Andre-Pierre Gignac and the top 5 ‘hipster’ transfers
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.
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