Thomas Vermaelen to Barcelona and 11 Strangest Buys in History
Thomas Vermaelen's summer move from Arsenal to Barcelona came straight out of left field, and as his injury situation drags on, Barca's decision to bring the defender to Camp Nou looks increasingly strange.
Odd transfers are nothing new in football; we've seen plenty of them over the years—be they signings of already-injured players, those with absurd transfer fees, big names going to much smaller sides or players you've never heard of suddenly pitching up at top-level clubs.
Over the following slides we begin by taking a closer look at Vermaelen's move to La Liga and then bring you 10 more of the most bizarre transfer moves (including loans) of all time, counting down to No. 1 which—we think you'll agree—takes some beating.
Totally subjective, this is not a definitive list. Feel free to add your own suggestions below!
11. Thomas Vermaelen, Arsenal to Barcelona
When Thomas Vermaelen put pen to paper with Barcelona over the summer for a fee of £15 million, it seemed a little unusual.
The Catalan side were on the lookout for a centre-back to address the defensive issues that have needed attention for some time, yet the former Arsenal captain had started just seven Premier League games in 2013/14. He also came with a history of injuries (see full list at Physioroom.com) that makes for lengthy reading.
Upon his arrival, the Belgian told Barcelona's official club website:
I want to put the injuries I’ve had behind me and look to the future. My aim is to play in lots of games and help the team. Last year was tough, but I want to start from zero and I am sure I'll have a fantastic season here at Barca.
Just two days later, it was announced the 29-year-old was injured again, despite having passed a medical. A statement on the club site (h/t Liam Prenderville in the Mirror), read:
The first-team player Thomas Vermaelen has a thigh injury in his right leg that he sustained in June at the World Cup. The player will undergo physiotherapy. His return to regular training action depends on the evolution of the injury.
Vermaelen has since gone under the knife for an operation on his thigh and is yet to play for Luis Enrique's side in a competitive game.
Barcelona's sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta has since said (h/t Neil McLeman in the Mirror), "We knew he would arrive injured, so we had a conservative process in place for him."
10. Jay Bothroyd, Coventry City to Perugia
A touchline tantrum saw Jay Bothroyd released by Arsenal's youth setup in 2000, with the club's head of youth development Liam Brady telling BBC Sport, "We will not tolerate this behaviour. He is not wanted..."
The striker was soon signed by Coventry City, for whom he scored 14 goals in 72 appearances. Never a crowd favourite at Highfield Road, Bothroyd was allowed to leave the club when his contract ran down.
It came as somewhat of a surprise when Italian side Perugia snapped him up on a free transfer in the summer of 2003.
Bothroyd stepped up from what was then known as Nationwide Division One to Serie A—the only Englishman in the division at that time. "The standard here is more than a step up, it's a big leap," Bothroyd told BBC Sport.
Perhaps stranger still—as seen on BBC News—Perugia also signed Saadi Gaddafi, Colonel Gaddafi's son, that summer...
9. Kim Kallstrom, Loan Move from Spartak Moscow to Arsenal
When a player arrives for a medical complaining of back pain, it might be a good idea to proceed with caution.
That wasn't the case for Arsenal last season who, desperate for reinforcements in central midfield, signed a patently unfit Kim Kallstrom on loan from Spartak Moscow.
As reported by Elliott Bretland in the Daily Mail at the time, "Arsenal have been dealt a blow with the news Kim Kallstrom is set for a spell on the sidelines—just a day after signing him on transfer deadline day."
The Swede was out of action for the Gunners' next seven games, before getting an 11-minute run out against Swansea City on March 25. Over the following months, Kallstrom made a further two league appearances and, by the time the season came to an end, he clocked up a total of just 130 minutes of top-flight football.
In the FA Cup, the 32-year-old did score a spot-kick in Arsenal's semi-final penalty shootout win against Wigan Athletic—his only real contribution to the Gunners' campaign.
