The best transfer windows ever #5: Beckham, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Chelsea…

Quick Reads

We have remembered with relish the summers of 2013 and 2014 in our countdown of the greatest transfer windows of all time, but now we’re into the top five…

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?

The summer of 2013 saw Gareth Bale and Neymar move to Spain, while Barcelona signed Luis Suarez 12 months later when several World Cup stars moved clubs. They were great windows. But not as good as 2003…

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READ: A definitive ranking of the best transfer windows ever, Part Two: 2014

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Best Transfer Window Ever #5: 2003

The Transfer That Shook The World

David Beckham from Manchester United to Real Madrid for €37.5m.

Sir Alex Ferguson once said that Beckham was sold to Madrid because he thought he was bigger than the manager.

Some believe he should have shelved his showbiz plans, regained Fergie’s trust and stayed at Old Trafford, but considering his move to Madrid was the main reason why United went on to sign Cristiano Ronaldo, it didn’t work out too badly for United.

As for Beckham, was his spell at Real truly successful? There’s no definitive answer to that, but if we know something for certain, it’s this:

1) Florentino Perez never signed just Beckham the footballer so there’s no point in analysing his spell at Real Madrid from just a football perspective.

2) Had Beckham shied away from joining the likes of Zidane, Ronaldo and Figo in Spain, both football and pop-culture would have definitely lost too much for me to even begin to process that.

3) If you don’t get goosebumps every time you come across pictures of him hanging out with the rest of the Galacticos, or his ridiculous assist to Ronaldo against Zaragoza, you simply have no heart.

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Finally, there’s this angle: was Ronaldinho’s potential move to Madrid – and Beckham’s potential move to Barca – one of the greatest ‘What Ifs’ of all time?

Even more importantly, was picking Beckham over Dinho, just because Perez thought the Brazilian was too ugly for the Galacticos, one of the dumbest decisions in the history of mankind?

You know the answers, don’t you?

Top Transfers

Ronaldinho from PSG to Barcelona (€32.25m), Damien Duff from Blackburn to Chelsea (€24.5m), Hernan Crespo Inter Milan to Chelsea (€24.3m), Juan Sebastian Veron from Manchester United to Chelsea (€21.5m), Sebastien Frey from Inter Milan to Parma (€21m), Claude Makelele from Real Madrid to Chelsea (€20m), Roy Makaay from Deportivo to Bayern Munich (€19.8m), Cristiano Ronaldo from Sporting to Manchester United (€19m).

Two thoughts

1) Yes, kids, there was a time when you could land an 18-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo for Gervinho’s annual salary.

2) That was the first Roman Abramovic’s summer in Chelsea and the one that definitely changed the Premier League forever.

In less than three months, the Russian billionaire blew up the market by splashing €167m – more than he had paid for the actual club – on new signings and completely redefining the whole concept of owning a team.

Not all of his business paid off, of course. Out of sixteen guys signed by Chelsea that summer (some of them came on a free transfer), only six became instant hits – Joe Cole, Damien Duff, Claude Makelele, Geremi, Wayne Bridge and Glen Johnson.

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READ: Where are they now? Chelsea’s first starting XI under Roman Abramovich

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Hernan Crespo scored 12 goals in all competitions in his debut season in England but was loaned back to Italy as soon as Mourinho took charge in 2004.

Juan Sebastian Veron played just seven games for the Blues before going on loan to Inter Milan and Estudiantes which meant Chelsea had paid Manchester United precisely €3m per Veron’s appearance.

Alexey Smertin was nothing more than Roman’s high-paid interpreter, while Adrian Mutu simply had too much fun off the pitch.

Still, Abramovic’s first year at Chelsea became a turning point in football history with player prices skyrocketing, foreign owners coming into – and ultimately reshaping – European top leagues, and the financial gap between clubs widening more and more year after year.

Whether you liked it or not, that was one historic summer for football.

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READ: A tribute to Hernan Crespo, once the most expensive footballer in the world

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The Ultimate Bargain

Kaka from Sao Paulo to AC Milan for €8.3m.

Within a month after the move, the Brazilian broke into the star-strewn starting line-up to replace Rui Costa, then clinched the Serie A footballer of the year award and became an all-time legend after winning the Champions League and Ballon d’Or three years later.

