This Premier League season’s biggest transfers of the summer have been Raheem Sterling’s protracted move from Liverpool to Manchester City and Petr Cech leaving Chelsea after 10 years to join Arsenal. This follows the trend in recent years of a move fluid market when it comes to transfer between rivals in the Premier League.
Since Sheikh Mansour bought Manchester City in 2008 and invested huge sums of money, English football has largely been dominated by the Sky Blues, their city rivals Manchester United, Liverpool and London sides, Chelsea and Arsenal. One of the most active movements of player trading has been from the Emirates to the Etihad. No fewer than 5 players have made the move beginning with Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor, signed by then City manager Mark Hughes for £16m and £25m respectively. Toure moved to City after 7 years and over 300 appearances at Arsenal, which saw him win the Premier League with the Invincibles in 2003-04 and two FA Cups in 2003 and 2005. Adebayor joined Arsenal a year later scoring 62 goals in 142 games but not picking up any silverware in his time in North London.
The Togo striker only stayed in Manchester for a just over a year before being sent to Real Madrid on loan but Toure was joined at the Etihad by two more former Gunners teammates in the form of Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri in the summer of 2011, for £7m and £25m respectively. The 2011/12 season saw City win their first league title since 1968 in the most dramatic of circumstances possible, with a last minute win against QPR to snatch the title away from city rivals United. Clichy and Nasri went on to secure the Premier League and League Cup double in 2013/14. The same season their former club broke their own nine year wait for a trophy with a FA Cup final win over Hull City.
The trade of players between 2009 and 2014 was beneficial for both as Manchester City were looking to establish themselves as leading contenders with a number of expensive, ready-made players, while Arsenal were under the constraints of financing the newly constructed Emirates stadium.
The Gunners weren’t the only club to see their players head to the Etihad. Manchester City pinched Carlos Tevez from rivals Manchester United. After spending a season at West Ham United, and saving them from relegation with a winner at Old Trafford on the final day of the 2006/07 season Tevez joined United on a two year loan deal from MSI Group Limited. His time at Old Trafford resulted in 34 goals in 99 appearances, as well as collecting two Premier League titles, the League Cup and the UEFA Champions League. Despite the hugely successful time on the pitch, there was speculation during the final months of the Argentinian’s second season at the club. With his loan spell coming to an end there were reports whoever wanted to sign Tevez would have to fork out £47m. In the end the Red Devils didn’t take up their option to sign the striker permanently which left the door open for City. Although the transfer wasn’t directly between the two clubs Tevez was the first player to move across the city since 1999 when United sold Terry Cooke to City who were then in the third tier. As expected Tevez’s arrival was seen as quite a coup for City who weren’t quiet about it with a billboard famously stating “Welcome to Manchester”. This provoked Sir Alex Ferguson to say “It’s City isn’t it? They are a small club, with a small mentality. All they can talk about is Manchester United, that’s all they’ve done and they can’t get away from it.”
Other players to have represented both Manchester clubs include Denis Law who spent a year at City before moving to Torino before heading back to England after a season to join United. In over a decade at the club the Scot formed the iconic front line alongside Sir Bobby Charlton and George Best, scored 171 goals and won the club’s first European Cup in 1968. In 1973 Law returned to Maine Road and his goal against United on the last day of the season consigned his former club to relegation. Another of Law’s teammates at United also crossed the divide, Brian Kidd started his career at the red half of Manchester making over 200 appearances between 1967 and 1974. After two years at Arsenal Kidd would spend three years with City. Once Kidd’s playing career ended he was Ferguson’s assistant from 1991-1998 when United won the league four times. The Mancunian is now part Manuel Pellegrini’s backroom staff. Even legendary United manager Sir Matt Busby played for City over 200 times and as well spending five years at Liverpool before moving into management with United.
