There is much debate over the use of the term 'mercenary' in soccer in recent years. Many believe there are too many players driven only by money as the salaries at the top end of the sport seem to rise every year to astronomical levels. In 2010 former Tottenham defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto admitted to being a mercenary, but claimed he was the only man brave enough to concede it, stating "I don't understand why, when I say I play for the money, people were shocked. Oh, he's a mercenary. Every player is like that."
There is undoubtedly some truth in what he says, and his honesty is somewhat refreshing. It would be brilliant if all players were passionate about the club they played for and felt attached to said team beyond a written contract, but deep down we all know this is no longer the case. Although, whilst almost all players will seek the best possible contract for themselves, there is an added degree of cynicism tied to the label of a 'mercenary'.
Therefore, to make this list of great mercenaries in the sport, it is not enough merely to have perused a lucrative contract for oneself. These individuals either displayed avarice above and beyond the call of duty, showed a complete lack of ambition, gave false impressions of attachment to the clubs they played for or happily auctioned themselves off to the highest bidder with little or no respect for the team who they were under contract with at the time.
10 Vladimir Weiss
Vladimir Weiss was one of the most highly-rated youngsters in the Manchester City academy, and after successful loan spells with Bolton, Rangers and Espanyol, he seemed destined for a bright career in Europe. Given Manchester City's star-studded squad, Weiss struggled to break into the first team and moved to Pescara. Having impressed in the Serie A, he was snapped up by Olympiacos, upon signing he said "I chose Olympiacos because it's a club with great history, they're playing in the Champions League and I know they have crazy fans." If those were his reasons for joining Olympiacos, it begs the question why he departed six months later for Lekhwiya SC of Qatar. Founded in 2009, they are hardly steeped in history, they do play in the Champions League, although the rather less illustrious Asian Champions League and average attendances of around 5,000. Olympiacos fans weren't impressed, they labelled Weiss a mercenary and gave him the nickname 'Wei$$'.
9 Samuel Eto'o
Samuel Eto'o is one of the most decorated footballers of the modern era, having won multiple titles in Spain and Italy, as well as three Champions League trophies. However, his move to Anzhi Makhachkala in 2011 drew criticism from some corners of the football globe. The newly-rich Anzhi were on a spending-spree and Eto'o became their marquee signing when he joined from Inter Milan, being handed a contract worth $24 million a year, after tax, making him the highest paid player in the world at the time. Having never won the Russian Premier League and averaging crowds shy of 10,000, it's not difficult to guess that Eto'o's reasons for joining Anzhi were mostly financially motivated. He stayed at the club two years, earning almost $50 million, leaving in 2013, co-incidentally at the same time that Anzhi's billionaire owner lost interest and left the club.
8 Sven-Goran Eriksson
For almost 25 years Sven was a hard-working and intelligent manager whose reputation continued to grow throughout the game. Beginning his managerial venture back in 1977, he enjoyed particular success with Goteborg, Benfica, Roma, Sampdoria and Lazio, before being handed the England National Team managerial position. The job made Sven the best paid manager in the world at the time, and he has chased the megabucks wherever they have called out to him from ever since. In the seven years since leaving the England National Team, Sven has had nine different jobs. The UEFA Super Cup winner wasn't even above joining fourth division Notts County when a $3 million a year deal was on offer.
Eriksson cemented his position as a mercenary in his latest role, moving to China, first managing Guangzhou and now Shanghai SIPG, currently earning himself $6 million a year, making him the eighth best-paid manager in the world despite almost complete failure over his last 10-15 years.
7 Everton Ribeiro
Everton Ribeiro is not the first man on this list to ply his trade in the Middle East, and he won't be the last. The 26-year-old previously played for Corinthians, Sao Caetano and Cortiba, before his real breakthrough came with Cruzeiro. In 2013, he was awarded the best Brazilian player of the Year and a move to Europe seemed imminent. In January, Manchester United, Monaco and AC Milan all expressed an interest in the pacey winger but Ribeiro wasn't interested. Instead, he saw his future with Al-Ahli. What it is that attracted Ribeiro to the Dubai-based side we may never know, but Brazil manager Dunga was seemingly unimpressed. After the move, he dropped Ribeiro from his squad and he is yet to be re-instated.
