50 Big Game-Changing Transfers in the History of Football

Lindsay EanetCorrespondent IOctober 7, 2011

50 Big Game-Changing Transfers in the History of Football

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    For all the hype and anticipation of the transfer deadline windows, so few transfers—even the big-money ones—end up making some serious consequential impacts.

    Here are 50 key transfers in the history of world football and an explanation of the impacts they had. And with the long history and high volume of the transfer rate these days, there's a chance we may have forgotten a few, so please tell us in the comments if we did.

48. Samuel Eto'o to Anzhi Makhachkala

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    The Deal: Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto'o signs a three-year deal with cash-flush Russian Premier League side Anzhi Makhachkala for roughly $29 million per season atop his $38.9 million transfer fee at the beginning of the 2011-12 season. 

    The Impact: First of all, it made Eto'o the highest-salaried athlete in the world, eclipsing the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Alex Rodriguez. But although the long-term impact of the deal is still too early see, the instant impact it had on Anzhi's profile is remarkable. By signing on Eto'o and a few other high-profile players, including Brazilian great Roberto Carlos, now the team's captain and Anzhi, a team which finished near the bottom of the Russian Premier League, raised its profile exponentially.

    With billionaire owner Suleyman Kerimov constantly expressing his desire to make more big-money transfers—Nemanja Vidic's name has been thrown around, as have Frank Lampard's and Steven Gerrard's—a club which most of the sporting world outside Russia would not likely normally discuss has constantly appeared in the headlines. 

47. David Beckham to the L.A. Galaxy

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    The Deal: In 2007, David Beckham moved from Real Madrid to the Los Angeles Galaxy for a reported $250 million in total potential earnings over a five-year deal.

    The Impact: It was the move that branded David Beckham as the next Pelé, the move that would breathe new life into the MLS and bring in legions of fans. 

    Except that it didn't. While the move meant megabucks for the Galaxy and for Beckham in terms of advertising deals, the player himself did more to sell the club than to actually deliver on the pitch. Since joining the Galaxy, Beckham has actually done more to alienate—and in some cases infuriate—Galaxy fans than excite them, thanks to a pair of loan spells to AC Milan.

    What Beckham's transfer did was highlight the changes in the world of American soccer since the '70s and the ramifications for bringing in a foreign marquee player.

    The MLS is far more organized, logistically sound and has a much stronger following than the American soccer of Pelé's day, and they've been bringing in foreign players (Thierry Henry! Freddie Ljungberg! Robbie Keane!) for a while now.

    Although Beckham's arrival likely sparked the arrival of more international additions, it wasn't the mega-hit with the fans the MLS were probably hoping for.

46. Damien Duff to Chelsea

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    The Deal: After a series of bids, Chelsea brought Damien Duff over from Blackburn Rovers in 2003 for a fee of £17 million.

    The Impact: Earlier that year, billionaire Russian businessman Roman Abramovich took over the companies which own Chelsea F.C. Duff was one of his first multimillion-pound signings, and for a player who had yet to spend time with a top-tier side, the transfer fee was seen as astronomical.

    Duff fared fairly well at Stamford Bridge, helping them get to back-to-back Premier League title wins and a winning goal in the Football League Cup. He was also praised for his versatility, but the implications were perhaps greater for Chelsea's ownership, as the decision helped assert Abramovich's position in the world of football.

45. Jürgen Klinsmann to Tottenham Hotspur

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    The Deal: In a rather surprising move in the summer of 1994, the German international moved from AS Monaco to Tottenham Hotspur for a fee of £2 million. 

    The Impact: Klinsmann's time at Spurs was rather short-lived and there have certainly been players who have outranked him in terms of achievement, significance and investment return on transfers. But few players have become such an instant hit with the fans after they were so critical of him.

    Klinsmann was initially a controversial choice for Spurs and not a particularly well-liked figure due to his reputation as a diver and his being part of the German squad that knocked England out of the 1990 World Cup. But Klinsmann's self-deprecating humor (he celebrated his first goal for Spurs by mocking himself and diving across the pitch), wacky goal celebrations and his assertive, strong presence on the pitch, endeared him to an English crowd surprisingly quickly, and he retains cult status at White Hart Lane.

44. Kevin Keegan to Southampton

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    The Deal: In 1980, toward the end of his career, Kevin Keegan orchestrated a £500,000 transfer from Hamburger SV to Southampton. 

    The Impact: Lawrie McMenemy called the arrival of Keegan, previously a star at Liverpool and a captain of the England national team, the steal of the century. And Keegan proved him right: Alongside the likes of Alan Ball and Mick Channon, Keegan excited fans at the Dell for two seasons and played some of the best football of his career.

    In the 1980-1981 season, he helped lead the Saints to a sixth-place finish, at the time their highest in First Division history. The following season, he scored roughly a third of the team's goals and at the top of his game, drove Southampton to the top of the table and helped them finish seventh at the end of the season.

    With an impressive goal tally and a rising fan base to match, Keegan proved that even after one has moved to a middling club after a decade of top-tier football in the Premiership and the Bundesliga, you can still make some serious strides in your career.

43. Deco to FC Porto

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    The Deal: Portuguese attacker Deco moved from Salgueiros to F.C. Porto in 1999. 

