The 10 Biggest Transfer U-Turns: Moves That Never Materialized
Matt Le Tissier to Spurs
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Matt Le Tissier is one of English football’s most famous one-club players.
He played for Southampton from 1985—2002, racking up 540 appearances and 209 goals.
Le Tiss or ‘Le God’ as Saints fans called him, was a hero at The Dell and famously became the first midfielder to score 100 goals in the Premier League era, as reported in Total Football magazine.
But his time with Southampton could have been cut short, if he’d made a switch to Tottenham Hotspur.
Named the PFA Young Player of the Year in 1990 Spurs soon came calling and, if rumours are to be believed, Le Tissier was on the brink of moving to London before he tore up the contract.
He told FourFourTwo in 2010:
That was in 1990 and it was pretty much a done deal; I'd agreed terms on the contract and everything. But I pulled out of it because I was about to get married and my fiancée at the time didn't fancy living in London.
Mikel Jon Obi to Manchester United
Image via espnfc.com. GettyImages / AFP.
If there were a prize available for strangest and most convoluted transfer in Premier League history, Mikel Jon Obi would be the winner. This was, truly, a saga.
In 2005 Manchester United broke the news that they had signed the then-18-year-old Mikel, who played for Norwegian outfit Lyn Oslo.
All seemed normal. There was a press conference, Mikel wore a Manchester United shirt and made all the right noises. He was quoted on the BBC Sport website as saying:
It's totally fantastic to come to a club like Manchester United.
Shortly after, Mikel claimed that he had been pressured into signing for United and said he wanted to join Chelsea instead, as seen on BBC Sport.
Cue a player disappearance, agents reported to FIFA and a maelstrom of ill will between Chelsea and Manchester United.
Mikel ended up going back to Lyn Oslo to see out the final months of his contract and Chelsea offered to clean up the mess by negotiating with the two other clubs involved.
This report by BBC Sport shows how, in 2006, The Blues paid £4 million to Lyn Oslo and £12 million to Manchester United and Mikel became a Chelsea player.
Maurice “Mo” Johnston to Celtic
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It’s said that Mo Johnston “rocked the football world to its foundations” when he decided to join Glasgow Rangers in 1989, as reported in the Belfast Telegraph.
The Scottish striker played for French side Nantes at the time and, as he’d already had a three-year spell at Celtic, it was believed that he was to rejoin the side.
But he opted to join fierce rivals Rangers instead, Johnston having already been wrongly announced as a new signing for Celtic.
Johnston was also the first high-profile Catholic player to sign for Rangers, whose identity was largely Protestant. At the time, a move like this would cause outrage among some of the club’s support.
Ewan Murray reported in the Guardian in 2009 that this was a move that still stirs emotions in Glasgow.
Alfredo Di Stefano to Barcelona
When you think of Alfredo Di Stefano, Barcelona is not the club that immediately springs to mind.
The striker is undoubtedly one of the best of all time—any player who has a statue of himself outside the Real Madrid training ground must be pretty special.
The ‘Blond Arrow’ scored 418 goals in 510 official games for Madrid, where he was twice named European Footballer of the Year (stats from espnfc.com).
But Di Stefano was almost a Barcelona player. In fact, an article on the club’s official website recalls how he signed for them from River Plate in 1953—the Argentine club owned the player’s rights. But Madrid had approached Millonarios, who Di Stefano actually played for.
Backed by the Franco regime, it was decided that Di Stefano would play alternate seasons for each Spanish side, until Barcelona gave up on the deal.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Steven Gerrard to Chelsea
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Steven Gerrard joined Liverpool when he was nine and has been at the club ever since.
Club captain, team leader, Kop hero, it’s hard to imagine that Gerrard almost became a Chelsea player. Twice.
In 2004, Gerrard seemed to be on the brink of joining the London club, before turning down a £20 million move to stay and play on under new manager Rafa Benitez.
Gerrard was reported to be the victim of a hate campaign from Liverpool fans, as seen here in the Daily Mail.
The Guardian’s Dominic Fifield said at the time:
Rafael Benitez has made a stunning start to his reign as Liverpool's manager by convincing Steven Gerrard to turn his back on a potential British record transfer to Chelsea and pledge his future to the new regime at Anfield.
Staying with Liverpool proved to be a good decision as Gerrard won the Champions League in 2005 under Benitez and was named UEFA Club Footballer of the Year, as seen here on UEFA.com.
However, in the close season, rumours linking Gerrard to Chelsea reared their head again. Reports on the BBC Sport website claimed that Gerrard wanted to leave when new contract negotiations broke down.
But soon after, Gerrard signed new terms at the club, as reported by BBC Sport.
Kaka to Manchester City
Kaka wins the prize for one of the most high-profile transfer climb-downs in recent years.
