Football’s unlikeliest transfers


Following Ramires’ surprising move to China, here are a few other outlandish transfers from over the years…

Julien Faubert  – West Ham to Real Madrid

You know something is unexpected when reportage of it is prefaced with the sentence: “This isn’t an April Fools”. To anyone who watched Julien Faubert haplessly blunder up and down West Ham’s right side, his loan move to Real Madrid in January 2009 was an unexpected development to say the least. Faubert had endured a terrible time at Upton Park. A serious achilles injury in pre-season delayed his debut by seven months. Hammers fans awaited his return with great anticipation. This was after all a French international; the first man to don the number 10 jersey since Zizou’s retirement no less. But in a claret and blue shirt, he couldn’t do anything right; running when he should have passed, passing when he should have run and ballooning crosses into the stands. Predictably enough, his spell at Madrid was disastrous and brief. His most notable achievement was being pictured asleep on the bench during a game against Villarreal. To get a sense of just how surprising this transfer was, you need only watch Phil Thompson’s face and Paul Merson’s reaction upon hearing the news.


Ronnie O’Brien – unattached to Juventus 1999

Teeside to Turin isn’t the exactly the most well trodden path in football, but it’s the one that Irishman Ronnie O’Brien took when signing with the Old Lady in 1999. Recently released by Middlesbrough, O’Brien was pondering his next career move when the call from Italy came. If stories are to be believed, it all came about via a recommendation from that man again Paul Merson. Merson’s agent worked with Juve and on the strength of a video of a Boro reserve match, the deal was made. At what must have been quite a daunting time for the young man, his former manager Bryan Robson had some encouraging words to send him off on his adventure “Ronnie O’Brien is not good enough. People jump to the ceiling because he has gone to Juventus but he hasn’t done anything yet”. Although Robson’s managerial judgement wasn’t always the soundest, he called this one right. O’Brien departed Juventus having made only a few appearances in the Intertoto Cup and went on to eke out a decent career in the MLS. In a strange postscript to the story, O’Brien’s move prompted a campaign in Ireland to have him voted Time Magazine’s person of the century. Before a late rule change banned ‘whimsical candidates’ he was briefly polling alongside Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi. Still, by naming his son Zinedean (sic) he’ll always have something to remember his stint in Turin by.

Faustino Asprilla – unattached to Darlington (almost)

Although this transfer never actually came to fruition it certainly warrants inclusion. George Reynolds, Darlington’s colourful chairman, thought he had pulled off a masterstroke when he somehow convinced former Newcastle striker Tino Asprilla to sign for the third division side in 2002. Ignoring the fact that Asprilla’s career was in freefall, Darlington offered him 17k a week plus 20% of gate receipts as well as a car and a rent-free flat as a sweetener, a questionable business decision that would no doubt have done wonders for team morale. So confident was Reynolds’ of sealing the deal that Asprilla was paraded in front of the Darlington faithful before a home game against Carlisle. They had even gone to the trouble of securing a work permit for him on appeal. Little did he know the Colombian playboy was getting cold feet. Expected at the club for his medical, Asprilla had other ideas, choosing to take a taxi to Newcastle airport in the middle of the night for a flight to the Middle East. Reynolds didn’t take the news well, “We’re friends, myself and Faustino. I wined and dined him…I’ll never ever talk to him again”. Asprilla was last heard of launching his own ‘Tino’ line of flavoured condoms in Colombia – “I’ll recommend the guava flavour”. As for Reynolds, after running Darlington into the ground, he was imprisoned for 3 years for tax evasion in 2005.

Denilson – Sao Paolo to Real Betis

In the days before he’d been rumbled as a one trick showpony, Denilson was briefly the hottest property in world football – ‘look how many stepovers he can do!’ Following the 98 World Cup he had his pick of Europe’s premier clubs: Madrid, Milan, Barcelona, Man Utd, Betis. Sorry, what was that last one? Real Betis, Seville’s second club, pulled off a coup and broke the world transfer fee record, paying £21.5 million to secure his services from Sao Paolo in 1999. A lack of ambition on the part of the Brazilian or an admirable commitment to a club that was willing to invest so much in him? Perhaps he just knew his station. Eight years and 186 inconsistent games later, Denilson departed Betis, ending his playing days as a nomad with spells in Saudi Arabia, the US, Vietnam and Greece. At just 31 he was rejected by Gary Megson after a week’s trial with Bolton Wanderers.