    The Impact: Although he had a tendency to cause controversy on the pitch, with 17 yellow cards and a red card in a single season, Deco, under the direction of José Mourinho, led FC Porto to a highly successful streak the early '00s. He was also instrumental in their consecutive Europa League and Champions League victories in 2003 and 2004, respectively. He scored in the Champions League final and netted the most assists in the competition.

    Deco went on to win the Champions League one more time with F.C. Barcelona in 2006.

42. Giuseppe Savoldi and Trevor Francis (tie)

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    The Deal(s): In 1975, Giuseppe Savoldi transferred from Bologna to SSC Napoli for a fee of £1.2 million, while in 1979, Trevor Francis became the £1 million English player when he moved from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest. 

    The Impact: Both were million-pound men: Savoldi's transfer was the first, but Francis' had more mythology around it, like the story that manager Brian Clough actually made the transfer at £999,999, so the distinction of being the 'million-pound man' wouldn't go to his head. It didn't have to.

    Both players had decent careers at their big-transfer clubs: Savoldi scored more than 50 goals for Napoli, although he could not match the impressive achievements he had gained while at Bologna.

    Trevor Francis never quite lived up to expectations at Forest, but he did score an iconic, match-winning goal in the 1979 European Cup final, a stunner of a header which earned him a photograph on display at Forest's ground.

    Although Savoldi is the actual historical marker with the title, Francis earns a place on this list because of how much emphasis was placed on his transfer fee in the British press and still in footballing history. Even now, more than 30 years later, he's still referred to in the media as the "million-pound man," and remains one of the clearest instances of the cash on a player's head defining his career. 

41. Justin Fashanu to Nottingham Forest

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    The Deal: Justin Fashanu, then only 20 years of age, came from Norwich City to Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest at the beginning of the 1981-82 season for the fee of £1 million.

    The Impact: Fashanu, who had impressed during his breakout season with the Canaries and won the BBC's Goal of the Season Award in 1980 for a stunner against Liverpool, was the first black footballer to ever command a million-pound transfer fee. But his transfer to Forest proved to have far greater implications for the world of football than that.

    Fashanu's career began to rapidly deteriorate at Forest, a pattern often attributed to his relationship to the club's manager, Brian Clough, who made Fashanu a target of scrutiny and abuse for his homosexuality.

    His career never fully recovered, and after a string of failed international transfers, a very public and drawn out coming-out and a sex scandal in which he was implicated, Fashanu committed suicide in 1998. His arrival at Forest set the wheels in motion for his downfall and after his death, Fashanu's career opened an international dialogue, still going to this day, about openly gay players and how to combat homophobia in international football.

40. Pavel Nedvěd to Juventus

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    The Deal: Czech winger Pavel Nedvěd transferred from Lazio to Juventus in 2001 for a fee of €41 million as Juventus searched for a replacement for Zinedine Zidane.

    The Impact: Nedvěd is widely considered to be the best Czech player of all time, and his eight seasons at Juventus galvanized his status as a footballing hero for his adopted club and home country alike. He inherited Zidane's playmaker role well, leading the Bianconeri to back-to-back Scudettos in 2002 and 2003. 

    When Juventus was relegated as punishment for the Calciopoli scandal, there was speculation that Nedvěd would leave for a higher-ranked team. But he accepted the challenge, stayed with the Bianconeri and alongside Alessandro Del Piero and David Trézéguet, he led the goal-scoring charge that returned the team to Serie A.

39. The Gre-No-Li Trio to AC Milan

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    The Deal: IFK Norrköping forward Gunnar Nordahl joined AC Milan in 1948 following the Swedish national team's success at the 1948 World Cup; Gunnar Gren and Niels Liedholm joined the following season from IFK Göteborg and Norrköping, respectively. 

    The Impact: The Gre-No-Li trio, as they were called, brought their national-team cohesion and well-executed attack to AC Milan, and in turn, brought them great success throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, and the trio had their most successful season all together at the club when they won the Scudetto in 1951.

    The various Gre-No-Li members would go on to other achievements and cement their legacies at the club with more goals, clubs and records—Gunnar Nordahl still remains the second-highest scorer in Serie A history.

38. George Eastham to Arsenal

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    The Deal: In 1960, Newcastle United midfielder George Eastham expressed a desire to transfer from Newcastle to Arsenal. His contract was set to expire, but Newcastle refused to let him go.

    At the time, according to the 'retain-and-transfer' system, clubs could not only refuse a player's transfer request but refuse to pay them while they had a transfer request in place. Eastham went on strike and took a job as a salesman, and, after the Magpies finally gave in and sold him to Arsenal later that year, he decided to take it to court to prevent further situations such as his. The case, Eastham v. Newcastle United, was decided in 1964 and established reforms that would be in effect for more than three decades. 

    The Impact: Before Bosman, there was Eastham. Before the 1995 decision which would establish free agency in football and put transfer power in the hands of the players, the Eastham case ruling set the precedent for the handling of transfer and contract disputes. The judge in the case, Justice Wilberforce, ruled that the 'retain' aspect of 'retain-and-transfer' was unethical, making it easier for players to be cleared for free transfers at the end of their contracts and established a fair tribunal system to settle further contract disputes. 

37. Hernán Crespo to Lazio

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    The Deal: After successful spells at River Plate and Parma, Argentine striker, Hernán Crespo, joined Lazio for a stunning £35 million (cash and two players) in 2000. 

