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The Art of Betrayal: When Players Break Hearts

September 08, 2015

- Grant Whittington

More than technical skill and thrilling games of open, attacking football, it is rivalries that continue to define the appeal of football. You need only watch an intense local derby match to understand this further, as these games tend to transcend sport and evolve into a physical and mental battle of will. Given the love that fans have for their own team and the hatred that exists for their rivals, it stands to reason that transfer market moves can occasionally cause controversy when they involve players who make the switch from one rival to another.

Even then, there are a select few instances that seem to transcend football and trigger an incredible fan backlash. Here are three of the most tempestuous and controversial transfers of modern times: –

3.    Eric Cantona (Leeds to Manchester United, 1992)

The enigmatic Frenchman only joined Leeds at the beginning of 1992, but he quickly earned a cult status among fans as he inspired the Yorkshire side to the First Division title at the end of the season. Despite this, the controversial Cantona began to fall foul of the Leeds hierarchy and manager Howard Wilkinson, culminating in a shock £1.2 million move to Manchester United in the autumn of 1992.  The rest is history, as the Frenchmen inspired the Red Devils to four league titles in five years and was ultimate voted the fans player of the century. He remains a hate figure in Yorkshire, however, while he also ran a gauntlet of abuse upon his returns to Elland Road.

2.    Sol Campbell (Tottenham to Arsenal, 2001)

Number two on our list was a tight call, as the decision of Carlos Tevez to move across Manchester caused huge controversy back in 2009. It falls slightly short of the fury that surrounded Sol Campbell’s move between the bitter North London rivals in 2001, which resulted in the England defender being subjected to terrifying death threats. Campbell was a huge presence at White Hart Lane, having emerged through the youth ranks and established himself as one of the country’s best defenders. Not only did he leave for bitter rivals Arsenal, however, but he also did also after allowing his contract to run down so that he could move for a free transfer.

1.       Mo Johnstone (Celtic to Rangers, via Nantes)

Undoubtedly the most contentious transfers of all time, Mo Johnstone’s decision to join Glasgow Rangers ignited one of the world’s most ferocious team rivalries and even inspired religious debate in Scotland. No Roman Catholic and former Celtic player had ever made the move across Glasgow, primarily because the sectarian divide and Rangers’ status as a Protestant club would most likely anger both sets of supporters. Cue uproar when Johnstone refused the opportunity to re-join Celtic upon leaving French-club Nantes, as he instead chose to sign for Graeme Souness at Rangers. The ramifications continued throughout his time at the club, with some Rangers fans refusing to celebrate any goals scored by Johnstone until he left.

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