The term 'hijacking' in relation to a football transfer is certainly a modern one, but the practice itself is not. Since the dawn of the game teams have done everything in their power to get the player they want, and that can sometimes lead to things getting a bit nasty. For those who aren't aware of the phrase, it simply means when a player is on the verge of joining one team before another swoops in at the last minute to hijack the deal.
Although it has been a long-time practice, it has become particularly common in recent years. Many of the most famous cases came at Manchester United under Alex Ferguson, with the Scot often emerging on both the winning and losing side of such deals. Some consider such deals to be worthy of moral condemnation; being somewhat dirty, underhanded or Machiavellian, while others see it as just another act of the transfer window circus which ought to be taken as part and parcel of the modern game.
In recent times, it is common to see a number of high-profile transfer hijacking's most transfer windows, and as such, narrowing a list down to just 15 cases involves some discretion on the part of the author. Those included, and the order in which they are presented, has been decided using criteria such as the implications of the deal, the controversy of it and the circumstances which surrounded it. Here are the top 15 hijacked transfers.
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15 Michael Laudrup
Former Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Ajax star Michael Laudrup played for some of the biggest clubs in world football, but Liverpool came incredibly close to being named among those clubs. Having made a real impression in the Serie A in his early 20s, Laudrup had even gone as far as shaking hands upon a three-year deal at Anfield. But just as the Dane was about to sign on the dotted line, Liverpool insisted on adding another 12 months. Laudrup refused and Juventus swooped in to sign the midfielder. He went on to win the Serie A, La Liga, European Cup and more in an exceptional career.
14 Chelsea Signings
You could form a list of 15 hijacked transfers including only Chelsea without a great deal of effort, and as such, they have had to have been compacted into one entry. Willian, Mohammed Salah, John Obi Mikel and Pedro are just some recent examples of the Blues hijacked transfers, with Spurs, Liverpool and Manchester United being the three clubs who looked destined to sign the aforementioned trio. The most notable though, is probably Arjen Robben, who made a last-minute decision in 2004 to turn down Manchester United in favor of joining Chelsea, where he spent three years.
13 Faustino Asprilla
A controversial but undoubtedly talented individual, Faustino or simply 'Tino' Asprilla was an eccentric Colombian renowned for scoring exceptional goals and having a slightly temperamental attitude. In Europe, he played for the likes of Parma and Newcastle United, as well as some of the biggest clubs in South America. Asprilla almost made a very different kind of transfer in 2002 though, when he was paraded around the ground at Darlington having agreed to join the club. However, the terms of the deal were never set in stone, and sensing all was not right, Asprilla joined Colombian side Atletico Nacional instead.
12 Herbert Burgess
Proving that hijacked deals are most assuredly not merely a modern issue, Herbert Burgess was not the first hijacked deal, but probably the first high-profile case. An England international who won four caps for his country, Burgess was one of 17 Man City players put up for sale after they were banned from playing for the club having received illegal payments. Man City held an auction to sell their 17 players, but before the auction took place, Manchester United snapped up the Sky Blues three most valuable assets; Herbt Burgess, Sandy Turnball and Jimmy Bannister before the competition had even had chance to bid.
11 Park Chu-Young
The one-time poster boy of South Korean football, Park Chu-Young had agreed to move from Monaco to Lille in 2011. The fee and wages were agreed and Chu-Young arrived at his hotel in Lille ready to agree to terms. When officials went to see the player though he had mysteriously disappeared. As it turned out, Chu-Young was on the Eurostar travelling to London as Arsenal had promised to better the terms offered to him by Lille. He joined the Gunners, where he spent three years but played only seven games.
10 Paul Gascoigne
In 1988, having just broken onto the scene in England with Newcastle United and having made his debut for the national team, Gazza was hot property, and widely regarded as the most exciting prospect in the country. Both Manchester United and Tottenham were chasing the young Geordie but it was the North Londoners he joined. Gazza won only the FA Cup at Spurs, and as we all know, went off the rails throughout his career. Both Ferguson and Gascoigne have admitted great regret that the move never happened with regards to just what could have been.
9 Mo Johnston
Few transfers have caused as much ill-feeling, anger and resentment as that of Scottish striker Mo Johnston's move to Rangers in 1989. Although Johnstone wasn't the first Catholic to play for Rangers, he was certainly the most openly Catholic and the most high-profile. Having made himself a Celtic hero in the mid 80s, Johnston said he would return to the club in 1989, even going as far as to say he wouldn't play for any other British club in his lifetime. At the eleventh hour he rejected Celtic in favor of their bitterest of rivals Rangers though, making him only the second post-war player to play for both clubs.
8 Dave Mackay
Brian Clough was one of the first men to be truly inventive in the transfer market, using some weird and wonderful methods to get his intended targets. The most high-profile of these was Dave Mackay. Having won league, cup and European titles with Tottenham, Mackay had accepted a job offer to become assistant manager at his boyhood club Hearts. When Clough travelled to London to ask Mackay to join Second Division Derby, Mackay said there was "no chance." Clough waved a tidy sign-on-fee in front of Mackay though and he made a shock move to the club, where Clough played him as a sweeper, and later described him as his greatest ever signing.