    The Impact: Crespo's arrival at Lazio was one of the first mega-money transfers in Serie A, and he returned on their investment by being the top goal-scorer in Serie A in his first season with the club.

    He was more of an impact player in his time at Parma, but his arrival served as a symbol of the club's peak of prosperity before a 2002 financial scandal involving the owners sent it into a several-year crisis—things have since gotten better though, and Lazio finished out the last decade with Coppa Italia and Italian Super Cup wins.

36. Roberto Baggio to Juventus

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    The Deal: In 1990, Italian star Roberto Baggio was sold from Fiorentina to Juventus for €10 million. 

    The Impact: Baggio, a gifted striker considered one of the greatest players of the '90s, was a beloved fan favorite at his previous club, Fiorentina. Baggio was reportedly reluctant to make the move and contended that it was at the behest of the club, and citizens of Florence rioted in response.

    It was a world-record transfer fee for a world-class player and as such, it incited massive outrage.

    When his old club and new faced one another at a 1990 match, a fan threw a Fiorentina scarf on the pitch. In a moment that has gone down into club history, Baggio picked up the scarf, kissed it and addressed the fans of his former club, declaring, "Deep in my heart, I am always purple."

    He later went on to help Juventus win a Scudetto, a Coppa Italia and a UEFA Cup title and helped set a pattern of success for Juventus in the '90s in motion. But the famous scarf incident and performances on the pitch both endeared him to and led to revulsion from fans on both sides, depending on who you ask. The love-hate relationship with Baggio helped galvanize a rivalry between Juve and Fiorentina.

35. Zico to Kashima Antlers

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    The Deal: Toward the end of his career, Brazilian playmaker Zico moved to Japan in 1991 to join fledgling side Kashima Antlers. 

    The Impact: Already sitting atop a successful career with more than 120 goals for Flamengo, Zico came out of retirement to join a metalworks firm's soccer club in the then-fledgling Japanese J. League first division.

    Zico helped the team, renamed Kashima Antlers with the launch of the league in 1993, to not only break into the league, but with his help, the small-town team was able to measure up to the likes of Tokyo Verdy and Yokohoma Marinos and actually win the inaugural league title.

    Since then, Kashima Antlers have been the most successful team in the Japanese league, with seven league championships to their name. 

34. Mo Johnston to Rangers

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    The Deal: In 1989, already a local hero thanks to his time at bitter crosstown rivals Celtic, Scottish striker Mo Johnston signed with Graeme Souness's Rangers for a £1.5 million fee, becoming only the second player to appear on both sides of the Old Firm following the Second World War.

    The Impact: It was an incredibly risky—if not, in some eyes, suicidal—move for Johnston, Rangers and Graeme Souness at the time.

    Rangers had signed plenty of Catholic players before, but the signing of Johnston was the most high-profile and controversial. Johnston's move to Ibrox provoked outrage on both sides. Celtic fans sent him death threats and called Johnston a Judas. Some Rangers fans burned their season tickets and vowed to sever their ties with the club and he was met with hazing from club staff.

    Fans on both sides asked the Belfast Telegraph to retract the story about Johnston's transfer, calling it a 'fairy story.'

    In his debut season at Ibrox,Johnston scored a stoppage time match-winner in the Old Firm derby and began winning over Rangers supporters.

    Since then, plenty of Catholic players have passed through the doors at Ibrox and Protestant players have gone to play for Celtic, but Souness's ballsy move did not eradicate the bitterness and sectarianism that still permeates the Old Firm to this day.

33. Ian Rush to Liverpool

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    The Deal: In 1980, Liverpool manager Bob Paisley paid £300,000 for 18-year-old Chester City phenom Ian Rush—a staggering amount for such a young player. 

    The Impact: Rush took a while to develop at Anfield, but once he did, he became an instrumental figure in Liverpool's success throughout the 1980s.

    One of the top strikers in English football in his heyday, Rush's determination and goal-scoring contributed to five domestic league titles for Liverpool, three FA Cups, five Football League Cups and one European Cup, along with the 1984 European Golden Boot and the title of the club's top goalscorer for nine seasons. He remains the Reds' top goal-scorer of all time with 346 career goals. 

32. Carlos Tévez and Javier Mascherano to West Ham United

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    The Deal: The two Corinthians stars signed to West Ham United in 2006 for an undisclosed fee, but their time at the club was to be short-lived. 

    The Impact: Tévez helped keep the Hammers in the Premiership in 2007, but it was the circumstances surrounding the two players' arrival at West Ham that proved quite significant.

    The transfer was engineered by Media Sports Investments, a London-based investment fund, who bought Corinthians in 2004. They severed ties to the club in 2007 after allegations of money laundering.

    MSI were attempting to take over West Ham, and engineered the signings of Mascherano and Tévez, and the situation sparked an international dialogue about the role of third parties in the transfer business.

    Carlos Tévez went on to play for Manchester United and crosstown rivals Manchester City, while Javier Mascherano had a successful stint at Liverpool and currently holds the line for Barcelona. 

31. Paolo Di Canio to West Ham United

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    The Deal: In 1999, West Ham bought live-wire Italian striker Paolo Di Canio for the low, low price of £1.75 million.

