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Football’s most loyal players who left on bad terms: Is Lionel Messi the next big name?

Barcelona vs Messi

Lionel Messi is one of football’s most loyal players and he got the world talking after submitting a transfer request seeking to leave Barcelona for free and since then, speculations have abounded over where his next club would be and if any team on the planet can afford his services.

The prospect of living in a world where Messi does not don the colors of the Blaugrana is shocking to say the least, given how intertwined he is with the club.

The Argentine international is one of football’s most loyal players and has spent the last 20 years on the books of Barcelona, rising through the ranks to become unarguably the best player in their history and the club’s unprecedented success over the last 15 years can be directly linked to his inhuman abilities.

Messi has broken or set several records with Barcelona and to list them would be an exercise in futility but he currently stands as the club’s record goalscorer (634 goals) and assist provider (285 assists), while the 34 major trophies won are more than anyone else has managed in the history of the club.

That the Rosario native has stayed this long is a testament to the extreme loyalty he has shown to the club and this is understandable, given that Barcelona invested heavily in his medical treatment when he was still a little boy in Argentina.

With the increase in commercialization and globalization of the game, players have become more popular than ever and it is becoming increasingly rare to see footballers show any form of loyalty to their clubs and fans.

Lionel Messi’s transfer away from Barcelona is far from straightforward and while his representatives insist that he has the right to terminate his contract and leave for free, the club as well as LaLiga maintain that this is not the case.

The six-time Ballon d’Or winner failed to turn up for pre-season testing, while his father recently admitted that ‘it is difficult’ to imagine his son’s future at Camp Nou, with Manchester City among the club interested in his services.

Things are threatening to spiral out of control in Barcelona and with each passing day, the Messi situation becomes much messier, with there a real possibility that it could involve legal proceedings.

This is hardly how the 33-year-old would have envisaged his departure from Camp Nou, given the mutual love and affection that exists between both parties.

More often than not, club legends and football’s most loyal players are given befitting send-forths commensurate with their performances (as was the case with legends like Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Francesco Totti).

However, there are several instances when loyal and long-serving players departed on bad terms with their respective clubs.

Here at SportsZion, we shall be having a rundown of 10 of football’s most loyal payers who left their beloved club on bad terms due to varying factors like fall-outs with the board, contract disputes, and hostility of fans.

Sol Campbell (Tottenham to Arsenal) – 2001

Football's most loyal players

Tottenham fans unfurling banners calling Sol Campbell Judas

Sol Campbell came through the Tottenham academy and made his first-team debut for the Lilywhites on December 5, 1992, scoring the only goal in a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at White Hart Lane.

Over the next nine years, he cemented his position in the first team and made a name for himself as one of the best defenders in the league. With his sturdy defending, no-holds-barred attitude, and imposing physicality, he earned many admirers among the Tottenham faithful.

He soon became established in the national team set-up of England and was appointed club captain of Spurs and it was believed that he would help take the club to the next level after signing a new deal in 1997.

However, several factors, including poor relationships with several managers, Tottenham’s stagnation and the club’s unwillingness to publicly back him when he had a court case led to a feeling of disillusion for Campbell.

Between 1992 and 2001, he made 315 appearances for the club in all competitions, scoring 15 goals and became the first black captain to lift a trophy at Wembley when he led his side to glory in the 1999 League Cup.

At the expiration of his contract in the summer of 2001, Sol Campbell rejected an improved offer by the club that would have made him the highest-paid player and opted to move to heated north London rivals Arsenal on a free transfer (despite public assurances that he would stay at the club).

Sol Campbell Arsenal

Sol Campbell (C) of Arsenal looks unhappy following his miss pass to goalkeeper

Given the hostility that exists between both clubs, this was seen as an unforgivable sin by fans of Spurs and they promptly forgot about Campbell’s services and branded him ‘Judas’ (in reference to the Biblical character) and the fact that he went on to have a highly successful career with Arsenal only served to increase the hostility between him and Tottenham fans.

Luis Figo (Barcelona to Real Madrid) – 2000

Football's most loyal players

Barcelona fans burn an effigy of Luis Figo at Camp  Nou

Long before Lionel Messi won Ballons d’Or for fun at Camp Nou, a certain Luis Figo entertained the Barcelona faithful and acted as the talisman to their successes on the field.

The Portuguese had been signed from Sporting Lisbon in 1995 and he went on to play a key role in helping the Blaugrana win consecutive league titles in 1998 and 1999, as well as several other triumphs domestically.

