Andre-Pierre Gignac surprised most fans and media outlets when his latest transfer destination this past week. Instead of choosing one of reportedly interested Premier League teams, such as West Ham, or another respectable European side, Gignac crossed the Atlantic to sign for Mexican club Tigres UANL. At 29-years old the French international is arguably in the prime years of his career, so the Liga MX seems a strange destination for Ligue 1’s second top scorer for 2014-15. Of course, money may have been a big factor – reports of a €4 million annual salary would easily make Gignac the highest paid player in Mexican league history – but there would surely be clubs around Europe capable of at least matching those demands.
It was as if the striker purposely looked at all his options and pinpointed the one with most hipster appeal. Whether he felt disillusioned with the European quagmire of competition, or wants to become a pioneering star in a new part of the world, Gignac’s move to Tigres will go down as one of football’s obscurest, considering the profile of the player involved.
Gignac’s decision to defy convention and make a daring dive into the obscure is rare, but not altogether unheard of. Here, I list five of the most notable ‘hipster’ transfers by well-known players down the years.
- Sebastian Giovinco – Toronto FC
No better place to start than the last high profile player to take an unusual career path, as Italian international Giovinco chose MLS over an expected Premier League move. Having come through the ranks at his local club Juventus, the deep-lying forward featured for the Turin club and had successful loan spells at Empoli and Parma. With chances becoming more and more limited with Juve, however, Giovinco was expected to move on to another top club in order to progress his career. Tottenham and Arsenal were among the high-profile potential suitors, so it was a big surprise when the little Italian signed for MLS side Toronto FC on the eve of his 28th birthday in January 2015.
Teaming up with the infamous Jozy Altidore to lead the Canadians’ forward line, Giovinco became the highest paid current MLS player and no doubt enjoys a lavish lifestyle. He is already idolised as one of the league’s standout stars, so while ‘the atomic ant’ may have made a North American trip five or six years before most top European players even consider it, he is at least making the most of it.
- Diego Maradona – SSC Napoli
Although with hindsight Maradona’s transfer to Napoli proved his most successful at club level, the move generated considerable surprise at the time, as the Serie A side had never won a league title or made inroads at European level. Perhaps the Argentine sought a relatively lesser club than previous employers Barcelona, where he effectively forced himself out by picking a fight with the whole Athletic Bilbao team in his final appearance; or else he deliberately picked a challenge in order to prove himself as one of the sport’s greatest.
A world-record fee of about €8 million got Napoli the world’s best player, and thousands of adoring fans packed the Naples streets to welcome Diego like he was their Messiah. He more than lived up to the hype – Napoli went from relative obscurity to one of Serie A’s most famous clubs in the seven years Maradona graced the Stadio Sao Paolo turf. By the time he left for Sevilla in 1992, Gli Azzurri had won their only two league titles to date, a Coppa Italia and the UEFA Cup.
- Asamoah Gyan – Al Ain FC
A lot of players have made middle-eastern transfers in the traditionally peak years of their careers – Afonso Alves and Ricardo Oliveira notably among them – but Ghanaian striker Gyan takes a spot on this list for more than just his footballing eccentricity. While Alves and Oliveira may have moved to restore battered reputations, Gyan had no need to do so – he had a relatively successful 2010 World Cup, though it ended in penalty-missing heartbreak, and not a bad debut Premier League season in 2010-11 with Sunderland. The news came a bit out of the blue that Gyan had left for an initial season loan to UAE Pro-League side Al Ain, a deal which was made permanent in 2012. At just 25-years old when he made the move, Gyan still had every chance of making a successful career out of European football.
A ludicrous salary could have been, and likely was, an impossible temptation to ignore, a lot about Gyan’s persona suggests he could have chosen Al Ain just to stand out against convention. The all-time leading Ghanaian goal scorer wears number three, traditionally worn by a full-back, and back home is also a well-known musical performer called Baby Jet. Sticking with the name, he owns BabyJet Promotions as a boxing promoter in Ghana, while in Sunderland he set up a mobile disco business that entertained at Steve Bruce’s birthday. All said, Gyan’s decision to move off the beaten track and become a star in UAE might not be so surprising after all.