    The Impact: Although Di Canio ran into a fair amount of controversy while at West Ham, pushing referees and making things difficult for manager Harry Redknapp, he turned his bargain-bin transfer fee into gold—and goals. His magnificent 2000 volley goal against Wimbledon is still considered to be one of the best goals in Premiership history.

    Di Canio was and is still a fan favorite with the Hammers, who loved him for his ability to make an impact on the pitch and be thoroughly entertaining while doing so and his maverick swagger. 

    For his services to the club, West Ham recently honored Di Canio with a plush executive lounge at the Boleyn Ground in 2010, appropriately named 'The Di Canio Lounge.' 

30. Kevin Keegan to Liverpool

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    The Deal: As a 20-year-old up-and-comer, striker Kevin Keegan moved from Liverpool to Scunthorpe United in 1971 for a fee of £35,000. 

    The Impact: Another move for Kevin Keegan takes a higher spot on the list. A prolific goal-scorer and a fan favorite, Keegan was arguably the first modern English superstar of the game, and his stint at Liverpool is what elevated him to that level.

    While at Anfield, the striker saw three Premiership titles, a European Cup and an FA Cup, including a treble in 1977. He went on to win the Ballon d'Or twice at Hamburger SV and win a Bundesliga title with the German side.

29. Ian Wright to Crystal Palace

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    The Deal: In one of the greatest bargain moves in world football history, Ian Wright was traded from Kent League club Greenwich Borough to Crystal Palace for a set of weights and a few kits in a 1985 deal. 

    The Impact: Wright became a fixture at Crystal Palace, leading the club to a Second Division title and netting more than 100 goals for the club and gave CP a fighting chance by scoring the equalizing goal against Manchester United in the 1990 FA Cup final. He was later named the club's Player of the Century.

    His stint at Crystal Palace led to a bid from Arsenal in 1991, where he formed a fearsome striking partnership with Dennis Bergkamp and became one of the best-loved Gunners in recent history. But that may never have happened without one amazing bargain-bin transfer. 

28. Wayne Rooney to Manchester United

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    The Deal: Manchester United's star striker signed from his hometown club Everton in 2004 for a sizable £25.6 million. 

    The Impact: Rooney began his career as a wünderkind teen with Everton, showing great promise and earning legions of fans at Goodison.

    He caught the eye of Sir Alex Ferguson, who signed the striker when he was only 18, making the £25.6 million fee the largest ever for a player under the age of 20. And Rooney hasn't disappointed, scoring more than 100 goals with the club and contributing to four Premiership titles and a Champions League victory in 2007.

    With Rooney's arrival to and success with Manchester United comes an added bonus: the delightful irony of him delivering on the pitch while United fans chant rather passionately about how much they hate Scousers. 

27. Gianluigi Buffon to Juventus

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    The Deal: Italian goalkeeping ace Gianluigi Buffon made the transfer from Parma to Juventus in 2001 for £32.6 million, making him the most expensive goalkeeper of all time. 

    The Impact: 'Gigi,' now in his 10th year at Juventus, holds the most records for Serie A goalkeeper of the year and has become one of the most successful goalkeepers in the history of the game.

    During his time in the net, Juve have won two Serie A titles, and two Italian Supercoppas, along with one Serie B title—due to relegation as a result of the Calciopoli scandal—during which Buffon was rumored to leave the club for first-division status, but he stayed with Juve and has remained an icon at the club.

26. Robinho to Manchester City

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    The Deal: In 2008, Manchester City brought ace Brazilian striker Robinho to their ground from Real Madrid for €42.5 million.

    The Impact: Although Robinho's time at Eastlands will likely always be remembered as a full-on transfer flop and he would be ushered off to AC Milan (where he has fared somewhat better) in 2010, his arrival did mark a massive change of direction for the club and its business practices.

    As City's first high-profile signing under new owner Sheikh Mansour, Robinho opened the door for a 'Galácticos'-style revolution in Manchester and a string of other marquee, big-money signings which have raised the club's profile domestically and internationally and led them to their first domestic title of any kind since the 1970s, the 2011 FA Cup.

25. David Beckham to Real Madrid

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    The Deal: After beginning to fall out with Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United megastar David Beckham moved to Real Madrid for €35 million in 2003. 

    The Impact: The move to Real Madrid helped exponentially raise the profile of player and club. Beckham's presence at the Bernabéu contributed to the building of the first 'Galácticos' squad and helped bring the club massive crowds while touring abroad. His move from one massive club to this all-star team and raising of his global profile turned Beckham from an athlete to a full-on brand. He also won a La Liga title and a Supercopa while with the club. 

24. The Eto'o-Ibrahimović Swap (Inter Milan-Barcelona)

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    The Deal: Barcelona and Inter Milan decided to swap star strikers, with Samuel Eto'o and €46 million going to San Siro in exchange for Zlatan Ibrahimović and his supposed prestige.   

    The Impact: This one shows that player swaps aren't always equal: it's clear who got the better end of the deal in the long run. Ibrahimović may have outscored Eto'o in the season following the swap and helped Barcelona win their second consecutive La Liga, but Eto'o not only sported two consistently strong seasons with the Nerazzurri whereas Ibrahimović fell out with Pep Guardiola and was loaned out to AC Milan, but he won his second consecutive treble, bringing Inter Milan a Serie A title, Champions League title and Coppa Italia. 