In the late Noughties, Kaka was thought to be one of the best players in the world.
2007 had been his most successful year with AC Milan, he won the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, the FIFA Club World Cup and his personal honours included the FIFA World Player of the Year and the Ballon D’or. Not a bad haul.
Kaka was quoted on Mediaset (via the BBC article), a Silvio Berlusconi-owned website, saying:
I want to grow old at Milan.
But soon the player’s advisers were reported to be in talks with the Manchester club and it was thought that Kaka could be on his way to join fellow Brazilian Robinho in a £500,000-a-week move.
Milan fans demonstrated out the San Siro and outside Kaka’s home, with coverage coming from the BBC.
But after hours of negotiations, the move collapsed and Kaka appeared at the window of his Milan home, pointing to his heart and holding a Milan shirt.
As reported in the Guardian, City were “stunned” at the player’s U-Turn.
And they had to console themselves with the capture of Craig Bellamy instead…
Gazza to Manchester United
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Paul Gascoigne was one of English football’s most natural talents.
His performances for Newcastle United in the 1987/88 season won him the PFA Player of the Year award and saw him attract offers from Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.
It looked like Gazza was going to join the Old Trafford side; Sir Alex Ferguson leaving for a summer holiday, thinking he’d got his man.
But the young midfielder changed his mind at the last minute, when Spurs offered him a deal that proved too good to resist.
Gazza himself puts it best, in an interview with the Radio Times:
I was thinking Man U is a massive club, so I thought I’ll go to Man U – they offered us big wages. Alex Ferguson says, 'I’m going on holiday, I’ll see you when I get back.' 'OK, enjoy your holiday, I’ll sign.'
And so as I was driving to Manchester I get a phone call from Irving Scholar [chairman of Tottenham]: 'Paul, we’ll give you £2,500 a week. Not only that, we’ll buy your dad a house,' so I said, 'Ma and dad, Spurs are gonna buy us a house, what do you think?' 'Sounds good, son.' So I said, 'All right then, yes.'
Sir Alex still maintains that Gascoigne is the player he most regrets missing out on. Ferguson told Sirius XM (via the Evening Standard):
I have always said when Paul Gascoigne chose to go to Tottenham ahead of Manchester United it was a big mistake.
He always regretted that.
Ibrahimovic to Arsenal
Now this is a case of the one that got away.
When Zlatan Ibrahimovic was 16, he played for Swedish side Malmo.
Already, he was attracting interest from other clubs and he came to visit the training ground at Arsenal.
The young striker was even pictured wearing an Arsenal shirt, with the No.9 on the back.
When asked about the trial, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was quoted as saying on espnfc.com:
The story is true that I wanted to see him and I gave him a chance to train with the first team. He didn't want to do it at the time, so you cannot sign someone you have not seen play. I don't regret it.
Ibrahimovic recalls the story a little differently. In an interview with The Sun’s Rob Beasley, he said:
I waited for him to convince me that I should join Arsenal. But he didn’t even try.
He never actually made me a serious offer, it was more ‘I want to see how good you are, what kind of player you are. Have a trial.
I couldn’t believe it. I was like ‘No way, Zlatan doesn’t do auditions.’
Zinedine Zidane to Blackburn Rovers
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Oh, the players Blackburn Rovers could have signed over the years. Things could have worked out so differently for the Lancashire club.
Blackburn were Premier League champions in 1994/95 and were looking to bolster their squad.
They went to France to scout a player you might have heard of, Zinedine Zidane.
Why do you want to sign Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?
Zidane was also reportedly offered to Newcastle United, by football agent Barry Silkman. Silkman told Sport.co.uk:
I offered him to Newcastle at the beginning of the 1996 season for £1.2million. And they watched him and said that he wasn’t good enough to play in the First Division which is the Championship now. Three months later he went to Juventus for £1.2million and two years later he went for £48million.
Apparently things turned out quite nicely for Zidane. Blackburn however…
Maradona to Sheffield United
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Maradona could have signed for Sheffield United in 1978.
This wasn’t a player that happened to share a last name with Argentina’s famous No.10, this was him, the man himself—Diego Armando Maradona.
Harry Haslam was managing the Blades at the time and he saw the then-17-year-old Maradona on a scouting trip to Argentina.
The Independent reported that Haslam arranged a £600,000 deal to bring El Diego to Bramall Lane. The deal looked set, until the club realized they couldn’t actually afford it.
An article by Rob Bagchi in the Guardian recalls that the Yorkshire club decided to purchase fellow Argentinian and current manager of the national team Alex Sabella instead of Maradona, for £160,000.
Bagchi calling Sabella: "Arguably the Blades' most skillful player ever."
Unfortunately Sheffield United were relegated to the Third Division in 1979 but Maradona, well he went on to big things.