- Football rivalries have seen players make controversial moves to arch-rivals, angering fans who brand them traitors.
- Players like Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Michael Owen, and Eric Cantona have made moves between rival clubs, inciting fury among supporters.
- Some players have even joined mutliple rivals in their careers, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, William Gallas, and Ronaldo.
Loyalty is a hard thing to come by nowadays in football. With the amount of money being thrown around in the beautiful game, it’s very rare to see a player or club reject a huge cash offer to stay at their current team.
But over the years, some pros have made moves which have incited fury from specific fanbases by making a switch to an arch-rival. Thousands of supporters who used to cheer them on every week have subsequently targeted those players at reunions, branding them traitors. Very occasionally, things have escalated even further.
From London to Manchester, and from Spain to Italy, there have been no shortage of ‘traitors’ in football. So, the team at GIVEMESPORT thought we would rank 15 players who have ignored rivalries to make controversial moves. The mere mention of some of these names might cause blood to boil among some readers.
15 Hakan Çalhanoğlu
Clubs: AC MIlan and Inter Milan
We’re starting off relatively tame here, but anyone who makes a move directly from one Milan club to the other deserves to make the list. Çalhanoğlu spent four years with the Rossoneri, during which time he made 172 appearances, but he made the controversial switch to the Nerazzurri in the summer of 2021 once his contract expired.
Silverware arrived with his move too, with the 29-year-old completing two domestic cup doubles with Inter, and reaching a Champions League final last season too. His side even knocked AC Milan out in the semi-finals, and you just know that fans were furious about his joy.
14 Michael Owen
Clubs: Liverpool and Manchester United
The only reason that Owen doesn’t rank any higher here is because he made the switch to Old Trafford so late in his career that United didn’t get the best version of the striker. That being said, Liverpool fans were still raging when they saw their former player don their rival's jersey.
He might have won a few cup competitions with the Reds during his seven years at the club, but Owen’s only league title would come while at the Red Devils. Something which rubbed salt into the wounds as his former club continued their league title drought.
13 Eric Cantona
Clubs: Leeds United and Manchester United
United really do love signing a player, indirectly or not, from a Premier League rival. And it’s not the last time that they feature in this list either.
Having joined Leeds in 1992 from Nimes, Cantona helped the Whites lift the First Division title in the 1991/92 season. Which is why Leeds fans were furious when it was announced that the Frenchman was moving to rivals United later that same year. He went on to become one of United’s best-ever players under Sir Alex Ferguson, and Leeds supporters never forgave him.
12 Lee Clark
Clubs: Newcastle and Sunderland
Clark was a Newcastle academy graduate and a boyhood fan, but he infuriated supporters by joining northeast rivals Sunderland in 1997. That wouldn’t be the final twist, though, as he was then later spotted at the 1999 FA Cup final with Newcastle fans, sporting a t-shirt that mocked the Black Cats.
He would never play for Sunderland again after that incident, and, after six years in west London with Fulham, Clark re-joined Newcastle for a season in 2005, with all seemingly forgiven after the cup final fiasco.
11 Emmanuel Adebayor
Clubs: Arsenal and Tottenham
Not the last man who will appear on this list who played for both of the north London clubs. Adebayor had three decent years at the Emirates, scoring 62 goals in 142 appearances for the Gunners.
But he moved up north to join Manchester City in 2009 as the Cityzens continued their spending under new ownership. He burnt his bridges with fans of his ex-club when he ran the full length of the pitch to celebrate in front of the travelling Arsenal support but added gasoline to the existing fire when he joined arch-rivals Spurs. Arsenal fans had the last laugh in 2012, though. Even though Adebayor scored from the spot to put his side 2-0 up, the Gunners came back to win the derby 5-2.
10 Robin van Persie
Clubs: Arsenal and Manchester United
Sorry Arsenal fans, but we’re only on the second out of three in a row here. You probably know what’s coming next, but let’s focus on Van Persie. The Dutch striker joined the north London side in 2004 from Feyenoord and spent eight years learning from Arsene Wenger. He even won the Golden Boot in his final season with the club, finishing on 30 goals for the 2011/12 season.
But the Dutchman then announced that he would not be signing a new contract with the Gunners, and sealed a move to Old Trafford in the summer of 2012. What really hurt Arsenal fans most of all was seeing their long-time player then lift a Premier League title with United the following year, a season when he also won another Golden Boot.
9 Ashley Cole
Clubs: Arsenal and Chelsea
Arsenal fans really have been hurt in seasons gone by. But none quite as bad as this one. Cole was considered to be one of the best left-backs in the game while at Arsenal, playing an important role in their Invincible season.
So, when he made the move to Chelsea in 2006, it was no surprise to see supporters in north London turn on him quickly, infamously labelling him ‘Cashley Cole’ and waving notes in his face when the two sides played each other. They had to watch as their academy graduate went on to cement his legacy as one of the best left-backs to play the game with numerous pieces of silverware.