Before the money from UAE and Russia elevated Manchester City and Chelsea into title contenders the biggest clubs in the Premier League era were Manchester United and Arsenal. During their rivalry for the title there was no love lost especially between Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. Since the Gunners last won the title in 2004 the tension has been more subdued. However the transfer of Robin van Persie in 2012 reignited the fire between the two clubs. After eight years at the club the Dutchman only had one year left on his contract at the Emirates. Having seen City snatch the title away the previous season on goal difference Ferguson vowed not to come up short again. With van Persie in the best form of his Arsenal career, Ferguson paid £25m for the then 29 year old’s services. Perhaps worryingly on signing van Persie said “I always listen to the little boy inside of me in these situations – when you have to make the harder decisions in life. What does he want? That boy was screaming for Man United.” This was also confirmed by Wenger, who was reluctant to sell to a rival, “United was not a club I wanted to sell Van Persie to, I wanted to sell him to Juventus, But he had decided to go to Manchester United and at the end of the day you need the agreement of the three parties.” The move proved a success as van Persie’s 26 league goals delivered Ferguson’s final league title before retirement.
Since then Danny Welbeck has gone the opposite direction between the clubs. With van Persie and Wayne Rooney at the club, Welbeck saw his chances of regular football reduced. The new manager was unconvinced by the young England striker and permitted the £16m sale to Arsenal. Even though he may not have been first choice, the move upset some United fans as the club has a fine tradition of home grown players representing the club. Last season the forward came back to haunt United with the winning goal in the FA Cup quarter final between the clubs.
This season Arsenal’s only signing was Petr Cech from Chelsea. Although the Gunners became the only club in the top five leagues in Europe not to recruit an outfield player, the Czech goalkeeper arguably filled the position the North London side were most in need of strengthening. But how was Cech allowed to move across the capital to one of Chelsea’s biggest championship rivals? After 10 years of service to the Blues the veteran found himself starting last season on the bench with Jose Mourinho opting for Thibaut Courtois between the sticks following the young Belgian’s return from three years at Atletico Madrid. After only making seven league appearances it was agreed that Cech’s time at Chelsea would be coming to an end. In a decade at Stamford Bridge, Cech recorded 170 clean sheets in 333 league games and won 12 major titles including 4 Premier League medals and the Champions League in 2012. In the end it was the owner, Roman Abramovich’s decision that the 33 year old would be allowed to remain in capital, where his family was settled. His club manager didn’t argue but was sympathetic to Cech’s decision, “Petr has been a great servant for Chelsea for 11 years and helped this club to win almost everything there is to win. I always said I wanted him to stay but I understand Petr needed to move on to play first team football every week. Sometimes you have to respect the wishes of someone who has earned so much respect with his service and actions for your club. I support the owner’s decision to honour the player in this way. It is very rare in football to make a decision like this and for that reason I am proud of my club for making it. There are not many clubs in the world big enough to be able to make that decision.”
The last notable move between the two clubs was in 2006 when Arsenal’s Ashley Cole and Chelsea’s William Gallas directly swapped clubs as part of the same deal with the Gunners also receiving £5m. Cole’s exit from the club where he started him career was inevitable when he couldn’t agree a contract extension, as later recalled in his autobiography on being offered £55,000 a week, “When I heard Jonathan Barnett (player’s agent) repeat the figure of £55K, I nearly swerved off the road. He (former Arsenal Director David Dein) is taking the piss Jonathan! I yelled down the phone. I was so incensed. I was trembling with anger. I couldn’t believe what I’d heard.” Gallas was also looking for a way out of the club, especially after a Chelsea statement alleged the Frenchman claimed he would score own goals if he was selected again, something which Gallas has always denied. Chelsea easily got the better of the deal with Cole maintaining his excellent form and securing the Premier League, four FA Cups and the Champions League in eight years at the West London club while Gallas suffered during the Gunners’ lean trophy-less spell including an infamous breakdown after the club’s draw against Birmingham. Gallas would go on to move to his third London club joining Tottenham Hotspur in 2010.
When Mourinho returned for his second spell at Chelsea the star of the team for the past two years had been Juan Mata. In his time at Chelsea under Andre Villas Boas, Roberto Di Matteo and compatriot Rafa Benitez the Spaniard had won the Champions League, Europa League and FA Cup. On a personal note he had been Chelsea’s player of the year in both seasons at the club. However following Mourinho’s return the attacking midfield didn’t fit into the manager’s workman-like philosophy. After being hauled off after a disappointing performance away to Southampton the normally placid Mata reacted angrily, throwing his coat on the ground in frustration. The writing was on the wall and in January 2014 he signed for David Moyes’ Manchester United for £37.1m. Mourinho was unperturbed about selling to a rival, instead focusing on the economic success of the deal “We would have sold Mata to Arsenal, or Manchester City. Honestly. A team can only play with 11 players. City, Arsenal and United are full of top players, so if Juan plays for them it means somebody else is not playing. Chelsea are a big, mature club now. We think, what is best for Chelsea? Those who look after the economic department don’t have the same needs as me, a football man, but we decided for all those reasons – and the human one, that Juan desired to go. We did well on this deal. He wanted to go, and the deal was a good one for the club and for Juan. He has tried to find the best option for himself because he wants to stay in the Premier League but wants to play regularly, and he has decided to go to United. It was a fantastic deal for everyone.”
