In an age of social media where news is instant, continuous and available for everybody to see, the transfer rumours realm has changed forever.
Gone are the tense days and weeks of uncertainty surrounding a club’s recruitment business. Fans now track every move online and have confirmation of a deal before it’s even done, to a point where the actual transfer announcements are so expected that it’s rather tiresome and more a relief.
The best transfers are the one that are least expected and get completed entirely out of nowhere. Be it a secret until the announcement, or a deal that moves rapidly and is done within hours, these are the most famous examples of the unexpected signing.
Having left Ajax in 2008 and looking rather leggy in his thirties, many had fairly assumed that the curtain had been drawn on Davids’ playing career. It should’ve been.
But instead, after two years, the Dutchman showed up in London and signed for Championship outfit Crystal Palace, playing for merely three months at an uninspiring at best level. He still described it as one of the brightest times in his career.
29. Craig Davies – Oxford United to Hellas Verona (2006)
Hellas Verona were chasing promotion to Serie A in 2006. What’s the first port of call when looking to reach the Italian top flight? Recruit from the final professional tier of English football, of course.
Craig Davies was playing well for Oxford United, but nobody predicted an £85,000 move to Italy in January that year. And for good reason; he was back in England in Wolverhampton by August.
28. Steven Caulker – QPR to Liverpool (2016)
Having spent half the 2015/16 season on loan at Southampton with QPR back in the Championship, Caulker was recalled by January for a new challenge.
Caulker had enjoyed a competent campaign, but nothing to rave about. Yet that January, it was Liverpool who pried him away for a temporary deal until the end of the season, to everybody’s bewilderment. Best part is, they only ever used him as a striker in the dying embers of games.
27. Bojan – Barcelona to Stoke (2014)
Stoke-a-lona. What a time to be alive.
Gone were the days of long ball tactics, and in was an incentive to get it down and play, whatever that means. Y’know, that phrase the gaffer chucks about at Sunday league to no avail. While Bojan was considered a Barcelona flop, signing for Stoke seemed entirely out of the question; a huge coup for the Potters that summer.
26. Mat Ryan – Brighton to Arsenal (2021)
What do you do when you fall down the goalkeeper pecking order at a Premier League side focused solely on survival? Get a move to Arsenal.
A rather fitting summary of where the Gunners have been in recent years, they were in need of a new back-up goalkeeper halfway through the 2020/21 campaign. And with options thin, it was Ryan who got a shot at the Emirates, despite being unable to get a game at Brighton.
25. Lee Grant – Stoke to Manchester United (2018)
Continuing the theme of weird goalkeeper transfers, United plucked their third choice from Stoke who had been relegated in 2017/18.
In a summer where other areas needed strengthening more pertinently, the random pursuit and announcement of Grant from Stoke was just…weird. Nobody really knew how to feel. He’s been harmless, though, and a handy fourth official on substitution board duties.
24. Sol Campbell – Tottenham to Arsenal (2001)
After letting his contract at Spurs run down, it felt inevitable that Campbell was set to leave the club to chase Champions League football.
What people didn’t expect, however, was for him to get that Champions League football with Arsenal, Tottenham’s biggest rivals. The Englishman stayed in north London and signed for the Gunners out of the blue, with nothing about a move to Arsenal being leaked or speculated on.
23. Kieran Trippier – Tottenham to Atletico Madrid (2019)
Following a fine blossoming and coming of age at Tottenham in the mid-2010s, culminating with a strong showing at the 2018 World Cup, Trippier’s stock was high.
And while people half expected a bigger club to come and test the water for Tottenham’s latest high profile player, nobody expected him to pack a bag and swiftly head to Spain. Atletico Madrid snapped him up seemingly out of the blue.
22. Javier Hernandez – Man Utd to Real Madrid (2014)
Having built up a fine reputation as United’s super sub under Sir Alex Ferguson, Chicharito’s influence had waned under David Moyes in 2013/14.
Nine goals and four assists across all competitions was okay, but he didn’t quite kick on as expected. When Louis van Gaal arrived in 2014, he was sent packing – to Real Madrid. One hell of a move from his agent, who secured him the most unexpected loan move imaginable.
