Top 10 transfers that never were

Posted by Nick Miller

Eric CantonaGettyImagesWould Eric Cantona have reached his potential at Sheffield Wednesday?

ESPN FC writer Nick Miller examines the top 10 transfers that never quite happened.

10 - Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Arsenal

Arsenal seem to crop up quite often in regards to nearly signing players, from quibbling over a fee in the region of £4 million for a young Cristiano Ronaldo, to missing out on Yaya Toure for passport-related reasons. However, you can't really blame Arsenal for this one. In 2000 they invited a young Malmo striker for a trial, even having a shirt printed up for him, but eventually the Swedish youngster lost patience, declaring: "I am Zlatan, I don't do auditions." Ibrahimovic wrote in his autobiography: "I waited for (Arsene Wenger) to convince me that I should join Arsenal. But he didn't even try." Zlatan was 18 at the time.

9 - Gary McAllister to Nottingham Forest

Excellent anecdote? Apocryphal tale? A sign that a formerly-great manager was losing his grip? The story of why Gary McAllister didn't sign for Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest in 1989 is possibly all of the above. Forest and McAllister's club, Leicester City, had agreed a £1.15 million fee, and all was going to plan until McAllister arrived at the City Ground for transfer talks. Clough, so the story goes, took one look at the cowboy boots McAllister was sporting and called off the deal.

8 - Ander Herrera to Manchester United

At the time of writing, we do of course not know the full details of this surreal saga, but what we do know is that late in the transfer window, Manchester United lodged a bid for the Athletic Bilbao midfielder and haggled over the price of his release clause. Then reports emerged that three lawyers arrived at the offices of the Spanish FA to seal the deal, claiming to represent United. The club deny these men had anything to do with them. So were they hucksters, trying to get a piece of the deal, or just over-enthusiastic lawyers acting before they should? Perhaps one day we'll know...

7 - Faustino Asprilla to Darlington

George Reynolds is not a popular man in Darlington, largely because their former chairman, more or less sunk an entire football club with the power of his own ego, with the 25,000-seater 'George Reynolds Arena' that they couldn't possibly afford to run. Another Reynolds wheeze was to recruit former Newcastle man Tino Asprilla while his club were in the fourth tier. Indeed, Asprilla was paraded in front of the Darlo crowd, before nipping back to his hotel 'to fetch his passport'. Unfortunately for Darlington and Reynolds, he used this passport to fly to Qatar, where an apparently more lucrative offer awaited.

6 - Zinedine Zidane to Newcastle

Zinedine Zidane
APNewcastle turned down the chance to sign Zinedine Zidane.

Most people will know the story about Zidane nearly signing for Blackburn in 1995, Jack Walker infamously telling Kenny Dalglish: "Why do you want to sign Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?" However, perhaps lesser-known is that the following year, Newcastle turned down a £1.2 million deal for the Frenchman, according to agent Barry Silkman, on the basis that he 'wasn't good enough for the First Division' (now the Championship). Two years later he won the World Cup, and three years after that Real Madrid bought him for £48million.

5 - Eric Cantona to Sheffield Wednesday

In hindsight, Trevor Francis's decision not to award Eric Cantona a contract at Sheffield Wednesday looks like laughable incompetence. However, the man that arrived on trial at Hillsborough in 1992 was not 'King Eric', not the genius that would entrance Manchester United. This was a talented but truculent forward who was available after throwing the ball at a referee in France, so it was perhaps understandable that, after a week's trial that was disrupted by bad weather, Francis wanted to see Cantona play on grass (he had previously only played in an indoors 5-a-side game) and asked him to stay for another week. Cantona declined, signed for Leeds and you know the rest.

4 - Ronaldinho to Manchester United

Ronaldinho's star faded quickly after his Ballon d'Or win with Barcelona in 2005.
GettyImagesRonaldinho moved to Barcelona instead of Manchester United.

When Ronaldinho basically went on strike at PSG in 2003, United and Barcelona were the two clubs duking it out for his services. "We are just about there but we don't know for sure. We are very close," said Sir Alex Ferguson about a proposed £20 million move. Not close enough, it seems, as the Brazilian signed for Barca shortly afterwards. "If Manchester United had signed me they would have won more European Cups," Ronaldinho said this year, and it's tough to argue. Still, United signed Cristiano Ronaldo instead, so it didn't work out too badly.

3 - Roy Keane to Blackburn

After Nottingham Forest's relegation in 1993, Blackburn verbally agreed to sign Keane, but upon hearing the midfielder was yet to sign a contract, Alex Ferguson swooped, charmed his man and persuaded him to cancel the deal. Rovers manager Kenny Dalglish didn't take it at all well, promising that Keane wouldn't "get away with this" and that "Blackburn Rovers will sue you for every penny you’ve got."

2 - Alfredo di Stefano to Barcelona

Alfredo di Stefano is a Real Madrid institution, venerated and worshiped to this day. And yet he nearly joined Barcelona. In 1952, Di Stefano had made a name for himself at Millonarios in Colombia, attracting the attention of both Barca and Real who, to cut a long and complex story short, both believed they had signed him. As a compromise, the Spanish government suggested he was shared, playing for the clubs in alternate years. This idea wasn't received well in the Civil War-scarred Cataluyna, and after protests, Barca rejected the solution and, in return for 4.4million Pesetas compensation, Di Stefano was Real's.

1 - Paul Gascoigne to Manchester United

Portrait of the p*** artist as a young man: Paul Gascoigne's speed went the way of his lifestyle
GettyImagesSir Alex Ferguson rued the chance to lure Paul Gascoigne to Old Trafford.

Sir Alex Ferguson would cite a failure to sign Gascoigne in 1988 as one of the biggest regrets of his career, and one suspects it had as much to do with what Gascoigne could have become as a lost opportunity for United. Perhaps Ferguson could have been a calming influence on Gazza – we'll never know. Ferguson recalled: "We spoke to him the night before I went on holiday. He says 'Go and enjoy yourself Mr Ferguson, I'll be signing for Manchester United'." Of course he chose Spurs, who apparently bought his parents a house to sweeten the deal. An odd detail in an ultimately tragic career.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.