However Wenger was surprised about the deal and raised the point Mata wouldn’t face his former club with the two sides having already faced each other twice, “I am surprised by the move because Juan Mata is a great player and they sell a great player to a direct opponent, but it opens a little bit the opportunity of this transfer market because Chelsea have already played twice against Manchester United so they don’t play again anymore.”
This summer Raheem Sterling became the most expensive English player in history when the forward moved to Manchester City for £49m. Sterling’s exit from Liverpool had been a long time coming with the forward rejecting a new contract at the Reds last season and giving a unauthorised interview where he claimed he wasn’t a money grabber, at the same time as flutter his eyes at Arsenal. With pre-season underway and the speculation already reaching fever pitch, Sterling refused to go on the club’s tour of Thailand, in order to force through a move to Manchester City. The forward’s outspoken agent made a lot of noise suggesting Sterling wouldn’t sign a new contract. This gave Liverpool two options: sell now or risk losing one of their highest value players for nothing when his current contract expired. John Henry and the Liverpool owners relented and Sterling got his ticket out of Anfield but not before City had to fork out £49m. With City flashing the cash once again and Liverpool rebuilding once more it doesn’t look like they will be in direct competition this season, despite the Reds running City close to the title a couple of years ago.
In the summer prior to that season Liverpool were under pressure from Arsenal, who were determined to sign Luis Suarez. The Gunners bid £40,000,001 believing the Uruguayan had a release clause in his contract on the assumption they would then be able to speak to the player. However the clause just stipulated that the selling club had to inform the player that an offer had been made. With the player wanting to move Liverpool held firm, Suarez was ordered to train alone, John Henry had some choice words for Arsenal and the deal was off. If the Gunners had upped the offer Liverpool may have reconsidered but Arsenal decided against pursuing the deal. Suarez would spend one more season in England, almost winning the title, before moving to Barcelona for £75m.
Sterling’s move to City is not the first case of Liverpool actively dealing with other member of the English elite clubs. Over recent years they have sold Yossi Benayoun, Raul Meireles and Fernando Torres to Chelsea, the Spaniard moving on Abramovich’s wishes for the then British transfer record of £50m. A number of players have come into Anfield too including Joe Cole and Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea, having started his career at Manchester City and Kolo Toure, who won the title with Arsenal and City.
There is one line of communication which isn’t open and has been opened for a long time, Manchester United and Liverpool. Players have represented both such as Michael Owen and Paul Ince but there hasn’t been a direct transfer between the clubs since Phil Chisnall joined Bill Shankly on Merseyside in 1964.
The closest the two clubs have come to striking a deal was shrouded in controversy and only succeeded in souring relations between the rivals further. Gabriel Heinze was an important member of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side having signed from PSG in 2004 for £6.9m. However the Argentinian lost his place to Patrice Evra. This lead to the left back wanting to join Liverpool, who bid £6.8m however
Ferguson insisted the transfer wouldn’t be happening, “Liverpool will not be getting Gabriel Heinze. We can put that to bed right now.” The situation got ugly when Heinze challenged United’s refusal to let him go to Anfield in a Premier League tribunal, employing the Anfield club’s solicitor, Hill Dickinson, to represent him. During the tribunal Crystal Palace chief executive Phil Alexander came forward to say that Heinze’s representatives had approached him to put forward a scheme that would see the south London club sign the player, only to sell him on to Liverpool at the first opportunity. In the end Heinze left United but not for Anfield instead moving to Real Madrid for £8m.
This summer’s transfer activity has seen a continuation of the fluid movement between the top clubs in England and it seems like it is a trend that is going to continue. Just don’t bet on Wayne Rooney joining Liverpool any time soon, although you never know these days.
Written by Stephen Stratton
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