Aleksandar Mitrovic had to be convinced to go on Fulham’s pre-season tour but he’s reportedly told relatives that he’ll never play for the Cottagers again amid a flurry of rejected bids from Al-Hilal.
These stars took their protest further and, for the most part, it did the trick…
10) Riyad Mahrez
Mahrez strongly refuted going on strike in February 2018 after being denied a January move to Manchester City. “Leicester City were always aware of my whereabouts and had knowledge of my thinking either directly or via my advisors,” he said, seemingly of the belief that it doesn’t count as a strike if you tell people where you are while you’re not where you are supposed to be.
Leicester’s refusal to sell to City mid-season for anything less than a whopping £95million got Mahrez’s panties twisted, leading him to stay away from the club for around 10 days, missing plenty of training sessions and a couple of matches. In fairness to the winger, it was the second consecutive window in which his hopes of a big move were dashed. It was thought he was heading to Arsenal the summer before until the Foxes put their foot down.
For Mahrez, though, it was third time lucky. City returned in the summer with £60million and Leicester sent him on his merry way.
9) Thibaut Courtois
The Belgium keeper was always difficult to warm towards during his Chelsea career, most of which he spent pining for Madrid. When it seemed he might not get his move in 2018, Courtois simply did not bother to show up for pre-season training.
He tried to explain that decision once safely in Spain after Real forked out £35million: “Because the transfer was closed I did not show up because I thought it better not to disturb the team and the squad. If I did go there maybe, I didn’t want to be toxic, so obviously it is a pity because I love Chelsea.”
Funny way of showing it, Stretch. And, initially, it really didn’t seem worth the hassle when his Real career got off to a fairly wretched start. But he eventually rediscovered his mojo, peaking with his Lev Yashin-incarnate performance in the 2022 Champions League final.
8) Marcos Rojo
It was “a huge surprise” to Rojo that Louis van Gaal wanted to bring him to Manchester United in 2014 but the defender was determined to do whatever it took to make it happen.
I was in Portugal when my representative told me. He asked me to stay calm but I could not. I started living this dream. I could not think of anything else. I would call him every day, but when it seemed the transfer would not happen then I refused to work with Sporting.
So in stepped Juan Sebastian Veron because, why not?
Veron was like a strict father to me, scalding me. He called me one day when I had refused to train with Sporting and said ‘Do not be stubborn. If Manchester United wants a player then they will not let you escape’.
And later, once he was there, it transpired that if Manchester United does not want a player, they give you a new contract anyway.
7) Dimitri Payet
After tearing up the Premier League in his first few months ahead of Euro 2016, Payet signed a new £125,000-a-week contract with West Ham. But that wedge wasn’t enough to keep him happy – the playmaker was determined to move back to Marseille.
Payet told the Hammers he would “never kick a ball again” for them, leaving Slaven Bilic somewhat confused: “We have said we don’t want to sell our best players but Payet does not want to play for us. We are not going to sell him.”
They did, though. But only when it became clear they had no choice. Marseille upped their offer to £25million and the Hammers decided to get shot in late January 2017 rather than leave him to rot. David Sullivan insisted: “To be frank, my board and I would have preferred for him to have stayed in order to make an example of him, as no player is bigger than the club.”
6) Dimitar Berbatov
Sir Alex Ferguson’s dealings with Daniel Levy were presumably limited before United pursued Berbatov in 2008. “We have made Tottenham an offer on Berbatov and we have good expectations that this deal will go through,” the manager said in mid-July. “I think time will work for us more than against us. We will not stress this situation. We are hoping to have a constructive conversation with Tottenham in the near future.”
Fergie’s ease seemingly succeeded in winding up Levy, who played hardball like only he could. By the start of 2008/09, United were no closer to getting their man, forcing Berbatov to ramp up the pressure on Spurs.
He began the season on the bench against Middlesbrough, then said he was not in the right frame of mind to travel to Sunderland. Fair dos, it’s a bloody long way. That led to Berbatov being fined a week’s wages, but he stood firm and refused again to line up for Spurs against Chelsea. It went to the wire, but United finally completed a deal with minutes to spare on deadline day, having paid around £30million.