- Rivaldo – Uzbekistan, homecoming, Angola
After a glittering and controversial career with the likes of Barcelona, Milan and Olympiacos, and conquering the world with his native Brazil, Rivaldo looked to be winding down his career when he fell out with the Olympiacos hierarchy and joined rivals AEK Athens. After just a season, Rivaldo took the lucrative offer of joining Uzbekistan club Bunyodkor in 2008. By then in his mid-thirties, retirement was expected to be on the horizon, but recent years have seen the former World Player of the Year make plenty of obscure moves.
After leaving Bunyodkor, Rivaldo signed himself to the club he owns, Mogi Mirim, before getting loaned out to Sao Paolo. Then came his, and perhaps any former Balon d’Or winner’s, most bizarre transfer, as he joined Angolan club Kabuscorp on a year-long deal.Playing over twenty games, scoring eleven goals, and achieving just a 4th place finish, Rivaldo nevertheless gave the 1994-founded African club an exceptional slice of history. Another lower league Brazilian stint with Sao Caetano followed before Rivaldo finally retired back at Mogi Mirim in 2014, aged 43. Reading the last near decade of the Brazilian forward’s career sounds distinctly average, and stands in bizarre contrast with his world-class peak.
- Cuauhtémoc Blanco – Mexican lower league tour
He may not be a household name this side of the Atlantic, but Blanco is considered by many in Mexico as their greatest ever player. Appearing 120 times over a near two decade span until 2014, Blanco was the playmaker of Mexico’s successful last generation that featured the likes of Jared Borgetti, Claudio Suarez and Gerardo Torrado. Having cemented legend status at Liga MX stalwarts Club America with a fifteen-year stint, then becoming a fan-favourite of MLS franchise Chicago Fire, Blanco took the unusual option of winding down his career in Mexico’s lower divisions, featuring for four minnow clubs in as many years before a brief return to the top flight with Puebla last season.
While Chicago Fire was an unconventional enough move, it made sense seeing as Blanco was by then in his thirties and beginning to wind down a successful career. However, a 2010 transfer to Ascenso MX’s Veracruz followed and Blanco’s mini-tour of Mexico’s lower divisions began. After six months he signed for another Ascenso MX club, Irapuato FC, and narrowly missed out on promotion. Next up was 2003-founded club Dorados de Sinaloa, who he guided to Copa MX glory. Blanco’s last stop in the Ascenso MX was Lobos BUAP for the 2013-14 campaign, one that unfortunately ended in failure to challenge for promotion. A final season with Puebla gave another Copa MX, and Blanco brought a celebrated and unusual career to a successful end.[separator type=”thin”]
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Why Manchester United must go all out to steal Alexis Sanchez away from Manchester City
In the midst of winter, things are starting to heat up.
It seemed for all the world that Manchester City were finally going to get their man in the January transfer window after missing out on Arsenal talisman Alexis Sanchez on deadline day in late August.
On that occasion they offered £60 million to lure the Chilean to the Etihad, only to see their offer rebuffed by the Gunners after Arsene Wenger failed with his pursuit of replacement Thomas Lemar.
Instead, it seemed inevitable that Pep Guardiola would finally persuade Arsenal into selling once January came around, a feeling that has grown due to a lack of contract negotiations between Sanchez and his current Club – although it may not be as straightforward a move as first seemed.
Quite sensational reports from around the globe over the past two days have now suggested that City’s bitter rivals Manchester United are also in the race to sign the soon to be out-of-contract Arsenal forward.
Sky Sports Italia were the ones that broke the news on Thursday, claiming that United have now entered advanced talks with Sanchez’s agent ahead of a proposed move to Old Trafford this month.
The report also claims that United are preparing to offer a larger transfer fee – which the The Guardian believe to be in the region of £25 million – than Manchester City, and that any deal that would see Sanchez move to Old Trafford could also see the out-of-favour Henrikh Mkhitaryan go the other way.
And quite frankly, if there’s any truth behind these reports, United should go all out to get him.
After starting the Premier League season in fine form, setting the pace with City at the top of the table, United’s form has derailed somewhat and it seems that their pre-season hopes of the title are a distant memory.
That’s not to say that they’ve been poor, because they haven’t.
Not many teams only lose three times in the opening 22 league matches yet find themselves 15 points behind the leaders, and the size of the gap is testament to just how good City have been.
Yet it’s hard to deny that there has been a spark missing at Old Trafford this season since their blistering start to the 2017-18 campaign, and a player in the mould of Sanchez could be exactly the tonic required for a mid-season boost.
