While the likes of Luis Diaz and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang stole the headlines during the winter transfer window, one deal that managed to sneak beneath the radar saw an amateur Sunday League team from Shropshire, England, pull off a miraculous move to sign up former Brazil international and Real Madrid star Roberto Carlos.
The 2002 World Cup and three-time Champions League winner completed a shock transfer to Bull in the Barne United in January as part of Ebay’s Dream Transfer competition. The 48-year-old, regarded as one of the best left-backs ever to play the game, had last played for Indian Super League club Delhi Dynamos in 2015.
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The Dream Transfer competition was open to anybody associated with a Sunday League club in the UK, with a £5 entry fee offering teams the chance to add some choice professional experience to their matchday squad on a one-game basis. Who says it’s impossible to find value for money in January?
While Roberto Carlos was added to the roster of the Bull in the Barne United, the Dream Transfer raffle also saw former England women’s international Eni Aluko return to Sunday League in order to turn out for south-coast club Pevensey and Westham FC two weeks ago.
OFFICIAL! The Man, The Myth, The Legend will join Bull In The Barne United for one extraordinary game of football. Dare I say the best Sunday League transfer in history 👀Welcome to Shrewsbury! Welcome to the Bull! #dreamtrasnfer #Transfers #transfernews #TransferWindow pic.twitter.com/dVwGSfJ5LQ
— Bull In The Barne United (@BITBUnited) January 31, 2022
All funds raised by the raffle and the event will be donated in support of Football Beyond Borders, a charity that helps disadvantaged young people in communities across the country.
Bull in the Barne United are a pub team first formed over 30 years ago. Hailing from rural Shropshire, they are plying their trade this season in the second of four tiers that make up the Shrewsbury District Sunday League. They are managed by their goalkeeper Ed Speller, who admitted that he was doing his level best to keep a lid on his players’ escalating anticipation during the build up to the big day.
“Everyone is extremely excited! It is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he told ESPN. “I think some nerves will settle in but come matchday everyone will be focused on playing and enjoying themselves. I know for a fact that this will be a story to tell for years to come!”
Asked how he planned to go about offering tips and tactical advice to a man who played 125 times for Brazil, Speller admitted that he found the task more than a little daunting.
He said: “Managing such an incredible footballer is a whole new level for me! I will likely speak to him on the day to outline how the team plays but he has so much knowledge and experience at the highest level that I have no doubts he will fit right in.”
Having such a legendary player turn out for the local pub team caused plenty of interest. Fans young and old turning out to see him play, with some using any means available to get the best view of the action
Looking ahead to the game itself, Speller also revealed that Carlos’ marquee arrival at Bull in the Barne United might be a source of friction with his first-choice left-back, Liam Turrall — though he hoped to find room for both players on the pitch.
“Obviously, Roberto is the best left-back to have ever played so we’ve told Liam several times that he might be dropped,” Speller said. “I would like to see Roberto playing further up the pitch so Liam, who is the best left-back in Shropshire, can have his time to shine too.”
Indeed, Carlos was included in Speller’s matchday squad for a friendly against Harlescott Rangers on Friday, only to find he’d be starting on the bench. Following in the footsteps of fellow countryman Kaka, who turned up out of the blue to take part in a 6-a-side game in London a few years ago, the Brazilian legend had to settle for a place among the subs as his new side got things underway.
After causing a real stir at the Hanwood Village Hall Recreation Centre, Carlos eventually emerged from the dugout and got to experience the rough-and-tumble of English amateur football for the first time.
He even got himself on the scoresheet, coolly slotting home a penalty, but Bull in the Barne ultimately lost 4-3.
Carlos pen 4-3 pic.twitter.com/DNIicx8quI
— Dominic Robertson (@DRobertson_Star) March 4, 2022
After a rather understated cameo performance on his debut, the Brazilian handed the Player of the Match award to teammate Callum Bebb.
Carlos was all smiles while posing with the rest of his Bull in the Barne teammates after the final whistle including his manager for the day, Ed Speller — who can now number himself among coaching luminaries such as Fabio Capello, Guus Hiddink and Vincente del Bosque.
Believe it or not, this isn’t Carlos’ first dalliance with the West Midlands football scene: he came close to signing for Birmingham City early in his career. As a youngster, he received an offer to move to St Andrews in 1995 after scoring his first international goal in a 3-0 win over Japan in the Umbro Cup, an exhibition tournament staged in England as a precursor to the 1996 European Championship.
City had just been promoted to the Championship (then known as the First Division) but Carlos held out and eventually signed for Inter Milan instead, where he played under Roy Hodgson.
Regarded as one of the greatest left-backs to ever play the sport, Carlos won 20 major club trophies with the likes of Inter and Real Madrid, as well as a World Cup, two Copa Americas and a Confederations Cup with the Brazil national side.
Roberto Carlos scoring THAT free-kick… pic.twitter.com/lFtA6G2FBG
— 90s Football (@90sfootball) November 17, 2021
He’s also famous for his “impossible” freekick scored against France during Le Tournoi in 1997.
By comparison, the highest level of decoration on show within the rest of the 2021-22 Bull in the Barne squad is the medal belonging to manager Speller after he found himself on the winning side in a junior cup final while still at secondary school.
“I and many of the lads also have fond memories of the junior football tournaments,” he said.
Something tells us that after today, he may well have a brand new career highlight to look back on.