shame. Ultimately though, if a striking partnership works then the details are secondary.
This season Boca Juniors purchased Juan Manuel Martínez to reunite him with Santiago Martín Silva Olivera – a Primera Divison Clausura title-winning partnership for Vélez Sársfield in 2011 – in an attempt to fire the club back to glory.
Boca have history in buying players as established pairs. A season before in 2010 the club signed Newell Old Boys centre-backs Insaurralde and Schiavi while forward Rodrigo Palacio and midfielder Daniel Bilos arrived together from Banfield in 2005.
Even without title-winning pedigree or league familiarity, clubs sometimes plump to sign players in packs of two or more, in order for individuals to buddy up and better transition in a new, foreign country, culture and climate. For example, in 2007, Swedish club AIK signed striker partners Lucas Valdemarin and Iván Obolo from Arsenal de Sarandi, who both relocated to Stockholm.
So will Dortmund to be sold in bulk or piecemeal?
Although still classed as outsiders, Borussia Dortmund have a fantastic chance to win the 2013 Champions League this year – a triumph that would send the stock of their playing and coaching staff rocketing.
Wherever Lewandowski moves in the summer, this isn’t the last we’ll hear about Dortmund and transfer sagas. Next it will be Marco Reus, Mats Hummels or even Jurgen Klopp himself, with the destination of the totemic Pole likely to anchor the next round of gossip of who’s heading where, when and why.
Will the best of Dortmund move on intact or are these the last days of the yellow and black player combinations that have lit up the Champions League and Bundesliga over the last three years?
What other examples are out there of clubs buying teams and units rather players?