23. Steve McManaman to Real Madrid

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    The Deal: The Liverpool attacker joined Real Madrid in 1999 and became the first high-profile transfer to test the Bosman ruling. 

    The Impact: A 'Galácticos' signing on the eve of the 'Galácticos' era, Macca struggled to join Guus Hiddink's Real Madrid thanks to a long, drawn-out series of contract negotiations with his old club, Liverpool.

    In the end, McManaman was able to leave Anfield by exercising his rights as a player under the Bosman ruling and becoming a free agent and became the highest-profile Englishman to join La Liga since Gary Lineker.

    And McManaman fared well at the Bernabéu until the other Galácticos signings began keeping him out of the first team: He scored in injury time on his club debut and helped Los Merengues reach two Champions League titles and two La Liga titles.

22. Nicolas Anelka to Arsenal

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    The Deal: Nicolas Anelka, a promising young striker with Paris Saint-Germain, joined Arsene Wenger's Arsenal in 1997 for £500,000. 

    The Impact: The striker, just 17 years old when he started at Arsenal, made an impact with the Gunners in his short but bombastic run at Highbury, helping bring them a Premiership title and FA Cup win and earning himself the PFA Young Player of the Year Award in 1998. 

    Although his run at Arsenal was short-lived, Anelka was one of the first glimpses fans got of then-new manager Arsene Wenger's ability to scope out and sharpen young talent.

    Anelka moved on to a string of other clubs before a successful run at Chelsea, but his time at Highbury helped put him, the club and to a certain extent, their manager on the map.

21. Ruud Van Nistelrooy to Manchester United

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    The deal: Prolific Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy joined Manchester United from PSV Eindhoven for £19 million in 2001, another record-breaker at the time. 

    The Impact: Van Nistelrooy said of United's rather sizable sum, "The price is not heavy for me—it lifts me up because it means United have big confidence in me."

    Clearly, their confidence was well-placed. Van Nistelrooy has been one of the most prolific strikers in recent Red Devils history, scoring 95 league goals in his five years—36 in his first season—with the club and leading them to one Premiership title, Football League Cup and FA Cup each.

    He was also a force in Europe and despite United not winning the Champions League in the 2001-2002 season, van Nistelrooy was named the tournament's Most Valuable Striker and was the competition's top scorer for three seasons. 

20. Luis Figo to Real Madrid

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    The Deal: Portuguese attacker Luís Figo left Barcelona for rivals Real Madrid in 2000 for an unprecedented £37.2 million. 

    The Impact: The signing of Figo was significant for two very different reasons: His arrival at the club ushered in the first 'Galácticos' era, a string of megastars joining Real Madrid and a movement that has come to define Real Madrid's business sense in recent years.

    But the transfer of Figo also fired up the already contentious rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona, as Figo left the Catalan side for the Bernabéu, and although plenty of players had played for both sides, few had made the switch from one to the other in that succession and in such a big way.

    Barça fans labeled him a Judas, and Figo endured some serious abuse at the Camp Nou, including getting a pig's head thrown at him. 

    In the end, Figo had a successful run at the Bernabéu and was part of the club that won the Champions League in 2002, along with two La Liga titles and two Supercopas de España.

19. Pelé to the New York Cosmos

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    The Deal: The Brazilian legend, one of the greatest to ever play the game according to widely-accepted footballing tenets, left his semi-retired state in 1975 to join the New York Cosmos. 

    The Impact: It was regarded as the decision that would revolutionize soccer in America. And for a while at least, it did.

    Pelé was the first footballer to become a household name in America, and although he was past his prime, he still packed stadiums. More than 75,000 fans came to see his last professional match at Giants Stadium, and his presence opened the way for other stars of world football to test the waters in America, including Franz Beckenbauer, George Best, Johan Cruyff and now, David Beckham and Thierry Henry. 

18. Dennis Bergkamp to Arsenal

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    The Deal: After a rough two seasons at Inter Milan, Dutch attacker Dennis Bergkamp joined Arsenal in 1995 for £7.5 million. 

    The Impact: While at Highbury, Bergkamp was one of the best players in Europe and Gunners fans include him on the short list of the club's greatest players of all time of for his achievements. Ian Wright called him 'The Messiah.'

    His striking partnership with Ian Wright—who you saw earlier on this list—was one of the most feared in the Premiership throughout the mid-'90s and with the dynamic duo leading the attack, Arsenal rose from a disappointing start to the decade to the top of the Premier League, and he won three league titles with the Gunners, including the legendary 'Invincibles' year, along with four FA Cups. 

17. Ronaldo to Real Madrid

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    The Deal: Brazilian superstar Ronaldo joined Real Madrid from Inter Milan in 2002 for an astonishing €46 million. 

    The Impact: In addition to breaking the record for jersey sales upon his arrival, Ronaldo, alongside the likes of Luís Figo and Zinedine Zidane, helped usher in the first 'Galácticos' era at Real Madrid, a series of transfers and subsequent team of superstars which would change the club and potentially La Liga for good. 

    A source of obsession for the Merengues supporters, fans would chant for him even when he was on the sidelines. Ronaldo's thrilling style of play earned him admiration at the Bernabéu and turned matches into spectacles. He helped Real Madrid win a pair of La Liga titles and a UEFA Super Cup. 

