Transfer Deadline Day: three words that summon images of chaos; frantic attempts to arrange paperwork, players and managers desperately hoping for a deal to go through, and fans waiting for news of that last-minute confirmation or a hitch that sees their club miss out on a crucial signing. It is all about drama, and even though most big moves go through pretty smoothly — see Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain and Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United — there’s always a chance of very, very late fireworks. Just look at Antoine Griezmann‘s stunning return to Atletico Madrid from Barcelona moments before the 6 p.m. ET / 11 p.m. BST deadline on Tuesday.
It’s always been a day guaranteed to bring tension and excitement, so ESPN’s writers have trawled through their notebooks to recall the most dramatic and sensational stories from previous deadline days involving the biggest clubs and most expensive players.
Mbappe tells Monaco: “You don’t decide where I will play”
It’s August 2017. Kylian Mbappe is the new sensation of French football, wanted by all the top European clubs after a fantastic season (26 goals, 14 assists in all competitions for AS Monaco). But the 18-year-old was happy at Monaco, where he’d just won the Ligue 1 title. For his development, he preferred to stay in the south of France for another season, play in the Champions League under Leonardo Jardim and then join a bigger team — ideally, Real Madrid.
Despite meeting PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, Real Madrid’s Florentino Perez and iconic managers Pep Guardiola (who’d recently arrived at Manchester City) and Arsene Wenger (at the end of his time with Arsenal) earlier in the summer, Mbappe told his club that he was staying, thinking that would settle his summer. The problem, though, is that Monaco had other ideas. They wanted to cash in on their prodigy and had reached an agreement with Real Madrid for a transfer worth €180 million. They then told the France striker that they’d accepted the offer and they wanted him to move to the Bernabeu.
This created tension inside the club. Mbappe was upset that Monaco were trying to force him out and choosing his next club for him. He refused to join Real Madrid and instead wanted to sign for PSG, who had been in contact with him and his family all through the summer. “You don’t decide where I will play. I am the only one who will decide,” he told senior officials at Monaco.
The situation became even more tense, as Monaco were reluctant to let him go to a direct competitor for the Ligue 1 title. Mbappe clashed with his manager, Jardim, and the club’s president refused to play. Finally, on the morning of Aug. 31, the two French clubs agreed to a transfer with maximum value of €180m. The structure was complicated: It would take the form of a one-year loan with an obligation to sign permanently for €145m, paid in two installments of €90m and €55m, and an extra €35m if Mbappe left Paris before the end of his five-year contract, or if he extended his stay there.
At 7 p.m. local time on deadline day, only a few hours before the end of the window, Mbappe finally signed his contract and became a PSG player. — Julien Laurens
Man United move early for Rooney
Still just 18, he went to see then-Everton manager David Moyes to explain his decision but was told that if he wanted to leave, he would have to put in a transfer request. Rooney promptly walked to the canteen and wrote it out on a piece of paper.
Everton needed the money and were keen for Rooney to negotiate with Chelsea, who were offering the highest fee, but the striker only wanted to move to Old Trafford. United initially wanted to wait to sign Rooney in the summer of 2005, but the player’s desire to move clubs forced their hand after Rooney and Everton began negotiating with Newcastle instead.
There was an agreement that Rooney would spend the 2004-05 season under Newcastle boss Sir Bobby Robson at St James’ Park, before moving to United if a release clause was met. When Sir Alex Ferguson got wind, he persuaded his board to bring forward their plans, and on deadline day in 2004, United finalised a deal worth £20m with another £7m million in add-ons to make Rooney the most expensive teenager ever. — Rob Dawson
De Gea’s failed move to Madrid
Manchester United and Real Madrid still dispute who was to blame for David de Gea‘s botched move from Old Trafford to the Bernabeu on deadline day in 2015.
Fearing De Gea’s head was elsewhere after a summer of speculation about a move to LaLiga, United boss Louis van Gaal dropped his goalkeeper — who had a year left on his contract at the time — for the first six games of the season. But it wasn’t until the morning of deadline day that Real Madrid initiated a conversation about signing the Spain goalkeeper. United agreed to do a deal, but only if Keylor Navas was included to come the other way. Just after lunchtime, a deal worth £29.5m was lined up, with Navas headed for Old Trafford, only for the transfer to break down at the last minute.