6 Pierre van Hooijdonk
Pierre van Hooijdonk should be remembered as a prolific striker who scored goals all around Europe and played in three major tournaments with the Netherlands National Team, instead he is remembered, in Britain at least, for one outrageous quote. Following a break down in contract negotiations, Hooijdonk declared his intentions to leave Celtic, stating "£7,000 a week might be enough for the homeless to live on, but not an international striker." He left Celtic for Nottingham Forest, where he went on strike for 11 games as he didn't feel the rest of the squad was up to standard. Hooijdonk lost $3 million to a scam in 2008, karmic punishment as some will no doubt see it.
5 Fabrizio Ravanelli
Fabrizio Ravanelli loved every club he played for, or so he claimed. He told Middlesbrough fans "All I have for these fans is love. They must understand that," before telling Marseille fans, "I don't want to go back to England. I love Marseille, it is my own little paradise." Weeks later he told the English press "I'd love to go back...I have the love of those fans under my skin." When he joined Derby a year later, he had switched allegiances once again, claiming "I love Derby, I love the city and I love the fans," adding, "Maybe I will play for free?" Ravanelli never did play for free, as it happens, and two years later he was off again, this time to Dundee, where he told the Scottish media, "I love the style of football in Scotland, and I love Scotland." Ravanelli only played five times for Dundee and completed the farce by signing for Perugia, stating "I love Perugia, it's where my heart is." Well, Ravanelli certainly had a lot of love to share around and we're not sure he was always telling the truth.
4 Winston Bogarde
The man who continues to divide opinion, over 10 years after his retirement. Bogarde played for Ajax, AC Milan and Barcelona before joining Chelsea as a 30-year-old in 2000 on a four-year deal worth around $80,000 a week. Weeks after joining, Chelsea had a new manager and Bogarde was seen as surplus to requirements, but the Dutchman refused to leave, claiming he could not get a similar contract from any other club. The decision made Bogarde hugely controversial, he played nine games in four years, all coming in his first season at the club. For three seasons he trained only with the reserves and didn't play a single game. Bogarde left the club in 2004, hated, but almost $17 million richer. He told the press, "This world is about money, so when you're offered those millions you take them."
3 Asamoah Gyan
In 2010, Asamoah Gyan was one of the most liked figures in the world of soccer. Fresh off the back of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Ghana were seen as the heroes despite being defeated by Uruguay, and Gyan was the figurehead of the side at the tournament. Following the World Cup he joined Sunderland, but despite impressing, he left just a year later. Gyan moved to Al-Ain of the United Arab Emirates. The transfer saw Gyan quadruple his salary overnight, to roughly $9 million a year, he has since received a further improved contract. Gyan scored 51 goals in 184 games during his time in Europe, and has scored 113 goals in 104 games in the UAE, some indication of the quality of football he has chosen.
Blasphemy, it may seem. Ronaldo is one of the finest players to ever play the game but those at Inter Milan may never forgive him for the way he left the club for Real Madrid in 2002. The Brazilian had been injured for a staggering 33 months, whilst the medics at Inter had worked around the clock to see him back to full-fitness as soon as possible. Ronaldo continued to pick up his $150,000 a week salary throughout this time before returning for the 2002 World Cup. When questioned, Ronaldo and his agent denied links with Real Madrid all summer, but 22 days later, he signed for the Spanish giants. Inter president, Massimo Moratti, was stunned, declaring, "This is the last outrage in a football world devoid of moral values. He arrived like a king. He leaves like a thief."
1 Dario Conca
In the top spot is a man you may well have never heard of. Yet Dario Conca became the third best paid player in the world in 2011, behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The Argentine playmaker rose to prominence with Fluminese where he was voted the best player in Brazil's Serie A for both 2009 and 2010 and a move to one of Europe's big boys looked likely. Instead, Conca signed for Guangzhou Evergrande, where he was given a contract worth $12.5 million a year. Despite being such a marquee signing for the club, it was not all smooth sailing for Conca, who was often left out of the side and found himself increasingly frustrated. In January 2014 he left China, returning to Brazil and Fluminese. However, the drama did not end there. In January of this year, he returned to China, signed by Shanghai SIPG, where he is likely so have been handed a lucrative deal once more.
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