Football's shocking transfers: Johnston and Figo's ugly backlash

Sol Campbell leaving Spurs for Arsenal on a free, Mo Johnston crossing the Old Firm divide and Luis Figo having a PIG’S HEAD thrown at him… here are football’s most SHOCKING transfers

  • Paul Ince recently called on Man United to swoop for City striker Sergio Aguero
  • It would be some transfer if Aguero decided to cross the Manchester divide
  • Here, Sportsmail has taken a look at football’s most explosive transfers ever 
  • Mo Johnston’s Rangers move and Sol Campbell’s Arsenal transfer spring to mind 

After Paul Ince sensationally claimed Manchester United should attempt to pinch Sergio Aguero from rivals Man City, it got us thinking of the most explosive transfers in football history.

Imagine Aguero representing bitter rivals United, having become City’s all-time top goalscorer after netting an incredible 257 goals in 384 appearances. A move is unfathomable.

Ince even went as far as comparing a possible move to Eric Cantona’s acrimonious transfer from Leeds to bitter rivals United back in 1992.  

So following Ince’s remarkable claims, Sportsmail has decided to take a close look at 10 of the most bitter and controversial transfers in the history of football… 

Paul Ince recently claimed Manchester United should swoop for City striker Sergio Aguero 


In 1989, Jonhston was seeking pastures new after his two-year spell in France with Nantes was coming to an end. Making the return to Celtic appeared the natural move. But almost soon after, all hell broke loose.

The die-hard Celtic fan had become a goalscoring hero at Parkhead between 1984 to 1987 – playing almost 100 games and winning the league title in 1986. He was on the brink of a return to his beloved club, giving a news conference and posing outside the stadium, but the deal soon collapsed.

Just a couple of weeks later, the Scottish striker astonishingly joined arch rivals Rangers – who paid £300,000 more to land him for £1.5million.

The transfer left many raging, not just Celtic fans. Parkhead fans rightly felt betrayed but some Rangers supporters were also far from happy about the move as he was the first high-profile Catholic player to feature for the club.

During Jonhston’s Rangers spell between 1991 to 1993, he scored three goals against Celtic and was struck in the face by a pie from the away end after one of the Old Firm derbies at Ibrox.

Mo Johnston (centre) comes up against his former club Celtic for bitter rivals Rangers in 1989

Rangers manager Graeme Souness poses with his controversial new signing Johnston  


Another incredibly bitter transfer – this time between El Clasico rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid. 

‘As a player at Barcelona, he never hid from anything,’ commented one of Luis Figo’s team-mates after his massively controversial £36.2m move to rivals Madrid in 2000. 

But even Figo was in for a shock when he made the move to Los Blancos, with furious Barcelona supporters more than making their feelings clear when he returned to the Nou Camp for the first time.

On his first return to Barcelona in October 2001 with Barcelona’s arch rivals, oranges, cigarette lighters and bottles were launched onto the pitch whenever the Portuguese star touched the ball. 

Figo smartly stayed away from corners that day as banners with the words ‘Judas’ and ‘Scum’ were dotted around the stadium. Just a year later, a pig’s head was hailed onto the pitch in Figo’s direction. The transfer still lingers like a bad smell to this day.

Barcelona fans were infuriated when Luis Figo decided to join arch rivals Real Madrid in 2000 – and he had a pig’s head thrown at him at the Nou Camp (circled)


Still to this day, Campbell’s shock move from Tottenham to north London rivals Arsenal remains the most controversial transfer in the Premier League. And it all stems from a broken promise, much to the delight of Gunners fans.

During the 2000-01 season with his Spurs contract running out, Campbell declared that he wanted to stay at White Hart Lane and it looked inevitable he would renew his deal.

But after months of ongoing speculation, Campbell stunned English football after turning up with Arsene Wenger at a news conference as Arsenal had announced they had signed the Tottenham centre back on a FREE transfer. No one could quite believe it – the media and fans were none the wiser.

However things turned extremely ugly on his first return to White Hart Lane, with hundreds of ‘Judas’ banners dotted around the ground that day and the animosity has hardly chilled since. 

