The transfers that rocked the world: Part II

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With the world record for a transfer fee set to be shattered in the next few days, Real Madrid seem to be on a personal crusade to hijack this blog.

The £56 million spent on Monday to sign Kaka will be blown out of the water by the imminent £80 million deal which should take Cristiano Ronaldo to the Bernabeu.

In today’s instalment of The Transfers That Rocked The World we look at some more moments that knocked the world for six.

And just for a change of pace, none of them involve Florentino Perez’s bottomless pit of money...

Denilson, Sao Paolo to Real Betis
£23 million, July 1998

When Denilson signed for Real Betis in 1998, new team-mate Alfonso Pérez admitted he’d never actually seen him play. “But,” he wisely declared, “for the price we’ve paid, he must be very, very good.”

According to one local politician, the price paid was ‘immoral’ – a world record £23 million from Sao Paulo – and, once they’d seen the Brazilian play, everyone else quickly agreed.

Far from very, very good, Denilson was very, very bad. The winger who once claimed to have taken the No.20 shirt because he was “twice as good as the No.10” was a disaster.

Overly individualistic, he was soon out of shape and obsessed with pointless step-overs that never took him anywhere.

Just don't do it 

Within two seasons Betis were relegated, but Denilson didn’t hang around to help them win promotion back to la Liga the following year – he had promptly upped-sticks and returned to Brazil for a loan spell at Flamengo.

A couple of high-profile affairs, the comic sight of him scrambling terrified out of the window when Betis’s apoplectic president interrupted an infamous Halloween party attended by a coach load of sexy senoritas, and 13 measly goals in seven years is the sum total of Denilson’s contribution to Spain.

He eventually departed for Bordeaux on a free transfer.

Pele, ‘semi-retirement’ to New York Cosmos
Free, 1975

The original galactico coming to America.

In a country that couldn’t be even bothered to dislike “soccer,” Pele broke the mould – just as the general manager of the New York Cosmos and director of the North American Soccer League dreamed he would.

Clive Toye declared Pele “the only player who could break the crust of indifference” and set about chasing him round the globe, from Jamaica to Toronto, London to Frankfurt, Sao Paulo to Rome.

Pele resisted for four years until, now retired and faced with financial meltdown, they met again in a motel room in Brussels – a surreal meeting complete with torn trousers, a grieving chamber maid, a stream of autograph hunters hammering on the door, a $3m salary and Toye’s appeal to the Brazilian’s sense of history.

“I told him if he went to Real Madrid or Juventus all he could win was another title,” Toye recalled. “If he joined us he could win an entire country.”

For a while, Pelé did just that, despite a pitch that had to be painted green to disguise its baldness.

It was, wrote one reporter, “like watching Nureyev dance at a Times Square honky-tonk.”

At his farewell game in October 1977, 77,000 fans joined him in chanting “love, love, love,” a club with an average gate of 4,000 reached 34,000, and even Muhammad Ali admitted that Pele was “also” the greatest.

“Pele elevated soccer to heights never before attained in America,” declared president Jimmy Carter. “And only he could have accomplished such a mission.”

Pele on a parks pitch

Attilio Lombardo, Juventus to Crystal Palace
August 1997, £1.6 million

The corner of South-East London that houses Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park isn’t known globally for its sexiness. OK, so Kate Moss originates from Croydon but that’s about it.

In 1997, however, Crystal Palace and their then manager Steve Coppell branched out and brought some Italian class to SE25 with the acquisition of Italian international Attilio Lombardo.

The follically challenged right-winger (later, of course, nicknamed the ‘Bald Eagle’ by Palace fans) had won Serie A with Sampdoria and a Champions League winners medal with Juventus and arrived in London hoping to emulate his fellow countrymen Gianfranco Zola and Gianluca Vialli’s efforts in the capital.
Though he arrived on the back of a horrific run of injuries, Lombardo was immediately the star attraction at Palace, especially when he scored on his debut at Everton.

His early-season form lead Palace to 10th in the Premiership and Lombardo to an Italy recall but he was injured on international duty in November and by the time he returned, the Eagles were rooted to the bottom of the table.

After a brief spell as player-manager (with Thomas Brolin as his assistant – the mind boggles) he returned Italy with Lazio, where he won the Serie A title, leaving Palace fans to wonder: did that superstar really play for us?

Lomas and Lombardo, two of the greats

Roy Race, Melchester Rovers to Walford Rovers

Undisclosed, April 1983

Seismic shocks came thick and fast during the 39-year run of Roy of the Rovers.

Roy Race was shot once, kidnapped twice, lost his foot in a chopper accident, led the club on a 13-year unbeaten run and buried six of his team killed by Middle Eastern terrorists.

He also pulled off the most impressive transfer swoop in the history of football, bringing in Spandau Ballet duo Martin Kemp and Gary Norman.

But in April 1983, Race delivered the biggest surprise of all when he walked out on his beloved Melchester Rovers after 29 years man and boy.

Forced out by a board of directors meddling in his team selection, Race joined moneyed London upstarts Walford Rovers on a reported £3,000-a-week salary.

The Melchester fans felt betrayed. Thousands begged him to return, others sent hate mail. Roy’s wife Penny and three kids walked out on him.

And while he still scored goals – he was born to score goals – it never looked or felt right.

Race didn’t suit blue and he could never get Melchester off his mind. He lasted seven months, before Melchester chairman and chief villain of the piece Sam Barlow walked out, paving the way for Racey’s return.

In his first game back, a homecoming against Portdean, normal service was resumed. “The prodigal son signalled his return by displaying his priceless, match-winning gifts!”

You really could not make it up, although clearly someone had.

Paul Ince, West Ham to Manchester United
£1 million, September 1989

“The deal was close to being done. I went on holiday and my agent said it wasn’t worth me coming back to do a picture with a United shirt when the deal was completed, so I should do one before I left and it would be released when the deal was announced.”

These are Paul Ince’s words to this very magazine regarding the slip-up that to this very day has West Ham fans hissing him like a pantomime villain.

That photo was published before the deal was announced and as Ince admits: “All hell broke loose.”

Ince had broken on to the scene at West Ham in 1986 and his combative style in midfield had caught the eye of Alex Ferguson who was trying hard to re-ignite a faltering Manchester United.

West Ham had been relegated in 1989 and Ince played some games in the then Division Two but it was inevitable that a move would soon happen.

A traditional East End welcome for the Guvnor 

United agreed the £1m fee and all would have been OK had that picture of Ince, United shirt upon his back, not been printed in a daily tabloid.

Instead Ince has been booed ever since at Upton Park and readily acknowledged last summer that his return to East London as manger of Blackburn would be the most testing game of his first top-flight season.

How little he knew...

Transfers that rocked the world: Part I
Transfers that rocked the world: Part II
Transfers that rocked the world: Part III
Transfers that rocked the world: Part IV

Transfers that rocked the world: Part V

---------------------------------------------- More to read...
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