Is there anything more tedious than a long, drawn out transfer saga? Well, a VAR debate maybe.
Every summer, football fans are treated to a carnival when the transfer window opens and lurches into full swing. It seems fun at first, with the bright lights and exhilarating rides – like rising young stars being tempted by big clubs and their even more gargantuan wages. That is until you get on board and the ride breaks down or fails to live up to expectations. Just look at how Ousmane Dembele’s career has shuddered to a near standstill at Barcelona.
Either that or the ride’s too fast or faulty and you want to get off as soon as it starts up. But it’s too late, and the hotdog-candyfloss combo scoffed down beforehand all of a sudden feels like a terrible idea. We’re pretty certain Manchester United fans’ appetites will subside when Angel Di Maria is mentioned.
Even if deals for the player your club covets do come off, it is almost always an excruciating process. Personal terms need to be agreed, clubs quibble over fees, seedy agents want their cut. And there’s always the chance of it collapsing for any manner of unknown reasons, at any time.
Transfers can drag on over entire windows. Perhaps even longer. Some sagas last years. Take the future of mercurial Paris Saint-Germain attacker Neymar, who is desired by three of the biggest teams in the world; Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus.
Although Neymar can be immensely frustrating – the histrionics, diving and his off-the-pitch issues – he still remains an amazing talent. Barca are keen to end another summer of speculation involving the Brazilian by bringing him back to the Camp Nou.
But with the transfer window closing on September 2, time is of the essence here. Then again, rapidly is not exactly the velocity at which this saga has moved.
Neymar is by no means the only transfer which has dragged on and on…and on. We’ve picked other switches which seemed to take forever, including another example this year…
ROMELU LUKAKU | Manchester United to Inter Milan, 2019
One of the worst kept secrets of this summer was Romelu Lukaku did not have a future at United. The cumbersome and technically deficient striker is a plunderer of goals for sure – against lesser opposition. But Norwich frontman Teemu Pukki’s early season strikes against Liverpool and Chelsea saw the Finn overtake the big Belgian’s United haul against the top six sides in the Premier League…with two.
Lukaku’s sole strike came against Chelsea but even aside from sterile showings against the elite, he did not fit the energetic, fast-paced, high-pressing and skillful style which boss Ole Gunnar Solksjaer wants to employ. He was left unwanted by United, yet very much desired by Inter boss Antonio Conte who spent all summer swooning the striker at every opportunity.
The move very nearly didn’t happen – despite Lukaku resorting to training with old side Anderlecht and not playing a minute during United’s pre-season. Inter’s initial offers were either too low, or spread too thin and were quickly laughed off by United. Juventus and Paulo Dybala then came into the picture, the Argentine making it clear he did not want to move to Old Trafford.
It took right up until the end of the Serie A transfer window with Lukaku’s position at the club virtually untenable, but Inter secured their man, Conte remarking that he would cost £65 million over five years.
GARETH BALE | Tottenham to Real Madrid, 2013
The striker, turned left-back, come wing wonder was once considered a jinx in his early days at Spurs as the north Londoners failed to register a win in his first 24 appearances. But that all changed when he was pushed further forward in 2010 and surged to prominence with a sublime hat-trick at the San Siro in a 4-3 defeat to Inter in October 2010.
It was his coming out party and he would go on to become the Premier League’s leading light – scoring a stunning 26 goals in 44 overall appearances during 2012/13.
Nobody quite believed that the transfer would go through, especially since Spurs wanted the entire transfer fee in one go and chairman Daniel Levy is one of the toughest men in the business when it comes to negotiations. There was also the small matter that they’d raided White Hart Lane 12 months prior to poach playmaker Luka Modric.
Rumours had been rife that Real were circling halfway through the campaign, but it took them until the final day of the 2013 transfer window – plus a world record fee of €100m – to bring Bale in.
It was the transfer of the season and Bale proved his worth immediately by helping Real win the Champions League in his very first season.
EDEN HAZARD | Lille to Chelsea, 2012
Unlike most transfer sagas, this one played out very publicly and openly with Hazard and Lille both aware he was on his way after a rapid rise.
The Belgian youngster had torn apart defenses in Ligue 1, led Lille to a treble and won the Ligue 1 Player of the Year for two consecutive years by the age of 21.
First linked with United, a few days later he was in the crowd at the Manchester derby. United introduced a new blue away shirt a few days later and Hazard fanned the flames when he said he’d be wearing blue the following year. That kept both Manchester clubs in the picture, along with Chelsea.
The Londoners’ most unlikeliest of victories against Bayern Munich in the 2012 Champions League final changed the whole dynamic and Hazard ended speculation by tweeting in May: “Signing for the champions league winner.”
ROBIN VAN PERSIE | Arsenal to Man United, 2012
Arguably the last great trick played by Ferguson before vacating the Old Trafford hotseat was robbing rivals Arsenal of Robin van Persie.
Well, it was hardly robbery. United parted with £24m to paint Robin a new shade of red. It was hardly a gamble for a proven goalscorer but the Dutchman, 28, was nearing his 30s.
Yet it proved to be another masterstroke from Ferguson – he and Van Persie were a match made in heaven. Murmurings about the striker’s future surfaced a year earlier when he had made his feelings public about a lack of a new contract offer from the Gunners – his deal was expiring in 2013.