But what a move it turned out to be for both Arsenal and Campbell. He won two Premier League titles and two FA Cups at Highbury – and is widely viewed as one the Gunners’ best ever centre backs after starring during the Invincibles season in 2003-04.

Sol Campbell’s free transfer to Arsenal from north London rivals Tottenham stunned football

Tottenham fans hold up ‘Judas’ signs on Campbell’s first return to White Hart Lane


This time it was Arsenal fans who let their grievances be known after Cole, who came through the club’s academy, decided to join London rivals Chelsea in 2006 after becoming a household name with the Gunners.

Cole became an integral part of Arsenal’s side but his transfer to Chelsea made headline news. The west London club approached the left back in January 2005 having become disgruntled about his contract situation at Highbury.

The meeting – which took place with Jose Mourinho in a hotel restaurant – was declared an illegal approach, and Cole, Mourinho and Chelsea were all later fined by the Premier League.

But none of this impacted the transfer and Cole made the bitter move to Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2006. Arsenal fans tore into their former left back, who later became known as ‘Cashley’ in north London.

But Cole didn’t look back – going onto win one Premier League and Champions League title, as well as four FA Cups.

Ashley Cole’s transfer to Chelsea still leaves a a bitter taste in the mouth for Arsenal fans

Arsenal fans taunt Cole as they throw fake cash into the air at Stamford Bridge in 2006


Another Premier League transfer that still leaves a bitter taste in the mouths for many. Tevez crossed the Manchester divide and signed for City in 2009. 

The Argentine striker had spent two seasons at Old Trafford – clinching two Premier League titles and the Champions League and became a fan favourite thanks to his brilliant work-rate and never-say-die attitude.

But a new contract with Tevez had not been struck at Old Trafford, and in 2009, City swooped in to land a controversial deal for the Argentine.

As the fall-out continued following his move, Tevez would claim that a new contract offer from United never came in – hence why he decided to seek a new challenge, but many to this day still challenge that.

Tevez would go on to play at the Etihad for City for four years, helping end the club’s 35-year wait for a major trophy by winning the FA Cup before claiming the Premier League the season later – in which he enjoyed a cameo role at the end of the campaign.

Carlos Tevez moved to City after not striking a new contract with neighbours United

A City poster bearing the face of new signing Tevez is displayed in Manchester 


Law actually represented the blue half of Manchester before joining city rivals United in 1962.

The centre forward enjoyed his glory days with the Red Devils where he became one of the most recognised players in European football, scoring 237 goals in 404 games and earning two league titles alongside an FA Cup.

But his career later became plagued by injury and in 1973, he would end up re-signing for City on a free transfer after becoming surplus to requirements at Old Trafford.

And in the final match of his career for City in the 1973-74 season, Law scored a backheel against United in a 1-0 victory. He did not celebrate though, thinking that his goal may relegate his former club.

But results of the day’s other matches meant that United were relegated whatever their result – however Law did not know that at the time.

Denis Law in action for City in 1974 after joining from United after being plagued by injuries


Barmby showed no reluctance when he made the move from Everton to their Merseyside rivals Liverpool in 2000.

The then England international had become a key figure at Goodison Park following his arrival from Middlesbrough in 1995, but with his contract due to expire, Barmby informed manager Walter Smith he wanted to join the red half of Merseyside.

An agreement was finally reached, much to the discontent of Everton, and Barmby had become the first player to join Liverpool from the Toffees since Dave Hickson in 1959.

Barmby enjoyed a successful first campaign at Anfield – playing a part in helping Liverpool win the UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup during the 2000-01 season. He even scored against Everton at home with a header inside 12 minutes during that term.

However, Barmby’s second season with the Reds was plagued by injury and he was eventually sold to Leeds in the summer of 2002.

Nick Barmby controversially joined Liverpool from Merseyside rivals Everton back in 2000


When Robertson crossed the divide and signed for bitter rivals Derby from Nottingham Forest in 1983, it signalled the end of one of football’s greatest ever relationships.