Real Madrid accused United of sending the paperwork too late because of a dodgy fax machine, though United insisted it was the Spanish giants who had caused the delay because they had sent Navas’ Costa Rican passport details rather than his Spanish documents. It meant Navas couldn’t board a flight to Manchester to undergo a medical.
United believed Real Madrid had got cold feet by that point, and knew the deal would collapse before the issue of the fax was raised. After it fell apart, both clubs released statements the next morning insisting the other side was to blame. De Gea signed a new, long-term contract at Old Trafford the following week, and three years later, Real Madrid finally moved on by signing Thibaut Courtois from Chelsea. — Dawson
The Arsenal transfer that changed the way deadline day was done
Andrey Arshavin’s 2009 move from Zenit St Petersburg to Arsenal rewrote the rulebook. Quite literally, in fact, as this quintessential deadline-day drama was later cited as a reason the Premier League introduced a deal sheet to help formalise the paperwork involved in transfers.
The Gunners had been pursuing Arshavin for some time, but Zenit were resolutely sticking to their £15m valuation, a price Arsenal were unwilling to pay. Exceptional snowstorms arrived on Feb. 1, making travel across the country hazardous, and the transfer deadline was consequently pushed back 24 hours so deals could get done.
Aware of the impending weather, agents Jon and Phil Smith brought Arshavin to London just before the heavy snowfall arrived, but still without an agreement between the two clubs. Russia was three hours ahead of London, and Zenit set one final meeting for 3 p.m. UK time to try to break the deadlock. No progress was made, as Arsenal’s best offer totalled £13.8m.
With 40 minutes left before the deadline, Jon Smith stepped in and offered the extra £1.2m himself, mindful his commission would almost cover it, but gambling on Arsene Wenger and the club’s desire not to miss out on a key signing. Zenit drew up the contract and sent it to Arsenal around half an hour later, demanding the full £15m.
Gunners chief executive Ivan Gazidis called Smith just a few minutes before 5 p.m. UK time.
“How much have you cost me?” Gazidis said.
“I’ve just offered them the £1.2m,” Smith replied.
A long pause followed. “OK,” Gazidis said.
To comply with transfer regulations, formal paperwork was required to confirm Arsenal and Zenit had agreed terms. Although there were emails being exchanged between Gazidis and Zenit, the Premier League only accepted hard copies as proof. Gazidis was told to fax the necessary documentation to Zenit’s administrator, a man called Pavel — except Zenit’s fax machine wasn’t working.
The clock turned 4:59 p.m. UK time. Smith emailed Gazidis and Pavel.
“Pavel, Ivan is going to send you something now,” Smith wrote. “Just send Ivan and me an email with the word ‘agreed’ on it.”
Frantic refreshing of the inbox followed, and with four seconds left, the email arrived.
Arsenal had an anxious wait until the following day for the Premier League and the Football Association to investigate the email trail. Without physical paperwork, the deal did not meet the required standard for a transfer, but a special exemption was granted, all because of that one-word email: “Agreed.” — James Olley
Welcome, Robinho! Man City’s new era begins with a bang
Mark Ogden explains how Cristiano Ronaldo ended up rejoining Manchester United instead of signing for Man City.
Sept. 1, 2008. There has never been a deadline day like it, with the football world being turned on its head by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan’s £210m takeover of Manchester City — with players boarding planes without knowing which club they were signing for, and chaotic scenes at the Etihad Stadium almost leading to a bid for Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.
The day began with Chelsea closing in on Real Madrid forward Robinho and Manchester United expecting to land Dimitar Berbatov from Tottenham for £27m, but Sheikh Mansour’s arrival on the scene, following the mid-morning completion of his City takeover, changed everything. Spare a thought, however, for Vedran Corluka, City’s Croatia international defender, who sealed an £8.5m move to Tottenham an hour before Sheikh Mansour took charge.
