From Ronaldinho to Roy Keane, five of the biggest transfer hijackings in football history

Matt Jones - Editor 08:09 25/07/2018
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Brazilian wonderkid Malcom put pen to paper on a lucrative five-year deal with Barcelona on Tuesday, with the Spanish giants hijacking the move from under the noses of Roma.

The Giallorossi confirmed on Monday that they had reached an agreement with Bordeaux to bring the 21-year-old to the Italian capital for a fee of £34m.

But the Blaugrana, irked by a failed deal to bring in Willian from Chelsea, stepped in and agreed a £37m deal with the Ligue 1 side to bring him to the Camp Nou – with Bordeaux cancelling his flight to the Eternal City.

It was a shock, but then again, was it really? Malcom is the latest in a long line of shocking last minute transfer sagas over the years.

Here we take a look at five of the most headline-grabbing hijackings in football history.

Ronaldinho in Dubai in 2009 during his time with AC Milan

Ronaldinho in Dubai in 2009 during his time with AC Milan.


Manchester United looked close to agreeing a deal for the majestic attacking midfielder in the summer of 2003, but after missing out on David Beckham, who was their first choice but had his heart set on Real Madrid, Barcelona outbid the Red Devils and snapped him up.

The story has always been that United weren’t willing to match the Blaugrana’s €30m bid to Paris Saint-Germain, but the man himself paints a slightly different picture.

“It was a matter of 48 hours,” he said earlier this year when asked how close he was to joining United.

“But Sandro Rosell had told me way before I got the offer: If I become Barca president, will you come? I said yes. It was only a matter of details with United when Rosell called to say he was going to win the elections there. And I had promised him that I’d play for Barca.

“It was a quick negotiation. I told the English I had chosen Barca. It was the right choice. Brazilians have always loved Barca. We have a history there.”

Ronaldinho went on to be one of club’s finest ever players, winning La Liga twice and the Champions League, as well as a Ballon d’Or in 2005, while he was one of a handful of players to earn a standing ovation from Real fans after a virtuoso performance in a 3-0 win at the Bernabeu in 2005.

A rare photo of Roy Keane playing AGAINST Manchester United

A rare photo of Roy Keane playing against Manchester United.


In football, as in life, it’s all in the details. Keane ended up becoming the most integral player in arguably Manchester United’s greatest ever team, all because admin staff at Ewood Park had left on time on a Friday evening.

Manager Kenny Dalglish and Keane had shaken hands on the Irishman joining him at Blackburn at the end of the 1992/93 season.

The Liverpool idol phoned Ewood Park to see if somebody could prepare the contract, but that Friday feeling had captivated them all and they’d gone home for the weekend. The pair shook hands on the deal and Dalglish said they would sort the contract on Monday.

During the course of the weekend, Sir Alex Ferguson had read about the impending deal in the papers and tracked down the 21-year-old to his family’s home in Cork.

Ferguson phoned Keane’s house – his family rabid United fans – and asked whether anything had been signed with Rovers. When Keane said he hadn’t, Ferguson casually suggested they meet for a chat. “From that moment, I was never going to sign for any other club,” said Keane in his first autobiography.

Keane was swayed, and signed on the dotted line for a British record transfer fee of £3.75m deal. He went on to win seven Premier League titles and 17 trophies in total, in 12 years with the club.

Robinho signed for Chelsea in 2008 - I mean Manchester City

Robinho signed for Chelsea in 2008 – I mean Manchester City.


Sentenced to nine years imprisonment last November after being convicted of sexual assault in a Milan nightclub in 2013 is a very different headline from the ones he was making a decade ago.

On September 1, 2008, the final day of the Premier League summer transfer window, Robinho completed a £32.5m move to Manchester City. It was the same day the club was bought out by the Arab investment company Abu Dhabi United Group, and the day everything changed for the blue half of Manchester.

He had been supposed to sign for Chelsea and had even stated his desire to live in London. But nouveau riche City needed a statement signing and quickly turned their attention to hijacking the deal.

A colossal contract offer saw Robinho head north. Upon signing, Robinho told the press: “Chelsea made a great proposal and I accepted.” When prompted by one journalist “You mean Manchester, right?”, Robinho replied “Yeah, Manchester, sorry.”

He scored on his debut, coincidentally a 3-1 defeat to Chelsea, and went on to bag 15 in 41 games. The next season, however, he scored just once in 12 and spent three months on the sidelines.

In January 2010 he returned to Santos on a six-month loan deal and thus began his nomadic journey…eventually to jail.

John Obi Mikel after signing for Chelsea in 2006

John Obi Mikel after signing for Chelsea in 2006.


John Obi Mikel. Or is it Mikel John Obi? What we do know is that the 31-year-old Nigerian was the subject of one of the most bizarre transfers in modern football history – when he signed for both Man United and Chelsea in 2005.

Confusion reigned and ended in a year-long court battle, 12 months in which the player did not kick a ball competitively, with United eventually left very unhappy when he ultimately chose Chelsea.

“We flew to London,” Mikel said in 2017. “I remember thinking: ‘I’ve signed for United but now I’m flying to Chelsea’.”

News in Norway – where Mikel had been playing for Lyn Oslo after impressing both clubs playing for Nigeria at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, thereafter earning trials with United – reported that Mikel had been kidnapped.

The truth was he was holed up in a house in London during the year-long legal battle that ensued.

After competing for Nigeria in the 2006 African Nations Cup in Egypt, Mikel met with then Premier League chief Sir Dave Richards and told him that he wanted to play for Chelsea.

A secret meeting with Jose Mourinho, Blues boss at the time, then took place, involving six cars to get the 18-year-old there. The Portuguese convinced Mikel to join. Mikel met with Ferguson a week later to tell him he wouldn’t be joining the Red Devils.

Alfredo di Stefano in 1956

Alfredo Di Stefano in 1956.


The original transfer hijacking and possibly the biggest in the history of the game.

The story of Di Stefano’s transfer to Real Madrid is a fascinating and complex web of claims, denials, counter-denials and conspiracy theories involving five clubs in three countries.

There are allegations of treachery, a mysteriously ripped-up contract and – possibly – the personal intervention of Spanish dictator, and Real fan, General Franco.

Argentine Di Stefano had been playing in the highly lucrative Colombian league before arriving in Spain.

He had actually retired due to River Plate’s refusal to cancel his contract, but Real’s rivals Barcelona handed him a lifeline, offering him a deal in 1953.

The Catalans spent an eternity trying to strike a deal with Di Stefano’s two previous clubs, and in the midst of it all, Real swooped in.

It is now remembered as one of the most controversial transfers in footballing history, and is still the cause of great debate between the two clubs.

Di Stefano was the last piece in the Real jigsaw, and he inspired them to eight league titles and five consecutive European Cup successes as both club and player forged their legacies.

The signing paved the way for Los Blancos to become the most successful team in the world, and were it not for him, things could have been very different in the Spanish football landscape.

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