Grounds for divorce
Most of us must accept the reality of a favourite player leaving our club from time to time – it’s almost impossible to stop ambitious stars who want out.
This summer, we’ve had Neymar, Antoine Griezmann and Laurent Koscielny kicking up a fuss about what the future holds. And, as the following players proved, break-ups can often be very painful indeed...
Jaap Stam (Manchester United to Lazio - 2001)
A rock at the heart of defence during a highly successful spell at Old Trafford, Stam’s 2001 move to Lazio came as a shock. It later emerged that Alex Ferguson had been infuriated by comments the Dutchman made in his autobiography, where he alleged that the Scot had approached to sign him without PSV’s permission.
It was more a departure on bad terms with Fergie than the club, but then again Fergie was the club. However, the manager was big enough to later admit in 2007 that selling the defender had been a mistake.
Luis Figo (Barcelona to Real Madrid - 2000)
One of the most controversial transfers of all time took Figo from Camp Nou to Bernabeu for a then-world record £37 million fee. It was the start of Real’s Galactico era, prompting the arrivals of Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo – but Figo’s returns to Barcelona were eventful to say the least.
Banners made the fans’ feelings perfectly clear, while objects were thrown at the Portuguese winger when he took corners, most famously that severed pig’s head. Brutal.
Sol Campbell (Tottenham to Arsenal - 2001)
Tottenham fans still haven’t got over Campbell’s decision to cross the north London divide in 2001. He'd been at White Hart Lane for nine years, playing over 300 times for the club, but later denied to FourFourTwo that he ever claimed he'd never join the Gunners.
Campbell did so on a free transfer with the hope of boosting his England prospects, and won two Premier League titles at the club. Maybe hearing the persistent cries of “Judas” was worth it after all.
Sergi Guardiola (Barcelona B to Granada B – 2015)
Is this the stupidest way a player has ever sabotaged their own career? Quite possibly.
Guardiola – no relation to Pep - put pen to paper on a one-and-a-half-year contract with Barcelona B in December 2015, only to be let go a matter of hours later after the club checked his social media accounts.
What they found were offensive tweets against the club and the region of Catalonia, as well as a declaration of support for bitter rivals Real Madrid. Guardiola claimed that the tweets, written two years earlier, had been sent by a friend using his phone, but his defence fell on deaf ears.
Joey Barton (Manchester City to Newcastle 2007; Rangers to Burnley 2016)
Barton’s time at City was littered with off-field problems, but he crossed the line for the final time when he attacked team-mate Ousmane Dabo at training in May 2007 – earning him a £100,000 fine and suspension for the rest of the season. Dabo pressed charges; Barton later pled guilty to assault and was given a four-month suspended prison sentence plus 200 hours of community service.
Fast-forward almost a decade and the midfielder was up to his old tricks, getting involved in a training ground bust-up with Rangers team-mate Andy Halliday that eventually led to the Ibrox club ripping up his contract after just six months.
Dimitar Berbatov (Tottenham to Manchester United - 2008)
“F*** off, we’re going to Man United,” Berbatov told FourFourTwo in an interview last year, after his agent told him of interest from Manchester City.
But the transfer, which the striker thought of as “going to the top of the mountain”, was messy and ultimately saw Tottenham report the Old Trafford club to the Premier League for tapping up. Spurs chairman Daniel Levy eventually caved once the Bulgarian became unsettled and a £30 million move was arranged on deadline day. However, Levy accused the striker of lacking respect by engineering his switch to Manchester.
Mauro Zarate (Lazio to Velez Sarsfield - 2013)
When Zarate returned from a loan at Inter in 2012, his impending exit became something of a farce. He was frozen out of the squad after a series of clashes and ill-judged tweets, before receiving a €500,000 fine for requesting time off to fly to Argentina for treatment on a skin condition – then head on holiday to the Maldives with his family instead.
Court proceedings ensued, resulting in FIFA ruling that Zarate was wrong to join Velez Sarsfield in 2013 without terminating his contract first. They ordered him to pay the Serie A side €5.3 million in compensation.
Johan Cruyff (Ajax to Feyenoord - 1983)
Although most closely aligned with Ajax, the Dutch great had a memorable spell with their bitter domestic rivals Feyenoord towards the end of his career.
Cruyff’s second spell at Ajax may not have been as mesmerising as his first, but he still won a league and cup double there. Astonishingly, he wasn’t offered a new contract – so what better way to make a point than by joining Feyenoord? And how about winning another domestic double in your final season before retiring? Yeah, that. Pure class.
Carlos Tevez (Manchester United to Manchester City - 2009)
Tevez landed in the Premier League in a murky deal from Corinthians in 2006 before heading to Old Trafford from West Ham a year later. But after two successful seasons with United, Alex Ferguson claimed Tevez didn’t respond when contacted about penning a permanent contract – something the Argentine denied.
Frustration grew over a lack of communication from the club and his game time, resulting in Tevez crossing the Manchester divide to join rivals City and become the face of the famous “Welcome to Manchester” billboard.
