Hijacked Transfers: The Stories of Mo Johnston & Gianluca Vialli

by Rob Shepherd.

Transfer deadline has become Soap Opera as evidenced by the hysterical and smug coverage on Sky Sports News who have hijacked the day and turned it into a kitchen sink drama, with their front men pretending they are the ones breaking the news when actually they are just reading the auto-cue of tales coming from off the wires, web sites or Twitter.

And it beggars belief that after three months of the transfer window being open so many clubs leave it to a last minute Christmas Eve style trolley dash to spend vast sums of cash.

“Yes, I always wanted to play for Spurs. Sorry, what was that..? A phone call for me you say…”

Some deals will go to the wire and even then extensions are asked for when servers crash and emails don’t get sent. Where IS an old photocopier and fax machine when you need one…?

Three years ago Tottenham signed Dutch forward Rafael van der Vaart after a move from Madrid to Bayern Munich was in the balance, under the midnight oil and were allowed to finish the paperwork the next day.

And of course as the day unfolds several clubs will be jostling with each other for the same player, as on Sunday when Liverpool beat off West Brom and Wigan to take Victor Moses on loan.

There will be gazumping, auctions, Dutch auctions, who blinks first shenanigans, brinkmanship and bullshit.

And even hijacking as witnessed last week when Chelsea embarrassed Spurs when they singed Willian from Russian club Anzhi after the Brazilian player had not only agreed terms to join Tottenham but had even completed a medical.

That ‘steal” prompted us at BOBBY to think back to some other infamous hi-jack transfer tales.

Perhaps the most notorious of all time was when Mo Johnston opted to join Glasgow Rangers – a Chelsea of that era if you like given the financial muscle they had – from French club Nantes in 1989.

Now when Johnston had joined Nantes from Celtic two years earlier there was a buy-back clause and Mo was indeed on his way back to Parkhead when then Rangers boss Graeme Souness intervened.

There was obvious outrage from Celtic at losing the player to their bitter rivals.

But the bile was even more bitter from the majority of staunch Rangers fans who were apoplectic that their club (with its fierce Protestant principles) had signed a Catholic.

Now while Catholic based club Celtic would actively sign non-Catholics (Aflie Conn had preceded Johnston playing for both clubs) Rangers had not pursued a Catholic of any prominence to play for the club since the end of World War I in 1918.

Mo Johnston
Gathered reporters, expecting to see John Sheridan unveiled, gasped as Mo Jo entered the room

It was a policy rooted in deep seated religious bigotry and so instead of being elated that Rangers had pulled a fast one on their rivals many fans were incensed and burned scarves and season tickets, while to Celtic followers Johnston was “Judas”.

Rangers fans mellowed as Johnston scored three goals in matches against Celtic in his two year spell there (taking a pie full in the face from the away fans after one of them at Ibrox!) and he would go on to score 46 goals in 100 league and cup games. But tension remained and although a number of Rangers fans took great delight in the one-upmanship over Celtic, many fans were not sorry to see him or Souness move on within a couple of years.

Vialli Scoop

A personal transfer hijacking memory for me also highlights the pressure a football reporter can be under and bizarre newspaper politics. It was before the transfer window had been introduced but there was still a frantic summer rush as the season approached.

Ruud Gullit had taken over from Glenn Hoddle as Chelsea boss and wanted a star signing and had identified his old pal at Sampdoria, striker Gianluca Vialli.
But at the time Rangers still had money and clout and it looked as if Vialli had opted to move to Scotland.

I was working for the Daily Mail in London and the Scottish office were convinced Villa was on his way to Ibrox. They had run a back page exclusive to say so.

The following day I got a call from a good contact -a leading agent infact – who told me Chelsea had hijacked the deal and Vialli would fly to London and sign for Gullit the next day.

I filed the story at about 6pm. First edition deadline was looming. The sports editor called me into his office and explained the Scottish office were adamant the move to Rangers was still on and my story was being dismissed by the Scottish sports editor to the point where he was championing ‘his’ reporter and rubbishing me.

A few heated phone calls between the editors followed.

“How Good is my source ?” Good. “Was I Sure?” Well, as sure as I can be. “Will he definitely sign for Chelsea?” As it stood, yes but how could I know if he slept on it and then changed his mind …?

It was getting silly.

Weren’t we meant to be on the same side ? Could we not work together on this one. In the bizarre world of behind the scene machinations at national newspapers than answer was no.

Ridiculous really.

Did I think my info was correct ? Yes. Would I have bet my mortgage on it ? No.

In the fickle football world a done deal is never done until it is done. But I stood by my story and suggested to the editor it was his call.

He went with my story. The Mail’s back page in all but one its editions went with: Vialli to sign for Chelsea.

But since the Scottish edition of the paper had a lot of autonomy their back page the next morning was: Vialli to join Rangers.

Gullit signs the man who would eventually replace him as Chelsea manager

Now getting such stories wrong were not quite sacking offences but you could get knocked way down the pecking order if you got such a big one wrong.

At 11 am the next day the Press Association wire service announced Chelsea would be unveiling a new signing at Stamford Bridge at 1pm.

Chelsea had indeed successfully hijacked Rangers and in a bizarre twist I had scooped one of my own colleagues.

I later told Vialli that the night after he joined and all the copy (it felt good writing it!) had been filed, several bottles of champagne had been consumed by the Mail sports desk close to its London offices in Kensington, not far from Stamford Bridge, each toast being in Vialli’s name – and that my expenses credit was good for the tab.

Gianluca, who became a Chelsea legend, had a good laugh about it and then smiled: “If anyone thought I was going to sign for Rangers after Chelsea had come in for me they must have been mad…”


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *