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7 times English clubs hijacked high-profile transfers

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What is it about the 2023 January transfer window and deals getting hijacked at the last minute? Are clubs getting more devious or are agents just getting better?


Earlier this month, Chelsea gazumped Arsenal to sign Mykhailo Mudryk when the Gunners had done all of the groundwork.

Tottenham have not got in on the act by pinching Arnaut Danjuma when the Dutchman had flown to England to sign for crisis club Everton.

While it’s unusual to get two such deals so close together, the truth is that English clubs have been ruthlessly hijacking each others’ transfers for years. Here are some of the most notable ones.

John Mikel Obi

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It’s hard to really say if the John Obi Mikel deal was a hijacking or whether a hijacking was prevented. Either way, it was a bit messy.

The Nigerian was presented as a Manchester United player in 2005, only for Chelsea to completely kick-off about it. They claimed they already had an agreement with Mikel and his agent.

Soon afterwards, Mikel disappeared, with Man Utd suggesting Chelsea had been involved in a kidnapping. Lyn, his former club in Norway, thought the same.

He turned up in a London hotel nine days later, saying he had been forced to sign for Man Utd against his wishes and without his agent present. The Red Devils denied it, but decided it all wasn’t worth the hassle. Mikel went to Chelsea and Man Utd got £12m.

Paul Gascoigne

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If you don’t wonder what might have been for Paul Gascoigne, you probably don’t have a heart.

He was a precocious talent at boyhood club Newcastle and in 1988 he came to the sliding doors moment of his career. Sir Alex Ferguson wanted him and thought he had him. A fee was agreed and Gazza had promised to sign.

Ferguson then made the mistake of going on holiday.

“We spoke to him the night before I went on holiday,” Ferguson said. “He said, ‘Go and enjoy yourself, Mr Ferguson, I’ll be signing for Manchester United.’

“So I went on my holidays but Martin Edwards [then chairman] rang and said I’ve got some bad news – he signed for Tottenham.”

Would Gazza have benefited from the brilliant management of Sir Alex Ferguson at such an impressionable age? I guess we’ll never know.

Roy Keane

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Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t achieve what he did without being a quick learner. When Roy Keane became available, he wasn’t going to miss out again.

Keane had actually already agreed terms and shook hands with Kenny Dalglish on a move to Blackburn Rovers. That was late on a Friday night and they had to wait until the Monday to do the paperwork.

Sir Alex saw his chance and did to Blackburn what Tottenham had done to him. He stole in over the weekend and hijacked the Keane deal to take Keane to Man Utd instead.

What a decision that turned out to be.


Matthew Ashton/GettyImages

When Manchester City got rich, they wanted to make a statement signing.

Brazilian star Robinho was on his way out of Real Madrid that summer and Chelsea wanted him. They were so sure they had him that they started selling shirts with his name on the back.

However, with the transfer deadline just hours away, Man City made their move and he went there instead.

The twist in the tale, of course, is that Robinho didn’t actually think he was signing for Chelsea or Man City. He thought he was signing for Man Utd because he thought there was only one club in Manchester.

If that doesn’t illustrate how dramatically Man City have been transformed by their owners’ riches, we don’t know what will.


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Chelsea, of course, are not above a good transfer hijacking themselves, as Arsenal found out regarding Mudryk

Long before Mudryk and Arsenal, though, it was Willian and Tottenham.

Willian completed a medical for Tottenham at their training ground after a deal was agreed wiith Anzhi Makhachkala. It was just a case of completing the paperwork.

However, Roman Abramovich was not short of influence in Russia and he used his connections to pinch the deal at the last second to leave Tottenham furious.

Emmanuel Petit

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While we are on the subject of Tottenham getting done over in a good old-fashioned transfer hijack, we really need to talk about Emmanuel Petit.

In 1997, a year before he became a World Cup winner, Petit was on the verge of a move to Tottenham.

Petit had held discussions with Spurs chairman Alan Sugar and had asked for a couple of days to consider it. So Tottenham popped him in a taxi on the club account and sent him back to his hotel.

Or so they thought.

“Tottenham put the contract on the table for me, I needed a couple of days to think about it but they didn’t expect what happened after that,” Petit explained.

“When the cab came, he took me straight to Arsene Wenger’s house, it was the first time I met David Dein and Tottenham paid for the cab to help me sign for Arsenal. It’s part of the legend now.”

Moussa Sissoko

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As we saw with Gazza, and as we are seeing with Danjuma, Spurs can’t really play the victim when it comes to a transfer hijack.

In 2016, Everton had agreed to pay Newcastle £30m for Moussa Sissoko. A private jet was on stand-by to fly him to Merseyside to complete the deal.

Tottenham swooped in an covertly stole the deal, so covertly in fact that Sissoko had his phone switched off so Ronald Koeman couldn’t call him whilst he signed his Spurs contract

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