Football is a cruel sport. In this article, we analyzed 5 times clubs let a key player join a rival club and the decision backfired. We are looking at transfers that handed rivals key pieces in their puzzles and/or ultimately handicapped the selling club. There have been major transfers between rival clubs but this analysis takes into consideration the impact the player had on his new club. Especially if it is to the detriment of the former club.
Honorable Mentions; Luis Figo, Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor, Mario Gotze, Johan Cruyff, Samir Nasri, Andrea Pirlo (twice), Alessandro Nesta, William Gallas, Sol Campbell, etc.
Gonzalo Higuain, Napoli to Juventus
Gonzalo Higuain joined Napoli in 2013 following his departure from Real Madrid. In the 2013/2014 season, he scored 17 goals in 32 league matches, the following season he scored 18 in 37. It was in the 2015/2016 season that the Argentine striker set himself in Serie A history netting a record 36 goals in 35 matches. He won the Capocannoniere while equalling Gino Rossetti’s record of goals in an Italian top-flight season. Higuain had proven himself a deadly striker at River Plate, Real Madrid, and now Napoli. However, despite his goal tally, Napoli finished second allowing Juventus to win their 32nd Scudetto with Massimiliano Allegri in charge. Juventus’ top scorer was Paolo Dybala with 19 goals but they had Mario Mandzukic, Alvaro Morata, and Simeone Zaza on their books. Juventus would sign Higuain from Napoli, much to the ire of Neapolitans.
Aurelio De Laurentiis of course would make Juventus pay through their nose as they shelled out 90 million Euros for the transfer.
After 91 goals in 146 games for the club, he was now referred to as a rotten dirty traitor. His image was torn down from billboards and restaurants offered discounts if he got injured. Such was the animosity over this transfer. “Core ‘ngrato” one banner read, referring to the Argentine as an ingrate. Juventus could have won the league without signing Higuain but this was a move to handicap a competitor. Even though Maurizio Sarri responded by converting Dries Mertens to a striker with much success, Juventus retained the title with Higuain leading the charge. Even though Dries Mertens scored more goals (28) than Higuain (24), Higuain’s goals were vital to the Scudetto charge as Dybala scored only 11 with Mandzukic scoring 7. It was a clear strategy to collect the main man from a rival and it had worked. Napoli continue to chase their first league title since 1990.
Robin Van Persie, Arsenal to Manchester United
Robin Van Persie signed for Arsenal in 2004 as a replacement for countryman Dennis Bergkamp and even though he showed glimpses of why he won Dutch football talent of the year some years before, injuries would keep him from playing a major part in the club’s history till the 2008/2009 season. Then the injuries became less frequent and the left-footed 1-time finisher began excelling for the gunners. His goals were key in all competitions for the London club. He was the club’s talisman and was made captain by Arsene Wenger. In the 2011/2012 season, Van Persie would net 30 goals in the Premier League winning the league’s golden boot for his contribution.
Then it was announced that the Dutchman would not be signing a contract extension with Arsenal. He would move to Manchester United for 22.5 million Pounds with an additional fee if United won the league and win the league they did.
There were videos of his shirt being burnt, Judas scum they called him. This was the ultimate betrayal in the eyes of many Arsenal fans. A boy they had nurtured and patiently waited for through the countless injuries and the shortened seasons. He had betrayed them by moving to a rival and worse of all was that deep down, they knew how vital he would be to United’s campaign. Van Persie led United to the 2012/2013 season netting 26 goals and accruing 15 assists as the red devils marched to Sir Alex Ferguson’s last title. He would be referred to as a slithering snake by Arsenal fans. Van Persie continues to give different stories about what led to his departure, stoking the flames of the hate with his lies.
Roberto Lewandowski, Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich
The Polish striker could have joined Sam Allardyce at Blackburn or Gian Piero Gasperini at Genoa but chose to join a certain Jurgen Klopp’s burgeoning yellow army in 2010. He scored 8 Bundesliga goals (33 apps, 15 starts) in his first season as Dortmund won the league title. Lewy had to wait till the next season to cement his place in Dortmund’s XI. An injury to Lucas Barrios gave the Pole his chance and he took it gladly. In the 2011/2012 season, he scored 22 goals as Dortmund won the Bundesliga again. He would score 24 goals in the 12/13 season as Bayern did the treble and 20 in 2013/2014 as Bayern won the Bundesliga again. Lewandowski’s initial 4-year contract had been running and BVB could not get him to renew.
The striker signed a pre-contract with Bayern Munich and left for free at the end of the 2013/2014 campaign. He wanted to join in the summer before but Dortmund had refused and remained firm but then they had to accept him leaving for free. Lewandowski scored 103 goals in 187 games for Dortmund. His departure was a brutal loss for Dortmund that cemented Bayern’s current dominance of the Bundesliga.
The Westfalenstadion kept their class though, signing him off well. “He came as a class striker and leaves as a world-class striker,” said Klopp. Bayern have won every single thing since he joined while Dortmund continue to battle for scraps.
David Villa, Barcelona to Atletico Madrid
Barcelona let a seemingly finished David Villa join Atletico Madrid for a paltry 5.1 million Euros in the summer of 2013. El Guaje would score 13 goals as Atletico Madrid won the La Liga title and finished as Champions League runners up in his lone season at the club. The World Cup winning striker was not exactly the incredible player he once was but was still able to make vital contributions to Los Colchoneros’ title win. Already regarded as one of the greatest strikers of his generation after playing for and winning titles with Sporting Gijon, Real Zaragoza, Valencia, and Barcelona, this feat was an interesting conclusion to his time in Spain. He would go on to play for Melbourne City, New York City, and Vissel Kobe before retiring.
Luis Suarez, Barcelona to Atletico Madrid
Almost as if they did not learn from the David Villa situation. Barcelona’s sky-high wage bill meant that they had to shed some weight in the 2020 summer transfer window. Despite scoring 16 goals and assisting another 8 in the league, Barcelona felt that Luis Suarez had to leave, and for free. They let the Uruguayan striker join Atletico after scoring 198 goals and assisting a further 97 in only 283 appearances. Suarez who is third in Barcelona’s all-time top scorer’s list is making the Catalan club regret that decision with every matchday that goes by.
The striker has already equaled his tally from last season with 16 goals in 17 appearances. He is leading Atletico’s charge to the title they last won in 2013/2014 when Barcelona gave them David Villa. Atletico Madrid sits on top of the La Liga table with 51 points and a game in hand over Barcelona in second place with 43 points. Suarez also tops the scoring chart with 3 goals ahead of his close friend and former teammate Lionel Messi. In his last game, with the Madrid club a goal down, Suarez scored twice to give his side the lead even though the match would end in a draw thanks to a last-minute goal from Facundo Ferreyra. The Luis Suarez transfer looks like another puzzling mistake from a club that keeps making errors in the transfer market.