There’s a distinct lack of width in the United side, something that boss Jose Mourinho has been aware of for a while after trying – and ultimately failing – with his pursuit of Ivan Perisic last year.
Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata have all played their parts in wide areas but none are fully comfortable there, and United are in need of a fully-fledged winger who possesses the talent to deliver consistently into the area for the likes of Romelu Lukaku to work with.
And in Sanchez there’s few better options around as of now.
His Premier League pedigree is anything but a secret, scoring 31 times in his last 57 appearances since the start of last season, and he can add 13 assists to his impressive record during this period.
Mourinho is on the hunt for a creative hub and the Chilean forward is just that, and despite coming in for criticism this season for his performances he’s still created 50 clear-cut chances for Arsenal, only second to Mesut Ozil.
For a point of comparison United’s most creative player this season has been Mata, crafting 31 opportunities for his teammates, and that just shows the impact Sanchez could have upon arrival.
Yet, a move for Sanchez would run far deeper than just his creativity.
He’s a player ideal for Mourinho, one that’s determined, willing to give his all until the final whistle and leave nothing behind on the pitch, and his never-say-die attitude could lift the Old Trafford dressing room no end.
It seems to be a viewpoint that is shared by those with an avid interest in United too, with ex-defender Phil Neville telling Sky Sports that it could be an ‘unbelievable’ coup for them should they pull it off.
Addressing the transfer rumours yesterday, he said:
“It’s pretty obvious he’s not going to stay at Arsenal. I think if United were going to buy him, £25m would be an absolute snip.
“United missed out on buying Ivan Perisic in the summer, and with that missed out on a winger. I think Sanchez provides the quality, the goals and the world-class ability he has got.
“I think it would be an unbelievable signing. If you look back at the big signings over the decades, [Eric] Cantona came out of the hat, [Robin] Van Persie was a surprise, and they both helped United win titles. I think this could have a similar impact. He’s got the character to play at Old Trafford.”
His point on Cantona and Van Persie is a hugely valid one, and whilst a move for Sanchez now isn’t likely to help them overhaul Manchester City this season it sets them up perfectly for next time out – and could help their Champions League push in the latter part of 2017-2018.
However, perhaps more than anything, being able to hijack Manchester City’s proposed move for him would almost give them an air of having something over their rivals in a season where Guardiola has dominated.
Should the rumours be true, and should both Manchester sides be in for Sanchez, then ultimately the Chilean’s choice of final destination will be down to his personal preference – and this would say a lot.
January is often known for being a more mundane transfer window than the summer installment but that’s certainly not the case this time around, and Manchester United could be drawing ever closer to one of the most memorable hijacks in Premier League history.
What do Manchester United need to do to have the perfect January?
All in all, it has been an odd first half of the season for Manchester United.
After winning both the EFL Cup and the Europa League in 2016-17, securing Champions League qualification in the process, and after tying down the services of forward Romelu Lukaku and midfielder Nemanja Matic during the summer, expectations were high ahead of the new season.
Jose Mourinho’s side started the campaign like a runaway train, winning six of their opening seven fixtures and scoring 21 goals in the process to set the pace with Manchester City at the top.
Yet things have gradually began to unravel since their 0-0 draw at Anfield in mid-October, losing twice to Huddersfield Town and Chelsea before coming unstuck against their bitter city rivals Manchester City to leave clear daylight between themselves and Pep Guardiola’s side in the table.
The recent festive period left very little to cheer about either, with three consecutive draws against Leicester City, Burnley and Southampton allowing Chelsea, Liverpool and the chasing pack to gradually draw closer, and those pre-season hopes of a title challenge are merely a distant memory.
Yet, whilst the Premier League title may be slipping out of United’s reach, there is still plenty of silverware up for grabs in the form of the FA Cup and Champions League and January could be an important time at Old Trafford.
The red half of Manchester has quite the track record when it comes to mid-season additions, with the likes of Andy Cole, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Juan Mata all making the switch in the transfer window in years gone by, and a signing of a similar ilk could provide a much-needed boost.
There certainly won’t be wholesale changes for Mourinho, that’s for sure.
The spine of the Manchester United side is taking place nicely through David de Gea, Eric Bailly, Matic, Paul Pogba and Lukaku, and slowly but surely he’s starting to craft a well-balanced team.
Nonetheless, there is a spark missing in the wide areas, and despite having Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard on the books they’re lacking a world-class winger that can consistently provide Lukaku with service inside the penalty area.
