Which football clubs have signed the wrong player by mistake?

<span>Photograph: PA Images/Alamy</span>
Photograph: PA Images/Alamy

“Has any club accidentally signed completely the wrong player, due to a mix-up with the names or something like that?” asks Brandon Martin-Moore.

The most famous story of mistaken identity is almost certainly an urban myth. The yarn goes that, when Milan signed Luther Blissett from Watford in 1983, they thought they were buying John Barnes. We covered this in the Knowledge many moons ago, and nothing much has changed. But there are cases of clubs committing human error in more ways than one.

“Spare a thought for Gambian footballer Alpha Jallow who, back in July 2019, signed a two-year contract with Turkish second-division side Menemenspor,” writes Alasdair Brooks. “At the time, he was playing for Portuguese third-division side Alcochetense. Unfortunately, it turned out that Menemenspor’s scouting team had been watching videos of Lamin Jallow, a Gambian international who was playing for Italian second-division side Salernitana.

“Menemenspor claimed that Alpha had failed his physical and cancelled the transfer the same day, but the embarrassing news leaked out. To his credit, Lamin was very supportive of his fellow Gambian on social media once he was aware of the details.”

“At the sharp end of the 1992-93 season, Birmingham City were, as ever, fighting relegation,” begins Robin Horton, inviting us all to gather round the fire. “A series of injuries left the club needing to sign a goalkeeper on loan. They had a very positive scouting report from Ian Atkins about Notts County’s reserve goalkeeper, so they signed him. He was a giant Aussie called Bob Catlin, who played eight games and helped Birmingham stay up. When Atkins saw Catlin in action, he asked who the goalkeeper was.

‘The Notts County reserve you recommended.’

‘Oh, it’s not HIM.’

“It turned out the chap Atkins recommended was Jimmy Walker, who had been promoted to the County reserves from the youth team in an emergency, and who later became a legend at Walsall.”

It’s fair to say Milton Núñez did not become a legend at Sunderland – the Honduran striker joined for £1.6m from PAOK Salonika in March 2000 and barely played a game. It has never been confirmed, but Sunderland folklore has it that somebody at the club – a scout or the manager Peter Reid – thought they were signing Núñez’s Colombian teammate Adolfo Valencia.

Milton Núñez playing for Sunderland in 2000.
Milton Núñez playing for Sunderland in 2000. Photograph: Allstar Picture Library Ltd/Alamy

It gets worse. Núñez reportedly said in an interview that Sunderland mistook him for two players: his PAOK teammate Valencia and his Honduras teammate Eduardo Bennett. What makes it even more absurd is that Valencia and Bennett are both just shy of 6ft. Núñez is 5ft 5in.

Dan Ryazansky has a not dissimilar tale from New York. “It has been said, but not proven, that the MetroStars (now NY Red Bulls) signed the wrong brother back in 1998,” writes Dan. “Ever Palacios was a Colombian national team player, who would go on to appear in that year’s World Cup. Arley Palacios was … not as good. I detailed it here.”

There were a few rumours that Dundee United signed the wrong player when Walter Rojas joined from San Lorenzo in 1991, though Jim McLean always denied it and nobody was brave enough to ask twice. You can read more about Rojas’s miserable United career in this When Saturday Comes article.

There were similar rumours about Per Krøldup, who joined Everton from Udinese in 2005, but again it’s just speculation. Our legal department would like us to make that abundantly clear.

Fallen champions who have soon clashed in second tier

“Blackburn will meet Leicester in the Championship on 30 September,” writes Peter Skilton. “Both have been champions of England in the past 29 seasons. What’s the record for the shortest time between two teams winning the top division and then meeting in the second tier? The best I can find is Napoli v Juventus in Serie B in 2006-07; both had won Serie A in the previous 17 years. But I’m sure somebody can beat that.”

This was a surprisingly popular question, with literally hundreds tens of responses, so thank you to one and all. Here’s a list of the answers, in descending order.

18 seasons – England Sheffield Wednesday (champions in 1903-04) and Manchester United (1911-12) met in Division Two in 1921-22.

