Football Features

Eight times players refused to return for pre-season

By Ollie Thomas

Published: 12:50, 15 July 2019

Laurent Koscielny’s refusal to travel away with Arsenal on their pre-season tour this summer is not a new phenomenon.

Bound to rile up your team-mates and fans alike, refusing to go on tour – or turn up at all, for that matter – has become something of a transfer power play in recent years. After all, what club would want to keep a player who simply says no to training in an exotic country, free of charge?

Whilst not being professional, it has certainly proved to be effective in the past. Perhaps this is why Koscielny decided this was the appropriate action to take in order to secure his move away from the Emirates.

But who did he take inspiration from? We take a look at eight players who refused to take part in their clubs’ pre-season in order to force through a transfer.

Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal, 2019)

Arsenal’s club captain and *apparently* the model professional, many were shocked to hear that Koscielny is now going all out to ensure he won’t be playing football in London next season.

Earlier this year, Koscielny was reportedly in the process of agreeing an extension on his contract: an additional 12 months on top of the year he already has remaining. However, Arsenal’s failure to qualify for the Champions League and their damaging defeat to Chelsea in the Europa League final had major repercussions for their existing players, none more so than Koscielny.

The Frenchman was supposedly already unhappy with the direction in which the club was going and believed that his service to the club, spanning across an impressive nine-year career, would be enough to convince the Arsenal hierarchy to let him leave. He was wrong. Emery and co. are believed to have had Koscielny down as a key part of the 2019/20 season, especially given their lack of centre-back options.

Koscielny claims that Arsenal are now going back on their word to let him leave on a free this summer, something which the club denies. With strong interest from France, it seems likely that Koscielny has played his last game for Arsenal.

Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain, 2019)

In what promises to be one of the most high-profile transfer sagas of recent years, Neymar Jr. is once again dominating the headlines in a summer window. The Brazilian maverick missed the Copa America through injury but is reportedly fit enough to train once again. However, that didn’t stop the Neymar failing to turn up to the start of PSG’s pre-season last week.

Neymar and his superiors in the French capital have been clashing for what seems to have been his entire career at the club. Tensions seemed to reach their peak following the success of Kylian Mbappe, with many suggesting that Paris isn’t big enough for the both of them.

Having left Barcelona in the summer of 2017 for a world record fee, Neymar is reportedly keen on returning to Spain and reuniting with Messi and co. PSG, however, are not willing to let him go easily. Don’t be surprised to see this one drag out.

Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid, 2019)

Antoine Griezmann’s exit from Atletico has been inevitable for a while now. After announcing he planned on staying at the club following the World Cup last summer, Griezmann unsurprisingly changed his mind a year later and revealed that he was leaving the club, with Barcelona being his preferred destination.

However, Neymar’s eagerness to return to Spain seemingly left Griezmann in something of a limbo. Barcelona were unlikely to afford both of them (at least not without selling some stars) and it appears they’ve chosen Griezmann, whose Atleti shirt number has been given to replacement Joao Felix.

Despite Atletico agreeing to let him go, the 28-year-old still refused to turn up for their pre-season, citing ’emotional stress’ as his reason amid his eventual transfer. It felt bizarre since Diego Simeone and those above him appear happy to let him go, meaning he’s only damaged his own reputation and fitness by not training, but in the end he got his dream transfer.

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Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea, 2018)

The pull of Spain appears to be too strong for players to resist going on strike. Having returned to Chelsea from Atletico Madrid, Thibaut Courtois refused to turn up on the first day of Chelsea’s pre-season in 2018 following Belgium’s successful World Cup in order to force through a reunion with the Spanish capital, this time with Real. Courtois’ two children live in Spain with his ex-partner, which was the reason he was so keen a return.

Courtois had actually done the same thing when he was at Genk in order to secure his move to Chelsea back in 2011. Both of these power plays worked: the Belgian joined Real Madrid in August for a reported £35m after a saga which did little to endear the goalkeeper to either set of fans.

This move has not turned out the way Courtois would have hoped. After a poor season, Madrid ended 2018/19 with no trophies as Courtois’ poor performances saw him in and out of the team. He has struggled to hold down the no.1 shirt and will hope this season sees his fortunes turn.

Diego Costa (Chelsea, 2017)

What is it with Chelsea players going on strike? Just a year before Courtois’ actions, Diego Costa decided he would rather spend his pre-season in Brazil than London after Antonio Conte revealed to the striker by text that he was no longer wanted at the club.

This refusal was perhaps a little more understandable than the aforementioned examples, as Costa accused Chelsea of ‘treating him like a criminal’. Unsurprisingly, Costa secured a big-money return to Atletico Madrid but was forced to wait until January to play for his former club due to a transfer ban.

It’s fair to say that Chelsea may now regret the way they treated the Spanish international: Costa has become an important player for Diego Simeone and the signings of Alvaro Morata and Gonzalo Higuain have not come close to filling the gap left by the 30-year-old. Costa has since caused more troubles in Madrid however, refusing to train in April of this year after the club fined him following a verbal tirade during a defeat to Barcelona.

Ousmane Dembele (Borussia Dortmund, 2017)

Dembele has had his fair share of training dramas in recent years. The French winger failed to turn up to Barcelona training after supposedly playing Fortnite all night, a stunt which landed him a hefty fine.

Prior to his move to the Catalan side, Dembele went AWOL during Dortmund’s pre-season. Dortmund’s manager at the time, Peter Bosz, said: “Ousmane Dembele was not in training today. We do not know why. We tried to reach him but we did not.”

Dembele’s antics did eventually lead to him moving to the Spanish champions, where injury has caused his career to stutter.

The tricky winger has been linked away with a move to the likes of Bayern Munich and PSG this summer in what promises to be a summer of change at Barca.

Raheem Sterling (Liverpool, 2015)

In what is surely the most high profile clash between a club and a player in recent years, the summer of 2015 saw Raheem Sterling go from hero to zero with the Anfield faithful.

Following two successful seasons under Brendan Rodgers, a disagreement over his contract and interest from Manchester City led to the then-20-year-old deciding that his time with Liverpool was up and he wanted to move on. In order to make sure this happened, Sterling refused to go on the pre-season tour to Asia with his team-mates. Liverpool remained firm on their £50 million valuation of Sterling, a price-tag which City were able to match later that summer.

After a slow start in Manchester, Pep Guardiola has turned Sterling into one of the best wingers in the world. It’s fair to say Sterling’s questionable actions have certainly paid off.

Luka Modric (Tottenham Hotspur, 2012)

Many seem to forget that the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner was a stalwart in Spurs’ midfield for four years, playing a major role in the North London side qualifying to the Champions League under Harry Redknapp.

Modric rejected a contract offer which would have doubled his wages as well as refusing to train before Spurs’ pre-season tour to the US. The Croatian midfielder was determined to complete a big-money move to Real Madrid – again, the Spanish clubs causing players to act up – a wish which was eventually granted after the Spanish side met Spurs’ £40 million valuation.

His career in the Spanish capital hardly got off to a good start: Modric was actually voted the worst La Liga signing in 2012 after failing to impress at the Bernabeu. Four Champions Leagues, two FIFA Club World Cups and a World Player of the Year later, it’s fair to say that the 33-year-old has turned his fortunes around.