10 Football (Soccer) Transfers That Almost Happened
1. Diego Maradona to Sheffield United
In 1978, Argentina famously won their first ever World Cup on home soil. It was a victory that would result in many of their famous players becoming much sought after by clubs around the world, particularly in England. Two of the squad, Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa landed at Tottenham Hotspur, and both would go onto have hugely successful careers in the English game. Villa’s famously scored one of the greatest FA Cup final goals you’ll ever see. He twisted, danced and sidestepped his way through half of the Manchester City team to score the winning goal in the 1981 FA Cup final replay. Ardiles meanwhile, would end up playing for Spurs for 10 years and would later become the club’s manager after a spell with Newcastle.
Defender Alberto Tarantini, also a member of the 1978 squad would also land in England, at Birmingham City, but his time in England lasted less than a year and he would play just 23 games for Blues. However, English Football almost played host to one of the greatest footballers of all time, Diego Maradona. Maradona at the time was just a 17 year old kid playing for Argentinos Juniors. He had already been earmarked for stardom and had made his Argentina debut at the age of 16,`but had controversially been left out of the 1978 on account of his lack of experience. Still, this didn’t stop Sheffield United, then in the Second Division (Championship) from trying to sign the future great. Maradona was actually offered to the Blades for a cool £200,000 and manager Harry Haslem was keen to sign him. However, the Sheffield United board decided that the fee was far too expensive and instead opted for River Plate midfielder Alejandro Sabella, who cost the club a mere £160,000.
Sabella had a fairly decent career in English football, turning out for the Blades and Leeds United, but you cannot help but imagine just how different Sheffield United’s history and Diego Maradona’s career might have been had the board coughed up the extra £40,000.
2. Zinedine Zidane to Blackburn Rovers
In the summer of 1995, Blackburn Rovers were on the top of the world. They had just claimed their first ever Premier League title and their first top division title for 81 years. Chairman Jack Walker, a self made local millionaire had rebuilt his hometown club almost from scratch. He had recruited legendary manager Kenny Dalglish and bankrolled high profile transfers such as prolific strike duo, Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton. This was a team that had managed to hold the formidable challenge of Manchester United to not only claim the title but qualify for the Champions League for the very first time.
Kenny Dalglish was eager to strengthen his team in time for the start of the 1995/1996 season. He identified two targets that he believed would give Blackburn the necessary extra talent and depth to mount a successful defence of their title. Both were already established French internationals, and both played for Bordeaux. They were Zinedine Zidane, a midfielder and Christophe Duggary, a striker. However, when Dalglish put his suggestion to Jack Walker, the Rovers chairman scoffed at the idea and is reported to have said: “Why do you want to sign Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?” Rovers would be relegated from the Premier League just 4 years later in 1999. You cannot wonder how different things might have been if Dalglish had managed to sign the legendary play-maker, who would go on to win major honors with Juventus, Real Madrid and the French national team.
3. Kaka to Manchester City
In 2009 Manchester City fans were waking up to a new era. Years of battling relegation seemed to be over, as the club was now in the hands of Sheikh Mansour, one of the richest men in the world. They had already acquired the likes of Brazilian playmaker Robinho for a then British record of £32 million. Now, they had their sights set on an even bigger prize, another world class Brazilian. Kaka, then of AC Milan was at the peaks of his powers, he had won both the Ballon d’Or and the Champions League in 2007 and seemed destined to take his place alongside the likes of Paolo Maldini as an all time great for AC Milan. But both he and the club were tempted by a truly staggering transfer bid. Manchester City tabled an offer of £108 million, at the time it was more than double the world record transfer fee. Even now, if it had have taken place, only the fees paid for Neymar and Kylian Mbappe recently would have topped it.
Manchester City were supremely confident of landing their man, and one optimistic fan even went as far as having the Brazilian’s name tattooed on his chest. However, despite the fact that AC Milan accepted the bid, Kaka rejected the chance to the Premier League claiming that the timing was right. City officials were left fuming and then chief executive Garry Cook stated that Kaka had ’bottled it’. The Brazilian midfielder would later join Real Madrid for a then world record fee of £56 million.