At one time the hottest prospect in world football, Robinho was still highly sought after in 2008. Chelsea had been trailing the Brazilian for some time, with Robinho stating his desire to live in London and Real giving him permission to fly over for contract talks. Oil-rich Man City needed a marquee signing in their first transfer window since the new owners had arrived, and quickly turned their attention to hijacking the deal.
A colossal contract offer saw Robinho sign. Upon signing, Robinho told the press, "Chelsea made a great proposal and I accepted." When prompted, "You mean Manchester, right?", Robinho replied, "Yeah, Manchester, sorry!".
6 Emmanuel Petit
A World Cup, European Championships, Premier League and Ligue 1 winner, it's fair to say Emmanuel Petit had quite a successful career. After nine years in Monaco, in 1997, Petit decided to leave the club. Tottenham were the first club to state their intentions to sign the Frenchman, and he had been in extensive talks with the club. While in North London, Petit opened talks with Arsenal as well. It soon became clear who his club of choice was, and Petit travelled to Highbury to sign for Arsenal in a taxi actually paid for by Spurs. He signed for $5 million and won the Premier League, FA Cup and two Charity Shields in three years with the Gunners.
Between 2002 and 2007, Ronaldinho was arguably the best player in the world, and certainly the most entertaining. After just two seasons with PSG, the young Brazilian was turning heads, and Europe's big boys had their cheque books ready. Manchester United looked close to agreeing a deal for the majestic attacking midfielder, but after missing out on David Beckham, Barcelona outbid them and snapped him up. 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 for his personal efforts in 2005.
4 Ian Storey-Moore
In 1972, a 27-year-old Ian Storey-Moore had spent a decade at Nottingham Forest, scoring 105 goals in 236 games. After 10 years at Forest, Storey-Moore agreed to join rivals Derby County, with Clough once again appearing to have worked his magic. With the fee agreed, Storey-Moore was paraded around the ground and was introduced by Brian Clough. Storey-Moore commented, "I've joined a great club," and when questioned on reports regarding Manchester United he dismissed them and re-emphasized his original point, saying "I don’t know anything about it. All I know is I’ve joined a great club."
A week later it turned out he'd signed for Manchester United. Today, the choice between the two clubs would seem a no-brainer, but Storey-Moore's decision turned out to be a poor one. Derby went on to win the title that season while Storey-Moore effectively retired two years later following Manchester United's relegation, although he did play 14 games for the Chicago Sting a year later.
3 David Beckham
The transfer of David Beckham from Manchester United to Real Madrid was not just a hijacking in of itself, it also led to Barcelona hijacking Manchester United's move for Ronaldinho. Becks' relationship with Sir Alex had become strained and he seemed destined to leave the club in the summer of 2003. Both Manchester United and Barcelona told the press that they had reached an agreement regarding the England international, but Real made a late attempt to make Beckham the latest addition to their galácticos.
It was a bitter pill for Barca to swallow, although they arguably got the better deal later on, landing Ronaldinho. Beckham went on to spend four years at Real, which was surprisingly unsuccessful, yielding only one La Liga and one Spanish Cup title. Rather less impressive than the six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and Champions League he won with Manchester United.
2 Roy Keane
Free-spending Blackburn Rovers had begun their pursuit of Roy Keane in 1992, with Kenny Dalglish, much to the annoyance of Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough. When Forest were relegated though, it appeared a certainty the Irishman would leave the club, given that he was one of the hottest prospects in the country. Given their long-time interest, Blackburn emerged as clear favorites, and in the summer of 1993, they agreed to terms with the combative midfielder. The deal was set to go through on the Friday, but a mix-up regarding the paper work caused a delay.
A verbal agreement was made with the written terms rescheduled for the following Monday. Hearing of this delay, Sir Alex Ferguson called Keane and asked if he would be interested in joining Manchester United. Keane said, although tempted, he had given Forest his word. After being persuaded to travel to Old Trafford, Keane was swayed, and signed on the dotted line for a British record transfer fee on the Saturday. He went on to win seven Premier League titles and 17 trophies in total, in 12 years with the club, eight of which he served as captain.
1 Alfredo di Stefano
The greatest transfer hijacking in the history of the game is another including Barcelona and Real Madrid, but the transfer of Alfredo di Stefano makes that of David Beckham's pale in comparison. Probably the greatest player in the world and one of the most complete footballers the sport has ever seen, Di Stefano had been playing in the highly lucrative Colombian league before arriving in Spain. Di Stefano had actually retired due to River Plate's refusal to cancel his contract, but Barcelona handed him a lifeline, offering him a deal in 1953. Barcelona spent seemingly an eternity trying to strike a deal with Di Stefano's two previous clubs and in the midst of it all, Real Madrid swooped in.
It was probably the most controversial transfer in footballing history, and is still the cause of great debate between the two clubs today. Di Stefano was the last piece in the Real jigsaw, and he inspired them to eight league titles and five consecutive European Cup successes. The signing of Di Stefano essentially made Real the most successful team in the world, and were it not for him, things could have been very different in terms of Spanish football.
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