As the philosopher Berlusconi once said: “We bought the guy for peanuts!”

Honourable mentions: Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona to Arsenal for €3.2m, Jens Lehmann from Borussia Dortmund to Arsenal for €3.5m. If you ever searched for Wenger’s definitive transfer window at Arsenal, you can stop now.

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READ: Fallen Giants: Lamenting the loss of Milan as European heavyweights

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Top Manager Transfers

Carlos Queiroz from Manchester United (he was an assistant manager at the club) to Real Madrid, Frank Rijkaard from Sparta Rotterdam to Barcelona.

Two signings that just couldn’t be more opposite, could they?

Epic Transfer Fail

Adrian Mutu from Parma to Chelsea for €19m.

Somehow, what would have been a fantastic deal for any model agency turned out to be an absolute nightmare for a football club. The world is a weird place.

Entertaining Sublot

Cristiano Ronaldo taking his first steps on a big scene after completing one of the greatest moves in Premier League history.

In mid-August, Ronaldo made his league debut against Bolton Wanderers, coming on as a substitute for the last thirty minutes and immediately receiving a standing ovation from United fans.

He neither scored nor assisted, yet everyone who was watching that game could feel there was something different about this guy: his pace, technique and over-the-top self-esteem, as if he had spent 10 years playing all over England before finally arriving at the Theatre of Dreams.

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Think I’m exaggerating?

Well, here’s what George Best said about that game at that time: “It was undoubtedly the most exciting debut performance I’ve ever seen.

“A few of my old team-mates were at the game and they compared him to me. There have been a few players described as ‘the new George Best’ over the years, but this is the first time it’s been a compliment to me.

“There have been players who have some similarities, but this lad’s got more than anyone else, especially as he is genuinely two-footed. He can play on either wing, beat players with ease and put in dangerous crosses with his left or right leg. When was the last time you saw that?”

It’s been more than 14 years since that day… but the answer remains the same. Never.

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WATCH: When Cristiano Ronaldo & Frank Lampard enjoyed kicking each other

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Hilarious Moment

Beckham arriving in Spain in the most early 00’s outfit possible – a top knot, unbuttoned white short, massive earrings, ripped blue jeans and tight white blazer. Look at it long enough and you might as well fall into a nostalgia coma.

Also, there was nothing like watching David’s long-awaited presentation and seeing one of the younger Madrid fans invade the pitch, get his autograph, then almost immediately get interviewed by 50 Spanish journalists simultaneously as if he had just witnessed The Second Coming or something.

Again, just imagine how empty our life would be without the Galacticos.

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The Club That Went Completely Nuts

You’ve guessed it.

Claudio Ranieri ended up having a whopping 10 first-team midfielders that season, including Lampard, Makelele, Petit, Duff, Cole, and Veron to name a few, yet still fell short. Thirteen years later, he’d win the title with Marc Albrighton and Danny Drinkwater.

Iconic Transfer Campaign That Changed Everything

Extremely hard choice between United and Barcelona here… but it’s just gotta be Barca, right?

Firstly, the Catalans landed two key defenders that summer – Rafael Marquez (€4.7m) and Giovanni van Bronckhorst (initially came from Arsenal as a loanee, then signed a three-year deal in 2004) – who would go on to play more than 250 games for the club combined and start in the Champions League final against Arsenal three seasons later.

Secondly, Barcelona expertly took advantage of the obvious drawbacks of Florentino Perez’s all-star approach and threw a knockout punch by signing one of the greatest footballers ever behind Madrid’s back who would help them win five major titles over the next three years and produce more than a few moments of brilliance in the process.

After all, Fergie would need two or three more transfer windows to finally build another one of his Champions League-winning sides while Barca did it right then and there, during three busy summer months of 2003.

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To Sum It Up

This was a massive window both for the Premier League and the rest of the world.

Three European giants made historic signings that year: Manchester United got Cristiano Ronaldo while AC Milan and Barcelona landed two legendary Brazilians. All of those guys ended up winning tons of trophies over the next five years, including the Ballon d’Or and the Champions league, completely reshaping the modern game in the process.

Plus, Chelsea entered the picture that year and became one of the most attractive brands in the world basically overnight thanks to Abramovic’s ridiculously aggressive transfer policy.

If that window didn’t exist, we would have to invent it.

By Vitaly Suvorov


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