The best transfer windows ever #2: Zidane, Buffon, Nedved, Zlatan

Nostalgia

We have celebrated the summers of 2013, 2014, 2003, 2016 and 2004 in our countdown of the greatest transfer windows of all time, but now it’s time to remember the best two of all.

Even if you hate a never-ending stream of rumours, awkward Twitter announcements and flashy headlines splashed across newspapers, the summer transfer window is still one of the best parts of the year.

It’s exciting. It’s life-changing. It’s history-making. Simply put, it’s everything we love about sport, and even more.

The only question remains: what was the most intense, entertaining and I Can’t Believe It Actually Happened transfer window over the last 17 years? The one that made us jump all over the place, shake our heads, question everything, then ask for more?

We’ve remembered five great summers already, but now, after a brief break to let the dust settle on the latest one, it’s time to hand out the silver medal.

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READ: The best transfer windows ever #3: Rooney, Drogba, Deco, Woodgate…

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Best Transfer Window Ever #2: 2001

The Transfer That Shook The World

Zinedine Zidane from Juventus to Real Madrid for €73.5million.

Now, that was a big one.

Florentino Perez had launched The Galacticos a year prior by ruthlessly stealing Barcelona’s brightest star, Luis Figo, but it was Zidane who became the face of Real Madrid for the next five years.

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READ: 19 of the best quotes to help describe Zinedine Zidane’s brilliance

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He scored an iconic Champions League-winning volley in his first season in Spain then clinched his third FIFA World Player of the Year award and became such a magnet for both international superstars and fans from all over the world that the whole thing would have been considered a success even if Madrid won virtually nothing during his spell at the club.

According to legend, Perez first approached Zidane at the Monte Carlo Sports Club with a napkin upon which he had written “Do you want to play for Real?”. In a few minutes, the Madrid president got it back, saw the answer he hoped for and started plotting one of the greatest deals ever.

By the time France’s captain put on a white kit in the summer of 2001, he had already won the Ballon d’Or and the World Cup as well as a couple of Serie A titles and two FIFA World Player of the Year awards.

Still, even despite all the obvious weak spots of his Bernabeu career – the Galacticos won just two major trophies in five years and lost title races to both Barcelona (twice) and Valencia (twice) – every time we think of Zidane the club player we think of Madrid.

Top Transfers

Gianluigi Buffon from Parma to Juventus (€52.9m), Gaizka Mendieta from Valencia to Lazio (€48m), Juan Sebastian Veron from Lazio to Manchester United (€42.6m), Rui Costa from Fiorentina to AC Milan (€42m), Lilian Thuram from Parma to Juventus (€41.5m), Pavel Nedved from Lazio to Juventus (€41.2m), Filippo Inzaghi from Juventus to AC Milan (€37m), Javier Saviola from River Plate to Barcelona (€35.9m), Ruud van Nistelrooy from PSV to Manchester United (€28.5m).

Three thoughts

1) Serie A, man! Italian clubs were involved in a whopping 17 out of 20 of the biggest deals of that summer, with 10 of them being internal Serie A moves. Now that’s what you call world domination.

Juventus made the most out of Zidane’s sale to Madrid by signing Gigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram and Pavel Nedved, AC Milan splashed €144m on new players including Andrea Pirlo and Filippo Inzaghi, while Lazio lost two stars, then tried to replace Nedved with Valencia’s Gaizka Mendieta, who went on to play just 20 games for the club before going on loan to Barcelona and Middlesbrough.

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READ: Gianluigi Buffon: A tribute to one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time

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Parma, meanwhile, pocketed about €150m thanks to Thuram and Buffon, then signed Evanilson for €17m as part of the Marcio Amoroso deal, only to immediately loan him back to Dortmund due to financial problems.

Bizarre 2000’s football at its finest.

2) For some reason, European clubs went completely nuts that year.

Prior to that summer, only four players in history were signed for more than €40m – Christian Vieri (1999), Marc Overmars (2000), Luis Figo (2000) and Hernan Crespo (2000).

In 2001, SEVEN guys were transferred for that sum. It would take eight years to match that record.

3) Also, it was the summer that saw Ronaldinho and Adriano finally arrive in Europe, Edwin van der Sar move to England, John Arne Riise sign for Liverpool, Antonio Cassano go to AS Roma and Frank Lampard join Chelsea. Decent.

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READ: A forensic analysis of when Ronaldinho ruined Real but had their fans applaud

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The Ultimate Bargain

Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Malmo to Ajax for €7.8m.