It was hoped that Mkhitaryan’s arrival from Borussia Dortmund in 2016 would add this desired creativity and inventiveness in front of goal but his time at Old Trafford hasn’t materialised as hoped, and the glimpses of his peak form from his Bundesliga days have been few and far between.
It is a frustrating case for Mourinho as, at the start of the season, there were few Premier League players as in-form as Mkhitaryan, scoring once and assisting five times in the opening six matches.
His downfall has been as dramatic as it has been publicised, and after cutting words from the Manchester United boss in recent months his performances on the pitch have been utterly abject.
With BBC Sport reporting last month that former side Dortmund are considering buying him back, it is a likely story that this move will be sanctioned to free up funds for a proven replacement winger.
In the cases of both Martial and Rashford, neither are natural wingers, and it’s shown at times.
Both are more accustomed – and more comfortable – playing in a striking role alongside Lukaku, a role which Martial has particularly impressed in of late, whilst Lingard has come out of almost nowhere over the Christmas period to stake his claim as an attacking midfielder behind the strikers.
United’s Premier League rivals have shown the importance of having an out-and-out winger in the ranks – just look at Mohamed Salah at Liverpool or Leroy Sane at Manchester City – and boss Mourinho knows that too, hence why he chased after Inter Milan wide-man Ivan Perisic in summer.
The Croatian international was outlined as one of four primary targets for United over the summer window yet he ended up being the one that got away, signing a five-year extension at the San Siro to end hopes of a move to the Premier League.
As such, Mourinho has had a few months to think of an alternative and Sky Sports have been reporting over the past week that Paris Saint-Germain’s Lucas Moura is now on his January wish list.
The 25-year-old has been shunned in France since the marquee arrivals of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, and it seems that he’s in desperate need of a move away to keep his career from stalling.
Another potential option could come in the form of Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez, who looks destined to finally get his move away at some point in 2018. Unlike the potential risk in buying Lucas, the Algerian is a man that knows the Premier League inside and out and has impressed.
Everyone knows that Mahrez is a player that loves nothing more than to run at people and drive at defences, and his ability to hug the touchline and cross the ball would be a huge positive for Lukaku.
A more outside bet comes in the form of young Bayer Leverkusen winger Leon Bailey, who, in a recent interview with German outlet Bild, revealed he has his sights set on a move to the Premier League one day – although a move for him would be a gamble for half-way through a season with matches coming thick and fast.
With all things considered, it seems like Lucas is the most probable option for now, though.
Whilst most of the talk will be about who may potentially come in at Old Trafford, this season has shown that there is a lot of deadwood in the squad that should be let go over the transfer window.
Players like Daley Blind and Matteo Darmian are ones that have struggled to ever get a foothold under Mourinho – or under Louis van Gaal – and their days at the club are now arguably numbered.
Should they leave then it is not out of the question that Timothy Fosu-Mensah could be re-called early from his loan spell at Crystal Palace to act as defensive cover – which based on United’s defensive luck this season will be needed – as he will be well-equipped after receiving regular first-team football at Selhurst Park under Roy Hodgson.
In addition, the current situations of both Mkhitaryan and Marouane Fellaini need to be sorted out, with Fellaini’s contract negotiations dragging on.
Allowing these four players to leave would free up those necessary funds to invest into an attacking wide-man, and if the summer is anything to go by then Mourinho won’t stop working until it is a done deal.
Who is Cenk Tosun, Everton’s £27 million signing from Besiktas?
After a troublesome opening to the 2017-18 Premier League campaign, new Everton boss Sam Allardyce has wasted little time in making his mark after it was announced that a deal has been completed for Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun.
Despite spending well over £100million during the summer transfer window on a number of well-known players from across Europe the Toffees new-look squad have struggled to gel together, leaving them inside the bottom three in late October and resulting in the sacking of Ronald Koeman.
The Everton board took their time in finding a new man in charge, with David Unsworth managing standing at the helm for five weeks before appointing survival extraordinaire Allardyce.
But results have already remarkedly improved in the ten games since the former England manager took over, winning six of his first seven matches and going nine games without tasting defeat to ease any real relegation worries and lift Everton into the top-half.
It seems that Allardyce has well and truly steadied the ship on Merseyside and it’s now his time to start putting his own slant on the squad, beginning by filling the massive hole left by Romelu Lukaku.