City were so desperate for cash under outgoing owner Thaksin Shinawatra that Corluka had to move just in case Sheikh Mansour abandoned his takeover but by midday, City had been transformed into a club that was now ready to take on the might and wealth of Chelsea and United for top targets and make a massive statement of intent.
All of a sudden, City moved to outbid United for Berbatov, offering Spurs £30m for the Bulgaria striker. When the player boarded a plane to fly from London to Manchester early afternoon, nobody knew whether he was heading to Old Trafford or the Etihad, but Berbatov himself had no doubts. “My agent said, ‘We have the interest from Man City,’ but I said, ‘Man, please, you know where I want to go, just one way,'” Berbatov told MUTV.
United pressed on with the deal, despite Spurs angrily attempting to call Old Trafford chief executive David Gill to claim they had only given Man City permission to speak to Berbatov, and not United.
“Despite all the noise and speculation outside Old Trafford, it was actually quite relaxed inside the club’s offices,” a senior United figure told ESPN. “We were just getting the paperwork done and watching everything else from afar. I was actually watching episodes of ‘Frasier’ in my office while the formalities were being done, but our fans were still panicking about City beating us to the player.”
Having been told that Berbatov only wanted to join United, who were now having to pay £30.75m to get the deal done, City instead switched attentions to hijacking Chelsea’s bid to sign Brazil star Robinho, but not before another player’s name came up.
“There were all sorts of late bids being made,” one City source told ESPN. “The owners wanted to make a big signing to show they meant business, so lots of names and players were mentioned. At one point, one senior figure said, ‘This is getting messy,’ prompting a member of staff to prepare a fax to Barcelona for Lionel Messi. The mistake was rectified before the fax was sent!”
At 8 p.m. UK time, City made their move to sign Robinho, agreeing to out-bid Chelsea and pay a then-British record £32.5m for the forward. Robinho headed to the airport, telling reporters that he was “delighted to accept Chelsea’s proposal,” before being corrected about where he was actually headed to. “Yeah, Manchester, sorry,” he said.
There was one final twist to a crazy day, as told by the senior figure at United. “Fraizer Campbell, one of our young strikers, was on the road to Hull to complete a move, but after spending so much time negotiating over Berbatov, Spurs realised that they were in need of a replacement and didn’t have one,” he said. “So Fraizer had to make a sharp U-turn and get himself to Tottenham instead.” — Mark Ogden
Ibrahimovic goes to Juventus, 2004
All summer long, Zlatan Ibrahimovic had been trying to engineer a move away from Ajax, but the club wouldn’t budge. So at the urging of Juve’s sporting director, Ibrahimovic, in the words of his agent Mino Raiola, “started a war” internally, missing training sessions and getting into a row with midfielder Rafael Van der Vaart.
Still, Ajax wouldn’t relent. They demanded a €20m transfer fee for the Sweden international, while Juve’s offer was €12m. Raiola told Zlatan to continue his “war” with the club — by that point, they’d received higher offers from other teams (Lyon and Roma) — as he only wanted to join Juve. Ajax’s response was that they’d rather Zlatan never played for the club again than to have him force a move for a low-ball bid.
It was a classic game of chicken as the clock wound down towards the deadline. Who would blink first? The deal fell into place in the final hours of the window, with the clubs meeting halfway, at €16m. Zlatan left, though as luck would have it, he returned two weeks later, when the two clubs were drawn together in the Champions League. — Gab Marcotti
Tottenham make a dramatic move for Van der Vaart
Manager Harry Redknapp became synonymous with deadline day as every summer and winter, he stopped to lean out of his car window and give the waiting television cameras any inkling of the possible transfer business going on inside. Yet in the summer of 2010 while managing Tottenham, Redknapp gave his afternoon car-window verdict that all was quiet and Spurs were in fact done in the market.
How wrong he was. Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is known for leaving things late, and he’d sensed an opportunity to pull off a major coup at the 11th hour, once it became clear Bayern Munich‘s pursuit of Rafael van der Vaart from Real Madrid had stalled. Within just a few hours of Redknapp’s sincere declaration that nothing was happening, Levy pounced on Real’s need to raise funds and secured an agreement for just £8m.