8 Carlos Tevez
Clubs: Manchester United and Manchester City
Trust us here, there’s a reason why Tevez and a few of the aforementioned names are only this high. The Argentine had shone at Old Trafford on a two-year loan deal from West Ham, scoring goals for fun and looking the part. But, after moving back to east London, he then signed for United’s rivals in 2009.
That infamous ‘Welcome to Manchester’ poster is still burned into the brains of every United fan, who never forgave the striker. He would find the back of the net against his former club too, scoring three times in the 2010 League Cup semi-final as United triumphed 4-3 on aggregate. Those, however, would be the only three goals he scored against his former club in a sky-blue shirt.
7 Sol Campbell
Clubs: Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal
Arsenal got hit with a trio of traitors earlier on, but they can sit back and enjoy the tears of Tottenham fans here. A youth product of the latter, Campbell came up through the ranks at Spurs and played 296 times at White Hart Lane. His contract was set to expire in 2001, and Campbell then shocked the world by switching to their arch-rivals.
He asked Tottenham fans to respect his decision at his unveiling, a request that was unsurprisingly rejected. Supporters who had cheered him on over the years turned on him in a matter of moments. A traitorous move by all accounts, but one that paid off if you look at the silverware Campbell collected.
6 Luis Figo
Clubs: Barcelona and Real Madrid
The most famous traitor in football? Quite possibly. There’s going to be a lot of outrage that this move isn’t higher but bear with us. We will explain everything.
Figo is the most high-profile name to move between Barcelona and Real Madrid, ditching the Catalan club in 2000 for Los Blancos. Fans of the Blaugrana never forgave him, branding him a traitor at every El Clasico and even launching a pig’s head at him during a match between the two sides in November 2002.
5 Mo Johnston
Clubs: Celtic and Rangers
There are certain moves that you just don’t make, and switching between Rangers and Celtic is definitely up there. But one of the most notable names to have played for both is Johnston. After three years at Celtic between 1984 and 1987, the forward joined Nantes for a brief spell before moving back to Scotland and signing for the other Glasgow side and Graeme Souness in 1989.
The move was a shock in particular because prior to his move to Rangers, Johnston had stated that the only British club he wanted to play for was the Bhoys and had been pictured in a green and white shirt. As a Catholic at a Protestant club, the move angered Rangers and Celtic fans alike. Scarves were burnt and season tickets were ripped up, with Johnston subsequently moving to Everton in 1991.
4 Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Clubs: Juventus, Inter Milan, and AC Milan
We’re entering the top four now, and there's a reason that this lot rank higher than the rest. Each of the names mentioned beyond this point have moved between multiple rivals, not just two. There might be more famous cases of treachery, but these four names have shown a disregard for several rivalries.
We’re starting with one of the best strikers of the modern era. Ibra joined Juventus from Ajax in 2004, before making the switch to Inter Milan in 2006. Three seasons in black and blue led to a Scudetto, before a brief stint at Barcelona. After falling out with Pep Guardiola, though, a move back to the San Siro beckoned, but this time, the Swedish striker joined up with AC Milan. That was the first of two stints with the Rossoneri, with the Swedish striker lifting two Scudettos.
3 William Gallas
Clubs: Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham
Has there been anyone with a more blatant disregard for the rivalries between the London clubs? Gallas moved to the Emirates as part of the deal which saw Arsenal’s Cole join Chelsea. His relationship with the Blues’ hierarchy had deteriorated so much that reports even emerged that Gallas threatened to score an own goal if he played a match.
The Frenchman was a decent servant for the north London club, making 142 appearances for the Gunners. But after four solid years at the Emirates, he then made another switch to Tottenham. That’s not one, but two London rivals who resented the defender when all was said and done.
2 Roberto Baggio
Clubs: Fiorentina, Juventus, AC Milan, and Inter Milan
Baggio sparked a riot when he left Fiorentina behind for Juventus, protests which saw 50 people get injured in the process. If that doesn’t immediately make him worthy of a spot in this ranking, then we’re not sure what does.
Not content to anger one set of fans, though, Baggio then went one step further. In 1995, he was sold to AC Milan, where he played for two seasons. And following one year at Bologna after that, he joined Inter Milan in 1998, crossing yet another divide and leaving AC Milan supporters disappointed.
Clubs: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, and AC Milan
One of the greatest players of all time, and also a man who lacked any loyalty to his previous clubs. Like Baggio, Ronaldo played for two sets of rivals, but also managed to do it in two different countries.
After a single season with Barcelona where he scored an incredible 34 league goals in 37 games, Ronaldo moved to the San Siro and joined Inter Milan. He was riddled with injuries during his five-year spell with the Nerazzurri, but still scored 59 goals in 99 matches. Then, to the shock of Barca fans, he made a move to arch-rivals Real Madrid in 2002, becoming a Galactico in the process. Not content with crossing the divide between one set of clubs, though, he then moved back to the San Siro, this time joining AC Milan in 2007 for a year. Not that the Rossoneri got the best version of him. He only played 20 times for them, with injuries again taking their toll in Italy.