10 seasons – Hungary “The 1993-94 Hungarian champions, Vác FC, met Dunaferr FC (1999-2000) in the second division in 2003-04,” writes Peter Guber.

9 seasons – England (twice) Sheffield Wednesday (1929-30) and Manchester City (1936-37, relegated the following season), met in 1938-39.

Leeds United (1973-74) and Derby County (1974-75) played each other in the second tier in 1982-83.

7 seasons – England Wolves (1958-59) and Ipswich (1961-62) met in 1965-66.

7 seasons – Italy Lazio (1973-74) and AC Milan (1978-79) met in Serie B in 1980-81.

6 seasons – France OGC Nice (1958-59) and Stade Reims (1961-62) met in 1964-65. “Even more remarkably,” writes Warren Lyons, “between them, Nice and Stade de Reims had been French champions 10 times in the 15 seasons before they were both relegated from the top flight in 1963-64.

5 seasons – Germany TSV 1860 München (1965-66) and FC Nürnberg (1967-68, then relegated in 1968-69) met in 1970-71

2 seasons – Finland “The shortest possible answer to this question is two seasons or two years,” writes Dirk Maas. “This was the case in Finland in the late 1990s. TPV and FC Haka were relegated the year after their title win. This meant that the Finnish champions of 1995 and 1996 faced each other in the Finnish second tier in 1997.”

And finally, Flor Van der Eycken points out that, in 2012-13, Ligue 2 included four teams who had been champions of France since the mid-90s: Auxerre (1996), Lens (1998), Monaco (2000) and Nantes (2001).

Another TV show shirt sponsor

In last week’s Knowledge we looked at clubs who have been sponsored by TV shows, a question inspired by Taskmaster’s sponsorship of Chesham United in the upcoming season. For some reason, we missed this email from Florian Camphausen.

Privatfernsehen, a 90s politics programme on German state TV ARD, sponsored SV Hamborn 07 during the 1996-97 season. Nicknamed die Hamborner Löwen (the Hamborn Lions), they were a club with a rich tradition in the pre-Bundesliga era. By the 90s, the club had been relegated to Landesliga Niederrhein, which was then the sixth tier.

“For one year, the Löwen-Report was a regular feature of the show. It included highlights and stories from around the club. Here’s one on YouTube showing the assistant manager working at his main job as postman before moving on to the Lions’ 3-3 draw against VfB Kleve. You can get a glimpse of the shirt displaying ARD’s 1 over the logotype Privatfernsehen. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a good picture of the shirt.”

Knowledge archive

“What is the highest number of penalties scored by a player in a single domestic season?” asked Neil Coleman in 2016.

José Luis Zalazar, a former Uruguay attacking midfielder who made his international debut in a 2-0 win over England in 1984, had a stonking record for his club side Tecos, as Milton from Morelia informs us. “José Luis Zalazar, ‘The Bear’, scored 17 of his 23 goals in the 1986-87 season in Mexico from the penalty spot. His team, Tecos, were eliminated on penalties in their quarter-final playoff against Cruz Azul, and it was then that Salazar missed his first penalty of the season.” A bear with a sore head, no doubt.

Moving on, Bolton Wanderers hall-of-famer Mário Jardel can boast a whopping 20 penalties in a single season, according to Antonio Marreiros: “In the season 2001-02, Brazilian international Mário Jardel scored 42 league goals in 30 games for Sporting Lisbon. From those 42, 16 came from penalties. He scored 20 penalties in all that season, if we include three in the domestic cup and one in the Uefa Cup.”


Can you help?

“Hertha Berlin’s recent game against Fortuna Düsseldorf must have been some sort of record: Hertha’s manager Pal Dardai named one of his sons in the starting XI, and then sent on his two other sons as substitutes. Has there ever been a game with more relatives involved?” asks Balázs Thaler.

“The longest home losing streak in North American pro sports has just been set (by the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Elks) at 21 games. What’s the record for association football?” asks Ricardo Bortolon.

“All the Filipino players who played in their win over New Zealand in the Women’s World Cup were born outside the Philippines, this includes both the starting XI plus the five players who came off the bench. Are there any other examples of an entire participating international matchday team being born outside their home country?” asks Stephen Toal.