For every jaw-dropping multi-million pound swoop by one of the game’s elite clubs – like Ronaldo to Real Madrid or Luis Figo to Real Madrid or Zinedine Zidane to Real Madrid or…Ronaldo to Real Madrid part deux with more Portuguese – there have been times where the big boys have nipped in to sign somebody and we’ve just gone: “really, lads?”
For example, we still don’t know what Andy Carroll to Liverpool was about, or quite how Papy Djilobodji managed to bag himself a move to Chelsea from Nantes only to be excluded from their Champions League squad the next day, with José Mourinho justifying this by saying: “We’d be very unlucky if we need Djilobodji when we have John Terry, Gary Cahill, Zouma and Branislav Ivanovic.”
Those lads didn’t even make this list because we dug out some even more random moves, so for your pleasure, we bring you: five jammy b*stards who landed at big clubs to everybody’s shock – probably even their own.
Dale Jennings – Bayern Munich
Dale ‘The Gale’ Jennings (somebody somewhere surely christened the winger with this nickname) had a whirlwind debut season at Tranmere Rovers in 2010/11, running amok in League One. After 29 appearances and six goals, the then 18-year old’s form was good enough to see him take home the Apprentice of the Year and the Rovers Young Player of the Year awards.
It also attracted interest from some Premier League sides, but shockingly it was Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich who swooped in and paid £1.8 million for his services. Dietmar Hamman had been dispatched by the Germans to secure the signature of the childhood Liverpool fan. With the world at his feet, Jennings was immediately sent to the club’s reserve side to get games and experience.
However, injuries and the language barrier combined with a diet which consisted mainly of Pot Noodles connived to deny Jennings the first-team opportunity he craved.
He returned to England and struggled in the lower echelons of the football league, being released by MK Dons in 2016 before putting pen to paper for local club Runcorn Town in the North West Counties League Premier Division after a short hiatus from the game.
Ronnie O’Brien – Juventus
Then at Middlesbrough, Ronnie O’Brien – along with folks like Damien Duff and Robbie Keane – was part of the famed Republic of Ireland U18 European Championship winning team of 1998. However, O’Brien struggled in the reserves at club level, so Boro boss Bryan Robson let him go, stating categorically that the 20-year-old wasn’t good enough for the Premier League. Devastated, O’Brien returned home and was training with Bray Wanderers.
Then, like a Randy Orton RKO OUTTA NOWHERE, Juventus rocked up and offered the lad a five-year contract. Seemingly, Paul Merson thought O’Brien was the bee’s knees and hooked him up with his agent – who, apparently, is the most persuasive person in the world. O’Brien suddenly found himself rubbing shoulders with the likes of Alessandro Del Piero and Zinedine Zidane in training.
Over the course of the next three seasons, the Bray native would make just one competitive appearance for Juve – he came on as a 77th-minute substitute for Zoran Mirković in an Intertoto Cup game against Rostselmash Rostov of Russia in August 1999. He would spend most of his time as a Juve player elsewhere on loan at AC Lugano, Crotone, Lecco, Dundee United and then moving to a number of clubs in the states.
The truly hilarious thing, though, is the fact that being signed by Juve isn’t the most random thing to have happened to O’Brien. A prank started shortly after he arrived in Turin saw him receive the most votes in Time magazine’s Person of the Century Internet poll which eventually crashed due to the sheer volume of traffic on the site. O’Brien was disqualified from the voting, though, because Time are buzz killers.
Julien Faubert – Real Madrid
Few things in this world caused football fans as much confusion as the loan signing of Julien Faubert by Real Madrid in January 2009. The Frenchman had made little impact at Upton Park since arriving from Bordeaux, yet that didn’t stop then Los Blancos boss Juande Ramos handing over a £1.5 million loan fee to bring Faubert to Madrid.
Maybe those at the Bernabéu misunderstood when they did their research and found that Faubert was the first person to wear the coveted number ten jersey for France in the aftermath of the retirement of club legend Zinedine Zidane in 2006. In addition, they probably thought the fact he’d scored in his solitary international appearance was also very good – never mind that he hadn’t been called up in the three years since.
Still, the heart wants what it wants, and so it was that Faubert landed in the Spanish capital and prompted a befuddled reaction from club legend Alfredo Di Stéfano at his unveiling.
Never forget Alfredo Di Stefano’s reaction to Real Madrid signing Julien Faubert. pic.twitter.com/ApEN5BnZqw
— Jack Pierce (@Jackpierce88) January 31, 2019
What followed is the stuff of f̶o̶o̶t̶b̶a̶l̶l̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶i̶n̶f̶a̶m̶y̶ legend. Making a grand total of two substitute appearances (amounting to 54 minutes of football), Faubert would become renowned for missing a day’s training when he thought he had a day off and for falling asleep while on the bench against Villarreal.
Funnier still, when asked later about dozing off mid-game, he said wasn’t asleep – just that he was bored. Villarreal beat Madrid 3-2 in that match, a result which crowned arch-rivals Barcelona as La Liga champions that season. Hardly a boring game or scenario really, Julien. Needless to say, the move was not made permanent. Faubert went on to switch allegiance and represent footballing powerhouse Martinique at international level.
Bebé – Manchester United
The passage of time has only made the £7.4 million transfer of Bebé to Manchester United in August 2010 seem stranger. The Portuguese winger had only signed for Vitória de Guimarães on a free five weeks beforehand after a dispute with his first club – Estrela da Amadora, then in the fourth tier – saw him break his contract due to a failure on their part to pay his wages.
Sir Alex Ferguson admitted he had never seen the chap play before, but some scintillating pre-season form was enough to convince him that he’d unearthed another gem – or rather, according to Ferguson, was enough to convince Carlos Queiroz who he says put him onto Bebé’s scent. However, the then Portugal manager has since insisted he hadn’t a clue who Bebé was either and was as surprised as anybody to learn of United snapping him up.
With nobody willing to take responsibility for discovering such a great talent, it’s worth looking at events leading up to the signing of the century. Just two days before Bebé moved to Old Trafford, the winger sacked his agent, Gonçalo Reis, and replaced him with ‘super agent’ Jorge Mendes. The circumstances surrounding the whole thing eventually prompted a criminal investigation in Portugal.
The real crime, of course, being that Bebé lied to us. When unveiled, he told reporters: “I’m fast, I kick well, and I score a lot of goals.” None of this turned out to be true. Dammit, Bebé.
Luther Blissett – AC Milan
Watford’s all-time top goalscorer, Luther Blissett was renowned in England as being a formidable striker during the 80s. Between stints at Vicarage Road, though, he spent one magical season at Seria A giants AC Milan who he joined for £1 million in 1983. After just five goals in 30 appearances, he was promptly shipped back to England for just over half of the original transfer value.
So poor was the form of the man fans started calling ‘Luther Missit’, many wondered whether the Rossoneri had actually meant to sign his Watford teammate John Barnes. While this story is thought to be a myth, it still does the rounds and is exacerbated by a famous Blissett quote from his time in Italy: “No matter how much money you have here, you can’t seem to get Rice Krispies.”
Hardly the words of a man willing to ingratiate himself in the cultural delicacies afforded by Milan. Still, Blissett’s legacy lived on after his departure. An anarchist group set up by cultural activists took his name as a pseudonym to commit pranks, such as fabricating the disappearance of a fictional performance artist called Harry Kipper in 1994, which sparked a continental manhunt.
Blissett himself is not thought to be a member of the much fabled ‘Luther Blissett Project’, but ‘Luther Blissett’ does take responsibility for writing this article. #IamLutherBlissett