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He’s signed for who?! 5 times superstars slummed it

Allan Simonsen

From Gary Lineker to Zico, the biggest names in football don't always make the most obvious moves. Here are some who really went against the grain

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Allan Simonsen (Charlton)

Barcelona to Charlton Athletic has to be one of football's less well-trodden paths.

In 1982, former European Footballer of the Year Allan Simonsen walked it. Despite scoring in Barca's 2-1 European Cup Winners Cup final victory the previous season, Simonsen was told his time at Camp Nou was up. Diego Maradona had arrived and with league rules permitting teams only two foreign players, Bernd Schuster and Maradona were the future, Simonsen the past.

Real Madrid showed interest but it was second division Charlton who offered more money. With Charlton struggling to attract crowds of 4,000 to the dilapidated Valley, young chairman Mark Huyler soon faced questions as to how they could afford to pay Simonsen one of the best wages in football.

They couldn't. Simonsen managed an impressive nine goals in 16 games before activating a clause in his contract to depart the Valley. The club itself would soon follow. Engulfed in financial crisis, Charlton were forced into a ground share at Selhurst Park.

Zico (Udinese)

Maradona or Zico, who's the world's best? That was the question on the eve of  the 1982 World Cup.

Maradona came to Europe that summer, joining Barcelona. Zico - with one year left on his contract at Flamengo - was expected to follow.

It came as a huge surprise, therefore, when a year later unfashionable Udinese unveiled 'the white Pele' as their new number 10. Initially, Zico held out for an improved offer from Flamengo, vowing to stay if they would only match Udinese's offer. Flamengo dithered while Udinese persisted.

Sceptical as to how Udinese could finance such a transfer, the Italian Chamber of Commerce urged the football authorities to block the deal. Udinese fans immediately took to the streets in protest. Their slogan was "Either Zico or Austria", referencing the fact that the city belonged to the Austrian Empire only a century before.

Eventually, officialdom relented and Udinese got their man. Zico was paraded through the city in an open-top car, appearing that night on a TV special where fans could ask him questions.  In his first Serie A season, Zico finished one goal shy of top scorer Michel Platini, winning Player of the Year (and a sponsored motorbike).

Legend has it that in his first training session with Udinese, having seen several of his trademark freekicks rebound off the crossbar, Zico demanded the goalposts be measured. Shaking his head in disbelief, measuring-tape in hand, the groundsman was forced to confess the goals were a few inches shorter than regulation. Zico's second season in Italy was interrupted by injury, suspension and accusations of tax avoidance. He then returned from whence he came, rejoining Flamengo in 1985.   

Gary Lineker (Nagoya Grampus Eight)

The England captain was very much still at his peak in 1991/92, scoring 35 goals for Spurs. Lineker won the football writers’ Player of the Year and was widely expected to supplant Bobby Charlton as England's record scorer at the forthcoming European Championships.

The news that he would not be sticking around for the launch of the English Premier League, but instead joining Japan's newly professional J-League, prompted both shock and scorn. Nike set to work plastering huge billboards across London adorned with Ian Wright's image and a stark message - "Gary who? Sayonara Lineker San."

Grampus Eight fans had barely said hello to their exotic import when Lineker aggravated an old toe injury. After a handful of appearances and even fewer goals, he was forced to retire. Reflecting on his two years in Japan, Lineker offered a frank assessment: "The only problem was I was injured the whole time."

Jurgen Klinsmann (Tottenham)

The 1993/94 season was abysmal for Spurs; with only three points sparing them from relegation. Ahead of the new campaign, the club was rocked by a 12-point deduction and FA Cup ban due to prior financial irregularities.

Chairman Alan Sugar resolved not to take this lying down, however, and soon the points deduction was halved and cup ban overturned. He wasn't finished there. Mooring his luxury yacht in Monte Carlo, like a cockney Bond villain, Sugar refused to leave until he got what he wanted. World Cup winner Jurgen Klinsmann quickly succumbed and verbally agreed to join Spurs.

Rather than consult manager Ossie Ardiles, Sugar's priority was to tip off the press. Soon pictures of the master goalscorer enjoying Spurs' hospitality circulated. Klinsmann couldn't back out now.

The German's impact in north London was immediate: after 29 goals, the press who'd suspiciously welcomed him with headlines like 'Dive Bomber' - referencing Klinsmann's fondness for theatrics - made him their Footballer of the Year.

Klinsmann, however, decided not to stick around for a second year and joined Bayern Munich. His farewell gift to Sugar was a signed shirt. Sugar was fuming and again used the media to deliver a message. Throwing the shirt to the floor, he declared, "I wouldn't wash my car with it".

That wasn't quite the end of the story, though: a few years later, midway through the 1997/98 season, Klinsmann was back, joining on loan from Sampdoria and scoring a healthy nine goals in 18 games.

Claudio Caniggia (Dundee)

Claudio Caniggia shot onto the world stage at Italia 90. Surviving Benjamin Massing's attempted tackle/assassination in Argentina's opener against Cameroon, Caniggia scored goals in the knockout stage versus Brazil and Italy en route to the final.

Following a move to Roma, however, things began to unravel, with a failed drug test resulting in a 13-month suspension.

While his sentence elapsed in time for USA 94, Caniggia's club career was on the slide. Boca Juniors offered a homecoming where he was reunited with national team partner Maradona. The passion displayed by the pair whenever they scored prompted Caniggia's wife to ask whether Diego was in love with her husband: "It must be the long hair and big muscles."

Maradona didn't see the funny side and launched legal proceedings.

Caniggia returned to Serie A with Atalanta, but soon found himself surplus to requirements. Takers were hard to come by and enforced early retirement beckoned. In May 2000, close friend Ivano Bonetti was appointed manager at Dundee. Caniggia decided to join him. Scoring on debut, he then added 3,000 to the gate for his home bow. By the end of the season, Caniggia had eight goals in 25 appearances, the most important coming in an away win in the Dundee derby. That night Caniggia assured his place in the Dens Park hall of fame by pulling pints for jubilant fans at a local pub. 

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