4. Steven Gerrard to Chelsea
In 2005 Steven Gerrard was at the peak of his powers. He was an established England midfielder, captain of Liverpool and one of the world’s best attacking midfielders. On a famous May night in Istanbul, he had led Liverpool to one of the most dramatic victories in their history. At halftime in the 2005 Champions League final, Liverpool were 3-0 down to AC Milan. The Reds were a complete shambles, and if anything it was expected that the Rossoneri would add to their commanding lead. But then, a miracle happened. Liverpool clawed their way back to 3-3 with Gerrard scoring the first and winning the penalty that allowed Xabi Alonso to equalise. Liverpool won a tense penalty shootout, and an emotional Gerrard lifted the Champions League trophy.
You would have thought that nothing could have possibly tempted Steven Gerrard away from his hometown club. However, Chelsea had just stormed to their first Premier League title under a young Jose Mourinho and stars such as John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. Mourinho had never made any secret of his desire to bring Gerrard to London, and the temptation to compete directly for a title was a tempting proposition for the Liverpool captain. In a stunning move, Steven Gerrard handed in a transfer request, and thus set in a motion a wave of negative hysteria across Liverpool and beyond. Many fans took to burning his iconic number 8 shirt. However, Gerrard would have a change of heart. According to then team mate Jamie Carragher, he realized that a single league title in the red of Liverpool would be worth much more than 3 or 4 in the blue of Chelsea. Unfortunately for both Carragher and Gerrard that single league title would never come.
5. Robert Lewandowski to Blackburn Rovers
Today Robert Lewandowski is undoubtedly one of the world’s deadliest strikers, plying his trade at German giants Bayern Munich. He is arguably the greatest Polish footballer of all time and once famously scored 5 goals in just 9 minutes for Bayern against Wolfsburg in September 2015. But back in 2010 he was a relatively unknown 22 year old playing for Polish club Lech Poznan. However, Sam Allardyce, then manager of Blackburn Rovers is renowned for being to spot talent in players that others overlook.
He persuaded Blackburn to offer Lech Poznan £4 million for the young Lewandowski, and the Polish club duly accepted. All that was left to do was for Lewandowski to travel to England to agree personal terms and officially sign. However, nature would intervene. Volcanic ash that had drifted southwards into Britain from Iceland had resulted in all flights being grounded, making travel impossible. The deal was off.
Lewandowski would later join Borussia Dortmund and then Bayern Munich. He has since come out and stated on record that Dortmund were his first choice, with Blackburn being a backup. But maybe if he had have met with Big Sam, perhaps he could have been persuaded to settle in Lancashire, and maybe, just maybe he could have set the Premier League alight the same way he has with the Bundesliga.
6. Rivaldo to Bolton Wanderers
Brazilian midfielder Rivaldo is best remembered for time with Barcelona where he scored an array of stunning free kicks and overhead kicks. He won the Ballon d’Or in 1999 and guided Brazil to a dominant World Cup victory in 2002. He is also remembered more infamously for getting a Turkish player sent off after feigning injury. He fell to the floor clutching his face after the player had gently kicked the ball into his knee. The incident has been replayed many times and caused great embarrassment to the beautiful game.
By 2004 though, Rivaldo’s career was on the downturn. He had moved from Barcelona to AC Milan, but was struggling to get into the team. Bolton Wanderers, managed by that man again Sam Allardyce came calling. The Trotters were flying high in the Premier League at the time and harbored dreams of playing in Europe. Rivaldo was seen as a marquee signing, and believe it or not he was actually keen on a move to Lancashire. In an official statement he sad: “I want the challenge of trying to get Bolton into Europe for the first time in their history. It is an exciting time.”
In the end though, the move wasn’t to be, and Rivaldo decided to join Greek champions Olympiakos. He famously played and scored in a Champions League group match against Liverpool in 2005. It was a match where Steven Gerrard scored a last minute screamer from outside the box to keep the Reds in the competition.
