Whether it is for a nice payday while approaching retirement, a fall from grace, or just the natural decline every footballer has to face at some point in their career, a transfer can sometimes signal that a player is past their best and finished at the top level. Here are six examples…
Rio Ferdinand – Manchester United to Queens Park Rangers
Ferdinand is arguably the greatest defender to grace the Premier League and a Manchester United legend. Looking back at pictures of him in a QPR shirt feels bizarre – it just does not seem right. And his time at the London club, in truth, was not right.
The former central defender spent 12 years at Old Trafford after swapping Leeds for Man Utd – something you don’t see too often. His move didn’t exactly smash the British transfer record, but it did break it, overtaking Juan Sebastian Veron’s move to the same club a year prior by £1m. Rio’s record stood for four years before Andriy Shevchenko signed for Chelsea and rather unlike the Ukrainian, he was worth every penny. The 42-year-old won six Premier League titles and a Champions League during his time in Manchester, but surprisingly no FA Cups.
Ferdinand’s last season at Old Trafford was under David Moyes and it was not a memorable one for him, Moyes, or the club in general. Nobody needs a history lesson on United post-Sir Alex Ferguson but they were bad and Ferdinand was no different. He was not given a new contract, signing for QPR on a free transfer in the summer of 2014.
In 2014/15, the 81-cap international played the full 90 minutes in the first seven league matches as the Rs won one and lost five, captaining the Londoners during a loss against Southampton. Ferdinand was dropped and the Loftus Road club improved. He came in a few more times, making 11 league appearances in total; his last top-flight encounter came in a home loss to Spurs. This transfer definitely signalled the end of a glistening career and it was definitely for the best he hung up his boots when he did. It could have got even uglier pretty fast otherwise.
Numerous to Major League Soccer
There are simply too many examples to pick one, two, three or four players who have moved across the pond to sign for a team in MLS – or as some like to call it: ‘the retirement home’.
Now, who can blame someone at the tail end of their career for moving to North America? The weather is good, the money is great, the lifestyle is perfect for a footballer and the standard of the league makes for an easy experience – or at least it did. Many a Premier League great has taken up the opportunity to play in MLS to enjoy an early retirement before the real thing becomes a reality.
Steven Gerrard signed for LA Galaxy after leaving Liverpool. Frank Lampard moved to New York following a brief stint at Manchester City, and a legendary career with Chelsea. Wayne Rooney joined D.C. United. Andrea Pirlo, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Kaka, Didier Drogba, Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Beckham, David Villa, Carlos Valderrama, Lothar Matthaus, Alessandro Nesta, Ashley Cole and Hristo Stoichkov all played in MLS towards the end of their playing days. What a list of names. It’s worth mentioning that the self-proclaimed lion Ibrahimovic joined AC Milan after playing in Los Angeles, and is still pretty damn good for a 40-year-old.
Admittedly, MLS is improving every year and the standard is pretty decent nowadays. However, it is highly unlikely to see anyone the calibre of any of the players aforementioned move to the league in their prime.
Peter Crouch – Stoke City to Burnley
Perhaps a surprise inclusion, this particular transfer signalled the end to a terrific career in the player’s head, as opposed to ours. Burnley and Peter Crouch sounded like a match made in heaven considering the club’s style of play and the size of Crouch. While he loved his time at Turf Moor off the pitch, his time on it was exactly what Crouchy was scared of becoming: a Plan B.
Throughout his playing career the man who has scored the most headed goals in Premier League history has proved the doubters wrong. From a young age people looked at Crouch’s lanky stature and assumed he wasn’t very good; the shouts from the crowd every match had an effect on him and his family. ‘Does the circus know you’re here?’ ‘What’s the weather like up there?’ It was pretty tough but he shut all of the idiots up with a wonderful career at the highest level. From scoring a winning goal for England at the 2006 World Cup to being the joint-second top scorer in the 2006/07 Champions League, Crouch was a great technical footballer and a fox in the box.
