Top 5 Football legends who surprisingly left their clubsThe ever-increasing financial windfall in football means that it has become more difficult to find players who stay put at one club for more than a few years.
There is almost always an improved offer elsewhere, and the allure of playing for bigger clubs proves to be almost impossible to turn down.
The word 'legend' has been diluted in recent years, owing to social media's tendency to bandy the word around for players who attain a modicum of success.
Nevertheless, there are a handful of players who have fulfilled all criteria necessary to be classified as bonafide legends. This might be down to their otherworldly achievements or unprecedented loyalty, but they generally maintain a high standing in the eyes of even rival fans.
It is usually the wish of fans to see their legendary players retire in the colors of the club they are most associated with. That proved to be the case with modern-day icons like Paolo Maldini, Ryan Giggs and Francesco Totti.
However, in some select cases, players who attain legendary status at clubs often have to depart when the ovation is loudest after running their race.
This is usually understandable, and such players are given sendoffs deserving of their immaculate standing, as was the case with Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and John Terry.
There is another group of legends who would have preferred to stay put but had to leave due to circumstances beyond their control.
These exits came as a rude shock to both fans of the clubs and the casual observer. Here are the top 5 legends who unexpectedly left their clubs.
Honorable mentions: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid to Paris Saint-Germain), Victor Valdes (Barcelona to Manchester United)
#5 Luis Suarez (Barcelona to Atletico Madrid) - 2020
Luis Suarez proved his mettle at a young age at Ajax and went on to become a world-class player with his exploits at Liverpool.
However, the Uruguay international was never far removed from controversy. His dodgy reputation provided a never-ending supply of reports for the British tabloids.
He departed England in the summer of 2014 and surprisingly cleaned up his game in the colors of Barcelona.
Suarez was able to focus on just the football at Camp Nou, and the Blaugrana were ultimately better off for it. His iconic partnership with Lionel Messi and Neymar was the catalyst for renewed success in the two years they spent together.
Suarez became a bonafide club legend during his six years at Catalunya. However, Ronald Koeman's appointment as manager in 2020 brought the striker's Barcelona career to an inglorious end. The Dutch manager stated that the former Liverpool man was not part of his plans.
This came as a rude shock to fans of the club, as Luis Suarez was still a genuine game-changer who could make a difference in front of goal.
He was heavily linked with a move to Juventus before joining Barcelona's domestic rivals Atletico Madrid.
The 34-year-old came back to haunt his former side as he guided Los Colchoneros to league glory in his debut season at the Wanda Metropolitano.
#4 Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich to Manchester United) - 2015
Bastian Schweinsteiger came through Bayern Munich's academy and became a mainstay of the highly successful Bayern Munich and Germany teams of this period.
He was one of the standout midfielders in the world at his peak, with his vision, technique, passing and shooting ability helping him stand out among his peers.
Schweinsteiger was the symbol of Bayern Munich, and few could have imagined him in colors other than those of the Bavarians.
However, Pep Guardiola was seemingly not a fan of the World Cup winner and was not pleased with how much pressure he faced to start the midfielder.
Schweinsteiger himself was not happy with his reduced standing in the eyes of his manager. This led to a breakdown in the relationship between the two men in just one year.
A move to Manchester United was mooted in the summer of 2015, but few took it seriously until it became official.
Schweinsteiger's time at Old Trafford was an unmitigated disaster. He struggled to hit his previous heights in two injury-plagued years in the Premier League.
#3 Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid to Juventus) - 2018
Cristiano Ronaldo was already a bonafide world-class player when he joined Real Madrid from Manchester United in the summer of 2009. However, few would have predicted the dizzying heights the Madira native would reach in the colors of Los Blancos.
Over the next nine years, Cristiano Ronaldo redefined what was previously thought possible on the field of play. He was the catalyst for the most successful period in Real Madrid's modern era.
Real Madrid are the biggest club in the world, and the Santiago Bernabeu is the dream destination of millions of footballers around the world. It was simply unfathomable that their prized asset would leave the Spanish capital while still in his prime.
However, that proved to be the case when Ronaldo - fresh from inspiring Los Blancos to a three-peat UEFA Champions League crown - joined Juventus on a nine-figure deal in 2018.
Zinedine Zidane's shock resignation after the UEFA Champions League final was the precursor to Ronaldo's unexpected move away from the Bernabeu.
There were also reports that the Portugal international had fallen out with club president Florentino Perez, and this played a role in his departure.
Real Madrid have not been the same since the Madeira native's exit, with all his potential replacements failing to perform at the levels expected.
#2 Iker Casillas (Real Madrid to Porto) - 2015
Real Madrid are notoriously infamous for treating club legends badly. However, the manner in which they handled Iker Casillas' departure was shocking to even their biggest detractors.
The former Spain international had been at Real Madrid since making his debut in 1999. He went on to become a mainstay as the club won several trophies over the next two decades.
In his prime, Casillas was widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world and earned the affectionate nickname 'Saint Iker' from fans of the club.
However, mistakes began to creep into his game in the latter part of his career, and this saw him lose his starting spot in the team.
That does not, however, excuse the shambolic way in which Real Madrid announced his departure from the club.
His parents claimed Florentino Perez forced him out of the club, and a tearful Casillas bade goodbye to an empty Bernabeu in a hastily conducted press interview.
All his teammates had left on a pre-season tour, and Casillas was forced to face the press alone and announce his departure to Porto.
Contrasts were drawn with Xavi's emotional sendoff at Barcelona a few months prior, with Camp Nou having a carnival atmosphere to bid farewell to one of its greatest servants.
#1 Lionel Messi (Free Agent) - 2021
Barcelona have been in shambles over the last few years, but they have hit an all-time low in the bundling of Lionel Messi's contract renewal.
The Argentina international ran down his contract last season, having earlier threatened to leave the club in the summer of 2020.
That debacle proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back in Josep Bartomeu's disastrous presidency, and he resigned shortly after.
The next presidential election was held on the backdrop of Messi's future. Current president Joan Laporta was elected on the basis of his assurance of the 34-year-old's continued stay at the club.
Leo #Messi, the most decorated player in Barça history— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) August 6, 2021
The contract renewal was believed to be a mere formality, and initial reports emerged that a new deal had been agreed in principle pending an official announcement.
However, a spectacular turn of events led to the club announcing their iconic player's departure on Thursday evening, leading to a meltdown on social media.
Lionel Messi has been associated with Barcelona for over two decades and is inarguably the greatest player in the club's illustrious history.
The idea of the Rosario native wearing colors other than those of the Blaugrana was previously unimaginable, and it was taken for granted that he would retire at the Camp Nou.
However, a combination of several factors, chiefly Barcelona's mismanagement, has ensured that this will not be the case.