Figo became a Camp Nou darling which is the reason why his world-record transfer to Real Madrid in July 2000 was both shocking and controversial.

It was bad enough that Figo left Barcelona after publicly assuring that he was staying with the club but the fact that he joined eternal enemies Real Madrid was a pill too bitter for the Blaugrismo to swallow.

To date, he remains public enemy number one in Catalunya and a sign of the animosity that exists between him and Barcelona fans was exemplified when Real Madrid visited Camp Nou for the first time after the transfer in 2000.

The game had to be halted for several minutes after numerous missiles were thrown to the field, including a pig’s head and a whiskey bottle.

Figo is still branded a ‘traitor’ by fans of the club and he admitted to still having a deep fear for his life when visiting the city.

Dani Parejo (Valencia to Villarreal) – 2020

Football's most loyal players

Dani Parejo fell out with Peter Lim and was allowed to leave for free

After failing to cut the grade at Real Madrid, Dani Parejo signed for Valencia in 2011 and despite initial skepticism, he soon won fans of the club over with his commitment and on-field leadership.

He was appointed club captain in 2014 and captained the side to glory in the final of the 2019 Copa del Rey final against Barcelona.

Valencia have been in severe crisis under the ownership of Peter Lim, and following the unceremonious and unjustified sack of coach Marcelino, Parejo publicly backed the manager, which went against the club’s official stand on the issue.

Since then, he has been on a blacklist of the club’s board and they used the coronavirus crisis to get rid of him, selling him to Villarreal on a free transfer.

Roy Keane  (Manchester United to Celtic) – 2005

Roy Keane Manchester United player

Roy Keane of Manchester United and Hatem Ben Arfa of Olympique Lyonnais compete for the ball during the UEFA Champions League

Roy Keane was the epitome of Manchester United’s first wave of success under Sir Alex Ferguson and he played a key role in helping to establish the club as the first force of the Premier League era.

The Irishman was known for his no-nonsense attitude on the field and exemplary leadership and it came as no surprise when Ferguson handed him the captain’s armband in 1997.

Keane continued with his impressive performances at the heart of midfield and his battles with Patrick Vieira of Arsenal were one of the most intriguing sub-plots in the Premier League.

He was also known for his bold personality and spared no prisoners when speaking his mind but he went too far on several occasions, including when he labeled some section of Manchester United fans as a ”prawn sandwich brigade.”

The lowest ebb, however, came when he publicly lambasted his teammates on Manchester United’s TV channel, criticizing both Rio Ferdinand and Darren Fletcher after a 4-1 defeat to Middlesbrough in 2005.

He claimed that the former thought of himself as a ”superstar” because he earns £120,000 per week, while he said Fletcher was not good enough for the club.

Sir Alex Ferguson was understandably very furious with the situation and the footage was immediately taken down from the station. Two weeks later, Keane was booted out of the club following a row with his manager. He saw his contract ‘torn up’ and was allowed to leave for Celtic on a free transfer.

Years later, both men still hold grudges over the incident, with Fergie stating that Keane ‘crossed the line’ with that interview, while the Irishman has insisted that he would never forgive his former manager for the way he was forced out of Old Trafford.

Ashley Cole (Arsenal to Chelsea) – 2006

Football's most loyal players

Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea

Ashley Cole spent seven years at Arsenal, after coming up through the youth team and he made 228 appearances in all competitions for the Gunners.

He played a key role in the successes enjoyed under Arsene Wenger, winning seven major honors, including the double in 2002 and an unbeaten Premier League campaign two years later.

In 2005, Cole signed a one-year extension to his deal and this came after he got fined £75,000 for making contact with Chelsea before the expiration of his contract.

A year later, he departed Arsenal for Stamford Bridge in acrimonious circumstances and launched a scathing attack on the club not long after.

In his autobiography, he accused the Arsenal board of treating him ‘like a scapegoat’ and admitted that they did not offer him a contract commensurate with his value.

Fans of the club were understandably shaken by this act of betrayal and dubbed Ashley Cole ‘Cashley’, while they also waved fake £20 notes at him when next the clubs met.

Denis Law (Manchester United – Manchester City) – 1973

Football's most loyal players

Denis Law spent 11 successful years at Manchester United

Denis Law was one of the ‘holy trinity’ (alongside Bobby Charlton and George Best) that helped establish Manchester United as a force in England under the legendary Sir Matt Busby.