8. Andy Carroll, Newcastle United to Liverpool
The striker scored 11 goals in 19 Premier League games for the Magpies prior to his move to Anfield, and the season before put away 17 strikes in the Championship.
Carroll was on form but the £35 million the Reds paid was way over the odds for a player with limited top-flight experience.
Upon hearing about Carroll's move, former Newcastle and England striker Alan Shearer told BBC Sport:
I'm staggered just like the rest of Newcastle fans. It's an incredible amount of money, you have to say that, for a guy who's scored—what is it?—14 goals and had half a season in the Premier League, albeit having done very well and the potential is there.
He's a very young guy, he's been in trouble once or twice before and that would be the major concern.
Carroll ended up making 58 appearances for Liverpool (in all competitions), scoring just 11 goals.
Shipped out on loan to West Ham in summer 2012, the former Magpie joined the Hammers permanently in 2013 for a comparatively cheap £15 million.
7. Sol Campbell, Portsmouth to Notts County
It was a huge coup for the League Two outfit.
The former Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and England international penned a five-year deal with County, where he was to link up with ex-England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, who was director of football at Meadow Lane. Campbell was quoted in the Express, as saying:
I know this will probably mean the end of my England career, but that is something I have to get on with. There was a chance of England if I had gone to a Premier League side and had a good season but I have to look to the long-term future.
When Sven first contacted me I thought I was the victim of a prank, but the length of contract at Notts County was a big trade-off. The other stuff was short and prestigious, but I am looking to the future and for my career.
One month later, after appearing in just one game for his new side, Campbell walked out and his contract was ended by mutual consent. The defender cited "broken promises" as his reason for leaving the club in the News of the World (h/t ESPN).
In January 2010, Campbell re-signed with Arsenal.
6. Danny Dichio, Queens Park Rangers to Sampdoria
Perhaps it was the Italian name that first alerted Sampdoria to the availability of Daniele "Danny" Salvatore Dichio in 1996.
Allowed to leave Queens Park Rangers on a free transfer at the end of the 1996/97 season—a campaign in which the Hoops finished ninth in the Championship—Dichio found himself bidding goodbye to England's second tier to join up with Samp in Serie A.
In and out of the team at Loftus Road, Dichio went from playing with Nigel Quashie, Andy Impey and Gavin Peacock to training with the likes of Jurgen Klinsmann, Juan Sebastian Veron and Vincenzo Montella.
The striker failed to get a place in the Genoa side's starting XI, yet made four appearances in Serie A for Lecce, during a loan spell at Stadio Via del Mare.
Eighteen months after putting pen to paper with Cesar Luis Menotti's side, Dichio was sold to Sunderland for £968,000.
5. Bebe, Vitoria De Guimaraes to Manchester United
When Manchester United signed Tiago Manuel Dias Correia or "Bebe" in 2010, it had all the hallmarks of a classic rags to riches fairytale.
The then-20-year-old had an incredible story—he had been raised in an orphanage and spent parts of his childhood on the streets before finding football, playing for Estrela da Amadora in the third tier of the Portuguese leagues before being signed by Vitoria de Guimaraes.
A total newcomer, Bebe's £7.4 million move to Old Trafford came as a huge surprise just weeks after he'd joined Os Vimaranenses for only £44,000. The move appeared more curious still when it was revealed former manager Sir Alex Ferguson had never seen the young winger play, meeting him the day before he signed for the club, as reported by Daniel Taylor in the Guardian.
In total, Bebe made just seven appearances for United, before being shipped out on a series of loans to Besiktas, Rio Ave and Pacos Ferreira. The 24-year-old signed for Benfica on a permanent deal in summer 2014.
Bebe gave a damning indictment of the time he spent at Old Trafford, when he later spoke about his relationship with Ferguson (per Paul Campbell in the Guardian), "He told me to cut my hair, it will look better. So I cut it the same day. In the next training session, he didn't recognise me. I went past him many times and he didn't know me."
4. Julien Faubert, Loan Move from West Ham to Real Madrid
Los Blancos paid £1.5 million to take the Frenchman to the Bernabeu and, considering Faubert had struggled to nail down a place at Upton Park, it was a move that caused much head scratching in East London.
