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When a club gets taken over by a new owner, they want to make an immediate statement of intent to their rivals. Sometimes that can be hiring a different manager, but more often than not it means splashing some cash on a star player. Here’s 10 of those signings from recent history, for better or worse.
10) Santi Cazorla, Villarreal to Malaga, 2011
In 2011, Villarreal forward Cazorla was one of the most sought-after talents in Europe, expected to join one of the established powers, and looked close to signing for Arsenal. But Malaga, having been taken over by Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani the previous year, swooped instead, spending €21m on the diminutive Spaniard to make him one of 10 signings that summer, alongside Ruud van Nistelrooy, Joaquin and Julio Baptista. Cazorla only stayed for one season, in which Malaga qualified for Champions League under coach Manuel Pellegrini, before eventually joining Arsenal, but this was Malaga’s way of announcing themselves.
9) Samuel Eto’o, Inter Milan to Anzhi Makhachkala, 2011
These days, the whole Anzhi Makhachkala thing feels like a weird fever dream, but back in 2011 it was very real as Suleyman Kerimov took the Russian club over and spent money like it was going to run out. The first few big signings were pretty impressive — an ageing Roberto Carlos, Yuri Zhirkov, Anderlecht winger Mbark Boussoufa — but in August 2011 they managed a genuinely jaw-dropping coup. Eto’o was only a year removed from winning his second Treble in two years with Barcelona, then Inter, but when a contract with ‘€20m a year’ written on it was put in front of him, the Cameroon striker understandably signed it. It was a statement, but one that didn’t last too long: by 2013 budgets had been slashed, Eto’o had gone and Anzhi went back to being a modest club not in Europe’s elite.
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8) Ronaldinho, PSG to Barcelona, 2003
Joan Laporta’s Barcelona presidential campaign in 2003 was actually centred around a promise to sign David Beckham from Manchester United. Beckham headed to Real Madrid instead, but their second choice didn’t turn out too badly either. Ronaldinho, who had burned his bridges at PSG, looked like he would sign for United that summer, but Barca gazumped them with a €30m move and he went on to be the man Lionel Messi credits as the catalyst behind the club’s revival. He won two FIFA World Player of the Year awards and a Ballon d’Or during his time there.
7) Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Milan to PSG, 2012
You could argue that Qatar Sports Investment’s big statement signing was actually in 2011 as they paid Palermo north of €45m for Javier Pastore, one of Europe’s most in demand players, in their first year as PSG owners. But the second year was when the big stuff really happened: in one summer they recruited Thiago Silva, Marco Verratti and Ezequiel Lavezzi, but most importantly for the headlines was Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede was the sign they were serious and he went on to play four seasons and score 156 goals in Paris.
6) Claude Makelele, Real Madrid to Chelsea, 2003
When Roman Abramovich arrived from virtually nowhere and bought Chelsea in the summer of 2003, they sprayed cash all over the place, recruiting young English talent (Joe Cole, Glen Johnson), young European talent (Adrian Mutu) and a couple of big names that other clubs wanted rid of (Hernan Crespo, Juan Sebastian Veron). But the one that really signalled they were serious players was Claude Makelele, the defensive midfielder who had knitted together the Galacticos of Real Madrid for the previous few years. He didn’t have a superstar’s profile, but he certainly had a superstar’s talent and set the platform for the great success that followed.
5) Robinho, Real Madrid to Manchester City, 2008
Like many statements, this one wasn’t especially well thought out. When Sheikh Mansour and what was then known as the Abu Dhabi United Group bought Manchester City in late August 2008, the transfer window was closing. But to go with their big takeover, they needed a big player, so they spent a day or two frantically dashing around trying to find a global name they could sign. They tried to hijack Manchester United’s move for Dimitar Berbatov, made offers for Valencia‘s David Villa and Stuttgart’s Mario Gomez, but eventually settled on Robinho, who was so desperate to leave Real Madrid he would have gone pretty much anywhere. He actually thought he was going to Chelsea, but City produced a British transfer record of £32.5m and he ended up there, if only for two years.
4) Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, Man United/Milan to Real Madrid, 2009
When Florentino Perez resigned his first term as Real Madrid president in 2006, he said the club needed a new direction. But going by his approach when he returned in 2009, he didn’t mean it. Within weeks of his return he had broken the world transfer record twice, first for Kaka (€68.5m) then Cristiano Ronaldo (€94m), later throwing in talent like Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso, Raul Albiol and Alvaro Arbeloa just for the sake of it. As ever, Perez wasn’t so much making a statement, as he was bellowing one.
3) Alan Shearer, Southampton to Blackburn Rovers, 1992
When Jack Walker took full control of Blackburn in 1991, his biggest statement was recruiting Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish as manager. But after promotion to the Premier League in 1992, breaking the British transfer record to sign Alan Shearer for £3.6m wasn’t too far behind. It was all so simple really: hire the most successful manager of the previous decade, then sign the best young striker in the country, spend a bunch more money, break the transfer record again to bring in Chris Sutton for £5m, and four years later you’re champions.
2) Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten, PSV/Ajax to Milan, 1987
Silvio Berlusconi’s first season in charge of Milan was relatively low key: they finished fifth, and no big splashes were made in the transfer market. The following summer though, that all changed: Berlusconi went to the Netherlands and recruited two of the biggest talents in Europe: Marco van Basten, fresh from scoring 43 goals in a season for Ajax, and Ruud Gullit, who a year later would lift the European Championship as Dutch captain. Milan hadn’t won a trophy for nearly a decade, but this showed Berlusconi meant to change that and, along with the tactical genius of Arrigo Sacchi, they landed the 1987-88 Serie A title before claiming four more Scudetti in eight years and back-to-back European Cups.
1) Luis Figo, Barcelona to Real Madrid, 2000
The biggest statement signing of them all. In fact, this was all statement. The recruitment of Figo by Perez wasn’t so much a football move as the headline of a manifesto, a €62m transfer that, like many of his others down the years, featured almost no thought as to how the player would actually fit into the team. But that barely mattered: Figo wasn’t just a huge talent, he was a symbol of Barcelona, so this move was the equivalent of taking a rival king’s flag in battle.
Perez was essentially elected as Real president on the back of an ambitious scheme to not just buy a brilliant player and make a splash in its own right, but also make his club’s most hated rivals look like idiots. In that respect at least, it worked brilliantly.