The Scotsman arrived at Old Trafford in 1962 for a record fee and spent the next 11 years with the club, helping United to their maiden European Cup in 1968, as well as five other trophies.

His efforts saw him named the Ballon d’Or winner in 1964 and he made 404 appearances in all competitions for the Red Devils, scoring 237 goals, while the club also honored him with a statue outside Old Trafford (alongside his strike partners).

The appointment of Tommy Docherty (who Law himself had recommended) brought his time at the club to an end and the new manager allowed Denis Law leave for free.

He was not told of the decision in person and only found out on television while he was on holiday. He went on to sign for Manchester City and ironically scored the decisive goal that relegated his former club the very next season.

Iker Casillas (Real Madrid – FC Porto) – 2015

Football's most loyal players

Casillas was alone during the press conference announcing his departure

Iker Casillas is widely regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers in history and he spent over 25 years in the Real Madrid setup, progressing from the youth ranks until he made his first-team debut in 1999.

He currently stands as the player with the most LaLiga appearances in the club’s history and was one of football’s most loyal players during his era, winning several honors while representing Los Blancos.

The arrival of Jose Mourinho saw Casillas lose his previously untouchable starting position and after several years of optimum performances, he slowly began to decline with high-profile errors costing his team.

In the summer of 2015, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez decided to sell Casillas and hurriedly called a press conference, with the goalkeeper allowed to address a scanty press conference without the company of his teammates (who were all on pre-season).

Casillas departed without any fanfare and this was hardly the kind of send-forth he deserved, considering his legendary career with Real Madrid.

The former Spanish international is one of just 16 players who have made over 1,000 career appearances and is held in high regard among his teammates and colleagues.

The manner in which he was booted out of the club led Barcelona legend Xavi to criticize the capital side, while Casillas himself still holds grudges over the matter.

Mauro Icardi (Inter Milan to Paris Saint-Germain) – 2019

Football's most loyal players

Mauro Icardi was loved at Inter Milan

In a period where Inter Milan were at their lowest ebb, Mauro Icardi shone brightly and distinguished himself as one of the best strikers in the world.

The Argentine international has always courted controversy throughout his career, with the biggest coming when he snatched teammate Maxi Lopez’ wife Wanda Nara and this caused a major rift, leading to the latter’s departure.

Exacerbating matters further is the fact that Wanda doubles as his agent and she has hardly helped his cause with her various uncouth utterances on social media.

Despite these, Inter fans took to Icardi and he was named club captain at the age of 22, while also winning the Italian Serie A Golden Boot on two occasions.

He, however, came in for a severe backlash when he released his autobiography, criticizing the club’s ultras (who had earlier thrown his shirt back at him from the stands) and this led to him being stripped of the captaincy and his eventual departure to PSG.

Fernando Hierro (Real Madrid to Bolton Wanderers) – 2003

Football's most loyal players

Fernando Hierro was a rock at the heart of defense for Real Madrid

Fernando Hierro spent 14 years with Real Madrid, making 587 appearances and winning several major honors in the process.

Despite playing as a center-back, the Spaniard was adept at finding the back of the net and his final tally of 124 goals is indicative of the attacking threat he posed, especially at set-pieces.

He was appointed club captain following the retirement of Manolo Sanchis and skippered the side to glory in the 2003 LaLiga campaign.

However, in the immediate aftermath of the season, Hierro had a major fall-out with Florentino Perez after the president allowed a journalist into the dressing room without his permission.

This was a continuation of a previous disagreement with the club president (over his treatment of Fernando Morientes) in the 2002 UEFA Super Cup.

Hierro had been set to sign a contract extension in the summer of 2003 but Perez vetoed this decision and the defender was allowed to leave that year, alongside coach Vicente del Bosque and Claude Makelele and this kick-started a fallow period for Los Blancos.

Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal to Bordeaux) – 2019

Football's most loyal players

Koscielny left Arsenal in controversial circumstances

Laurent Koscielny was signed by Arsene Wenger in 2010 and he almost immediately became a mainstay in the Arsenal team.

In nine years, he made 353 appearances in all competitions for the club, scoring 27 goals and was named club captain in 2018.

His departure from the club was, however, highly acrimonious, as he went on a strike and refused to turn up for a pre-season tour in a bid to force a transfer to Bordeaux.

This was a major black mark on his Arsenal career and unbefitting for someone who was club captain and adored by the fans.

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