"Hammers flop Faubert in loan switch to giants Real Madrid," said a Daily Mail headline.
Faubert went on to make just two appearances in his time with Madrid, coming on twice as a substitute for Arjen Robben. As reported on ESPNFC.com, the former France international missed a training session when he thought he had the day off and was famously captured on film, appearing to fall asleep while watching the Spanish side in action from the bench.
Needless to say, when June arrived Faubert was allowed to return to West Ham.
3. Tyrone Mears, Loan Move from Derby County to Marseille
The defender featured for the Rams in the Premier League during the 2007/08 season, in which he impressed up to an extent—Derby winning just one game all term and recording a record points low in the English top flight.
Working out exactly why Marseille were interested is the first part of the story. Finding out exactly how Mears got himself on trial at the French side, well...that's where things get really strange.
It soon emerged Mears had flown to France for a trial with Eric Gerets' side against the wishes of his employers at Pride Park, and as the Guardian's Davies reported:
The story gained a bizarre twist when it was also reported this morning that Mears had had to climb through a window and crawl past manager Paul Jewell's office at Derby's training ground to collect his boots before sneaking away to meet Marseille officials.
After seven appearances, L'OM decided that Mears' loan move would not be made permanent. Cue a return to England where a move to Burnley soon followed.
2. Ronnie O'Brien, Middlesbrough to Juventus
On February 12, 1999, Irish midfielder Ronnie O'Brien was released by Middlesbrough after spending two years with the reserves at the Riverside Stadium.
Any disappointment the then-20-year-old was feeling soon evaporated when, on March 1, he signed a five-year deal with Juventus.
Upon hearing the news, former Boro manager Bryan Robson told the press (h/t Michael Walker in the Guardian), "Ronnie's not good enough but I wish him well. If kids are good enough I like them."
"If I'd been promised a chance I would have stayed at Middlesbrough," O'Brien was quoted in the Guardian as saying. "But I've signed for a club Bryan Robson never signed for and hopefully I can prove him wrong. Even if I don't, I'll take the picture from the team photo call, get it signed and frame it. That'll do me. Not many have that."
As it turned out, O'Brien never got the nod to play for the Italian giants' first team, instead going on loan to a series of clubs, including; AC Lugano, Crotone, Lecco and Dundee United, before signing for Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas) in 2002.
Now retired, O'Brien also represented Toronto FC and the San Jose Earthquakes before hanging up his boots.
1. Ali Dia, Blyth Spartans to Southampton
Ali Dia's arrival at Southampton in 1996 is up there as the strangest—and perhaps worst—buy of all time.
It all started when Saints manager Graeme Souness received a phone call from someone pretending to be former Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and FIFA World Player of the Year, George Weah—who wanted Souness to take his "cousin" on trial at The Dell.
Dia, it seemed, was a Senagalese international and had played for Paris Saint-Germain. Why not give him a go? If only it were true.
Signed on a one-month deal, Dia made one performance for the Saints, after being subbed on for club hero Matt Le Tissier in a Premier League game against Leeds United. It swiftly became apparent the 30-year-old could not play at all and, as Le Tissier later told the Guardian:
His performance was almost comical. He kind of took my place, but he didn't really have a position. He was just wondering everywhere. I don't think he realised what position he was supposed to be in. I don't even know if he spoke English - I don't think I ever said a word to him. In the end he got himself subbed because he was that bad.
The mood was pretty sombre in the dressing-room afterwards, so we didn't really discuss him then. I think on Monday morning it was probably more of a topic. By then he was gone, never to be seen again. Apparently he came in for treatment on the Sunday morning, according to the physio. He was told to report again on Monday, and he just did a runner. I don't think he paid for his hotel bill or anything.
Then it came out that he'd been recommended by someone pretending to be George Weah. It was all a bit embarrassing, and it became a taboo subject with the manager. He had been made to look very, very silly.