Ashley Cole (Arsenal to Chelsea - 2006)
Cole was at the centre of one of the Premier League’s messiest transfer sagas when Jose Mourinho tried to lure him to Chelsea in 2005. The left-back infamously said he “almost crashed his car” in shock after being offered ‘just’ £55,000 per week by Arsenal for a new deal, while the Stamford Bridge club received a fine for tapping him up.
A year later, Mou got his man as William Gallas headed the other way along with a bag of cash. ‘Cashley’, as he became known, went on to win eight major honours with the Blues.
William Gallas (Chelsea to Arsenal - 2006)
Part of the deal that sent Ashley Cole the other way, Gallas’s switch to Arsenal provoked another long and bitter dispute. Chelsea brought out a hard-hitting statement that claimed the centre-back had refused to play for them after disagreements over a new contract and threatened to score own goals – claims he rejected in an interview with FourFourTwo.
More contract problems emerged during his time at Arsenal, and the Frenchman – clearly not one to dwell over what people think of him – simply headed to north London rivals Tottenham.
Dimitri Payet (West Ham to Marseille - 2017)
Payet’s time in the Premier League on the pitch was a big success, but his departure after two years at West Ham left supporters with a bitter taste.
Hammers boss Slaven Bilic said the midfielder was refusing to play despite penning a new five-year contract just 12 months earlier, and he was quickly sent off to Marseille. Payet said he was “bored” in London and thought he was risking his career by sticking around for much longer. Stay honest, Dimi.
Diego Costa (Chelsea to Atletico Madrid - 2017)
The volatile striker led Chelsea to their second league title in three seasons with a 22-goal haul in all competitions in 2016/17, only to receive a text from boss Antonio Conte saying he was no longer needed.
Alvaro Morata was brought in as a replacement and Costa thought about bringing legal action against the club before re-joining Atletico, but he couldn’t play for three months because of the Spanish side’s transfer ban.
"I was wrong going to Chelsea, because of their way of dealing with things," Costa later huffed.
Pierre van Hooijdonk (Nottingham Forest to Vitesse - 1999)
Van Hooijdonk helped Forest back into the Premier League after arriving from Celtic in 1997, but then refused to pull on a red shirt after being priced out of a move back home to the Netherlands. He later told FourFourTwo that then-manager Dave Bassett’s £10 million asking price was “like trying to sell a cappuccino for £25.”
The striker was eventually reinstated after sitting out 11 matches, Bassett was sacked and Forest relegated – prompting a swift departure to Vitesse.
Didier Ndong and Papy Djilobodji (Sunderland - 2018)
The queue of players wishing to leave the Stadium of Light was large as Sunderland slumped from the Premier League to League One in the space of two seasons.
Ndong and Djilobodji didn’t fancy the wait, though, and simply didn’t bother turning up for pre-season instead. Djilobodji eventually showed face over a month late (before “comprehensively” failing a fitness test), Ndong didn’t bother coming back at all, and both were sacked for breach of contract. A happy ending.
Ahn Jung-Hwan (Perugia to Shimizu S-Pulse - 2002)
In one of the most remarkably emotional football decisions ever, Ahn was effectively sacked by Perugia because of his role in knocking Italy out of the 2002 World Cup.
He'd scored the golden goal against them for co-hosts South Korea in the last 16, much to the fury of fiery owner Luciano Gaucci. The suit moved quickly, cancelling the Korean’s contract the next day and saying: “I have no intention of paying a salary to someone who has ruined Italian football.”
He later calmed down and tried to activate the option to make Ahn’s loan move from Daewoo Royals permanent, but the forward refused to accept the move and eventually joined Japanese outfit Shimizu S-Pulse instead.
Rafael Marquez (New York Red Bulls to Leon – 2012)
Marquez was something of a coup for NY Red Bulls when he joined Arsenal great Thierry Henry at the MLS side after leaving Barcelona in 2010. A player of the Mexican’s quality and experience was expected to dominate in the division, but he turned out to be a disaster through injury and failed to convince fans of his commitment to the cause.
The club mutually terminated his deal in December 2012, prompting the defender to admit that moving to the US was “an error on my part because I thought my career was on the downswing”. Ouch.
Emmanuel Adebayor (Arsenal to Manchester City - 2009)
Adebayor was, on the whole, a reliable goalscorer for Arsenal, but a string of injuries and clash with Arsene Wenger led to him being shipped off to Manchester City in 2009. The Togo international later said in an interview that Wenger had told him to leave, only to claim in a press conference the next day that Adebayor wanted more money. “Since that day is where the hate for Arsenal came from,” he said.
The striker’s infamous celebration, where he ran the length of the pitch to celebrate scoring against the Gunners, said it all.
Adrian Mutu (Chelsea to Juventus - 2005)
Though one of the early big-money signings in Chelsea's Roman Abramovich era, the Romanian’s career at Stamford Bridge went up in smoke just over a year after his arrival when he tested positive for cocaine.
That began a long-running dispute over breach of contract as the Blues sought compensation, eventually resulting in FIFA ordering the striker to pay more than €17 million to his former employers. Mutu had several appeals knocked back, with the case rumbling on for over a decade. On the pitch, the forward returned to Serie A with Juventus in 2005.
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