17 transfers that shook football: Figo, Pele, Shearer, Eto’o & more
The transfer market is so crazy these days that nothing really surprises us any more – but there have been several transfers which have made everyone sit up and say ‘what the f*ck’.
Whether it be players going back on their word, leaving a club for their biggest rivals, leaving a major league for a much-less heralded one or even just leaving for an eye-watering fee, there have always been plenty of reasons over the years for a transfer to surprise.
Here, we remember a selection which got everyone talking, going back as far as 1975.
“I want to reassure fans that Luis Figo, with all the certainty in the world, will be at the Camp Nou on July 24 to start the season.” The words of Figo himself on July 9, 2000.
On July 24, he left, and not just for anyone, for Real Madrid, Barcelona’s biggest rivals, for a world-record fee that marked the start of the Galactico era under Florentino Perez.
The Portugal winger became the focus of the rivalry between the clubs, with Barca fans constantly launching all kinds of missiles in his direction when the teams met, as Michel Salgado says in Sid Lowe’s book, Fear and Loathing in La Liga.
“By the second or third corner I turned to Luís Figo and said: ‘Forget it, mate. You’re on your own’. I used to offer Luís the chance to take the short corner, drawing up close to him near the touchline, but not this time.
“Missiles were raining down from the stands: coins, a knife, a glass whisky bottle. Johnnie Walker, I think. Or J&B. Best to keep away. Short corners? No thanks.”
“World-record-shattering” is how the BBC described Ronaldo’s world-record £80million transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2009.
But although the fee was extraordinary at the time, it was a move that had long been expected.
Ronaldo’s move to Juventus in 2018, however, was not.
The Portugal international had hinted he could leave the Bernabeu before, but most put it down to a ploy to earn himself a bigger contract. Few considered he could actually leave Madrid.
Yet just a few months after winning his fourth Champions League trophy with the club, after an astounding 450 goals in 438 appearances, Ronaldo joined Juventus for £100million and the world gasped again.
After a long pursuit, PSG finally got their hands on Barcelona superstar Neymar for a whopping €222million in the summer of 2017.
It smashed any previous transfer record and set a new precedent which would take the transfer market into a new realm of excessive pricing.
The Brazilian had renewed his contract in Spain after PSG interest a year earlier but decided he wanted out of the Nou Camp and one call to Paris was all that was required.
Having spent just one season as Roma’s first choice, the “Lionel Messi of goalkeepers” had Liverpool leading the race to sign him after the 2018 World Cup.
Most assumed Roma’s asking price would put the Reds off, but in July 2018 they shelled out a huge £66million, a world-record fee a goalkeeper, finally breaking Gianluigi Buffon’s 18-year-old previous high.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) July 19, 2021
A transfer that shocked for a different reason, Tottenham flop Paulinho was looking to see out his years in China when, out of nowhere, Barcelona put a £36.4million deal on the table.
They handed the Brazilian a contract which included a £109.1million buy-out clause, much to the surprise of anyone who had seen him line up in North London.
He had left Spurs to join Guangzhou Evergrande for £10million before heading back after just a year in Spain.
In the summer of 1996, Barcelona paid a world-record fee to sign Ronaldo from PSV, breaking a long run of Italian clubs breaking the record in a period of Serie A dominance.
Later that same summer, Newcastle United splashed out £15million on Shearer from Blackburn Rovers, becoming the first English club to break the world transfer record in 45 years.
It didn’t lead to trophies, but Shearer became Newcastle’s and the Premier League’s record goalscorer, netting 206 goals in 404 appearances for his hometown club.
This was the deal which helped make transfer deadline day what it is in England.
Freshly taken over by Sheikh Mansour, and after being rebuffed by David Villa and Kaka among others, Manchester City needed a big name, someone to prove they meant business.
Robinho seemed to be heading for Chelsea, but in swooped City with their even new money to sign the Brazil forward for a then-mouthwatering £32.5million from Real Madrid.
If anyone had been unsure until then, this was the deal that proved City were ready to take on the big boys.
It feels utterly ridiculous that £8million was once a world record transfer fee, but that’s what it took for Juventus to prize Baggio away from Fiorentina in 1990.
The move came amazingly close to the UEFA Cup final – which Baggio had helped La Viola win – and it caused riots among supporters who fumed that their hero had become a bitter rival.
He made it clear that Florence was always in his heart, though, as his first game back at his old club saw him refuse to take a penalty before donning a Fiorentina scarf having been substituted.