21. Julien Faubert – West Ham to Real Madrid (2009)
Another agent masterstroke, a rather uneventful 12 months in London for Faubert meant absolutely nothing to Real Madrid.
Halfway through the 2008/09 campaign, West Ham lost their midfielder on loan with an option for Real to buy in the dying embers of the January window. Two appearances, a missed training session and a nap on the substitutes bench later, he was back in London come the summer.
20. Joe Hart – Burnley to Tottenham (2020)
Hart’s demise from best goalkeeper in the Premier League to Serie A laughing stock and washed up old timer was alarmingly rapid and somewhat upsetting.
After a two year stint with Burnley, it felt inevitable that Hart would trickle down the divisions or head to lands new. But no, Tottenham snapped him up on a free. Mourinho’s Tottenham. Of course they did. Genius.
19. Edgar Davids – Free agent to Barnet (2012)
After another two year football hiatus, Davids was back on his wild tour of England to remind everyone that there was still life in the old bull.
‘Life’ meant two unsuccessful seasons with Barnet as a player manager. From La Liga to the non-league. Better yet, he actually gave himself the number one shirt during his stay.
18. Scott Carson – Derby to Manchester City (2019)
Proving a handy keeper in the Championship despite being in his later years, Carson simply would never have thought a loan move to the Premier League champions would come at 33 years old.
But alas, big clubs just love to sign obscure third choice goalkeepers, and Guardiola was obviously convinced by the Englishman’s trademark ball playing ability. So much so that he earned a permanent transfer. Carson is clear of Hart.
17. Allan Simonsen – Barcelona to Charlton (1982)
Back in the olden days, Danish forward Simonsen had enjoyed three fairly successful years with Barcelona.
But when they signed Diego Maradona and Bernd Schuster, foreign player ruling saw him out of the fold. While Simonsen had offers to join the likes of Real Madrid and Spurs, he instead headed to Charlton – in the Second Division – because he wanted an easier ride. Got to respect it.
16. Donny van de Beek – Ajax to Manchester United (2020)
Transfers that come out of nowhere in the modern game are the best transfers. Van de Beek’s move to Manchester was just that.
The Dutch midfielder had excelled at Ajax and long been linked with a move to Barcelona and Real Madrid. But come the summer, it was the Red Devils who swept in from nowhere and completed a deal in a matter of hours. Seriously swift moving.
15. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting – Stoke to Paris Saint-Germain (2018)
What more could you need when you’re a football club with all the money in the world and no Champions League to show for it? A relegated striker that scored five goals all season.
Someone find Choupo-Moting’s agent and give them a knighthood. The Cameroon international pulled off the blag of the century with his 2018 move to PSG, and then did it again in 2020 by joining Bayern Munich.
14. Jese – Paris Saint-Germain to Stoke (2017)
After a move to the French capital had failed to work out for Real Madrid’s academy graduate, PSG sent Jese on loan to Stoke.
Not the Stoke of old, but Stoke-a-lona; the project that had began to fall apart quicker than Jese’s initial move to PSG. A nightmare season in England completely killed off what was at first seen as a serious coup from the Potters.
13. Sander Berge – Genk to Sheffield United (2020)
Sheffield United, not Manchester United, despite what some journalists might have told you in January 2020.
A mystery man at Carrington was touted to be highly rated midfielder Berge, which would have been a welcome move. But instead it was actually the Blades who had snapped up the Norwegian, which was extra shocking and unexpected considering the previous rumour.
12. Sergio Romero – Free agent to Manchester United (2015)
In a summer where United snapped up the likes of Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Anthony Martial, a David de Gea replacement was being talked about.
With Victor Valdes out of the picture and De Gea trying to move to Madrid, Van Gaal called on recently released Sergio Romero. Nobody expected the deal, which was announced in itself in the early hours of the night, as if to hide the move. He turned out to be the best signing of the lot, funnily enough.
11. Rafael van der Vaart – Real Madrid to Tottenham (2010)
Being essentially shown the exit door by Real Madrid in 2010, there was a bargain to be had in signing an always mercurial Van der Vaart.