Redknapp later claimed Bayern had offered £18m, a version of events Real denied. Either way, that wasn’t the end of the drama. A malfunctioning computer used in processing the necessary paperwork led to the Premier League receiving the necessary documentation two hours late, forcing Spurs to ask for special dispensation. Satisfied that the two clubs had agreed to terms before the 6 p.m. deadline, the transfer was allowed to stand. — Olley
Julien Laurens debates how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will utilise Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United.
Hello, Fellaini? Woodward’s wild first transfer window
“It was an absolute horror show,” a Manchester United source told ESPN when asked to recall the final day of Ed Woodward’s first window in charge of the club’s transfers in August 2013. “Ed thought he could sign Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale or Cesc Fabregas, but ended up with Marouane Fellaini, three minutes before the window closed.”
The summer of 2013 was the perfect storm at Old Trafford. Sir Alex Ferguson had retired and long-serving chief executive David Gill decided to stand down, leaving David Moyes as manager and Woodward as Gill’s replacement. Woodward wanted a big signing to prove he could land the best players and to give Moyes a star name, but Woodward’s inexperience and Moyes’ caution in the transfer market led to United wasting time on fantasy-level signings.
Fabregas kept United hanging on for a month before signing a new contract at Barcelona, while Ronaldo tried a similar tactic before sealing his own new deal at Real Madrid. Bale, meanwhile, wanted to leave Spurs for Real, but Woodward thought he had an ace up his sleeve.
“Ed wanted David Beckham to put a word in for us,” a United source told ESPN. “But David also has strong connections to Real, so his people made sure that he stayed well away from that particular idea.”
Having left United’s summer tour of Australia in mid-July to conduct “urgent transfer business,” Woodward still hadn’t delivered a single signing by the time deadline day arrived, with moves for midfielder Daniele De Rossi and defender Leighton Baines also failing to come off. So with the clock ticking, United ended up with Everton midfielder Fellaini in the final minutes of the window for £27.5m, despite the player being available for £23.5m less than a month earlier because of a release clause in his Everton contract.
A late attempt to sign Real Madrid full-back Fabio Coentrao fell through due to a failure to complete the paperwork on time, leaving United with just one new signing in a summer that was meant to herald the arrival of an array of stars. — Ogden
Ronaldo, Inter to Real Madrid, 2002
Ronaldo had returned from two serious knee injuries to lead Brazil to victory at the 2002 World Cup and stoked the attention of Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, who, having signed playmakers Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo in the previous two summers, wanted another Galactico star signing.
Ronaldo had fallen out with Inter’s coach at the time, Hector Cuper, and club president Massimo Moratti had failed to patch things up. But Moratti wasn’t going to be bullied into a move. For the deal to happen, Inter needed to find his replacement, and Real needed to stump up serious cash — or, as one Inter director put it: “They had to sell the training ground to buy Zidane … for Ronaldo they’d have to sell the Bernabeu itself.”
With Champions League registration closing at midnight on Aug. 31, Moratti, speaking the day before, said there was a 99% chance of Ronaldo staying. Inter had been quoted €40m for his replacement and Madrid’s offers were too low. But overnight, Inter received a €46m bid, which they accepted, contingent on securing the Argentina striker Hernan Crespo from Lazio; sure enough, the following morning, they worked out a deal for Crespo (€26m, plus Italian forward Bernardo Corradi).
Ronaldo waited in Moratti’s office to sign the paperwork. And waited. And waited some more.
Why? Because Corradi was holding everything up. Hours passed, and the deal went through with moments to spare as he eventually agreed to the move to Lazio, freeing Crespo to Inter and Ronaldo to Madrid. — Marcotti
Odemwingie gets in his car to find a new club
Redknapp was a mere passenger in the ultimate car-related deadline day fiasco. Peter Odemwingie had a journeyman career at a relatively modest level, taking in spells at clubs like Lille, Lokomotiv Moscow, West Brom, Cardiff and Stoke — ending his career in 2018 with 36 goals in 129 Premier League games — but he will forever be remembered for a move he never made.