Crouch signed for the Clarets in January 2019 after enjoying a great spell with Stoke, unfortunately suffering relegation to the Championship in 17/18. He scored one goal in 23 league appearances in the first half of 18/19 before the Burnley transfer. Despite stepping up back into the top flight, it was (what seemed to be) the perfect match that signalled the end of his career in his mind. Sean Dyche wanted him to stay and the former striker felt physically fit, but he later admitted to feeling “degraded” as he was “becoming the stereotype I was always trying to avoid”.
As he said on his podcast: “Last ten minutes, that was my role coming on. We were just launching it up to me and I was basically using my height, flicking it on or getting onto the end of crosses. You can make a good living in the Premier League coming on for the last 10-15 minutes, nicking a goal here and there, and I knew I could have done it for another one, possibly two more seasons quite easily. But, I felt degraded by it. I looked at myself in the mirror going ‘that is not what you’re about’. I can still play, you can play it into my feet, I can play 90 minutes no problem. I literally became a head on a stick.”
Jamie O’Hara – Free agent to the Big Brother house
Everyone’s favourite pundit, O’Hara became the first active footballer to step into the Big Brother house in 2017. He was a free agent at the time following a short stint with Gillingham, so he was clearly past his best and his move to the Gills could have been the one we used for this list. But that wouldn’t have been nearly as amusing.
O’Hara spent eight years as a Spurs player, playing 56 times for the north Londoners before finding his feet at Wolves. Three years and 57 appearances later, the midfielder became a free agent, signing for Blackpool, then Fulham, before joining Gillingham on a free transfer in 2016. His career is one of an average footballer, slowly dropping down the English football ladder before retiring, and any of his actual transfers would not be worthy of making this list as he was never on par with anyone else here.
However, if anyone needed an indication that a career has fallen off, going on Celebrity Big Brother takes the cake. His decision to go on the programme was at least a fair one: he needed the extra money following an ugly divorce. “I lost a few quid. This hopefully gives me an opportunity to build a future for me and my kids,” he said before going into the BB house.
Claudio Caniggia – Free agent to Dundee
Probably one of the unlikeliest of transfers in football history; Argentina’s World Cup hero in 1990 after scoring the winner against Brazil in the round of 16 joined Dundee 11 years on following a second stint with Atalanta in Italy. He was banned for 13 months in 1993 while at Roma, joining Benfica when his suspension ended. By this time, he was already an icon of the game after his Argentina heroics.
Despite having a stop-start career in the ’90s, he was still an extremely talented player. However, he decided to surprise everyone and move to Scotland in 2000. He instantly became Dundee’s star player after signing his early retirement papers by moving to Dens Park. He was excellent for the Dees, signing for Rangers a year later. The one-time Copa America winner secured hero status at Ibrox after his League Cup final goal against arch-rivals Celtic in 2003.
Caniggia was still an excellent player, but his move to Scotland is similar to the likes of Pirlo and Kaka moving to MLS. After years of playing for top clubs and being Maradona’s partner in crime for Argentina, his transfer to Dundee was a surprise and all but ended a wonderful career.
Xavi – FC Barcelona to Al-Sadd
Xavi made 767 appearances during his 20-year Barcelona career, winning a ludicrous amount of honours. He also has 133 Spain caps to his name and helped them win back-to-back European Championships in 2008 and 2012, with a cheeky World Cup winner’s medal sandwiched in between. In terms of silverware at club level, Xavi won four Champions Leagues, eight Spanish league titles and three Spanish Cups.
His wonderful playing career came to an end in 2019 after spending four years with Al-Sadd in Qatar. His final appearance came against Iranian outfit Persepolis in May in the African Champions League, 18 days after announcing his retirement. Later that month it was confirmed the Spaniard would become the club’s manager – potentially warming himself up before returning to the Nou Camp to become Barca boss.
Highly regarded within the game, Xavi is one of the greatest central midfielders in the sport’s history. His move to the Qatari league certainly signalled his career was coming to the end, and his influence on Barca can be highlighted by their struggles since his departure. It would be harsh to put his time after leaving the Catalans in the same light as Ferdinand’s departure from Man Utd, especially as the level in opposition was hugely different, but also because Xavi hadn’t rapidly declined and began to look like a fish out of water. His transfer to Al-Sadd allowed him to chill in the Middle Eastern warmth whilst playing football a few times a week, wrapping up a terrific career.