Most transfers happen for purely footballing reasons, but fans of Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham are among those clubs who have signed players for less obvious reasons.
As the English game has exploded in global popularity, some Premier League teams have attempted to boost their popularity in new markets with certain transfers. And there have been various other murky explanations for some transfers too.
We’ve trawled through the archives to bring you 11 of the most eyebrow-raising deals in football history.
Dong Fangzhuo (Man Utd)
Critics suggested Dong’s arrival at United in 2004 was a marketing scam, implying that the Chinese youngster was brought in to continue the club’s growing popularity in the far east.
And his spell Old Trafford only served to reinforce that view. The striker made barely any appearances for the club, first because he couldn’t get a work visa and then because he wasn’t good enough.
Dong scored two goals for the club but both were in pre-season friendlies against Hong Kong and Kazier Chiefs (the club, not the band).
After he was released in 2008, an unceremonious journeyman career began. China, Poland, Portugal, and Armenia were ticked off until he disappeared from the game entirely in 2014.
According to the Spanish publication Marca, Fangzhuo underwent plastic surgery to stop people from recognising him. Poor guy.
Zhang Yuning (West Brom)
China have only ever been to one World Cup, losing all three group matches without scoring in 2002. Clearly, their footballers aren’t world-class.
But that didn’t stop Tony Pulis’ West Brom signing Zhang in the summer of 2017. The striker was immediately loaned out to Werder Bremen where he failed to make a single appearance.
Then he was loaned out to Den Haag, where he made just six appearances in two years. Without scoring.
By now in the Championship, West Brom flogged Zhang back to China and all parties agreed never to speak of the deal again.
Junichi Inamoto (Arsenal)
Inamoto was a handy player, who shone for Japan at their own World Cup in 2002 and impressed at both Fulham and West Brom.
But was he really good enough for Arsenal? Or did Arsene Wenger sign him with one eye on growing the club’s profile in Japan? We couldn’t possibly say.
Junichi Inamoto vs Fulham, on this day in 2005 😍👏
— BoingBoingBaggies (@Boing__Baggies) October 25, 2021
Jonathan Benteke (Crystal Palace)
Palace rescued Christian Benteke from his Liverpool ordeal in 2016, spending £32million to bring him to Selhurst Park.
Having broken the club’s transfer record, Palace pulled out all the stops to make the striker feel at home – including signing his brother, Jonathan, two months later.
After making his debut in a victory at Middlesbrough, the younger Benteke suffered a knee injury and left the club after just 12 months. At least he was cheap.
And this isn’t the ONLY example of a club signing a less well-known sibling to help a player settle in either; who can forget Julio Santa Cruz (Blackburn), Diago (Milan, Kaka’s brother), Chedric Seedorf (Real Madrid and Inter) or Yassin Fekir (Betis).
Al-Saadi Gaddafi (Perugia)
The Wikipedia page for Gaddafi, son of Gaddafi, is a masterclass in understated insanity.
“Gaddafi is known for his participation in Libyan football, which was arranged in his favour,” the entry into his football career begins. “One law forbade announcing the name of any football player with the exception of Gaddafi.
“Only numbers of other players were announced. Referees favoured Gaddafi’s club and security forces were used to silence protests.”
It gets weirder. In 2003, the Libya captain (don’t ask) signed for Italian Serie A team Perugia, employing Diego Maradona as his technical consultant and Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson as his personal trainer.
He made just one appearance in Serie A before failing a drugs test. One Italian newspaper said that: “even at twice his current speed he would still be twice as slow as slow itself.”
From there, Gaddafi moved to Udinese and Sampdoria, making little impact at either club. He’s spent much of the last decade in prison.
Toddy Gudjonsson & Tyggvi Gudmundsson (Stoke)
Stoke spent six years under Icelandic ownership at the turn of the millennium. The arrival of a handful of Icelandic players was inevitable…
Mark Wright (Crawley Town)
Better known for his appearances on The Only Way is Essex, Wright was a keen footballer in his youth and signed a short-term deal with League Two side Crawley Town in December 2020.
“Having someone like Mark involved with the club can only be a positive,” general manager Tom Allman said. “As well as his obvious technical ability, having someone of his stature wearing the badge, will also shine a light on the positive hard work the club does off the field.”
He made a brief cameo in Crawley’s FA Cup win over Leeds and played 45 minutes of a league defeat to Harrogate before being released. Still, Crawley got a nice BBC documentary out of it.
Sunil Chhetri (Sporting Lisbon)
Chhetri is the most-capped player and the all-time top goalscorer of the India national team. He is also the fourth-highest international goal-scorer of all time. And yet 99.5% of you will never have heard of him.
Perhaps that’s because India have yet to make their mark on international football, coming nowhere near qualifying for the World Cup since pulling out of the 1950 edition because FIFA wouldn’t allow them to play barefoot.
And perhaps because Chhetri’s time in Europe was limited to half a season in Sporting Lisbon’s reserves. Makes you wonder why the Portuguese giants bothered to sign him.
Bongani Khumalo (Tottenham)
Tottenham spent £1.5million in 2010 to bring Khumalo from SuperSport United in South Africa, primarily because of the partnership between the two clubs.
He left White Hart Lane four years later, having failed to make a single first-team appearance for the club. At least he became a cult hero at Doncaster Rovers during his short loan spell in Yorkshire.
Lucas Radebe (Leeds United)
We end with a happy ever after; Radebe was initially bought by Leeds to keep fellow South African Phil Masinga happy, but went on to become a club legend.
A strong and intelligent centre-back, perhaps his finest hour came between the sticks as an improvised goalkeeper at Old Trafford…