Oddest Football Player Transfer Routes Ever

Josip Brajkovic
Josip Brajkovic
Published: 27.9.2023.


We wrote about market deals that made everyone - most likely even those involved - raise their eyebrows in wonder due to the peculiar ways in which they unfolded. But there are transfer tales that are interesting because they tread an unbeaten path. Moving from one English to another English club isn’t noteworthy, even the clubs are rivals. Switching a major European league for another is another day in the office. These oddest football player transfer routes ever can be viewed almost as adventures.

It’s not weird to go to Saudi Arabia in 2023. Nor is it to move to China after the short-lived boom the country had. Yet there are still passport stamps that will make any football worker a rarity.

Showing that some players aren’t afraid of making their own path, going with their own beliefs and not by simply following the norm.

Dani Olmo - Barcelona to Dinamo Zagreb for free

Dani Olmo

It happens rarely that a player from a Western European football powerhouse even ventures east to the Alps. Sometimes Russia was the destination because of the money. Yet to see not just a Spaniard, but a La Masia product leave Barcelona for the warm embrace of... Dinamo Zagreb? Well, that was a feat. Dani Olmo was with Barca for seven years, before making the switch to Dinamo in 2014, aged 16.

Knowing of the Croatian club's pedigree in developing top midfielders - like Luka Modric, Olmo was ready to take a risk like no one else before he did. What was a free move, resulted in a €29,000,000 move for Dinamo after the Spaniard was sold to RB Leipzig. Not only did Olmo reach the starting spot in a major European side, but he also got to represent Spain 32 times already. All while taking the scenic route.

Thiago Almada - Vélez Sarsfield to Atlanta United for €14,550,000

Thiago Almada (53062996583) (cropped).jpg
By David - flickr.com, CC BY 2.0, Link

It's not surprising anymore for MLS to capture great talents, yet almost solely when they are on the decline of their career. At dusk. Yet with Thiago Almada's move to Atlanta United, American football got one of the biggest, if not the biggest talents of not just any country, but Argentina. Yes, the attacking midfielder is 22, but he was strongly touted as the next great thing coming from Argentina.

In the end, he didn't make the move everyone was expecting to make - to Europe. No, with a record-setting MLS transfer, Almada joined the US side in February of 2022. Scoring 17 goals and making 20 assists in his first 58 matches, Almada's stock certainly hasn't risen and a move to Europe might be on the cards. Yet, it doesn't seem that his odd career choice will pan out as Olmo's.

Dejan Petkovic - Venezia to Flamengo

Petkovic Ordem do Rio Branco Cropped.png
By Marcello Casal Jr/ABr - Ag?ncia Brasil CC BY 3.0 br, Link

Certainly one of the most unique football careers is that of Dejan Petkovic, known in his native Serbia as Rambo. Yet, in his adopted country of Brazil, he is known simply as Pet, the craque - slang for a top player. Petkovic joined Red Star Belgrade after they won the 1991 Champions Cup, moving on to Real Madrid. A dream route, one might think. After a few loans, the attacking midfielder dipped his fingers in the western shores of the Atlantic ocean with Vitoria.

A quick return to Europe ensued before he started really making a name for himself. So much so, that his Wikipedia entries in Portuguese, are ten times as big than those in his native Serbian or in English. Urban legends state that whenever Serbs would travel to Brazil, they would be questioned by the locals about the legend. The one they knew very little about before a movie of his life was filmed, named appropriately ‘O, Gringo’. The foreigner.

Eventually, Rambo finished his career with 476 games in Brazilian football, scoring 169 goals (many of them Olympics, that is straight from the corner kick) and making 94 assists. He won the Brazilian championship once in 2009 with Flamengo, alongside several state championships.

Samuel Eto’o - Inter to Anzhi Makhachkala for €27,000,000

Samuel Eto

Barcelona, Inter (and winning a triple crown with the latter), then Russia. But not just Russia, but rather Dagestan, Russia. Before anyone but the most hardcore MMA fans knew about the place. Anzhi Makhachkala had a short-lived reign at the top of the Russian Premier League and Eto'o was the prized possession. Reminding that this wasn't the Cameronian's last stop in his career, a money move. No, he joined Chelsea afterwards. He played for Everton and Sampdoria before moving on to Turkey. The striker would finish his career eight years after making the peculiar travel reservation and going to the North Caucasus.

Nemanja Matic - Kolubara to Kosice for free

Nemanja Matic

It's not shocking for a player from Serbia to make a massive career, play for the likes Manchester United, Benfica, Roma, and Chelsea. But the road Nemanja Matic took to get there had a weird start. No, not for the fact that Nemanja played as a youth player for both Red Star and Partizan Belgrade, but because his first outing abroad was to Slovakia. Yes, Slovakia. Not an exotic choice, but certainly one of the weirdest football player transfer routes ever.

A country that has produced only two players of continental reputation (Marek Hamsik, Martin Skrtel) in this century. Yet, not from Serbia or one of the usual countries his compatriots start embarking on the road to the top five leagues. Matic went from the low-league Serbian side of Kolubara to Kosice in Slovakia. After 56 games, he was scouted and bought by Chelsea. His peculiar decision to join the Slovakian side that technically doesn't even exist anymore, paid off.



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