Newly-crowned champions Manchester City were thought to be his preferred destination. But Ferguson got his man and upon his unveiling, Van Persie said: “I always listen to the little boy inside of me in these situations. That boy was screaming for Man United.”
A squad starting to show signs of deterioration were carried to a 20th Premier League title by Van Persie’s league-leading 26 goals – including a stunning first-time volley from a sumptuous Wayne Rooney pass as part of a hat-trick in a 3-0 home win over Aston Villa in April that delivered the trophy.
CESC FABREGAS | Arsenal to Barcelona, 2011
Few Gunners begrudged Fabregas a return home in the summer of 2011. The enigmatic midfielder arrived at the Emirates from the Camp Nou as a 16-year-old in 2003 and spent eight years in north London, developing into one of Europe’s finest footballers.
But the call of home – plus a lack of silverware (Fabregas had only an 2005 FA Cup winners’ medal to tangibly show for his time in England) – had been coming for years. It hadn’t helped that the misfiring Gunners finished 11 points behind league champions Chelsea following a summer in which they’d refused to spend.
The fight for Fabregas began when chairman Peter Hill-Wood claimed there was a gentleman’s agreement between the clubs stipulating that no bid would arrive from Barca. The Catalan giants’ then sporting director, Txiki Begiristain, came out and said: “We have never said that we will not try to sign Cesc Fabregas, we’ll see what happens.”
The player cast further doubt on his future when he spoke about his envy at the success that players were enjoying at the Camp Nou with Arsenal going through a mini trophy drought.
Though it was done in jest, Pepe Reina placing a Barcelona shirt on Fabregas in the wake of Spain’s 2010 World Cup triumph didn’t go down well in north London – although it would prove prophetic.
After hierarchy of both clubs, plus Barca players, had done their talking, ultimately it was a chat with manager Arsene Wenger that finally sealed Fabregas’ future.
ASHLEY COLE | Arsenal to Chelsea, 2006
Or ‘Cashley Cole’ as the left-back became known after switching north for west London, having been caught meeting Blues boss Jose Mourinho behind the Gunners’ backs.
Cole and Chelsea were fined, and the outcome of a supposed £55,000 per week deal saw ‘Cashley’ vilified as much in Islington as Sol Campbell (more on him later).
That all happened in January 2005 but it was the summer of 2006 before Cole eventually got his wish.
He had actually won a lot of silverware with the Gunners – two Premier League titles and three FA Cups – but then proceeded to lift five more (four FA Cups and one Premier League) after his switch to Stamford Bridge. He also hoisted the Champions League and Europa League in successive years.
DAVID BECKHAM | Man United to Real Madrid, 2003
Back in 2003, this one ran and ran. Everyone might remember this as coming about because of a flying boot in a dressing room from an enraged Sir Alex Ferguson that cut Beckham above the eye – he was memorably soon seen bedecked by stitches.
But there had long been rumours that Becks wanted to quit United and play abroad – even more clear was that wife Victoria wanted to quit England and the paparazzi the couple constantly attracted.
He’d signed a new three-year contract in May 2002, following months of negotiations with the club, mostly concerning extra payments for his image rights. It made him the highest-paid player in the world at the time.
But during 2002/03 the tension was mounting, despite Beckham playing well, when on the field. An injury led to him losing his place to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Ferguson’s team selections and Posh Spice’s not-so-subtle hints were all jumped on by the media.
United appeared keen to sell him to Barcelona initially and the two clubs even announced they’d reached a deal, but instead he joined the reigning Spanish champions and their ‘Galacticos’ on a four-year contract.
Everyone at Old Trafford kept quiet until the deal went through in June. Real, on the other hand, had been selling Beckham shirts in their official shop since March.
RUUD VAN NISTELROOY | PSV Eindhoven to Man United, 2001
Everyone remembers the excruciating sound of Van Nistelrooy, on video, writing on the floor in agony after landing awkwardly and rupturing knee ligaments in PSV training.
It came the day after the Dutch giants pulled the plug on an £18.5m transfer to Old Trafford after United had postponed a press conference to announce the deal over concerns about the Dutchman’s fitness, having not played for a month due to problems with his knee.
A year later and fully recovered, Van Nistelrooy signed a £19m five-year contract after successfully passing his medical. It was a British record fee at the time.
But according to a 2001 interview with the Telegraph, United boss Ferguson said he’d actually been alerted to Van Nistelrooy’s prowess at Heerenveen during 1997/98, when son Darren while on trial there.
Ferguson junior apparently begged his father: “You’ve got to sign Van Nistelrooy right away, he’s fantastic. We’ve been watching him.”
The seeds had been sown.
SOL CAMPBELL | Tottenham to Arsenal, 2001
The most shocking transfer in English football in the Premier League era? It has to be up there, even approaching two decades later.
Campbell – or as he is now referred to simply by Spurs fans, ‘Judas’ – caused uproar 18 summers ago when he walked away from White Hart Lane and decided to hang his hat at Highbury.
While not the most elongated of transfers, clandestine meetings had taken place with Tottenham’s bitter rivals. On July 3 the press pack, expecting manager Arsene Wenger to unveil the signing of goalkeeper Richard Wright, instead saw him stood side by side with Campbell.
What made the pill even more tough to swallow for the Tottenham faithful was how Arsenal had been able to poach not only the league’s premier defender and Spurs’ skipper, but sign him on a free too.
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