Peter Taylor, Brian Clough’s right-hand man, had left Forest in 1982 to manage rivals Derby – where the pair had one their first league title together.

But if that wasn’t enough, just a year later Taylor came back and swooped in for Robertson – arguably the greatest player in Forest’s history but whose powers were dwindling at this point.

However, the biggest problem was that there was no communication with Forest boss Clough – who was out on a charity walk when he found out about the transfer.

Clough was furious with Taylor and the pair never spoke again – with the former famously saying that if he saw his assistant’s car had broken down by the side of the road, he would run him over. 

John Robertson (bottom row – third from right) caused controversy after signing for Derby from Nottingham Forest


Dutch icon Cruyff essentially made the move to Feyenoord out of spite for Ajax in 1983. 

After reaching the end of his second spell with Ajax in 1983, Cruyff wanted out with the Dutch giants seemingly thinking he was finished in football and overweight.

Therefore, Ajax didn’t offer Cruyff a new contract and so decided he would get his own back by joining fellow Dutch side Feyenoord – and how he would go onto prove his former club wrong, where he had won eight Eredivisie titles and three European Cups.

During his only season with Feyenoord, Cruyff won the double – clinching the Eredivisie title and the Dutch Cup – and was named the country’s footballer of the year.

He later went onto admit in his autobiography: ‘I wanted to take my anger out on Ajax via Feyenoord after the club had thrown me out with the rubbish.’

Johan Cruyff made Ajax pay after signing for Feyenoord in 1983 – where he won the double


Tensions between Fiorentina and Juventus were always high, but they became a whole lot worse when Baggio made the move to the Old Lady in 1990.

After Fiorentina were overcome by Juventus in the UEFA Cup final in 1990, just a few weeks later Baggio decided to join the European winners.

The whole situation was made much worse by the fact that Fiorentina had spent the previous two years trying to help the Italian great overcome a serious knee injury. 

Fiorentina supporters took to the streets to riot after the move to Juventus was made official, but Baggio certainly didn’t let that affect him. He would go onto win one Serie A crown with Juve and the UEFA Cup while claiming the Ballon d’Or in 1993. 

However, he didn’t win over the full support of Juventus fans as during his first game back at his former club, he refused to take a penalty and put on a Fiorentina scarf when he was substituted.

Roberto Baggio’s move to Juventus led to riots in the streets from Fiorentina supporters


Steven Gerrard to Chelsea – 2004: Chelsea made an audacious move for the England midfielder 17 years ago.

Liverpool captain Gerrard had openly revealed his discontent with the lack of progress at Anfield in a press conference, before he admitted to contemplating leaving his boyhood club. 

But Chelsea bankrolled by Roman Abramovich and with newly-appointed Jose Mourinho at the helm, fell short in a £20million move.

If Gerrard had departed Anfield, what a blow that would have been for Liverpool fans to see their club legend leave for one of their biggest Premier League rivals.

Gabriel Heinze to Liverpool – 2007: The Argentine left back nearly shocked the world of football when he tried to force through a move to Anfield from bitter rivals Man United.

Heinze fell down the pecking order at Old Trafford following the arrival of Patrice Evra and demanded to be allowed to move to Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool before eventually being sold to Real Madrid in 2007.

During his time at United, Heinze believed a clause in his contract allowed him to move to bitter rivals Liverpool before a Premier League tribunal ruled that United were not obliged to sell him to domestic competitors despite the Anfield club making a bid that matched a minimum release fee.

If Heinze’s wishes came to fruition, he would have been the first player to swap Old Trafford for Anfield since Phil Chisnall in 1964.

Wayne Rooney to Man City – 2010: The England striker nearly stunned everyone when he was open to an explosive move to the Etihad with his United future up in the air.

In 2010, the United striker was considering his options after telling the club that he would not be extending the 18 months of his contract at the time – and there was real interest from City.

But fortunately for the Red Devils, Rooney retreated and ended up signing a new five-year contract at Old Trafford.

After putting pen to paper on his new contract, Rooney admitted that concerns over the strength of United’s squad were behind his initial decision not to sign a new deal. 


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