#13: The Football Transfers No One Saw Coming

Listen to episode 13 of the podcast, on the most unexpected and shocking transfers in living memory.

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Judging by the first transfer deadline day under the Premier League’s new rules, meaning clubs have to have their business sorted before the season begins, we can expect fewer last-minute, dramatic signings in the summer windows to come.

In our latest show we decided to look back on some of the more shocking and mental transfers down the years, the ones that few people could have ever envisaged.

Fabrizio Ravanelli to Middlesbrough

If it seems mad now to look back and recall the White Feather’s move to Boro, it must have been utterly surreal at the time. Not only was he a terrific striker in 1996, he had just won the Champions League with Juventus.

Despite joining up with Brazilians Emerson and Juninho at the north-eastern club and scoring a whopping 31 goals in one season, Ravanelli and Middlesbrough would end the season relegated to the second-tier.

Still, we’ll always have his incredible debut against Liverpool and the trademark celebration that kids reenacted on playgrounds all over the country.

Ravanelli would end up back in Italy via Marseilles, winning a Scudetto and Coppa Italia double with Lazio, before heading back to England where he joined Derby County. In another odd move, the penultimate club of his career was Dundee in Scotland, much like the next man on this list.

Claudio Caniggia to Dundee

For a club that haven’t broken their record transfer fee since 1995, Dundee somehow attracted the Argentine to join their club in 2000.

Caniggia — a World Cup runner-up in 1990 — moved to Scotland despite the fact he was fighting for a spot in the national team ahead of the tournament in 2002, making the move all the more surprising.

His talent was evident from day one, when he scored a gorgeous chipped finish on his debut.

Naturally, Rangers would end up signing him, where Caniggia won a league medal in 2003. He did make the World Cup squad after all, but in their last group game against Sweden, he was sent off after cursing at the ref from the sideline, becoming the first player to be sent off from the bench in the competition’s history.

Robinho to Man City

The transfer that changed it all. Or at least, the transfer that got the ball rolling on the change that was to follow.

While Robinho is unlikely to be hailed a City legend by the club’s fans, his arrival from Real Madrid on transfer deadline day made a statement that they were ready to upset the apple cart. Ten years on and they’ve won three Premier League titles.

The Brazillian has not had as good a time of it since, receiving a nine-year prison sentence for gang rape of a woman in Italy. His sentence is suspended while he appeals; in the meantime he plays his club football in Turkey.

David Beckham to LA Galaxy

Another game changer. Few people knew Galaxy was even a football team before Beckham left the Spanish capital for Los Angeles, but the profile of MLS has been changed ever since. The likes of Andrea Pirlo, Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry have played out their careers in the US. The former England international moved when he still plenty left to give in his career, as loan moves to AC Milan and PSG later proved.

Honourable Mentions:

Allon Simonsen to Charlton.

Julian Faubert to Real Madrid.

Gary McAllister to Liverpool.

Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano to West Ham.

Rob Green to Chelsea.

Diego Maradona to Napoli.

Roberto Mancini to Leicester City.

Bebe to Man United.

Sporting Kansas City: The Glory of Mid-Western Hell

Sporting KC bring their own hellish brand of football fandom to Major League Soccer, writes Maurice Brosnan of Balls.ie.

In Dante’s Inferno, Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century divine comedy, the Italian poet details the journey through his own creative version of hell. From the moment he approaches the gates which read “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate”, or in English “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” Dante constructs a view of hell that is instantly terrifying.

He chronicles how the air is filled with the wails and blaspheming of those forced to commit to a life in hell while Charon, the first character Dante encounters who also steers the ferry to hell, is portrayed as a truly terrifying figure. He looms over Dante, noticeably missing limbs, and possesses a frightening ability to summon demons at his will.

There is a strangely similar arena in 21st century mid-western America. Upon entering this dome a flag hangs dominantly at the North End, “Welcome to the blue hell.”

The air is filled with the wails of an unrelenting, large faithful gathered below this generous banner. Drums and trumpets are the backing track to the persistent chants of the cauldron.

At the front of the mob a striking character looms. He is familiar to any regular visitor to the boisterous cauldron. Dressed in a multi-coloured vintage jersey while wearing a Native American headdress, he stands on the billboard passionately bellowing to the crowd in a collective mantra of unyielding support.

Welcome to Children’s Mercy Park, the home of Sporting KC. Upon entering for the first time, you start to wonder would a ticket in the family section would have been a wiser choice.

Then, the picturesque chieftain is handed a mega-phone, to further volumize his rallying call. His pending contribution must surely be the cherry on top of the elaborately decorated, beating stadium now full with swirling smoke from recently desisted firework machines.

He winds back his decorated head, as if preparing to unless an ear-splitting exclamation and declares to the anticipating faithful “you guys should give yourselves a pat on the back for coming out here in such numbers on a Sunday, I know ye all got work and school tomorrow.”

