Sometimes what stops a good team from being a great one is a marquee signing. We have seen this a lot in the past. Today, we take a look at some of the signings that flipped the fortunes of teams on their heads. Many of the greatest teams in football have at some point made a signing so incredible that it defined their legacies. Let’s take a look at the top 10 greatest transfers of all time.
10. David Beckham to Real Madrid
David Beckham’s relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson was deteriorating in the 2002-03 season, and transfer speculation was rife. United originally wanted to sell the former golden boy to Barcelona, but Beckham preferred to join the Galacticos of Real Madrid. The move to Real helped to increase Beckham’s global popularity, but Manchester United has had more success on the pitch.
9. Didier Drogba to Chelsea
Didier Drogba wasn’t the first of Roman Abramovich’s mega-signings for Chelsea, but he’s been arguably his best. Drogba came from Marseille in 2004 for £24 million (a bargain price if you think about it now), and he’s gone on to score 144 goals in 306 appearances and won four Premier League titles, one champions league, three League Cups and four FA Cups.
8. Ronaldo Nazario to Real Madrid
Ronaldo played for both Barcelona and Real Madrid. He also played for both AC and Inter Milan, among others. And he won two World Cups with Brazil. He moved to Real from Inter as one of the most-anticipated Galacticos in 2002 for €39 million and immediately broke jersey sales records. He scored 104 total goals in 177 appearances over five years for Madrid, his longest stint at any of his seven clubs.
7. Diego Maradona to Napoli
Diego Maradona had already captured the world’s attention with Argentina by the time he signed for Barcelona, but it wasn’t until he moved to Napoli that his game hit its peak. He signed for Barcelona from Boca Juniors for a record £5 million in 1982, but he was frequently involved in bust-ups with his manager and did not last long at Barca. He moved to Italy in 1984 for another record fee of £6.9 million and led Napoli on its most dominant stretch in the Serie A. With Maradona, Napoli won its first Serie A title in 1987 and the Coppa Italia the same year. They won the Serie A again in 1990. His time in Italy was also marred by drug and s*x scandals, and he frequently missed practices.
6. Thierry Henry to Arsenal
Arsene Wenger had managed Thierry Henry at Monaco, and he later brought him to Arsenal in what is probably the Frenchman’s best signing. Henry moved to London in 1999 for £11 million, and he became a world-class footballer with the Gunners. Though he failed to score in his first eight games, he finished his first season with 26 goals, 17 in the league as Arsenal finished in second place. He had 226 goals and 92 assists in 369 appearances for Arsenal. He led Arsenal to the Double (Premier League and FA Cup) in 2001-02, and in 2003 and 2004, he was the PFA and FWA Player of the Year and runner-up in the FIFA World Player of the Year. He was a member of Arsenal’s legendary “Invincibles” and moved to Barcelona in 2007 after two Premier League titles and three FA Cups.
5. Zinedine Zidane to Juventus, Real Madrid
Juventus purchased Zidane for £3.2 million in 1996, without much fight from Blackburn owner Jack Walker, and he won two Serie A titles in his five seasons with the club. In 2001, Zinedine Zidane moved to Real Madrid from Juventus for a then world record €75 million. Zidane was the most marquee signing of the first Galacticos era, and in his five years with Madrid, he won the Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey each once.
4. Alfredo Di Stefano to Real Madrid
Everything has a reason, and the reason that El Clasico isn’t just another match is Alfredo Di Stefano. His transfer was one of the most fought over in football history, and it’s the most important. Di Stefano was originally thought to be headed to Barcelona from Millionarios in 1953, having signed a deal with both the club and FIFA. However, Millionarios had not signed off on the deal and would not allow the player to leave. FIFA ordered the Spanish Federation to sort everything out, and Real Madrid president Santiago Bernabeu took advantage of the confusion and discontent in the Barcelona camp. Di Stefano played 11 seasons with Madrid, scoring 307 goals in 396 appearances and winning eight La Liga titles, one Copa del Rey and five European Cups.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United, Real Madrid
Cristiano Ronaldo came to Manchester United in 2003 for the absolute bargain price of €15 million. Ronaldo said he didn’t want the pressure of the No. 7 shirt when he first arrived, but Sir Alex Ferguson said the pressure would motivate him. He did not become a star until 2006-07. He broke the 20-goal mark and won his first Premier League title with United though he had already won the FA Cup. He finished second to Kaka in the Ballon d’Or voting in 2007. The next year he scored 42 goals in 49 appearances as United won their third straight league title and the Champions League. He was also the European Golden Shoe and Ballon d’Or winner for 2008 and the first Premier League player to be named FIFA World Player of the Year. In 2009, Real Madrid paid a world record £80 million for Ronaldo’s services as their marquee signing for the second Galacticos era.
2. Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard to AC Milan
Silvio Berlusconi acquired three Dutch stars for a struggling A.C. Milan side in 1987 and 1988; striker Marco van Basten from Ajax, Frank Rijkaard from Sporting CP and Ruud Gullit from PSV Eindhoven; the latter for whom he paid a record-setting £6 million. In the years they were with the club, AC Milan won three Scudettos and back-to-back European Cups in 1989 and 1990, and the team bore the very flattering nickname ‘Gli Immortal,’ or, ‘The Immortals.’ And although they will be best remembered as a collective force, the trio were each individually great. Van Basten won the Ballon d’Or in 1989 and was the hero of the European Cup final, scoring twice over Steaua Bucuresti. While coach Arrigo Saachi reinvented Frank Rijkaard as a holding midfielder and he excelled, scoring the game-winner in the 1990 European Cup final and Ruud Gullit won the European Footballer of the Year award in 1997.
1. Johan Cruyff to Barcelona
Johan Cruyff won eight Dutch league titles and three European Cups with Ajax before moving to Barcelona in 1973 for $2 million.
He immediately won over the Catalan fans by beating Real Madrid 5-0 on the way to winning their first league title since 1960.
He scored possibly his most famous goal for Barcelona, the “Phantom Goal.” He played five seasons with Barca, winning one league title and one Copa del Rey. He returned to manage the club in 1988 and led the club to four La Liga titles, one Copa del Rey and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.