A new year always brings with it a new transfer window, so what better time for FIFA.com to look back on some of the biggest moves of all time, from Alfredo Di Stefano to Zinedine Zidane, with a sideways glance to Andriy Shevchenko and Nicolas Anelka on the way.
Nowadays when a player goes from one big European club to another, seven or eight figure sums are usually involved, be they in euros, pounds or dollars, but that was not always the case. In Argentina in the 1930s, River Plate were involved in the first two big transfers on a professional level when they bought Carlos Peucelle from Sportivo Buenos Aires for 10,000 pesos - a small fortune at the time - and then a year later, Bernabe Ferreyra was brought in from Tigre for three times that sum. These two acquisitions helped River secure a number of titles over the next ten years and also gave the Buenos Aires club a new nickname that they have kept ever since - Los Millonarios (the Millionaires). Rumour also has it that the club even paid the Ferreyra transfer fee in gold, giving even more credence to the nickname!
A few years later in 1947, a young forward from the River Plate youth academy scored 27 goals in one season and ended up top of the scoring charts, propelling his club to the title at the same time. At the time, the media were not as effective as they are today and it took a good few years for the player's name to make it across the Atlantic. Indeed, it was not until 1956 that the two Spanish giants, Real Madrid and Barcelona, finally took an interest in a certain Alfredo Di Stefano, and when he finally came to Spain, it merely served to intensify the rivalry between the two clubs.
Fuelling the flames
A legal and financial wrangle began between the two Spanish clubs, River Plate and Di Stefano's previous club, Bogota Millionarios. The Spanish football association was brought in to judge, and decided that Saeta Rubia (the blond arrow, as he was known) would alternate every two years between the two clubs, a solution which nobody was happy with. At the end of the day, Di Stefano signed for Real Madrid who paid compensation to Barcelona, and even now, 60 years on, the reasons for the Catalan club's withdrawal from the stakes are still the subject of controversy. Real Madrid supporters maintain that their rivals backed down of their own accord, while Barcelona fans insist that the Franco government put pressure on the club.
Another transfer would fuel the flames of the rivalry some 50 years later, when Luis Figo, who had contributed to Barcelona's success between 1995 and 2000, crossed over to the other side for a record 67 million euro transfer fee. The Barca faithful saw this as an act of high treason, and let the star Portuguese midfielder know just what they thought of his changing allegiances every time he came back to the Camp Nou until he moved on to Inter Milan five years later.
The Figo transfer record was beaten a mere 12 months later, but again it was Real Madrid who were the buyers, spending some 77 million euros to prise Zinedine Zidane from Juventus - a sum that has yet to be beaten. Both sides ended up satisfied with the deal, with the French midfield maestro winning his only UEFA Champions League title the following year with his now legendary volleyed winner at the final in Glasgow. The money they spent meanwhile enabled Juve to buy Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram, Marcelo Salas and Pavel Nedved!
The most expensive player
Despite the incredible fee paid, Zizou is not the most expensive player in the history of football. This honour belongs to his compatriot Nicolas Anelka - when the French striker signed with Chelsea last winter, it took the cumulative transfer fees spent on him to a total of 113 million euros. The irony is that his original club, Paris Saint-Germain, sold him for a mere 800,000 euros to Arsenal en 1997 before paying 32 million to get him back from Real Madrid three years later.
A similar scenario befell Argentinean midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron. After starring in Italy for Sampdoria, Parma and Lazio, he was the subject of a number of astronomical transfers between various European clubs without ever hitting the heights that saw him almost single-handedly win the Scudetto for Lazio in 2000. Chelsea, Manchester United and Inter Milan all paid vast sums of money for little return, until Veron finally settled back in his native Argentina, where he has been on fine form for Estudiantes de La Plata since he joined them in 2006.
One of Veron's many teams on his whistle-stop tour of Europe was Chelsea, and the wealthy London outfit have indeed made something of a habit of buying players who fail to adapt to the Premier League. 2004 Ballon d'Or winner Andriy Shevchenko was bought in from AC Milan for a king's ransom, only to be loaned back there for free last summer after notching a mere nine goals in two seasons in England. Defenders Asier del Horno and Khalid Boulahrouz also struggled in the all blue strip, while Chelsea also spent 30 million euros on England winger Shaun Wright-Phillips when they bought him from Manchester City in 2005, only to send him back to his former club for barely a third of the cost at the start of this season.
The January 2009 transfer window will no doubt have its fair share of big money flops and canny buys. Clubs around Europe have only one month to uncover a diamond in the rough, improve their squads and correct any mistakes they made last summer. And of course FIFA.com will be there to keep you informed of all the comings and goings throughout the month - so stay tuned!