A perfect blend of brash passion with stereotypical mid-western hospitality.

MLS poster by Luke Barclay

How is it possible in a country that actively rejected soccer in all its forms for so many years, which for so long produced numerous false dawns only for them to falter, has produced a throbbing, defiant soccer community in its heartland?

The most vocal section of the stadium is consistently the Cauldron, a capacity of 2’000 fans in a designated members section to the North. But support extends beyond that segment. Sporting’s recent home victory over Orlando City was the sides 76th consecutive sell-out.

In 1995 when the MLS began and the Kansas City Wizards began to compete in the league, a small group of just over 30 college students decided to support the team. Rather than instruments and megaphones their simple cheers mixed with the clearly audible shouting of the players involved in the game.

Yet as many elsewhere can testify to, it takes more than fan-driven support to create a community. From their origins of playing in a near-empty Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Kansas City Chiefs, a mutually beneficial relationship between the fans and the club evolved.

While the fans began watching European football stadiums and replicating the chants, the club strove to integrate itself in the city. In 2006 Robb Heineman was appointed CEO and instantly began working with fans.

He canvassed local municipalities and worked to get a specific soccer stadium. The result is Children’s Mercy Park, a 21’000-seat ground situated in Kansas City alongside the Kansas speedway.

Heineman, who last year was linked with a takeover of Everton, is active on social media interacting with fans and invites them to email him with any concerns, questions or issues. He hosts Reddit and Twitter Q & A’s. Under his reign Sporting KC has developed a wide-ranging scouting network in Europe including links to Barcelona’s B team. But Heineman is more concerned with sustainability, as he told NBC.

“We are not signing Pirlo, we are not signing Gerrard, that is never going to be our deal in the current cap structure of MLS where we are going to be signing 5-million-annual-salary-guys. This is just not our formula.”

Soon the south stand also formed a group to complement the boisterous cauldron. The fans tailgate, gathering hours before games and welcoming any new visitor with open arms. Chant sheets are circulated and designated cheerleaders patrol the stadium with megaphones in order to orchestrate maximum support.

Sporting Park (Wikipedia)

The development of a heavily manufactured support base would wrongly imply it is not authentic. Yet there is a humble appetite that differs from the typical English support base.

At White Hart Lane, they play an expertly produced montage just before kick-off. ‘We are Spurs’ offers motivational theme music mixed with flashing images of Paul Gascoigne, Ledley King and Jürgen Klinsmann. The type of rousing production that over-involved football fans develop and publish on YouTube.

Last season in the thick of their ultimately futile title challenge, Tottenham played Watford at home. The montage rolled and was greeted by profuse apathy. The residents in Bill Nicholsan Way released a collective sigh, rolled their eyes and took to chanting the Benny Hill theme at Heurelho Gomes.

A very similar film plays at games before Children’s Mercy Park. A dong rings out as it would before the Undertaker enters another action-filled WWE contest, the fireworks begin and up on the screen pops Dom Dwyer. “Nobody likes us, and we don’t care.”

The footage rolls, and clips from their 2013 MLS Cup win and US Open Cup wins in 2012 and 2015 pop up on screen.

Without fail, this procession is greeted with wholesome delight. Chants of “Sporting” ring around the stadium.

The volume and variety of the chants are also impressive, as is the fans conduct. As part of the Sporting Kansas City’s Victory Project the club honour children who are suffering from, or have overcome, cancer before home games.

Their name is called out, the crowd applauses and then the cauldron reacts, stridently chanting the child’s name and signing “we love you, we love you, we love you. And everywhere we’ll follow…’

They are not the only well-supported MLS team. The Seattle Sounders frequently come close to filling an NFL stadium, while there are repeated comparisons between Borussia Dortmund fans and those at the Portland Timbers.

Sporting KC boast some truly distinctive features including a simultaneously ardent yet refined atmosphere, a contemporary stadium and capable leadership. Beyond that the MLS, despite all the pretentious ridicule it receives from fan bases abroad, extends some superior aspects.

It is a league full of enthusiasm and acceptance. There is no ludicrous belief that they are of a better standard than they actually are, no prehistoric perceptions of what their national style represents, and one can only hope the small number of recent clashes between fans isn’t some senseless, low-rent Green Street move towards European fan rivalries. The lack of segregation between home and away fans is a truly encouraging feature that needs to be protected.

In reality, when one enters Sporting KC and inspects the domestic league it is more likely to encourage, not erase, hope. Sporting’s home is a welcome insight into what this league could become. With progress towards more fan groups and cultures such as this one, the league has the possibility to become something truly great. In actual fact, it has the possibility to prove Dante was right with another statement: “the path to paradise begins in hell.”