Having famously rejected a chance to go on trial at Arsenal, Zlatan stayed in Sweden for one more season before finally moving the Netherlands to continue his development on a bigger scene.

It took him just a couple of years to become one of the most exciting youngsters in Europe, scoring 35 goals in 74 goals for Ajax, including, of course, that goal against NAC Breda. 

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Top Manager Transfers

Fatih Terim from Fiorentina to AC Milan (he was sacked in November and replaced by Carlo Ancelotti), Jose Mourinho from Benfica to Uniao de Leiria. That was rather quiet.

The Ultimate Burning Shirt Transfer

Sol Campbell from Tottenham to Arsenal for free.

A key Tottenham player who might become the club’s highest-paid footballer ever was announced as a new signing for the club’s biggest rivals in front of a room full of stunned reporters expecting the unveiling of goalkeeper Richard Wright from Everton.

He went on to win two Premier League titles and three FA Cups with Arsenal, and was part of the famous Invincibles team in 2003-04, but by Spurs fans he will only ever be known as Judas.

Ten years later, he ran for London Mayor because, you know, there’s just no better way to win over people then get into politics.

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Epic Transfer Fail

Juan Sebastian Veron from Lazio to Manchester United.

As Gary Neville put it, “One of the biggest challenges is when you have a set XI and you can name the set XI. It happened at United when we had Beckham, Keane, Scholes and Giggs.

“You think to yourself: ‘Do you buy a player to back them up? Or do you buy a player to challenge and replace them and potentially upset the apple cart?’

“I think of when Veron came in, he was £28million which was a huge signing at the time. He probably wasn’t as good, but you had to play him. Scholes moved forward and it disrupted the team.”

Entertaining Sublot

Mino Raiola working his arse off on Nedved’s blockbuster move to Juventus.

Raiola hated Juve’s director Luciano Moggi, a man he described as the one “who will pay for it all when the day comes and he wants one of my players”, and Lazio’s owner Sergio Cragnotti was against this deal from day one.

However, the Nedved Stays In Rome idea died when Raiola and the midfielder went to Lazio’s Formello training centre to sign a new contract in front of Cragnotti’s son and a Gazzetta Dello Sport photographer.

“Nedved’s wife bought Pavel a golden pen to sign it”, said Raiola. “So we greeted everyone, all smiles and jokes, but young Cragnotti didn’t smile.

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“Unlike his father, he didn’t like Pavel and wanted to make money from him. So he just threw a pen in front of him and barked, ‘Sign it’.”

Nedved did just that – with the golden pen – but as soon as they left the room the Czech turned to Raiola, called Cragnotti an “ungrateful fucker” and asked his agent to get him out of the club as fast as possible.

What followed was just another Raiola masterpiece.

“Juve’s attitude was, ‘You will do what I say and you will sign what I give you.’ But I wanted Pavel to earn more than Zidane in Madrid,” he said.

“Juventus directors then said, ‘Alright, we will give him the X salary.’ I told them, ‘I changed my mind, I don’t want X, I want Y.’ ‘You are crazy!’ they responded. And the war began.”

Eventually, Raiola got a call from his dad who told him his mother had just had a stroke. 

“I had had enough of this at that point and told them, ‘Listen, I’m going back to the hotel and tomorrow I’m flying to my hometown to see my dad who isn’t doing very well. Arrange it accordingly.”

You know what happened next.

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READ: A tribute to Pavel Nedvěd, the man who managed to replace Zinedine Zidane

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The Club That Went Completely Nuts

Unsurprisingly, Juventus. Not only did they splash a staggering 176m that year but they also…

Iconic Transfer Campaign That Changed Everything

… accomplished one of the hardest missions any sports organisation could face: how to wisely invest money after selling your best player.

Not every decision turned out to be a success – Cristian Zenoni never truly lived up to his Young Prospect status, while Marcelo Salas made just 18 appearances for the club in three years – but Buffon, Thuram and Nedved all had extremely successful careers in Turin and helped the club clinch two more Serie A titles before the infamous match-fixing scandal of 2006.

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To Sum It Up

A ridiculously good summer for Serie A giants (Pirlo, Cassano, Nedved, Costa, Inzaghi, Buffon, Materazzi, Thuram, Panucci) that would help the league remain one of the most commercially-appealing divisions in Europe despite the loss of two of its signature players – Zidane in 2001 and Ronaldo in 2002.

This year was as good as it gets. Well, almost.

By Vitaly Suvorov

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