55 shocking football transfers that shook the world: 10-1
10. John Obi Mikel (Lyn Oslo/Man United to Chelsea, 2006)
Even now, nobody seems quite certain as to what happened between Manchester United, Chelsea and Norwegian side Lyn. In 2005, United claimed an agreement had been reached with player and club, and even released pictures of him holding their shirt.
Chelsea were furious, insisting that they had a prior agreement to sign Mikel, evidenced by the financial assistance they'd given during his education in Norway. To further complicate matters, it would later transpire that the Nigerian's original registration with Lyn had allegedly been forged by a club director.
It remains a rabbit hole of a transfer involving opaque agenting practices, misinformation, and – seemingly – a healthy dose of fraud. Whatever the truth, the Norwegian Football Federation's intervention led to Chelsea paying a split fee of £16m to Manchester United (£12m) and Lyn (£4m) for a player who would win every domestic and continental trophy available to him over the next decade. SSB
9. Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano (Corinthians to West Ham, 2006)
The most entertaining aspect of this deal is unquestionably that, with West Ham in deep relegation trouble, Alan Pardew generally opted to play Marlon Harewood and Hayden Mullins instead of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano.
Arriving in August 2006, both players had left Upton Park by the summer of 2007: Mascherano after an initial January loan to Liverpool, Tevez following a blistering New Year resurgence that would keep West Ham – by then managed by Alan Curbishley – in the division.
The controversy bubbles to this day: both players' rights were owned by Media Sports Investments (MSI) rather than Corinthians, and West Ham were not only fined by the Premier League for breaching the rules governing registration but also forced to arrive at a settlement with relegated Sheffield United, who – according to Neil Warnock – went down as a direct consequence of Tevez's form. Crucially, the Hammers were allowed to keep their place in the division, though, and the demoted United have yet to even threaten a return.
If third-party ownership had been a vague, frowned-upon practice before, it has since become spectacularly illegal: in June 2008, the Premier League approved rules L34 and L35 to prevent any future recurrence. Thou shalt not part-own players. SSB
8. Eric Cantona (Leeds to Man United, 1992)
Legend has it that it was a spur-of-the-moment thought. Alex Ferguson, who happened to be in the room when his bosses at United got a phone call from Leeds to inquire about the availability of Denis Irwin, thought it might be worth asking the same about Eric Cantona. The Frenchman, whose fiery temperament worried the Leeds hierarchy, needed little persuasion to switch, the laughable fee of £1.2m arguably representing football’s most glorious bargain.
In just half a decade at United, Cantona made a strong case for being the club’s greatest-ever player, his grit, flair and charisma doing much to forge the aura on which the Ferguson era was founded, and his unrelenting dedication to training proving instructive to a certain group of up-and-comers.
His form at the tail end of the 1995/96 season remains one of the most remarkable sustained individual feats of the modern age. That he retired without warning aged just 31 has only added to his legend. AH
7. Luther Blissett (Watford to Milan, 1983)
“I was stunned that someone was prepared to pay that much for a footballer,” Blissett would later tell FFT of his move to Italy the year after he top-scored the First Division with 27 goals for plucky Watford.
Just one season later, though, Blissett was back at Vicarage Road for half the cost after a season of struggle at San Siro. It’s worth remembering, though, that this was an altogether different Milan team that had only just returned to Serie A after a stint in the second tier, and Blissett struggled with a new style in foreign climes.
Subsequently, he mustered only five goals in his 30 Serie A games and was happy for a return home. “It was hugely frustrating. I had no real passion for winning matches with dull, defensive football,” Blissett admitted. “The move really re-enforced that the Italians truly are the masters of defence. I would love to have gone back four years later when their game had evolved into a more attacking one.” JB