16. Peter Schmeichel to Manchester United

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    The Deal: In what Sir Alex Ferguson has called "the bargain of the century," Manchester United bought Danish keeper Peter Schmeichel in 1991 for £530,000.

    The Impact: Schmeichel is often described by fans as the greatest goalkeeper United ever had, if not one of the greatest keepers in football history.

    While at United, he held a record-setting 42 percent clean sheet record and in his inaugural season at Old Trafford, he gave 22 performances where his opponents ended scoreless. Then there are the titles; with Schmeichel in goal, the Red Devils won five Premiership titles, three FA Cups and their first Champions League title in more than three decades.

    Schmeichel proved to be such an essential piece of the Manchester United defense that the first few subsequent attempts at replacing him—most notably epic flop Massimo Taibi, who only appeared in four matches for the Red Devils—failed, and it wasn't until Edwin Van der Sar arrived six years later that anyone could measure up to him in the back of the net. 

15. Roy Keane to Manchester United

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    The Deal: Sir Alex Ferguson signed Roy Keane from Nottingham Forest for a then-record-setting £3.75 million. 

    The Impact: Fiery and competitive, Roy Keane quickly established himself as a leader and a contributor to the spirit of success that permeated Manchester United throughout the mid-to-late '90s and into the new millennium, even taking over as captain when Eric Cantona retired.

    He helped deliver United their first European title in more than 30 years, not to mention seven domestic league championships and four FA Cups, and the additions to the trophy cabinet made him the most successful captain in United's history.

14. Lionel Messi to Barcelona

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    The Deal: Lionel Messi wanted to play for his hometown club, Newell's Old Boys, but he moved to Barcelona to finish his youth academy run in 2000 because the club offered to help pay for treatment for his growth-hormone deficiency. 

    The Impact: As they say, the rest is history. At 24 years old and still in the midst of his career, Messi is now already a legend at the Camp Nou, has won the Ballon d'Or twice and led the Blaugrana to five La Liga titles (three consecutive), three Champions League titles, five Supercopas de España and a Copa del Rey, not to mention his countless spectacular goals. 

    Messi has expressed interest in going back to play for the club he's always loved, and perhaps he will. But he's still got a whole lot to offer Barcelona.

13. Alan Shearer to Newcastle United

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    The Deal: Geordie legend Alan Shearer broke the world transfer record when he joined Newcastle United in 1996 for a hefty £15 million after a successful run at Blackburn Rovers. 

    The Impact: Shearer had already established himself as a force at Blackburn, helping the club reach their most recent Premiership title in the 1994-95 season and tying the club's single-season goal-scoring record. 

    But it was his return home that gave him the jump from great to English football icon, and his time with the Magpies helped earn him a place among the Premiership's all-time top strikers. Although he did not win any titles while at Newcastle, he still captured the hearts of its fans and set the record for the most career goals ever scored in the Premiership with 260, a record which still stands today and no one has come close to beating (Andrew Cole takes second with 187).

12. Ricky Villa and Ossie Ardiles to Tottenham Hotspur

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    The Deal: Following the success of Argentina in the 1978 World Cup, Tottenham Hotspur manager Keith Burkinshaw brought star duo Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa to White Hart Lane. 

    The Impact: Although perhaps not as recognizable or high-achieving as some names this high on the list, the transfers of Ardiles and Villa are significant because they helped open the door for more South American players to make an impact on English football.

    At White Hart Lane, Villa and Ardiles became cult heroes: Ardiles and his teammates were the subject of a 1981 novelty song, "Ossie's Dream (Spurs Are On Their Way To Wembley)," while Villa is still saluted on t-shirts with his image parodying the iconic print of Che Guevara.

    Their skills on the pitch matched their status. Ardiles helped Spurs on to victory in two FA Cups, with Villa scoring a spectacular match-winning goal against Manchester City in the 1981 final. 

11. Gianfranco Zola to Chelsea

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    The Deal: Ruud Gullit acquired Italian attacker Gianfranco Zola from Parma for £4.5 million in 1996, he stayed at Chelsea until 2003. 

    The Impact: Gullit made a few international acquisitions while in charge at Stamford Bridge, but not only would none of them rival Gianfranco Zola, but he would go on to be arguably the club's greatest player of all time. 

    Zola's wit and innovation on the pitch won him admirers like Sir Alex Ferguson (who called him a 'clever little so-and-so') and Claudio Ranieri (who called him 'a wizard') and the hearts of Chelsea supporters the world over.

    Even after he arrived only part of the way through the season in 1996, he still won the PFA Fans' Player of the Year Award in his inaugural season with Chelsea the first player to do so without having played a full season with their team and the first Chelsea player ever to do so. He helped the Blues earn two FA Cup wins and advance to the quarterfinals in their first-ever run in the Champions League.

    Chelsea may get flack for not having history, but the arrival of Gianfranco Zola certainly helped them rewrite it. 

10. Zinedine Zidane to Real Madrid

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    The Deal: Already a legend thanks to successful runs with Juventus and the World Cup-winning French national team, Zizou signed with Real Madrid in 2001 for a then-record-setting €75 million. 

    The Impact: Zidane commanded the highest transfer fee of the original Galácticos, and he was also its biggest headliner—his transfer and successful presence would help set the precedent for Real Madrid's transfer patterns throughout the decade and potentially beyond (a second Galácticos era is said to have begun with Kaká in 2009). 

