Players who transferred between rivals

Culture: July 20, 2021

Last week the world of Dutch football was rocked by the news that Feyenoord’s captain, Steven Berghuis, would be joining Ajax, their most bitter rivals.

It is not unheard of for players to have plied their trade at both sides, Mr Ajax himself Johan Cruyff did it, but the idea of a direct transfer, especially one for such a high profile senior player is almost unheard of. 

So we started to look around and picked twelve of the most heated derbies on the planet in the hope of finding the most high profile cases of crossing the divide from the world of football and in the process have taken an in depth look at those who have been willing to risk it all and why. 

So let’s get into it. 

 

Luis Figo

 

 

Quite possibly the most infamous transfer of modern times, Luis Gigi’s move from Barcelona to the Galacticos of Real Madrid at the turn of the millennium was a big deal.

 

 

The world record fee of €62 million did little to calm the Nou Camp faithful, especially when he collected the 2000 Ballon D’or as a player of Real Madrid, despite the trophy having been earned from his exploits in a Barca shirt.

 

 

His first time back at the Nou Camp was arguably the most raucous and intimidating the famous stadium has ever been while his return the season after famously saw a pig's head thrown at Figo as he prepared to take a corner. It was not pretty.

 

Alex Bennett

 

 

We had to go all the way back to 1908 to find the last time a player crossed the divide in one of the world's most heated and spiteful derbies. It may have been well over 100 years ago now but centre forward Alex Bennett’s move across town from Celtic to Rangers still stirred up plenty of controversy. 

 

 

After winning four Scottish titles on the bounce with Celtic, and just two weeks after scoring against Rangers, he made the switch to the blue half of Glasgow where he would stay for another decade, winning three league titles in a row from 1911 to 1913.

 

Gabriel Batistuta

 

 

Back in 1990 Batigol became one of the few players to transfer between Argentina’s two most heated rivals. What’s more, he somehow managed to do so while still being celebrated by both sets of fans. 

Having started out his career under Marcelo Bielsa at Newell’s Old Boys, Batistuta joined River Plate in 1989. He scored an impressive 17 goals in his first season before being inexplicably ostracised from the side by the always strong willed manager, Daniel Passarella. After being cut out of the first team plans, Batistuta was told he was free to move. So he did, to the sides biggest rivals.

 

 

After arriving at La Bombonera in 1990 he initially got off to a slow start before became the leagues top scorer in his second season, securing a move to Fiorentina. 

 

Franco Cordova

 

 

The Derby della Capitale has seen several controversial crossing of the divides, but none have ever been quite as controversial as the move made by Franco Cordova back in 1976.

 

 

Having joined Roma in 1967, Cordova established himself as a key presence in the heart of midfield, playing over 200 games for the Giallorossi and captaining the side from 1972 to 1976. Then the unthinkable happened. After falling out with Roma’s president, Gaetano Anzalone, who wanted to sell his captain to Verona, Cordova refused the transfer and instead shocked the world of Italian football by signing for bitter rivals Lazio.

 

Colin Kazim-Richards

 

 

Back in 2011, Leytonstone born Kazim Richards became the first player ever to cross the Bosphorus and move directly from Fenerbahce to Galatasaray. 

After impressing and initially being a favourite among the Fenerbahce supporters, especially after his 2008 Champions League quarter final goal against Chelsea, things started to go south for Kazim-Richards.

 

 

An injury and nightclub debacle meant he fell out of favour before being loaned to Toulouse and ultimately cut from Fenerbahce. Galatasaray pounced and after initial outrage the fans ultimately accepted the mercurial forward. He would go on to scor the final ever goal at the historic Ali Sami Yen Stadium before scoring again in the first ever derby at the new stadium.

 

Phil Chisnall

 

 

When it comes to rivalries, there are few anywhere in the world that can match Liverpool and Manchester United for how plainly their contempt plays out at board level. The last 100 years have seen just five players make the switch directly from Merseyside to Manchester, the last of them being Phil Chisnall in 1964.

 

 

Gabriel Heinze came close in 2007, attempting to legally force a move from United to Liverpool and allegedly even attempting to get Crystal Palace used as a go between. Needless to say it did not work and the 57 years and counting looks as though it will not be ending anytime soon. 

 

João Batista da Silva (Batista)

 

 

To this day the most controversial transfer between Brazil’s most bitter rivals, Gremio and Internacional, may well be that of playmaker, Batista. After making his professional debut with Internacional, he spent eight years at the club, winning three national titles and becoming a key part of Brazil’s 1978 World Cup side. Then in 1981 and just a week after arguably his greatest ever performance in an Internacional shirt, Batista broke his leg. 

Internacional’s chairman, José Asmuz, saw his recovery period as an opportune moment to offer his star player an undervalued contract and Batista, horrified by his chairman’s opportunism,  instead elected to sign with bitter rivals Gremio, causing riots on the streets of Porto Alegre. 

 

Andreas Möller

 

 

Having already represented Dortmund for a two year period in the late 80’s, Andreas Möller returned to Ruhr valley in 1994 a world champion and superstar of the game. He would then be an integral part of the greatest Dortmund side ever, winning two league titles and a Champions League over the following six years. So when, upon his contract expiring in 2000,  Möller elected to join fierce rivals Schalke, it was seen as a deep betrayal by the Dortmund faithful.

 

Andreas Möller celebrating Champions League win

 

 

Schalke fans too were reticent to get behind a player who had tormented them so much over the preceding years. That was until he took them to within a stoppage time goal of winning the title in his first year and helped deliver back to back DFB Pokal wins.

 

Ibrahim and Hossam Hassan

 

 

Very few senior players have moved directly between Egypt’s? Two biggest rivals. But back in 2000, and via a 10 game stint at Al Ain, two of Al Ahly’s biggest names both made the switch to Zemalek and it was big news. 

As they always did siblings, Ibrahim and Hossam Hassan went everywhere together. Hossam, the more talented of the pair was arguably the finest Egyptian striker of his day and is Egypt’s all time top goalscorer. 

After winning an incredible 11 titles with Al Ahly the pair won three titles in three years at Zemalek before moving on. 

 

Frédéric Déhu

 

 

Nowadays it’s hard to imagine Marseille and PSG competing for players, but back in the days when French football was financially a fair fight it was not uncommon to see both sides vying for the same transfer targets and even tapping up each other’s youth prospects and fringe players for potential switches. What was uncommon, however, was the idea that either side's captain could make the switch.

 

 

But that’s just what happened back in 2004. Following a confrontation with PSG’s manager Vahid Halilhodžić, club captain Frédéric Déhu announced he would be signing for Marseille upon the expiry of his contract that summer. Unfortunately for Déhu, the announcement was made just days before the 2004 French Cup final. PSG would be victorious as Déhu was jeered and whistled every time he touched the ball. After lifting the trophy he disappeared down the tunnel in tears and did not re-emerge for a lap of honour.

 

Oswaldo Sánchez

 

 

Widely regarded as one of the finest Mexican keepers of all time, Oswaldo Sánchez, crossed the divide in Mexico’s most heated rivalry at the turn of the millennium. Having joined Club America in 1996, Sánchez spent three years with the side, making 76 appearances in the process. Then in 1999, to the shock of many fans he would be included in a bizarre flurry of six transfers between Club America and Chivas Guadalajara.

 

 

He would quickly settle at Chivas where he would be the undisputed number one for seven years, becoming the club captain and ultimately a club legend.

 

Words by Andy Gallagher

 

 

 

 

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