40 years on, the deal that made Liam Brady but also set Arsenal back by a decade

Liam Brady was a huge hit in his two seasons at Juventus  Photo: Getty Images

Liam Brady was a huge hit in his two seasons at Juventus Photo: Getty Images

Aidan Fitzmaurice

The news that Liam Brady had left Arsenal and signed for Juventus was a shock for many people. Especially the Arsenal manager who had just seen the Dubliner complete a pre-season training session in London minutes before he got the call to say the midfielder was no longer a Gunner.

That deal - completed 40 years ago today - was the bargain of the decade in Italian football, and was one of the most important (and successful) transfers ever completed by an Irish player. Brady went on to deliver back-to-back titles for Juventus at the start of a seven-year spell in Serie A.

Crucially, a bargain fee of £600,000 for a player easily worth three times that amount freed up funds for Juve to pass on to Brady. Reports at the time claimed he received a signing-on fee of £250,000 and a weekly wage of £3,000 - more than ten times his earnings at Highbury.

Eagerness

Manchester United were in the running to sign Brady in the summer of 1980. However, a combination of the Dubliner's eagerness to try his luck in Italy and the fact that a move to Old Trafford would have cost United up to £2m (a record fee for a player in England at the time), helped pave the road to Turin.

From the London club's point of view, Juve's outlay was poor compensation for the loss of a truly great player. Club supremo Don Howe would later claim that Brady's exit not only harmed the Gunners on the field, in terms of results, but caused a drop in crowds at Highbury.

"People didn't want to go anymore," Howe rued.

Losing Brady set Arsenal back a decade, set Juventus on course for two league titles and set Brady up for life. And he had a Leeds-based lawyer to thank for getting him there with Ronnie Teeman playing a key role in the move.

"He led the way as others followed and many of them went to Italy through me: Graeme Souness, Ray Wilkins, Trevor Francis, Mark Hateley, Luther Blissett," Teeman told the Irish Independent.

The 1979/80 season was Brady's seventh at Arsenal, the campaign ending in a whimper with defeats in the FA Cup and Cup Winners' Cup finals.

The Gunners had taken talent like Brady's for granted - he was earning £200 a week on his last Highbury contract - and the player felt he needed a fresh challenge.

Liam Brady in his Arsenal heyday

Liam Brady in his Arsenal heyday

"I had wanted to leave Arsenal and it was simply a matter of whether a deal could be sorted," he later recalled. He had sensed the club were happy with a season that included a cup run and a top-six finish, but Brady had an appetite for more.

It was assumed he would stay in England, as United and European champions Nottingham Forest both made approaches. Old Trafford boss Dave Sexton came to Dublin to pursue Brady: the waiter who served them at the Burlington Hotel was sworn to secrecy about the meeting.

The sporting world had its focus on the Moscow Olympics but Brady's future was the big soccer story of the summer. He was reported to be most unhappy with the media presence at his wedding that summer - his Saturday nuptials were front page news in the Sunday papers here and in the UK.

But Teeman, an old confidant of John Giles, was working on Brady's behalf and he knew the score: Arsenal would be entitled to claim compensation of at least £1.5m, possibly rising to £2m, if he moved to another English club.

However, Teeman's knowledge of compensation under European Economic Community (EEC, now the European Union) law, combined with a decision in 1980 by the Italian FA to lift a 12-year ban on the signing of foreign players, opened a door.

Bayern Munich were sufficiently interested for Brady to take German lessons and Juve knew all about the Ireland star who had helped the Gunners knock the Italians out of the Cup Winners Cup in April, 1980.

And with Arsenal's stinginess in terms of contracts, Brady's frustration at the lack of ambition at Highbury, Teeman's insight and the fondness Juve boss Giovanni Trapattoni had for the midfielder, the pieces were falling into place.

"The view was taken, and I advised Liam on it, that Liam's contract with Arsenal had finished and he was free to move, so he should go to somewhere like Italy," says Teeman, adding that John Charles - then the most recent successful export to Italy from England - encouraged Brady to go.

"It then turned out that Arsenal said 'we want to sell him for £2million', which was an absolute king's ransom in those days. They said he can't go for nothing. I said he was free to go, they said the freedom of contract didn't apply to England, only to Europe.

"So I tested it, and eventually I was satisfied in my own mind that we could force Arsenal's hand. I got in touch with the only Italian person I knew in football, who had taken John Charles to Leeds many years earlier. He got busy and before I knew where I was, we had Juventus, Inter Milan, Roma and Napoli on the phone. But we did a deal to send Liam to Juventus. Arsenal said 'he can't go'. I said 'he's going'," added Teeman.

The issue unresolved, Brady returned to pre-season training with Arsenal even though he was out of contract (he even posed in a team photo for the season ahead) but knew he was on his way . "I went over to Italy with power of attorney for Liam and signed the forms for him to go to Juventus. From Italy I phoned Arsenal, I told the manager, Terry Neill, that Liam had signed for Juventus. Terry said 'that can't be true, I have just seen him in a five-a-side in training here'. But the deal went through, Liam became the first foreign import to Italy in a long time and he became a tremendous success," Teeman added.

The first foreigner at Juventus since the 1960s, Brady was carried through Turin airport on the shoulders of jubilant Juve fans on August 1. "There was no showing of passports," said Brady, who arrived at Juve as a 24-year-old with a decent reputation but left two years later with hero status after being ousted to make room for the incoming Michel Platini.

Manchester United, who were scared off by the £2m price tag in 1980, waited another 13 years for a league title, some fans wondering if Brady could have been the crucial piece of the jigsaw to complete their early 1980s side.

That deal cost Arsenal and Manchester United but made a man of Brady.


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