The most surprising African transfers in football history

Mabizela Ighalo Eto'o BoatengGetty Images

Cesc Fabregas' transfer to Serie B Como has got us at GOAL Africa thinking about some of the most surprising African transfers in the history of the sport.

Certainly, no one saw the Spanish World Cup winner - at this stage of his career - rocking up in the Italian second division, but how does that move compare to some of Africa's most shocking transfers of years gone by.

Read on to find out...

  • Odion Ighalo Manchester UnitedGetty

    Odion Ighalo to Manchester United

    When Ighalo left Watford for Changchun Yatai in 2017, it appeared as though he was done for good with the Premier League.

    After proving influential in firing the Hornets to the top flight, Ighalo then appeared to lose his way, scoring just once in 18 league outings in 2016-17.

    On this basis, he proved a particularly odd choice for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer when the Norwegian head coach required striking reinforcements in 2020.

    Ighalo had a strong goal record in the previous years—albeit in the Chinese top flight—but despite some valuable goals for the Red Devils in cup competitions, he failed to score again 12 league games during his time with the club.

    The 2020 arrival of Edinson Cavani ultimately eradicated his playing time with United, even though they had extended his loan deal.

  • Boateng BarcelonaFC Barcelona

    Kevin-Prince Boateng to Barcelona

    In desperate need of a goal-getter, Barca signed Boateng on loan in the winter window of the 2018-19 season.

    Despite ostensibly being an odd fit, there was some creative thinking behind the deal; Boateng was versatile, could find the net, and had experience of representing some European giants.

    However, he was on the books of Sassuolo at the time and—way past his best—failed to make his mark during his brief spell in Catalonia.

    Reflecting on the move in 2020, he insisted he had no regrets about taking up the opportunity to work with Lionel Messi and co.

  • Steven Caulker LiverpoolGetty Images

    Steven Caulker to Liverpool

    Another act of desperation in the January transfer market, Liverpool caught everyone by surprise when they brought in Caulker on loan from Queens Park Rangers.

    The current Sierra Leone centre-back was an odd choice for Jurgen Klopp, having failed to establish himself at Tottenham Hotspur earlier in his career before enduring relegation with Cardiff City.

    While he did feature for Liverpool, he was used in the league as an emergency impact striker—despite making his name as a centre-back—and contributed an assist for an Adam Lallana winner against Norwich City.

  • Samuel Eto'o Anzhi

    Samuel Eto’o to Anzhi Makhachkala

    Eto’o was at the peak of his powers in 2011, having scored twice in Internazionale’s Coppa Italia final victory against Palermo.

    In the previous two seasons he’d scored back-to-back European trebles with Barcelona and Inter, the only man to do so with two separate clubs in consecutive campaigns.

    The striker could have had his pick of potential new destinations, but he ultimately agreed to a move to little-known Dagestani side Anzhi Makhachkala, who were splashing the cash in a bid to establish themselves as a European powerhouse.

    He was reportedly earning a net salary of €20 million during his time in Russia, and while the money shined light on his motivation, it didn’t make the forward’s move to Makhachkala seem any less bizarre!

  • Bebe Manchester UnitedGetty

    Bebe to Manchester United

    Sir Alex Ferguson broke his golden rule when he signed Bebe for Manchester United for a £7 million fee, with the Scottish head coach previously insisting he’d never recruit a player without having watched him play.

    There was an intrigue to the Bebe signing, with the forward having grown up in a homeless shelter and working his way up after being abandoned by his parents.

    However, he proved not to be up to United’s class, making only two league appearances across four years before returning to Portugal with Benfica.

    The attacker, now 31, made his debut for Cape Verde earlier this year.

  • Bongani Khumalo | TottenhamGetty

    Bongani Khumalo to Tottenham Hotspur

    Khumalo was not a youngster when he made a shock move from the South African PSL to the Premier League—and Tottenham Hotspur—in 2011.

    Khumalo was a strong defender for SuperSport United before his move—and for both SSU and Bidvest Wits—after returning to South African football, but he was never going to make the cut at Spurs.

    The 42-cap South Africa international spent time out on loan with Reading, PAOK Salonika, Doncaster Rovers and Colchester United, but never played a league game for Spurs.

  • ALI DIA

    Ali Dia to Southampton

    Dia is of the most baffling stories in the history of the sport.

    Then-Southampton boss Graeme Souness thought he’d struck gold in 1996 when he received what he thought was a phone call from reigning Ballon d’Or winner George Weah recommending his ‘cousin’, who counted Paris Saint-Germain among his previous employers.

    Souness believed the call—which turned out to be from a friend of Dia’s, rather than the current Liberia president—and handed Dia a one-month contract.

    He was introduced as a substitute for injured club legend Matt Le Tissier against Leeds United, but was withdrawn 50 minutes later as it became palpably clear that he was not a player of such pedigree.

    Dia was released shortly afterwards.

  • Papy Djilobodji Sunderland 2017Getty Images

    Papy Djilobodji to Chelsea

    Djilobodji was a decent Ligue 1 defender at Nantes, but had done little to suggest that he was of Chelsea quality.

    Therefore, it was something of a surprise when Jose Mourinho opted to bring him to Stamford Bridge for an initial £2.7 million in 2015.

    The Senegal international only featured for 62 seconds—in a League Cup victory over Walsall—and moved onto Sunderland (and eventual relegation) 11 months later.

    He’s currently on the books of Turkish side Gaziantep.

  • Jay-Jay Okocha Bolton

    Jay-Jay Okocha to Bolton Wanderers

    Okocha wasn’t short of options when he left Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer in 2002, in the aftermath of an encouraging World Cup with Nigeria.

    So it was therefore something of a surprise when he opted for unglamorous Bolton Wanderers, and the prospect of joining forces with Sam Allardyce.

    What ultimately followed was one of the most glorious eras in the club’s history, with Okocha joining the likes of Fernando Hierro, Ivan Campo and Youri Djorkaeff in a star-studded selection…but it was still a bizarre choice at the time!

  • Mbulelo MabizelaGetty

    Mbulelo Mabizela to Tottenham Hotspur

    Another questionable Spurs signing from the PSL, Mabizela was—like Khumalo—also signed around the time that the North London giants had various partnerships ongoing with clubs in South Africa.

    Old John—like Khumalo—proved to be a useful operator in domestic status, going on to enjoy legendary status at Mamelodi Sundowns, but couldn’t cut it at Spurs.

    A switch from the PSL to the Prem was always going to be a massive leap, although at least Mabizela did strike a wondergoal on his debut against Leicester City.