This has happened a few times over the years and in this FIFA ranking article, we highlight 5 of the most notorious transfer switches of all time, with several icons.
Every occasionally, a transfer happens that shakes the soccer world. Completely out of the blue, a beloved player moves from one team to its bitter rivals. What follows is usually a wave of anger and disbelief from the fans who were cheering his name and pure delirium from the fans of his new team.
FIFA Most Controversial Transfers Ever #5: Robin Van Persie (Arsenal to Man Utd)
Arsenal fans became furious when the club sold striker Robin van Persie to their rivals in 2012.
The Dutch striker had signed for the Gunners in 2004 and quickly became a club hero, before eventually receiving the captain’s armband. In 2011-12, he had arguably his best season for the club, scoring 30 goals to win the Premier League’s golden boot.
Soon after, Sir Alex Ferguson poached the Dutchman for £24 million, much to the chagrin of the Emirates faithful. To make matters worse, Robin Van Persie helped Manchester United win their 20th league title in his first season, scoring home and away against Arsenal.
FIFA Most Controversial Transfers Ever #4: Roberto Baggio (Fiorentina to Juventus)
It is no exaggeration to say that the transfer of Roberto Baggio from Fiorentina to Juventus in 1990 caused riots.
At that time, the Florence club was in financial difficulty. And to balance the books, they decided to sell their prized asset, the man who later became known as the “Divine Ponytail”.
Roberto Baggio was a star for the Viola and Italy, whom he helped finish third in their home World Cup (he scored one of the goals in the tournament against Czechoslovakia).
Just weeks after Juve defeated Fiorentina in a two-legged UEFA Cup final, the fan favorite was forced to leave Florence for Turin in a then-record transfer worth about 10 million euros. As the news of his transfer to Juve emerged, Roberto Baggio came out and said that the transfer was not his preferred choice.
But this did not stop the riots. Up to 50 injuries and 9 arrests were reported as fans took to the streets in protest. Fiorentina owner Flavio Pontello was forced to lock himself in the stadium as fans threw bricks and Molotov cocktails at the club’s headquarters.
When Juve played in Florence in April 1991, Baggio refused to take a penalty against his former club. He left it to teammate Luigi De Agostini – who missed – and Baggio then had to justify himself to the Old Lady fans. Fiorentina fans are still feeling bitter today.
FIFA Most Controversial Transfers Ever #3: Carlos Tevez (Man Utd to Man City)
Few players have worn both the red of Manchester United and the blue of Manchester City. Fewer still have won trophies with both clubs. But Carlos Tevez has straddled both sides of the Manchester divide and has stirred up a lot of controversy in doing so.
A tenacious striker who never stopped running, Carlos Tevez signed for Sir Alex Ferguson’s United from West Ham in 2007. He went on to win a Premier League and Champions League double in 2007-08 and a Premier League and League Cup double in 2008-09. . But his contract expired in the summer of 2009 and after long negotiations with United, the Argentine surprised the soccer world by signing for his club’s bitter rivals.
Famously, Manchester City marked the transfer by erecting a blue “Welcome to Manchester” billboard – featuring Carlos Tevez – at Deansgate, near the city center. Safe to say it didn’t go down well on the red half of the fracas.
But ultimately, the move was a success; the striker sent City back to FA Cup success in 2010-11 and the Premier League title in 2011-12.
FIFA Most Controversial Transfers Ever #2: Sol Campbell (Tottenham to Arsenal)
A local central defender beloved by the club’s fans, Sol Campbell was undoubtedly one of Tottenham’s stars of the mid to late 90s.
Sol Campbell made 255 appearances for the north London club and in 1999 he helped the club win the League Cup. Spurs fans were proud to have one of England’s best players in their ranks, but behind the scenes, Campbell was disappointed with life at White Hart Lane.
He had fallen out with several managers; first Christian Gross, then George Graham. And he was disappointed with the level of support he received from the club after being falsely accused of breaking a steward’s arm in a game against Derby County.
He also harbored ambitions to play Champions League soccer and at that point Spurs were really a mid-table team. When his contract expired at the end of the 2000-01 season, Sol Campbell refused to sign an extension (despite being offered a club record salary). Rumors were that several top European clubs were interested in signing him. But on July 3, 2001, after months of speculation, Sol Campbell joined Spurs’ bitter rivals, Arsenal, on a free transfer.
Tottenham fans were outraged. More than 20 years later, they are still chanting expletives about their former club captain. But the move worked out well for Sol Campbell; he won two Premier League titles and two FA Cups and was part of the “Invincibles” team that went unbeaten throughout the 2003-04 season.
FIFA Most Controversial Transfers Ever #1: Luis Figo (Barcelona to Real Madrid)
No question should dominate this FIFA ranking article. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Luis Figo was one of the best players in the world. After signing for Barcelona from Sporting Lisbon in 1995, the Portuguese became a fan favorite, helping the club win the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1996-97 and forming an outstanding forward line alongside Dutch center forward Patrick Kluivert and Brazilian star Rivaldo.
But in the summer of 2000, Luis Figo did the unthinkable and signed for Barca’s bitter rivals, Real Madrid, for 62 million euros – a world record at the time. It’s safe to say that this decision did not go over well in Catalonia.
When the Real players arrived at the Camp Nou for their first “El Clasico” since his signing, Luis Figo needed an entourage of armed security guards to safely enter the stadium. When the players arrived at the field, the noise was deafening. Banners with words like “Traitor” and “Mercenary” were hung all around the ground and after the game started, a rain of missiles rained down on the field every time Figo received the ball.
The Portuguese then helped Real win the 2000-01 La Liga title and the FIFA World Player of the Year award. This may have fueled the bitterness of Barca fans, because the next time he played at Camp Nou, the reception he received was even more hostile. The referee even had to suspend his pay for 20 minutes because of the volume of missiles (lighters, golf balls, oranges… even bricks) thrown in the direction of Luis Figo from the stands. During the break in the game, photographers captured an iconic image that summed up the rivalry; scattered among the debris on the field was a severed pig’s head.
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