The "If Only" Transfers
Our list of some of the transfers that nearly happened...
2005 Yaya Toure Arsenal
The brother of then Arsenal star Kolo was with Belgian club Beveren at the time, and Arsene Wenger's ears pricked up as soon as he heard mutterings that he was "the new Patrick Viera". Wenger got the Ivory Coast starlet over in the summer of 2005 and he featured in a pre-season match against Barnet. He was as keen as keen-thing to sign him but problems with his passport meant that they didn't push anything through. Toure then went onto Olympiacos before multi-million pound moves to Monaco, Barca and Man City.
2001 Ronaldinho St Mirren (Scotland)
At the start of 2001 Ronaldinho and his agents had set up a summertime move to Paris St Germain from home town club Gremio Porto Alegre. Having agreed that a short term loan deal to a European club in the months before the transfer would allow him to to gain some experience of the European game, a number of clubs entered negotiations. Bizarrely, the club that came closest to snatching him was struggling Scottish outfit St Mirren. The Love Street club were looking for a big name foreign signing to give them a much needed boost and had already attempted to recruit the likes of Beni Carboni, Bebeto and Jorge Cadette. Manager Tom Hendrie allegedly persuaded the 21 year old to join for 3 months but the deal broke down at the last minute when the Brazilian FA refused to rubber-stamp the deal because of an investigation into a fake passport scandal involving the buck-toothed legend. Shame, as it would have given the clubs most famous fan, Captain Sensible, something to really sing about.
2000 Kaka Gaziantepspor (Turkey)
Back in 2000, Kaka was an 18 year old who had yet to make his full-team debut with Sao Paulo. However, his sparkling displays at youth team level for both club and country had a few European scouts twitching, and one of them, Gaziantepspor from southern Turkey made an enquiry. Like many Brazilian clubs at the time, Sao Paulo were struggling financially and agreed to sell Kaka for $1.5m. A bargain ? Not for Gaziantepspor. They decided that this was way too much for a player who hadn't even played for the first team, and pulled out of the deal at the last minute. 3 years later AC Milan would pay 6 times that amount for him, an amount that would quite rightly be described as "peanuts" by Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi.
2000 Diego Maradona Dundee
Back in 2000-01, Dundee were waving bye-bye to the journeymen Scottish players that had been the norm at Dens Park and shouting Willkommen! and Benvenuto! to internationals such as Temur Ketsbaia, Zurab Khizanishvili, and even Claudio Caniggia. The capture of the long-haired Argentinian striker, a close friend of Maradona, was the reason why this footballing legend nearly signed for them. Ok, so it wasn't the traditional signing as such - he was only going to sign a one match deal to play for them in a friendly, but it was still big news. And yes, at the age of 40 he may not have been the power on the pitch that he once was, but can you imagine the kudos Dundee fans would have received for the rest of their lives - being able to boast that Maradona played for their team, even if it was just a friendly. The Maradona shirts would still be selling like hot cakes now. The deal was in full-on rumour 'will he? wont he?' mode for a number of weeks, but in the end Maradona's visa and health problems meant the deal had to be scrapped.
1994 Andriy Shevchenko West Ham Utd
This one has attained urban-myth status in the east end of London, but Harry Redknapp has been quoted as saying that in 1994 an East European contact sent over 2 youngsters for a trial, one of them being an 18 year old called Andriy Shevchenko. He stayed for the week and even scored in a reserve game against Barnet but Redknapp sent him back as Kiev were wanting over a million for him and there were uncertainties over the work permit. Un-moved by his subsequent success 'Arry has reportedly been quoted as saying that "he didn't look like anything special at all" and "I sent him back and told my contacts out there to get me a better player."
1994 Muller Everton
Ok, so if it had been Gerd it really would have been an "if only". The Muller in question is the Brazilian striker who "starred" in the 1986, 90 and 94 world cups. Back in 1994 Mike Walker thought he'd tied up a great signing - a Brazilian World Cup winner ! A press conference was arranged to announce the signing of Muller, only for the over-rated Brazilian to have a last-minute change of heart when he found out he wouldn't be getting a free house and that he would have to pay tax on his weekly 20k wage packet.
1992 Eric Cantona Sheffield Wednesday
Having just "retired" from the game after being banned for throwing a ball at a referee whilst playing for French club Nimes, Cantona was persuaded by Michel Platini to try a fresh start in English football. Wednesday manager 'Tricky' Trevor Francis was not prepared to fork out £1m on the player without first seeing him, but managed to get Cantona over for a one week trial. Wintry conditions at the time meant Francis could not see him play or train outside, but he did turn out for Wednesday in a 6-aside tournament against American side Baltimore Blasts. At the end of the week, not-so-clever Trevor decided he needed to see him on grass before giving the deal the ok. Cantona shrugged his Gallic shoulders and basically told the English clown to do one. Within a few days Howard Wilkinson had signed him for bitter Yorkshire rivals Leeds, without the need of a trial. Leeds won the title that year, and Wednesday, who finished 3rd, were left wondering what might have been.
1983 Paul Gascoigne Ipswich Town
Before signing for local club Newcastle United, Gazza turned up for a trial at Ipswich, and despite impressing the coaches with his skill was turned down because they considered him "too fat". A few years later they would be left kicking themselves, wishing they'd taken him on along with a good dietitian.
1980 Ruud Gullit Ipswich Town
Ipswich manager Bobby Robson had a young Gullit on a trial period before he signed for Feyenoord. The club already had fellow countrymen Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen performing heroics in midfield, and despite being impressed by the Dutch youngster's obvious class, Robson had reservations about Gullit's discipline and eventually said no.
1978 Diego Maradona Sheffield Utd
The daddy of 'if only' transfers... during a scouting mission to South America in 1978, the Blades manager Harry Haslam came across the 17-year-old Maradona in action and was so impressed he immediately tried to arrange a £350,000 deal with Argentinos Juniors to bring him to the Yorkshire club, at the time struggling in the old 2nd division. However, the club's board were reluctant to stump up the 350k and instead opted for a cheaper alternative, Alex Sabella at £160,000. So for the sake of £190,000 they missed out on the world's finest talent. Although Sabella proved a cult figure with the Bramall Lane faithful, he couldn't stop them from being relegated and was sold to Leeds for £400,000 in 1980, whilst Maradona went on to conquer the world.
1967 Kenny Dalglish West Ham Utd
Before he signed up with Celtic, Dalglish tried his luck south of the border, with two trials at West Ham, then under the management of Ron Greenwood. However, the Hammers deemed him too small and he went back to Scotland, where he was eventually snapped up by the Glasgow giants.