By the winter of 2013, Odemwingie had spent three years at West Brom and wanted to join Queens Park Rangers, then managed by Redknapp, in a £3m deal. And he really wanted to join. Talks between the two clubs faltered over West Brom’s desire to take QPR winger Junior Hoilett on loan as part of the deal. They also wanted QPR to pay Hoilett’s wages, a proposal that created a stand-off lasting hours, well into the night.
Reportedly pushed by his agent to break the impasse, Odemwingie took matters into his own hands. Despite having a week-old baby at home, he braved a dismal January evening to drive approximately two hours to QPR’s Loftus Road stadium in an effort to force through a deal. Yet when he got there, the two clubs insisted a fee had not been agreed, and he was refused entry into the stadium as he didn’t have permission to speak to his potential new employers.
To his embarrassment, Odemwingie was forced to park outside the ground while negotiations continued, but that didn’t stop him giving a brief interview.
“It’s not 100% [completed], but I hope West Brom will be happy with what they get,” he said. “Of course, they are hoping to get players themselves so I just hope things will go well in the last few hours.”
They didn’t. The deadline passed without an agreement and Odemwingie had to drive back to the Midlands.
Redknapp suggested that “maybe he was [badly] advised he should turn up,” while QPR chief executive Phillip Beard added, “he came down to London hoping a deal would have been agreed [but] unfortunately we didn’t get to that stage so we weren’t able to talk to Peter at all.” An awkward six months back at West Brom followed, during which he was largely frozen out before eventually leaving for Cardiff City in August 2013. — Olley
Liverpool lose Torres, gain Suarez and Carroll
Jan. 31, 2011, was a tale of three strikers: Fernando Torres, Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez.
Having grown frustrated at Liverpool, Torres sought a move away from Anfield, despite making himself a huge fan favourite since arriving from Atletico Madrid in 2007. Chelsea would ultimately seal a £50m deal for Torres in the final minutes of the window — breaking the record for the most expensive Premier League player at the time — but while it was a late transfer, it was only delayed in order for Liverpool to replace the Spain international with the proceeds of the sale.
Suarez arrived from Ajax in a £22.7m deal in the early evening, but the Uruguay international was regarded as a gamble following a controversial spell in the Netherlands that had seen him serving a seven-match ban for biting PSV Eindhoven‘s Otman Bakkal two months earlier. The other signing, Carroll, was seen as the long-term investment, having become the most expensive English player of all time by leaving hometown club Newcastle for £35m.
Losing Torres was seen as a hammer blow by many Liverpool fans, but the forward went on to endure a miserable four years at Stamford Bridge, with his best years clearly having been experienced at Anfield. Carroll also struggled to justify his transfer fee, scoring just 11 goals in 58 games before being offloaded to West Ham a mere 18 months later.
Suarez, meanwhile, proved a huge hit, even though controversy accompanied him through his three years at Liverpool, when he scored 82 goals in 133 games before leaving for Barcelona in a £65m deal in 2014. — Ogden
Diego Milito, Zaragoza to Genoa, 2008
In 2008, the Italian Serie A transfer window shut at 7 p.m. local time on Sept. 1. More accurately, the door to the temporary league office set up at a hotel that hosted the final days of transfer dealings closed at 7 p.m., and you were either in or you were out.
Genoa directors were waiting outside a few minutes before, hoping for a minor miracle: a fax from Zaragoza confirming the deal to bring back striker Diego Milito.
Milito had been the star of their promotion campaign to Serie A three years earlier, but had to be offloaded after a match-fixing investigation voided Genoa’s promotion. Now, he wanted to come back and had turned down an offer from Spurs to do so.
The fax arrived at 6:55 p.m. and Milito’s agents rushed to the league office to register him, but by the time they got there, it was closed. Club officials were inside, queuing up to register the players they had just signed. Security was blocking the door. Thinking on his feet and knowing that the “office” was just a modular cubicle with no roof, the agent Federico Pastorello threw the paperwork over the wall at two minutes past seven. Lucky for him, Genoa directors were waiting in line inside to receive it. Pastorello was later fined, but the deal nevertheless went through.
Two years later, Milito would lead Inter to a memorable Treble of Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League titles under Jose Mourinho. — Marcotti