8 of Football’s Greatest Transfer Heists

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There’s nothing quite like a new signing to lift the club’s fan base and immediately inflate their expectations for the season ahead. Though indeed, the only thing better than a new face at the training ground is one that has been robbed from under the nose of a rival at the last minute.

There’s something glorious about strengthening your own side whilst simultaneously dashing the hopes of your rivals.

In that vein, here are eight of the greatest transfer heists in football history…

Mikel John Obi – Chelsea Instead of Manchester United

In one of the longest running transfer sagas in recent memory, and definitely one of the more litigious, Mikel John Obi joined Chelsea after ostensibly signing for Manchester United a year earlier. At the time, the Nigerian was a veritable boy wonder for his Norwegian side Lyn Oslo. 

Having tried to initially sign him in 2003 as a youth prospect, United came back in for him in April 2005, and agreed terms for the player to join in the January of 2006 – along with snapping an image of him in a United shirt. However, at the same time Chelsea were insisting they had also agreed to sign the midfielder. 

After a year of insinuations, legal battles and allegiance claims, Mikel decided on west London as his desired destination, and alleged that United had forced him to sign the previous contract. In the end, Chelsea paid £16m for the Nigerian – with £12m going to United and only £4m to Lyn Oslo. The midfielder went on to spend 11 years at Chelsea, making 372 appearances.

Sol Campbell – Spurs to Arsenal

Sol Campbell spent nine years at Tottenham Hotspur, and even captained them to victory in the 1998/99 League Cup final. However, his allegiance to the club and their fans only went so far, and north London rivals Arsenal were only too aware of that fact.

With Campbell’s contract with Spurs winding down in 2001, and no new deal yet reached, Arsene Wenger’s side swooped in with an offer the defender couldn’t refuse. 

The capture of your biggest rival’s captain is always a coup, but paying absolutely nothing for him is as wily as it gets.

Robinho – Manchester City Instead of Chelsea

Throughout the summer of 2008, Chelsea had been heavily linked with Robinho. So confident were they of acquiring the Brazilian, that they even started prematurely selling shirts with his name on the back.

Apparently this irked Robinho’s club Real Madrid, and on transfer deadline day Manchester City pounced on a sudden opportunity to sign the star. Indeed, the switch was so sudden that the man himself still wasn’t quite sure who he’d signed with during his press conference unveiling.

Moussa Sissoko – Spurs Instead of Everton


After his transcendent display at Euro 2016, Newcastle United’s Moussa Sissoko was a man in demand. And on August 31st of that year, it seemed as though Everton had sewn up a £30m deal for the midfielder – they’d even been kind enough to chart a plane to pick him up from Tyneside to complete the signing.

However, at the final hour Tottenham came in and matched the offer, and Sissoko’s heart was suddenly set on a move to north London. Cunningly, he therefore turned off his phone to block any of Ronald Koeman’s calls, and finalised his move to Spurs. 

Arjen Robben – Chelsea Instead of Manchester United

In 2004, Arjen Robben was bound to join Manchester United from PSV. He’d already been given a tour of his training ground to be in Manchester, and spoken extensively to Sir Alex Ferguson about his prospects at the club.

However, Claudio Ranieri and Peter Kenyon managed to sneak in a clandestine chat with the Dutchman at the last minute, during which they convinced him of the project at Stamford Bridge. Gary Neville wasn’t too happy with his decision, by the looks of it.

Dietmar Hamann – Manchester City by Way of Bolton

It might be hard to recall Dietmar Hamman playing in a Bolton shirt, but that’s because his stint at the Lancashire side lasted just one day. 

That’s right, the German left Liverpool for Bolton in June 2006, signing contractual agreements with the Wanderers, before switching for Manchester City just 24 hours later. 

The Citizens paid Bolton £400,000 to secure the midfielder’s services, despite the Trotters never having actually paid Liverpool a fee of their own.

Willian – Chelsea Instead of Tottenham

Throughout 2013, Spurs had been coveting Anzhi Makhachkala’s winger, Willian. However, it was not to be, as Chelsea’s now regular serenade for the player outlines. 

As the fans would put it – Tottenham paid for a flight, but the Brazilian saw the light after he received a call from Abramovich, and so off he went to Stamford Bridge…. He hates Tottenham, he hates Tottenham.

Dimitar Berbatov – Manchester United Instead of Manchester City

Another deadline day saga involving Manchester United, but this time it was United who were the conspirators. In typical Daniel Levy style, Tottenham’s chairman had been holding out all summer for the fee he deemed fit for his Bulgarian striker.

On the final day, it seemed Manchester City had won the race to sign Berbatov, having offered a then English record fee. However, the number nine was less than enthused at a move to City, preferring their local rivals. United duly put in a bid and claimed they had signed the forward, despite receiving no contact from Tottenham.

In the end, Spurs were forced to accept the bid – seeing as it lived up to Levy’s expectations, and the player had refused the alternatives – but it was a devious move from the Red Devils.

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