With a move to Bayern Munich apparently collapsing, Harry Redknapp dived in during the final hours of the summer transfer window with a low ball offer which was accepted, and the Dutchman was suddenly Spurs bound. Two years of ridiculous goalscoring.
10. Mesut Ozil – Real Madrid to Arsenal (2013)
Transfer deadline day at its very peak, this.
Feeling like he had lost the faith put in him at first by Real Madrid, Arsenal fans bombarded reporters at the Emirates as news broke out at the death that Ozil was headed to north London. And on 2 September, a deal was completed to bring one of football’s most creative midfielders at the time to the club.
9. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – LA Galaxy to Milan (2020)
Having torn his ACL and headed off to MLS following a sting at Manchester United, it felt like Ibrahimovic had accepted that perhaps time had caught up to him.
That was until out of the blue, former club Milan managed to pry him back to Italy on the stroke of the new year in 2020, to the delight of fans. A huge coup for a club in need of an experienced edge. Shrewd business.
8. David Luiz – Paris Saint-Germain to Chelsea (2016)
When Chelsea sold Luiz in 2014, it felt like a solid bit of business to recoup such a fee for a fine defender who still very much had his problems.
Two years in the French capital, though, and suddenly they decided to bring him back to the Bridge out of the blue. Luiz returned to Chelsea to plenty of people’s surprise and played a key role as they lifted the 2016/17 Premier League.
7. Robinho – Real Madrid to Manchester City (2008)
Following their financial takeover from the Abu Dhabi group, City waited no time in flexing their newfound muscles and shocked the world on deadline day.
Chelsea had been pursuing Real’s Brazilian forward, but the newly backed Manchester club hijacked the deal and paid £32.5m to bring Robinho to City. It was the first big move in the club’s new history.
6. Samuel Eto’o – Inter to Anzhi Makhachkala (2011)
Having been integral to a historic treble win at Inter under Jose Mourinho, Eto’o felt like an untouchable commodity.
That was until a previously unheard of Russian club barged in and made him the highest paid player in the world to move to the Dagestan-based Anzhi Makhachkala in August 2011. Of all the places he could’ve ended up, Russia was the last destination on people’s minds.
5. Nicklas Bendtner – Arsenal to Juventus (2012)
With Juventus keen – ‘keen’ here must mean desperate – for a new striker on the summer deadline day in 2012, options were slim in the final hours.
While Bendtner hadn’t quite reached meme territory just yet following a loan to Sunderland, he also didn’t really smack of a move to the Old Lady. Still, the loan somehow went through and, unsurprisingly, ended goalless and with Bendtner back in London.
4. Bastian Schweinsteiger – Bayern Munich to Manchester United (2015)
Forming one half of that unforgettable and illustrious ‘Schmidfield’ that dominated the Premier League for a resurgent United, Schweinsteiger’s move to Old Trafford felt like a dream.
A bad one, when reality kicked in. In the summer of 2015, Van Gaal’s side suddenly emerged as the new home for the departing Bayern midfielder and it felt like a serious coup; exactly what United needed. Let’s not talk about how it actually worked out.
3. Danny Ings – Southampton to Aston Villa (2021)
Bonus points for Aston Villa completing a deal for Ings in complete secrecy in the year 2021, where Fabrizio Romano seems to know what I’m having for tea before I do myself.
With Jack Grealish on the way out and the Southampton forward keen on another shot higher up the table, Villa swiftly pulled the trigger and announced a deal for Ings to completely shock everybody.
2. Esteban Cambiasso – Free agent to Leicester (2014)
After an illustrious ten year spell dominating midfield’s at Italy’s highest level, Leicester managed to shock just about everyone upon their return to the Premier League by signing Cambiasso.
The Argentine moved on a free and spent a single season in the Premier League, helping the Foxes to maintain top flight status before leaving. Something tells us he might have missed out on something the following season, not sure though.
1. Carlos Tevez & Javier Mascherano – MSI to West Ham (2006)
Yep, you’ve just cringed at the sight of the word ‘MSI’.
Becoming two of the hottest prospects in football following the World Cup, it was Premier League minnows West Ham who managed to snap up both Tevez and Mascherano in 2006. Mascherano was gone by January, but Tevez grew into the season and blossomed late on to controversially keep them up with his goals.