8 players who were bigger than the club (or thought they were, anyway)

Gaston Ramirez, Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka had some choice words for Gaston Ramirez, after the Boro playmaker handed in a transfer request. Jon Spurling unearths some other footballers who morphed into Charlie Big Potatoes

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1. Malcolm Macdonald (Newcastle)

You’re not a good pro, MacDonald, there’s more to football than scoring goals

- Gordon Lee

Newly appointed Newcastle manager Gordon Lee and the Magpies’ star striker Malcolm MacDonald were never destined to see eye to eye, especially after Supermac was quoted in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle as asking “Who is Gordon Lee?” after the ex-Blackburn boss took the hot seat in the summer of 1975.

“My cards were marked after that rather unfortunate start,” remarked MacDonald wryly several years later. During the rather uncomfortable 1975/76 campaign, Lee made a point of subbing MacDonald on a regular basis, and informed him: “You’re not a good pro, MacDonald, there’s more to football than scoring goals,” after the latter scoffed at Lee’s training routines.

Malcolm Macdonald

Supermac didn't do very well from the start with Lee

Twelve months later, Supermac signed for Arsenal for an eye-catching £333,333.33 fee. “He’s not worth it,” Lee blasted. MacDonald plundered goals aplenty for the Highbury side, while Lee bailed out of St James’ Park within 18 months before later managing Everton, Preston and KR Reykjavik.

2. Ian Wright (Arsenal)

Wright became increasingly exasperated when Rioch claimed his former Bolton striker John McGinlay would have tucked away a chance he missed

“Bruce Rioch labelled me Charlie Big Potatoes,” blasted 32-year-old Arsenal striker Ian Wright after deciding to hand in a transfer request in February 1996.

The new Arsenal manager had attempted to introduce a passing game to the Highbury side, and Wright felt increasingly starved of the ball. Matters came to a head after the pair had a screaming match in the dressing room following the Gunners’ FA Cup defeat against Sheffield United, and Wright became increasingly exasperated when Rioch claimed his former Bolton striker John McGinlay would have tucked away a chance he missed.

Bruch Rioch, Arsenal

John McGinlay > Rioch's grandma > Ian Wright

The vocal striker made his annoyance clear to vice chairman David Dein, and the writing was on the wall for Rioch, who only lasted a season at Highbury. Wright stayed, and broke Arsenal’s goalscoring record.

3. Pierre van Hooijdonk (Nottingham Forest)

I’d have told Pierre where to shove the olive branch

- Dave Bassett

“The situation could have been handled differently, I accept that now,” admitted a contrite Pierre van Hooijdonk a decade after his notorious one-man strike at Dave Bassett’s Nottingham Forest.

After netting 34 goals during Forest’s promotion season to the Premier League in 1997/98, the headstrong Dutchman was horrified when, instead of strengthening the squad, the City Ground club sold striker Kevin Campbell to Trabzonspor for £2.5 million and fans’ favourite Colin Cooper to newly promoted Middlesbrough.

After his transfer request was rejected, Van Hooijdonk refused to play and trained with former club NAC Breda to keep up his fitness levels. After a three-month stand-off he returned to the starting lineup, but quickly discovered that manager Bassett hadn’t wanted him to regain his berth.

“I’d have told Pierre where to shove the olive branch,” fumed the Forest boss, who was dismissed in January 1999 with the club headed back to the second tier. New man David Platt finally sold the sulky striker to Vitesse Arnhem in July, remarking: “It’s probably for the best that Pierre doesn’t return to this part of England for some time.”

Van Hooijdonk never did either, later turning out for Benfica, Feyenoord (twice), Fenerbahce and NAC Breda.

4. Diego Maradona (Napoli)

I’d love to work with him, but no one – not even Diego – is bigger than this club

- Claudio Ranieri

Following Diego Maradona’s world record £6.9 million move to Serie A side Napoli in 1984, a local newspaper claimed: “We have no mayor, houses, schools, buses, employment and sanitation, but none of this matters because we have Diego Maradona.”

The sublime Argentine’s arrival ushered in the most gilded era of Napoli’s existence, and they won Serie A in 1987 and 1990. But off the field, his personal problems increased. He racked up over $70,000 in fines for missed training sessions and matches, and there were concerns over his links with the Mafia-linked Camorra.

By the time new boss Claudio Ranieri arrived at the club in July 1991, Maradona was serving a 15-month ban for testing positive for cocaine. “I’d love to work with him,” admitted Ranieri, “but no one – not even Diego – is bigger than this club.”

Claudio Ranieri. Napoli

A dashing Ranieri in November 1991

His ban served, Maradona departed to Seville and was never the same player again.