With Mario Balotelli linked with a move to Port Vale, we chose five players who really did move to clubs below their station when in their prime. Tommy Lawton is included, because we’re all about the clicks…
Allan Simonsen (Charlton)
Having won the Ballon d’Or in 1977 when at Borussia Monchengladbach, Allan Simonsen then joined Barcelona; he was on top of the football world. He enjoyed three successful years in Spain, but was then frozen out at the Camp Nou following the arrival of Diego Maradona. Forced to compete with Diego and Bernd Schuster for a starting place (the restriction on foreign players only allowed two), Simonsen flounced off and asked for his contract to be annulled.
Rather than move to another European giant, Simonsen instead walked down the well-trodden path that links Barcelona and Charlton Athletic, rejecting an offer from Real Madrid among other clubs. Charlton were a second-tier club, but offered the Dane huge wages to sign. New chairman Mark Hulyer wanted to cause a stir, and Simonsen’s arrival certainly did that.
Unfortunately, things quickly turned sour. Three months after signing Simonsen, Charlton were what’s known in the trade as ‘financially f**ked’, his wages crippling the club. Simonsen left for his hometown club, while Charlton entered administration.
Tommy Lawton (Notts County)
Here at Football365 we’re all about the clicks, hence the inclusion of social media sensation and clickbait’s Tommy Lawton. We could have included Sol Campbell’s move to Notts County in 2009, but the one they’re all talking about is the same club’s British-record transfer in 1947.
Lawton had just turned 28 when, in November 1947, he left top-flight Chelsea having scored 26 goals in 34 league games the previous season. Arsenal were interested in him, but that was blocked by the Blues. The natural other option was Third Division Notts County. In fact, the move had a personal background. County’s manager was Arthur Stollery, a former physio at Chelsea and a good friend of Lawton. Still, the forward had effectively given up his international place.
Attendances at Meadow Lane immediately increased from 7,000 to 38,000, Lawton scored a hatful of goals as County achieved two promotions in three seasons, and the striker even found the time to fight for an increase in wages for the rest of the first-team squad. A proper star, and a gentleman to boot.
Kevin Keegan (Southampton)
“It all started with a lamp, believe it or not,” Keegan once explained of his move from European Cup finalists Hamburg to the south coast. “Lawrie McMenemy asked me to get him a wall lamp. He asked me to sort it out in Hamburg where he’d seen it in a brochure. Then we got talking and he said: ‘If you ever come back, we’d be interested.’ I think it was just his way of getting in.”
“For a club like Southampton to sign the double European Footballer of the Year and England skipper was mind-boggling,” said McMenemy, and everyone else agreed.
And so Southampton, who had just finished 14th in the First Division following promotion, signed the reigning two-time European Player of the Year. It’s like Lionel Messi going to Crystal Palace, and that gives me an image of an Alan Pardew smile so wide it could eat up Selhurst Park.
Ricky Villa and Ossie Ardiles (Tottenham)
It was the summer of 1978, and Argentina had just lifted the World Cup. Tottenham, who had been promoted back to the First Division after finishing third in the second tier, had a masterplan. And, somehow, they pulled it off. Ricky Villa and Ossie Ardiles, both members of that World Cup-winning squad, arrived in London.
Both players were taken into the hearts of Tottenham supporters through their attempts to immerse themselves in English culture. If Villa made his mark with a sumptuous winner in the 1981 FA Cup final, Ardiles did so with his ‘Ossie’s Dream’ hit single with Chas & Dave. Both became cult heroes.
Eventually, politics caused the relationship to break up after the outbreak of the Falklands War in 1982. “The country I was born in was at war with the country that had adopted me,” Ardiles said. “It was like two of my brothers were fighting. Many saw me as a traitor in Argentina, while in England they questioned how I could support Argentina’s claim to the Falklands. I felt bad everywhere.”
Diego Maradona (Napoli)
El Diego has already merited a mention in this list, but gets in own entry for the move to Napoli in July 1984 for a world-record transfer fee. Napoli had only survived relegation to Serie B by a single point the previous season, but Maradona’s arrival was heralded as a religious experience, such was the excitement in Naples. One local paper wrote that ‘A lack of mayor, houses, schools, buses, employment and sanitation, none of this matters because we have Maradona.’ Someone would be sh*t at Sim City.
In seven years in Naples, Maradona would find his spiritual home. The great man (no, wait, great player) would win two Serie A titles, one Coppa Italia and the UEFA Cup, and Napoli would retire the No. 10 shirt in his honour.