Following the news that the non-league English minnows are attempting to sign the Brazilian superstar, Goal takes a look at some of football’s funniest transfer tales
By Carlo Garganese
Just when you thought that the transfer madness was over for another summer, news broke on Friday that a new club had joined the race to sign Brazil icon Ronaldinho.
Not just any old club, though, but English Conference South side Basingstoke Town!
“Discussions have been had, and there is an offer on the table. Now it is up to Ronaldinho to decide whether he wants to take us up on it," said Basingstoke’s marketing director Simon Hood.
“He is on a free transfer and if he wants to get into English football, I cannot think of a better way to do that than by signing for Basingstoke Town.”
But World Cup and Champions League winner Ronaldinho, who was also close to a shock loan move to St Mirren in 2011, is not the first footballer to have been involved in a bizarre transfer story. Goal takes a look at some of the wackiest over the years.
One of the first came way back in 1964 when Celtic made a shock approach to sign Alfredo Di Stefano, sending coach Jimmy McGrory and Spanish-speaking defender John Cushley to Madrid in an attempt to woo the legendary midfielder. Celtic promised to make Di Stefano the highest-paid player in Britain, but football's first Galactico had already agreed to move to Espanyol.
Also in Scotland, second-tier minnows Dumbarton audaciously tried to buy Dutch icon Johan Crujff in 1980. Manager Sean Fallon revealed, “Cruyff was struggling a bit financially in those days because he’d lost all his money in a bad investment, so we felt offering him a few thousand pounds per game might tempt him.”
Fallon and the then 33-year-old Cruyff met in Amsterdam to discuss the transfer and the 1974 World Cup star considered the move. “Was I tempted? Yes, of course. Playing in Britain was something I had always wanted to do. But I thought I was too old at that stage to go to Scotland, where you know the weather will be difficult. When you're old your muscles get stiff, and moving to a cold country is asking for problems.”
Cruyff’s name will always be synonymous with Barcelona, and two more Blaugrana icons were also involved in curious transfer stories. Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta were both very close to joining Rangers on loan in 2005. Iniesta was even offered to the Glaswegians, but neither move materialised in the end after the pair enjoyed fine pre-seasons with the Catalans. In 1997, Rangers were also working to sign Ronaldo from Barcelona in a deal with Nike, until the sportswear giants decided he was going to Inter instead.
Before Rangers entered the scene, Messi could have already been playing in Italy. Former Como president Enrico Preziosi, now the owner of Genoa, revealed: "When he was 15, Messi had a trial with us but we rejected him!"
Like Preziosi, former Perugia president Luciano Gaucci was renowned for being one of Serie A’s most colourful figures – sacking South Korean striker Ahn Jung-Hwan after he scored against Italy during the infamous 2002 World Cup game. He also once attempted to make Perugia the first club to sign a woman – negotiating with German striker Birgit Prinz in 2003. The pair met in Rome to thrash out a deal but the transfer never materialised.
That same year, Gaucci did manage to sign Al-Saadi Gaddafi, the son of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Al-Saadi was a midfielder who was clearly not of the required standard for Serie A, but his connections ensured he also enjoyed further spells at Udinese and Sampdoria. In total, he made just two appearances for these clubs.
Italian football has been full of volcanic presidents over the years. Inter’s Massimo Moratti was not one of them, but he was notorious for sanctioning a number of barmy transfer deals. This included the attempt to sign Ireland international Gary Breen in 2002 on the basis that he had scored at the World Cup. Unattached after the tournament, the modest defender claims he was all set for the Italian giants that summer only to fail a medical.
Until the Calciopoli scandal, Juventus dominated Inter during the Moratti era due to superior transfer dealings, but they were also guilty of at least one bizarre move. In 1999, despite boasting stars such as Alessandro Del Piero, Zinedine Zidane and Edgar Davids, the Bianconeri unveiled their latest new talent ... Ronnie O’Brien. The 20-year-old had been released from Middlesbrough for not being good enough, but the Old Lady incredibly offered him a five-year contract. He left Turin on a free transfer three years later without making an appearance.
Non-league English side Garforth Town actually managed to sign a number of Brazilian World Cup legends in the mid-noughties thanks to the influence of owner Simon Clifford. The legendary Socrates, one of the world’s best midfielders in the 1980s, signed on a one-year loan deal at the age of 50 – making one appearance. Careca and Romario also agreed deals with the Leeds-based outfit – but neither played for the club competitively.
Brazilian World Cup stars seem to have a penchant for inviting strange offers. In the autumn of 1994, just weeks after winning the World Cup with Brazil, goalkeeper Taffarel spent a few months playing for a parish team in Reggio Emilia ... as a midfielder! This summer fourth division Italian side Terracina presented a contract to ex-Inter man Adriano, while another South American Luis Suarez was offered a temporary escape from his biting ban when Kosovan outfit Hajvalia were prepared to pay the Uruguayan a monthly salary of €1500. As Kosovo are not a Fifa member, Suarez would have been eligible to play despite his suspension.
In 1978, Sheffield United chairman Harry Haslam was about to sign Diego Maradona for £200,000 but then ran out of cash for the operation. They moved to sign River Plate's Alejandro Sabella instead, paying £160,000 (€200,000) for his services. The transfer didn't go to plan though, with Sabella being part of a team that was relegated to the Third Division in 1979. He was sold to Leeds United in 1980 and the Blades were relegated to the Fourth Division later that season.
Fact is often stranger than fiction, and that was certainly the case when Real Madrid signed Julien Faubert in 2009 from West Ham. The wing-back arrived at the Bernabeu having turned few heads in East London and unsurprisingly failed to make the grade during his six-month loan spell in the Spanish capital. He made just two appearances and amusingly fell asleep on the bench during a match against Villarreal. Madrid also stunned onlookers a few years earlier when they signed agricultural hardman Thomas Gravesen from Everton as a belated replacement for Claude Makelele. He didn’t fill the void.
Bayern Munich generally have a good record when it comes to transfers, but in 2011 they also turned heads when they signed Dale Jennings from Tranmere. The teenager had impressed in League One, but the jump from the third tier of English football to Germany’s biggest club came was unlikely to end well. After two injury-hit years playing for the reserves, he returned to England in 2013 to sign for Barnsley.
This summer Bayern finally captured Robert Lewandowski on a free transfer from Borussia Dortmund, but the Polish hitman could have joined Blackburn Rovers from Lech Poznan in 2011 were it not for the travel chaos caused by the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano. “He got the invitation from Blackburn, but due to the cancellation of the flights he could not go, and it makes no sense to drive,” said agent Cezary Kucharski. Lewandowski was not the first world class player Blackburn let slip through their fingers. In 1995, manager Kenny Dalglish wanted to sign a young Zinedine Zidane but was hilariously told by club owner Jack Walker: “Why do you want to sign Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?”
Yet perhaps the most bizarre transfer story of all time was Ali Dia’s move to Southampton in 1996. The 30-year-old Senegalese striker had struggled in the lower leagues of French football and had been rejected by Bournemouth and Gillingham when he concocted a plan to play for a Premiership club. Dia’s agent rang up Southampton manager Graeme Souness pretending to be George Weah – then world footballer of the year. ‘Weah’ said he was the cousin of Dia and recommended that Souness sign him. Souness was duped into giving Dia a 30-day contract and he was thrown into his debut as a 30th-minute substitute in the match against Leeds. Dia was a disaster, “an embarrassment to watch, like Bambi on ice” – as Saints star Matthew Le Tissier described him. Dia didn’t even last the game before being hauled off – he was never seen again.