In January 2011, Anzhi Makhachkala were taken over by a billionaire and soon signed Roberto Carlos. But he was 37 by then and not enough to make the world sit up and take notice.
Signing Samuel Eto’o from Inter Milan for around £23.7million and giving him a reported £350,000 a week, however, definitely got people talking.
Other summer signings included Yuri Zhirkov from Chelsea and Hungarian Balázs Dzsudzsák from PSV as the club drew widespread attention. But it’s fair to say it didn’t quite go to plan…
“It is about control. We had the control. We knew the Fernando Torres deal was there. We drew that f*cking deal, perhaps the ultimate. So £30m? F*ck off! Don’t waste my time. I slammed the phone down. £35m? Everybody including Pardew all agreed.
“But the £35m they wanted to pay over four years. It was rubbish. Mike Ashley said – and he is a brave boy, Mike, I promise you – get all the £35m up front. We got it all up front and then they never paid us on time and we charged them 12 grand f*cking interest.”
Derek Llambias wasn’t one to mince his words on the deal that took Andy Carroll to Liverpool in the wake of Torres’ departure – after being asked if the striker was worth the money paid he simply responded: “No, he’s worth f*ck all”.
But fair play to the former Newcastle Managing Director, who managed to get a whopping fee for the towering forward after the Spaniard’s inflated departure, breaking the record fee for a British footballer in the process.
Accused enough of playing for the money in his time at Zenit Saint-Petersburg, Hulk didn’t help himself when he set the Asian transfer record to join Shanghai SIPG in 2016.
One of the first big-money dealings in the Chinese Super League, Hulk moved for a huge £45million, with a £320,000 a week contract to boot.
Carlos Tevez & Javier Mascherano
Controversy, illegality and spectacular sh*thousery over Neil Warnock clouded the short but excellent spell that saw West Ham beat European giants to the signing of two of Argentina’s hottest prospects.
Both players had left within 12 months, but still to this day Warnock fumes over Tevez, whose form he claims was the direct cause of Sheffield United’s Premier League relegation in 2007.
The pair were owned by a third party, with the laws becoming dramatically clear in 2008 to make sure it never happened again.
It has become commonplace for the ageing football population to travel to America – notably LA Galaxy – to see out their twilight years.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Steven Gerrard, Andrea Pirlo and the rest have all trodden the beaten path, but it was a new entity when England favourite Beckham left Madrid for LA in 2007.
He actually spent five years at the club, helping massively as the MLS started its growth, while spending time on loan at AC Milan in the off-seasons.
“Eric likes to do what he likes when he likes – and then f*cks off,” Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson said, but still the adored striker’s transfer to rivals Manchester United came as a huge shock.
As if his 11 goals in 20 appearances so far that season weren’t enough to warn Leeds, what happened next is no secret. Eric Cantona is a name etched in Premier League history forever.
Roman Abramovich had craved Torres’ signature for years, and finally, in 2011, Liverpool succumbed and gleefully ran away with £50million in their back pocket.
Injuries had troubled him, and he had managed just nine goals in 26 appearances so far that season, but Chelsea needed Torres and were prepared to go all the way.
It may not have been all that, as the striker managed just 20 goals in 110 appearances, but he will go down in folklore at Stamford Bridge, and who can forget *that* goal against Barcelona?
Ricky Villa & Ossie Ardiles
Sheffield United manager Harry Haslam travelled to the World Cup in Argentina to have a look at Diego Maradona… and Tottenham manager Keith Burkinshaw decided to pop along with him.
Unfortunately, we never got to see Maradona don red and white, but a certain Ossie Ardiles tempted Burkinshaw to break the norm.
Players weren’t usually brought to England from afar, so Ardiles’ arrival was completely out of the ordinary, though a 10-year ‘Tottingham’ career certainly showed it can work.
“After it was all signed, Ossie said to me ‘my friend, he’s also available’,” Burkinshaw recalled. So in came Ricky Villa too, and we all remember that incredible FA Cup goal.
Pele stunned the footballing world to come out of retirement and join New York Cosmos and ultimately save football in America.
Owner Clive Toye managed to finally persuade the Brazilian – with the helping hand of a contract which would see him become the world’s highest-paid athlete – to return and ultimately, make American football what it is today.
“The North American Soccer League was practically dead,” he said. “We decided there were two things that were needed to transform the whole issue. One was the World Cup, and the other was Pele. He was the only player anyone in this country had heard of.”