    While at the Bernabéu, Zidane scored the match-winning goal in the 2002 Champions League final, completing his "personal quadruple" and managed to win the three other major trophies—La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Supercopa de España—all at least once with Los Merengues.

9. Diego Maradona to Napoli

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    The Deal: Already a star in Argentina and following a lukewarm stint at Barcelona, the legendary Diego Maradona made his European breakthrough when he arrived at SSC Napoli in 1994 for a then-record-setting £6.9 million. 

    The Impact: It was his time at Napoli that turned Maradona from a great to a legend: He had his most successful run with any club, netting the Azzurri two Scudettos (their only two so far), a Coppa Italia and a UEFA Cup title. The powerful striker had a massive impact for the Italian side and became a fan favorite in Naples.

    And thanks to his European breakthrough, Maradona's arrival at Napoli began the trend of Argentine travelers abroad, upon telling locals where they were from, to be met with a knowing response of "Maradona."

8. Thierry Henry to Arsenal

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    The Deal: After an unsuccessful stint at Juventus, winger-turned-striker Thierry Henry transferred to Arsenal for £11 million, under the direction of Arsene Wenger, who managed him earlier at AS Monaco.

    The Impact: Wenger took the winger and made him into a top-flight striker, and although he struggled to score initially, he adjusted to the club and became one of its greatest players of all time.

    He gradually improved in his first few seasons and, equipped with creativity and bashing some thoroughly impressive goals, he eventually helped the Gunners to great success in the early 2000s, culminating in the now-legendary 'Invincibles' squad that went unbeaten in league play in the 2003-2004 season. 

7. Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United and Real Madrid

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    The Deals: Sir Alex Ferguson signed the promising 18-year-old striker to Manchester United in 2003 for just over £12 million, which seems like chump change now considering what his value would be nearly a decade later. But he shattered records when he was signed to Real Madrid in 2009 for a jaw-dropping £80 million. 

    The Impact: The "handsome, rich and talented" superstar changed the game forever, and did so with successful runs at two of the world's top-flight clubs.

    While at Manchester United, he contributed to three Premiership titles and a Champions League victory in 2008, and for his performances, he won the Ballon d'Or, the FIFA world player of the year award, the European golden shoe and he became the first player ever to win the Ferenc Puskás Award, given to the player who scores the most "aesthetically beautiful" goal of the season. 

    But his impact on the game came with his move to Real Madrid.

    Ronaldo was signed for a record-setting £80 million and cemented his place along side the likes of Kaká and Karim Benzema to usher in Real's second 'Galacticos' era.

    It took the squad several seasons to get their first trophy with a Copa del Rey this past season, but Ronaldo has been a regular contributor in domestic and European competition and scored his second European Golden Boot with the club, making him the first to do so in two leagues.

6. Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard to AC Milan

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    The Deal: Silvio Berlusconi acquired three Dutch stars for a struggling A.C. Milan side in 1987 and 1988; striker Marco van Basten from Ajax, Frank Rijkaard from Sporting CP and Ruud Gullit from PSV Eindhoven; the latter for whom he paid a record-setting £6 million.

    The Impact: Something of a spiritual successor to the Gre-No-Li trio of the 1950s, the dynamic Dutchmen were the backbone of a rejuvenated Rossoneri. 

    In the years they were with the club, AC Milan won three Scudettos and back-to-back European Cups in 1989 and 1990, and the team bore the very flattering nickname 'Gli Immortali,' or, 'The Immortals.' And although they will be best remembered as a collective force, the trio were each individually great. Van Basten won the Ballon d'Or in 1989 and was the hero of the European Cup final, scoring twice over Steaua Bucuresti. While coach Arrigo Saachi reinvented Frank Rijkaard as a holding midfielder and he excelled, scoring the game-winner in the 1990 European Cup final and Ruud Gullit won the European Footballer of the Year award in 1997. The Immortals, indeed.

5. Dixie Dean to Everton

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    The Deal: In 1925, Everton bought forward Dixie Dean from Tranmere Rovers for £3,000.

    The Impact: Another late Merseyside football great, Bill Shankly, said it best: “Those of us privileged to see Dean play talk of him the way people talk about Beethoven, Shakespeare or Mozart."

    The greatest player to ever don the Everton blue and perhaps the greatest pre-war player in English football history, Dixie Dean holds Premiership records which still stand today, including the most goals in a single season (60) and most career hat-tricks.

    A passionate player and prolific scorer, Dean's prowess on the pitch is the stuff of legends: he even scored a header goal in the first match he played after fracturing his skull in a motorcycling accident. To this day, donning the No. 9 shirt at Everton is a massive honor and a statue of Dean honors his legacy at Goodison Park.

4. Kenny Dalglish to Liverpool

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    The Deal: In 1977, Bob Paisley bought Scottish star Kenny Dalglish from Celtic for £440,000. 

    The Impact: When he arrived at Anfield, Kenny Dalglish had big shoes to fill in replacing star striker Kevin Keegan. But 'King Kenny' not only sufficed, he excelled, landing himself in the history books by scoring more than 30 regular-season goals and the match-winner at the 1978 European Cup final for one heck of a finish to his debut season.

    The wins didn't stop there: Dalglish would go on to win six domestic league championships, three European Cups, an FA Cup and four Football League cups with the Reds as a player along with three league titles and two FA Cups as a manager. 