7. Andriy Shevchenko to West Ham
Here’s another legendary striker from Eastern Europe. Andriy Shevchenko shot to prominence at Dynamo Kiev, where he formed a deadly partnership with Sergei Rebrov. But he is more fondly remembered for his time at AC Milan, where he netted 127 goals in just 208 goals. He is less fondly remembered in west London, where he scored just 9 goals in 48 games for Chelsea, after they had paid Milan a then British record of £30 million in 2006.
However, what most football fans don’t know is that Shevchenko almost ended up in the east end of London as an 18 year old. Harry Redknapp, the Hammers boss at the time had invited the young Ukrainian across for a 4 day trial, in which he played the full 90 minutes of a match against Barnet’s reserve team. According to Redknapp, whilst he looked decent enough, there wasn’t enough there to warrant signing him up so he decided to pass on a deal. The rest, as they often say is history.
8. Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Arsenal
Back in the year 2000, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, invited a modest and fairly shy Swedish teenager over to London from Malmo, where he was playing for the local team. The teenager’s name was Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Wenger made the young Swede very welcome, handing him the number 9 shirt and introducing him to the squad, which, at the time contained the likes of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires.
Things seemed to be going well, and Zlatan seemed all set to agree terms with the Gunners, but then Arsene Wenger asked the teenager to do a trial to prove his worth. Zlatan baulked at the idea, and is quoted as saying: “No way! Zlatan doesn’t do auditions!”
The Arsenal team that he had met would of course go on to win 2 league titles, including famously going through an entire league season unbeaten in 2004 to become ’the Invincibles’. Zlatan meanwhile, would go on to have a illustrious career, winning trophies and setting goal scoring records in several countries. However, he wouldn’t return to England until 2016 when he signed for Manchester United. He has since left England again, and as of 2018 plays in Los Angeles for the Galaxy.
9. Gareth Bale to Birmingham City
It seems hard to believe now, but back in 2009 Gareth Bale was considered by many pundits as a transfer bust for Tottenham Hotspur. Two years previously he had joined the club from Southampton for £5 million and had struggled to establish himself at the club. By the January of 2009, it seemed that the Welshman was on his way out of the club. At that point in the 2008/2009 season he had made just one start and had fallen way down the pecking order.
A way out for Bale presented itself in the form of fellow Premier League club Birmingham City. Blues had just been acquired by Chinese businessman Carson Yeung, and the new owner had promised manager Alex McLeish a transfer budget of some £40 million. McLeish was an admirer of Bale and persuaded the club to bid £3 million for the Welshman. However, nothing came of the bid and even discussions over a loan deal never bore any fruit, so Gareth Bale stayed put. He would of course go on to become Spurs’ star player, scoring a memorable hat trick against Inter Milan in the Champions League. Talk of Bale being sold to Birmingham for just £3 million seems astonishing now, especially given the fact that when he did eventually leave Spurs, it was for Real Madrid for a world record £85 million in 2013.
10. Lionel Messi & Andres Iniesta to Rangers
Believe it or not, back in 2004, Rangers, one half of Glasgow’s famous Old Firm rivals actually considered both Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta on season long loan deals. The reasoning behind the move was that the club’s transfer budget had been slashed and manager Alex McLeish, the same guy who would later manage Birmingham was eager to replace former captain Barry Ferguson, who had journeyed south to Blackburn Rovers.
McLeish’s children were big fans of the football management game, Championship Manager, and it seems that they had been offering their father a few tips. The game had correctly predicted that both Messi and Iniesta would evolve into world class players, and McLeish’s kids urged their father to sign them now while he had the chance.
As a result, McLeish asked his assistant Jan Wouters to speak to fellow Dutch contacts within the Barcelona hierarchy about the possibility of bringing the two players in on loan. Messi and Iniesta were both on the fringes of the first team, and it was believed that the pair of them would gain valuable experience by going out on loan. However, Barca thought very highly of both players and quickly dismissed any notion of either player leaving on loan or otherwise. Before long, both Messi and Iniesta broke into the Barcelona first team and the pair would go on to enjoy over a decade of unparalled success together. This is another compelling what if, a scenario that could have come to pass. Imagine if Rangers had signed both of these players on permanent deals after the loan period ended. What a team they would have had.
© 2018 James Kenny