16 of the weirdest transfers in British football

Lord knows there’s been plenty of ‘Eh?!’ moments down the years, writes Huw Davies

1. Kevin Keegan (Hamburg to Southampton)

Keegan played in the 1980 European Cup Final as Hamburg lost 1-0 to Nottingham Forest, then captained England in the European Championship, before landing on the Hampshire coast

Today, swapping Hamburg for Southampton would represent a step up, but not in February 1980: Hamburg were defending their Bundesliga title while Saints were re-establishing themselves in the top flight. Keegan, meanwhile, had won his second consecutive Ballon d’Or with the German club by a landslide six weeks earlier.

And yet, manager Lawrie McMenemy announced Mighty Mouse would be joining them that summer. It would’ve been no less surprising if he’d signed the actual Mighty Mouse.

The months that followed only made the transfer seem more absurd. Keegan played in the 1980 European Cup Final as Hamburg lost 1-0 to Nottingham Forest, then captained England in the European Championship, before landing on the Hampshire coast.

Kevin Keegan, Southampton

Keegan was PFA Player of the Year with Saints in 1982

As for Southampton, even more impressive than the coup was successfully keeping it a secret. Imagine that tomorrow, the European Footballer of the Year – so, Lionel Messi – was unveiled at Crystal Palace and nobody knew about it. Twitter would combust.

2. Bebe (Vitoria de Guimaraes to Manchester United)

A lot of the things said about Bebe aren’t actually true. So unexpected was his 2010 arrival, British fans and journalists latched onto any rumour: that he’d played in the Homeless World Cup (he hadn’t); that Manchester United paid £7m to a tiny team (the fee went to top-five team Vitoria and third-party owners); that even now Bebe compares himself to Cristiano Ronaldo (he merely said Ronaldo is one of his idols, and they share shooting and running styles).

Most pervasive is that he disappeared without a trace. In fact, Bebe is featuring regularly in La Liga with Eibar (as he did with Rayo Vallecano last season), and in 2013/14 kept Pacos de Ferreira in Portugal’s top flight with a dozen league goals. And he scored for United in the Champions League proper, which is more than Marouane Fellaini has done.

Bebe, Eibar

Bebe has carved out a decent career since leaving United in 2014

But the fact that splashing out on a 20-year-old, despite claiming not to have seen him play, was Alex Ferguson’s most baffling decision – that much is true.

3. Julien Faubert (West Ham to Real Madrid, loan)

Football agents speak of Faubert’s January 2009 move from West Ham to Real Madrid in hushed tones of awe

“His agent should be knighted by the Queen.” The words of Paul Merson, after the first recorded incidence of the Soccer Saturday team being shocked into silence.

Football agents speak of Faubert’s January 2009 move from West Ham to Real Madrid in hushed tones of awe. Amid two appearances for the Galacticos, the Frenchman repaid his representative by appearing to fall asleep on the subs’ bench and missing training by mistake (“He got confused,” said manager Juande Ramos, probably confused to be at the club himself).

Madrid chose not to make the loan permanent. Maybe they’d spoken to Alfredo Di Stefano. The facial expression of the club legend, one of football’s greatest ever players, in unveiling Faubert said it all.

4. Papy Djilobodji (Nantes to Chelsea)

It’s no secret that the prospect of trusting an academy player fills Jose Mourinho’s heart with terror (their youth reminds him of time’s ceaseless march towards death). So when wooing Everton’s John Stones in summer 2015 finally proved fruitless, he put out a ‘help wanted’ ad pleading for someone, anyone, to be Chelsea’s fifth-choice centre-back.

Papy Djilobodji arrived for £4m having played nearly 200 games for Nantes, but his omission from Chelsea’s Champions League squad was an omen. “We’d be very unlucky if we need Djilobodji when we have John Terry, Gary Cahill, [Kurt] Zouma and Branislav Ivanovic,” Mourinho mused, 10 days after signing him.

Djilobodji failed to impress in his 62 seconds of match action as a stoppage-time substitute against Walsall, and joined the small army of Blues players out on loan. Three days later, he played 90 minutes as Werder Bremen (16th) won away at Schalke (6th), impressed to the season's end and then joined Sunderland for £8m, thus doubling Chelsea's money.  

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