5) Harry Kane
The England striker wanted to join Manchester City in 2021. Kane’s problem was that City didn’t want him quite as much.
The champions made it known that they would cough up around £100million, but Daniel Levy wouldn’t entertain anything under £160million. So Kane opted to poke the bear by not bothering to report for pre-season training as scheduled.
That isn’t the way Kane would describe it, but that is essentially what happened as a consequence of being advised by his brother, a bloke with a motorcycle and tyre marks in his office, who didn’t think it might be wise to insert a clause in the six-year contract he arranged for his sibling in 2018. Spurs expected their star striker back to meet new boss Nuno on the Monday but instead, Kane went to Florida.
He stayed away all week before releasing a statement on the Friday claiming that he ‘would never and have never refused to train’. He sloped back in the following day having been left somewhat stranded by City’s reluctance to really get into it with Levy. Almost three more weeks passed before Kane accepted that Levy wasn’t for turning…
It was incredible to see the reception from the Spurs fans on Sunday and to read some of the messages of support I've had in the last few weeks. 👏⚽
— Harry Kane (@HKane) August 25, 2021
4) Raheem Sterling
Liverpool were looking to tie down the youngster to a new deal at the start of 2015 but Sterling, or rather his agent, had other ideas. The winger insisted he would not negotiate until the end of the season, upon which point Aidy Ward insisted: “I don’t care about the PR of the club and the club situation. He is definitely not signing. He’s not signing for £700, £800, £900,000 a week.”
Understandably, Liverpool didn’t like the cut of his jib. Sterling could go, but not until they received an offer that matched their £50million valuation. Man City had offers of £30million and £40million rejected, by which point it was time for Sterling to return for pre-season training. He threw a sickie for a couple of days before refusing to travel on the pre-season tour of the Far East and Australia.
Thankfully for Sterling, City eventually coughed up around £49million.
3) Carlos Tevez
Tevez had already tried to leave City once when he handed in a transfer request in December 2010. Then, in September the following year, he refused to come off the bench during a Champions League clash at Bayern Munich. City backed Roberto Mancini, who claimed Tevez “wanted out of City”, while upon being suspended and fined, the player decided he’d had enough and legged it back to Argentina.
During the four months he was away, Kia Joorabchian attempted to negotiate a move to AC Milan, but when they refused to meet City’s £25million asking price, Tevez was forced to return to Manchester.
Resisting the urge to throttle Tevez, Mancini restored the striker to his squad in March, just in time to score four goals as City pipped United to the Premier League title.
2) William Gallas
The France defender not only refused to play in the 2006 FA Cup semi-final, but he threatened to score own goals if forced to line up against Manchester City on the opening day of the 2006/07 season, such was his desire to quit Chelsea.
That, along with a series of other allegations, was the Blues’ version of events, a view Gallas refuted: “I never went that far. But if people want to hide behind false accusations in order to give a reason for why I left so they can calm down the club’s supporters then they can.
All this is very, very petty on behalf of Chelsea. But at the same time, coming on behalf of its new leaders, that does not surprise me. Even if Chelsea has much money, its new leaders lack class.
An acrimonious divorce saw Gallas head to Arsenal, with Ashley Cole going the other way. Despite all the charges levelled at him, Gallas’s greatest crime was yet to be committed: accepting Dennis Bergkamp’s No.10 shirt.
1) Pierre van Hooijdonk
The Forest striker wanted to leave in December 1997 when PSV Eindhoven were interested but Dave Bassett offered a compromise of being allowed to go at the end of the season, by which time van Hooijdonk fired Forest back into the Premier League.
But with Newcastle said to be willing to pay £7million, Bassett declared he would only consider an offer of £10million. “But £10million in 1997 was ridiculous,” the striker has since said. “That’s like trying to sell a cappuccino for £25 – it’s for sale, but nobody will touch it.”
So van Hooijdonk returned to Holland and refused to come back, a move which left Bassett ‘disgusted’. Van Hooijdonk was no fan of Bassett either, despite the manager guiding Forest back to the top flight. “People say we became champions, but so what? If you were to change all the managers in the league for cats, at the end of the season there will still be one champion and three will get relegated.
“Does that mean the cat who is champion is fantastic?”