The transfer window is one of the most chaotic times of the season that can make both players and fans think irrationally and suffer extreme emotions. If fans think it is stressful, then it is extremely stressful for the players who are trying to get their dream move with time running out in the window.
For the majority of European teams, the transfer window will slam shut at the end of August with no more opportunity to modify squads until the following January at the earliest. If there’s a gap in the squad, it is going to be exploited before January rolls around.
That is why when it gets to this point in the transfer window, clubs have to make sure they don’t lose any star players without having an adequate replacement lined up first. That desire can be to the detriment of players who want to leave but need their club to sanction the transfer.
When push comes to shove, many players have taken matters into their own hands to force transfers. The most common tactic is to not show up for training when contractually obligated to. It often results in a fine for the player but that isn’t an issue for someone earning thousands of dollars every week. It shows the club and the other club that may buy the player that they are serious about the move.
The most recent example of this is Harry Kane at Tottenham Hotspur. He reportedly did not show up for training with his teammates when he was expected to return following his holiday. This led to a huge outpouring of opinion and judgement from fans and pundits. The claim is disputed by Harry Kane and his representatives. They claim he was not due back on that particular day and has now returned to training when he was supposed to.
The reason this is of interest is that the England captain is being pursued by Manchester City. It’s a transfer that many believe would hand the Premier League title to Manchester City before the season has even gotten into full swing.
The major risk involved with skipping training is if the move does not then materialise. Falling out with the club and the fans can be detrimental to a player’s career as it can result in months on the sidelines and a reputation to other clubs as a player who misbehaves and acts outside the rules of their contract.
Who else has tried to force a move by skipping training?
1. Thibaut Courtois
More than one Chelsea player has avoided training with the team in the past to get a transfer away from the London club. In the summer window of 2018, Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois did not show up for training when he was expected to, with no explanation given to the club such as illness or personal reasons.
This happened amid serious transfer rumours linking him to Spanish giants Real Madrid. This action worked out for the goalkeeper because on deadline day that summer, he joined Real Madrid for a reported £35 million. Chelsea sanctioned the sale because they lined up a deal for Spanish goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.
It emerged that Thibaut Courtois’ motivations for missing training were largely based on his family. He had been playing for Atletico Madrid before joining Chelsea, but his children were living with his former partner in Madrid whilst he was in London. He had decided he must move back to Madrid to be close to his children.
2. Diego Costa
As one of the fieriest players in the game, it may not be too surprising to hear that Diego Costa has gone on strike more than once in his career. The Spanish striker with Brazilian heritage refused to return from holiday in Brazil during the summer of 2017 despite being ordered back by Chelsea multiple times. He had been told by then-coach, Antonio Conte, that the club wanted to sell him. That’s why he saw no reason to return to training for a club that doesn’t want him.
He eventually managed to get his move to Atletico Madrid, a club he had played for before. Fast forward to December 2020 and he was up to the same tricks again to get away from Atletico Madrid. He had fallen down the pecking order at Atleti and wanted to have his contract terminated. He was let go by the club in January 2021 and was without a club until he recently joined the Brazilian side, Atletico Mineiro.
3. Carlos Tevez
Despite being one of the most talented players of his generation, Carlos Tevez’s disciplinary issues followed him throughout his career. They were at their worst towards the end of his time at Manchester City. He had previously been in trouble for refusing to warm up when asked to during a Champions League match against Bayern Munich in 2011. He was suspended for a fortnight and fined two weeks wages by the club.
His next transgression that year was to fly back to Argentina during an international break when he was specifically told by the club to stay in Manchester to improve his fitness with a personal trainer as he was badly out of shape for a Premier League footballer. Despite these repeated issues and seemingly severing his ties at the club, he remained at City until his move to Juventus in 2013.
4. Ousmane Dembele
Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele refused to train for Borussia Dortmund before his €105m move to the Nou Camp. The Frenchman skipped training transfer interest from Barcelona, while Dortmund rejected the Catalan club’s original offer for the winger.
5. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Another Borussia Dortmund player who forced a transfer by skipping training is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Gabonese striker received interest from Arsenal in the 2017 summer transfer window. However, he was still a Dortmund player at the beginning of the season. The striker would skip team meetings and refuse to train in the final sessions of the week. Aubameyang finally left the club in January 2018, and got his £56 million move to the Emirates.
It seems that the most common cause for players skipping training is because the move they are seeking is one that will take them closer to their family. That being said, when entering a legally binding contract it is important to respect that contract and your employer. Perhaps the amount of money that footballers earn means that the consequences for breaking the rules are not enough of a deterrent.
Euan Burns is a features editor at Origym Centre of Excellence, which provides high-quality personal training courses and packages.