The Boot Room takes a look at Everton’s new £27million striker, Cenk Tosun.
Who is Everton’s new signing?
Born in Germany, Tosun began his footballing career at Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt in their youth ranks from the age of six, working his way up the age groups before breaking into the reserves.
Despite featuring heavily for their reserve side he struggled to make the leap into first-team, and Bundesliga, football, making just one appearance when he came off the bench as a 75th minute sub back in 2010.
His frustration at a lack of game-time in Germany led him to Turkish Super Lig side Gaziantepsor, and he made an immediate impression by scoring 10 goals in just 14 appearances during his first season.
It was there that he was awarded his debut call-up to the Turkish national side in 2013, coming on late against the Netherlands in a World Cup qualifier to make his international bow, and it was during this breakthrough year that he caught the eye of Turkish giants Besiktas.
The 15-time Super Lig winners secured the services of Tosun on a five-year deal back in 2014 and, despite playing second-fiddle to both Demba Ba and Mario Gomez for a few seasons, the young striker became a regular for the 2016-17 campaign and repaid the faith with 24 goals in another title-winning year for Besiktas.
It was this level of performance that caught the eye of Crystal Palace over the summer, according to the Evening Standard, but Tosun decided against a move to England and recently helped his side reach the Champions League last-16.
He’s also continued to impose himself on the international stage, scoring five times in Turkey’s recent World Cup qualifying campaign to end as their top-scorer – despite the fact they failed to make the finals in Russia later this year.
What does the Turkey international have to offer the Toffees?
On paper, he has the attributes needed to be a success story for a meagre price.
The 26-year-old might not be known for his speed, and he won’t win many foot races with the Premier League’s quickest defenders, but he’s an intelligent striker and has a keen eye for goal.
Much like Lukaku before him he’s more than capable of scoring with both feet as well as with his head, and this triple threat could really benefit an Everton side with only 25 goals from 22 games.
His record speaks for itself, finding the net 24 times for Besiktas last season in 45 appearances before continuing this form into the opening half of 2017-18 where he’s scored 12 times in just 22 matches, and it’s fair to say he’s a man brimming with confidence.
His proven prowess runs deeper than just goals though, earning eight assists over the past 12 months, and it’s this ability to be unselfish that could help Everton’s attacking midfielders thrive.
At 26-year-old he’s at the peak of his physical form and after playing in a rough Turkish league he will be more than up for the Premier League’s physicality, holding the ball up for his new teammates.
There will no doubt be those claiming that the Turkish league doesn’t compare to the test of the Premier League, and they may be right, but he’s proven himself to be a potent threat in the Champions League group stages and he has helped Besiktas progress with four goals in six matches.
Time will tell whether he has the potential to make an impact in a whole new league but at little over £27million in the current market it can be considered a steal, and Tosun could be worth a risk.
Where will he fit in at Goodison Park?
This is perhaps a more straightforward question.
It’s been no secret over the opening four months of the Premier League season that a glaring error was made by those in charge of recruitment at Goodison Park when they failed to replace star forward Romelu Lukaku following his £75million switch to Manchester United during the summer.
To say it was an oversight from ex-boss Ronald Koeman to re-invest that money in every position except from a striker would be massively underplaying it, and Allardyce has made no such mistake.
The likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Oumar Niasse have both showed promise at different times this season but neither are likely to get close to Lukaku’s ability to consistently find the net on 20 occasions, with the Belgian setting a high precedent with his record 25 goal haul achieved last year.
Tosun will be used to spear-head a limp Everton attack, acting as a focal figure for the Toffees’ attacking midfielders and giving them an outlet in front of goal that has proven himself in Europe.
It would be little surprise to see him thrown in at the deep end as soon as possible too, and Allardyce will be hoping that he can be the player to start to pull the Everton jigsaw together.
What has Allardyce had to say?
It appears that the Everton boss has had his eyes firmly set on the 26-year-old for a while now, claiming in a recent interview with BBC Sport that he hopes Tosun will show that he’s good value for money in the current market.
In the same interview, he went on to say:
“I think that if we get the transfer done and he is successful by scoring a lot of goals for us then it will be an exceptionally good deal that we’ve done.
“It’ll be down to him when he signs on to prove us all right.”
Tosun could be set for his first appearance in an Everton shirt – and for his Premier League debut – as soon as next Saturday afternoon when the Toffees travel to Wembley Stadium to face Tottenham.
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