Players on the run
It’s fair to say Riyad Mahrez really wanted to move to Manchester City in January 2018. The Premier League champions-elect waited until the final few days of the transfer window to make an offer for the Algeria international, by which stage Leicester weren’t prepared to sell their star man.
Mahrez wasn’t happy and failed to report for training for several days, but he’s now back in the fold and ready to give his all for the Foxes – at least until the end of the season. The following nine players were rather more persistent…
9. John Obi Mikel (Lyn)
Manchester United and Chelsea both claimed to have signed Mikel from Lyn in 2005, leading to a year-long tug of war between the pair. It turned out that the Nigerian had agreed to the United move without any form of representation after Lyn sent a brusque email informing his advisors that their services were no longer required.
Mikel disappeared on the eve of a Norwegian Cup match, sparking huge media coverage and a police enquiry after Lyn director Morgan Andersen made claims in the Norwegian media that the player had been kidnapped. In fact, he’d been grabbing some much-needed head space in London (with an agent) and following more tedious negotiations, reluctantly played another season in Norway before joining Chelsea in 2006.
8. Nicolas Anelka (Arsenal)
'The Incredible Sulk' had become an increasingly morose presence around Highbury as the 1998-99 campaign progressed. Signed from Paris Saint-Germain for a minuscule £500,000, Anelka rose to such prominence during Arsenal’s 1997-98 Double-winning campaign that Real Madrid sat up and take notice, especially when the Frenchman claimed to be “bored in London”.
By late July, with Anelka intent on forcing a move through to the Spanish giants and Arsenal playing hardball over his demands, he holed himself up in an economy Martinique hotel with brothers (and advisors) Claude and Didier. The Anelka family doctor insisted Nicolas was unable to return to training in N5 due to stress, and the teenager finally moved to Madrid for a whopping £23m.
7. Dimitri Payet (West Ham)
The French forward never wanted to leave Marseille in summer 2015, and, as it turned out, had no intention of seeing out his new five-and-a-half-year, £125,000 per-week deal at West Ham. In January 2017, he announced he no longer wished to play for the Hammers, and holed himself back up in Marseille.
Although manager Slaven Bilic claimed he’d make Payet play for the reserves, the West Ham board had no option but to offload the troublesome forward. The France international – surprise, surprise – promptly returned to newly moneyed Marseille for £25m.
6. Jorge Cadete (Celtic)
In tandem with fellow Celtic forwards Pierre van Hooijdonk and Paolo Di Canio (they were nicknamed 'The Three Amigos'), Cadete's star shone brightly at Celtic Park after he joined them in 1996. The Portuguese netted an impressive 33 goals in 44 appearances in the 1996-1997 season, although there were always mutterings about his future in Scotland.
During the close season, he handed in a transfer request and announced he wouldn’t be returning to Glasgow, citing his wife’s homesickness as the reason. Despite threatening to sue him, Celtic offloaded Cadete to Celta Vigo later that summer.
5. Paulo Cezar Lima (Flamengo)
The sublimely talented ‘Caju’ announced in typically grandiose fashion that the 1974 World Cup would be his tournament. Yet the Ipanema icon spent much of his time making fraught phone calls to his Brazilian employers, Flamengo, in an attempt to persuade them to let him leave the Maracana and join Marseille.
After they consistently refused to release him, Caju disappeared for a month (“I travelled around Europe and stayed in some great hotels”), before Flamengo caved in and sanctioned his departure. Caju’s time in France was hardly unsuccessful (16 goals in 31 games), but he missed the Rio beaches and joined Fluminense at the end of the season.
4. George Eastham (Newcastle)
By 1959, Newcastle’s promising Under-23 England international dared to ask the club for a transfer – a bold request in the days of the ‘slavery contract’ and the minimum wage. With Arsenal keen to whisk Eastham away from St James’ Park, the forward was kept under virtual house arrest by his employers, who refused to budge on his request.
To fill the time and earn a living (because Newcastle refused to pay his wages), Eastham became a cork salesman down south. Eventually, the Magpies accepted Arsenal’s whopping £47,000 bid in late 1961, ending Eastham’s spell in limbo.
3. Neil Franklin (Stoke)
Denied a move by Stoke, the defender announced his unavailability for selection for England’s 1950 World Cup squad, informing club and country that he would be flying to Colombia to play for Independiente Santa Fe.
Despite warnings that he would be jeopardising his career, Franklin – whose annual salary in South America was four times his Stoke wage – bullishly announced: “We'll live finer than any footballers in the world."
Colombia had been expelled by FIFA for poaching players from around the world and the "rebel" players were also banned. So when Franklin’s dream turned sour after just six games (his wife couldn’t settle), he returned to the Potteries.
2. Diego Costa (Chelsea)
Informed by manager Antonio Conte that he wasn’t part of his plans for the 2017-18 season, Chelsea’s furious frontman spent the summer in Brazil and refused to return for pre-season training, hoping to force through a move to former club Atletico Madrid.
Initially told via text that he was no longer wanted at Stamford Bridge, Costa insisted he was happy to be fined for the entire season if the Blues didn’t agree a deal with Atletico, while also slamming the west Londoners for treating him as a “criminal”. Both sides relented in September, when a £57m deal was announced.
1. Pierre van Hooijdonk (Nottingham Forest)
Furious that strike partner Kevin Campbell and defender Colin Cooper had been sold by Nottingham Forest in the close season, the outspoken Dutch striker took action after returning from the 1998 World Cup. Van Hooijdonk informed manager Dave Bassett that not only was he handing in a transfer request, but he would also be returning to Holland until he was allowed to leave the City Ground.
Following a two-month stand-off, during which Forest plummeted to the bottom of the Premiership, Van Hooijdonk returned to first-team action. But despite the "crying Dutchman" scoring six goals in 19 starts, Forest fell through the trap door, and the forward’s unforgiving team-mates refused to have much to do with him: asked where his errant colleague might end up, midfielder Steve Stone harrumphed "I couldn't give a s**t what Pierre does next".
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