    But what made Dalglish an icon at Liverpool wasn't just his goals, it was his leadership.

    He guided the club with dignity and humanity through two of its darkest moments, the Heysel and Hillsborough stadium disasters. Now back once again as a manager, more than 30 years later, Kenny Dalglish is still King of the Kop. 

3. Eric Cantona to Manchester United

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    The Deal: In 1992, Sir Alex Ferguson, needing a striker for Manchester United, bought Frenchman Eric Cantona from Leeds United for £1.2 million and as they say, the rest is history. 

    The Impact: Sir Alex certainly got a return on his investment.

    In his first season with the club, Cantona helped an initially struggling United to rise through the ranks and win their first domestic league title in nearly 30 years, followed by two more Premiership titles and two more FA Cups.

    But it wasn't just about title wins: Cantona was one of the best impact players United has ever had, creating chances left and right, scoring cracking goals and using the space of the pitch in innovative ways. His flair, flamboyance and dazzling skill, not to mention his fiery personality, made him a fan favorite at Old Trafford during his five-season run there.

    In a poll shortly after his retirement in 1997, 'King Eric' was named 'Player of the Century' by Man United fans, and he still regularly ranks near the top on polls and lists such as these. 

2. Jean-Marc Bosman to Dunkerque

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    The Deal: Belgian footballer Jean-Marc Bosman wanted to transfer from his club, Royal Football Club de Liège, to Dunkerque, but RFC Liège blocked the deal, saying that Dunkerque did not offer them a high enough transfer fee.

    Bosman took them to court, facing three different European Court of Justice Legal cases, one against RFC Liège, one against the Belgian Football Association and one against UEFA. In 1995, the 'Bosman ruling' was decided. 

    The Impact: Ironically enough, one of the most game-altering transfers in football history didn't even happen.

    The Bosman ruling allowed players in the European Union to freely leave their clubs at the end of their contract, whereas before they could only leave with permission from their club. Clubs could no longer prevent their players from joining another club. Effectively, the power was given to the players.

    The Bosman ruling also played a significant role in making European football more international.

    The ruling abolished quotas and limits on the amount of foreign-born players a team in a European domestic league or UEFA could have, allowing more stars from all over the world to break into the game in Europe. In short, it changed football forever.

1. Alfedo Di Stéfano to Real Madrid / Johan Cruyff to Barcelona (tie)

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    Real Madrid vs. Barcelona. Los Merengues vs. the Blaugrana. The Blonde Arrow vs. the Total Footballer.

    Two of the greatest players in the history of the game, these two share the top spot because they both had such dramatic, game-changing impacts on the teams they loved, on the rivalry that defined them, on Spanish football and world football at large.

    Alfredo Di Stéfano was the more significant transfer because of all of the conflict surrounding his signing with Real Madrid, but it seemed fitting to place these two together at the top of the list as bookends to one of football's greatest rivalries and as the essential representatives of two of its greatest dynasties. 

    Di Stéfano:

    The Deal: In 1953, Alfredo Di Stéfano was supposed to be heading to Barcelona from Colombian club Millonarios, but Millonarios never approved the transfer.

    The deal was made with Barcelona and FIFA without the permission of the Colombian side, but the Spanish football governing body, needing their approval, blocked the transfer. Real Madrid capitalized on the tension in the situation and convinced Di Stéfano to sign with them. 

    After a contentious battle, FIFA declared that Di Stéfano would play four seasons in Spain, alternating between Real Madrid and Barcelona. The Blaugrana, dissatisfied with the decision, dropped their bid and Di Stéfano joined Los Merengues.

    The deal also led to a temporary ban on foreign players transferring to La Liga.

    The Impact: The battle over Di Stéfano galvanized Real and Barça supporters' ire towards one another and contributed to the passion that surrounds El Clásico to this very day. 

    But Di Stéfano's contributions to Real Madrid run much, much deeper.

    He forged a partnership with striker Ferenc Puskás, and together the two became one of the most powerful offensive duos in football history, and his record for most goals scored in European competition stood until fellow Madridista Raúl broke it in 2005.

    He scored more than 300 goals for the club, won eight La Liga titles and five consecutive European Cups. For his contributions, the Spanish sports newspaper Marca awards the best La Liga player of the year with the Alfredo Di Stéfano trophy. 


    The Deal: In 1973, Ajax star Johan Cruyff, who had already won three consecutive European Cups and eight Eredivisie titles with the Amsterdammers, moved to Barcelona for a fee of 6 million Dutch guilders ($2 million or £922,200). 

    The Impact: The total footballer became the total Culé. He didn't just absorb himself in the club, but he absorbed himself in all it stood for. He even gave his son a Catalan name, Jordi. And on the pitch, he gave Barcelona a 5-0 victory in El Clásico and led them to their first La Liga title in more than a decade and a Copa del Rey title. 

    He brought his mastery of 'Total Football' to the Catalan side, where evidence of it can still be seen in how the squad plays today, with its mastery of Cruyff's 'tiki-taka' passing technique.

    AAnd as the ties to the club were created in his time on the pitch, he returned to make an even greater mark as a manager, netting the Blaugrana their first European Cup, four La Liga titles and a Copa del Rey.

    He would be Barcelona's most successful manager until Josep Guardiola, who he signed as a player. 


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