7 Great Players Linked with Aston Villa Who Never Joined
With chairman Randy Lerner looking to sell the club and with limited transfer funds available, the Holte End faithful have become accustomed to acquiring players on a free transfer or from lower divisions during recent years.
This was not always the case though. Far from the current crop of players linked to Villa Park in the daily tabloids, the Villans were once battling with the top teams in Europe to attract some of the best talent.
In this article, we take a subdued trip down memory lane to remember seven top-quality players who were once subject of intense interest from Villa, but unfortunately the transfers were not realised.
Let us know your biggest Aston Villa transfer regret using the comments below.
Believe it or not, the man regarded as one of the best left-backs in the world, remembered for his powerful free-kicks and charges down the wing, agreed to join Villa in the summer of 1995. However, the deal was scuppered as then manager Brian Little was not interested in signing the Brazilian superstar.
Chairman Doug Ellis wrote in his 1998 autobiography (reproduced on thefreelibrary.com, via the Birmingham Post) about how the incredible deal progressed following a Brazil vs Sweden friendly at Villa Park in the summer of 1995:
I was so impressed with Juninho and Roberto Carlos that I sounded out the Brazilian president about them and he expressed the view that Carlos could be available. He [Carlos] said he was very impressed with the club and the facilities, and would be interested in joining us.
Then it emerged the player would accept a contract with us, paid in American dollars, at a rate that was no higher than our highest-paid players of that time. Unfortunately, Brian Little was less enthusiastic than myself and thus we did not pursue the deal.
Given "Deadly" Doug's active imagination and penchant for bending the truth—he did after all claim in his autobiography to have invented the bicycle kick, per Sky Sports—the story of Carlos may just be that, a story.
The Brazilian star went on to forge an incredible career with Real Madrid, scoring 69 goals and providing 41 assists in 523 career appearances, per Transfermarkt. He also won 125 caps for his national team and is remembered for the physics-defying, banana free-kick he scored for Brazil against France in 1997.
Whether true or not, the idea of Carlos in the claret and blue of Villa is one of the strangest concepts to get your head around. The thought of the World Cup and three-times Champions League winner replacing Alan Wright in the starting eleven and playing alongside the likes of Paul McGrath, Ian Taylor and Dwight Yorke is both mind-blowing and mouth-watering in equal measures.
Back in 2008, a little-known Colombian striker was making waves in Argentina and attracting interest from Martin O'Neill's Aston Villa. According to the Mirror, Aston Villa had been in touch with River Plate to discuss the £5 million transfer of Radamel Falcao as O'Neill looked to bring in a new forward.
Now recognised as one of the world's deadliest strikers, Falcao was regularly finding the back of the net for his Argentine club under the tutelage of Reinaldo Merlo and later Diego Simeone. The striker—still just 22 at this point—scored 36 goals in 93 appearances for River Plate, per Transfermarkt.
The Villans did not manage to land their man though. Instead, Falcao remained at River Plate until the summer of 2009 when he made the transfer to Portuguese outfit FC Porto. His new club parted with a reported €3.9 million to secure 60 per cent of his playing rights, per Goal.com.
Whilst in Portugal, Falcao honed his talents in front of goal. The Colombian forward scored an incredible 72 goals in 87 games, per Transfermarkt, helping FC Porto win the Primeira Liga, Portuguese Cup and UEFA Europa League. His goals also ensured that Falcao finished top goalscorer in both the domestic league and Europa League.
To make things worse for the suffering Villa fans, the club were again linked with Falcao in 2011. As reported by the Metro, the Colombian hit-man's form for Porto saw renewed interest from the Villans with a fee of at least £15 million being mooted. However, this appeared to be just a rumour as Atletico Madrid parted with a club record €40 million to bring Falcao to the Vicente Calderon to replace Manchester City-bound Sergio Aguero, per Goal.com.
Falcao's goalscoring exploits continued in Spain with his new club. The striker found the back of the net on 70 occasions in just 91 games, per Transfermarkt, again helping his employers to silverware. Falcao lifted the UEFA Europa League, Copa del Rey and UEFA Super Cup during his time with Atleti, most notably scoring a stunning, match-winning hat-trick against Chelsea in the latter.
Falcao left Atletico Madrid last summer to make the surprising switch to French moneybags Monaco in a £53 million transfer, as reported by the Daily Mail.
With reported interest from the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United and Chelsea, moving to a newly-promoted club not participating in the Champions League suggested financial motivations were behind the transfer. During his first season in France, Falcao scored 11 goals in 19 games, per Transfermarkt. However, an injury in January ruled the forward out of the rest of the campaign and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, as reported by the Guardian.
Having missed out on Falcao on two occasions, the thought running through most Villa fans must be "what if?". Instead of the Colombian international wearing the claret and blue shirt, the Holte End faithful instead got to see the likes of Emile Heskey and Marlon Harewood take his place in the starting XI.
Although Robbie Keane did appear in a Villa shirt later in his career, he nearly joined the Lions as a fresh-faced youngster when at Wolverhampton Wanderers in the summer of 1999. In a long, drawn-out transfer saga, Villa refused to meet Wolves' valuation of the teenage starlet and he instead moved across the Midlands to join Coventry.
John Wragg at the Express writes that it was then manager John Gregory who did not believe Keane was worth the price tag:
[Gregory] pulled the plug on a £6million transfer for Keane from Wolves in 1999 because he thought the fee was too much. Wolves held out for an extra £500,000 and Gregory told then Villa chairman Doug Ellis that he did not think Keane was worth it and scrapped the deal.
However, Mat Kendrick at the Birmingham Mail remembers the story slightly differently and places the blame firmly at the doorstep of "Deadly" Doug, stating that "Ellis refused to give John Gregory an extra £500,000 to reach the Molineux valuation".
Whatever the reason, the outcome was the same. Villa missed out on the talented youngster who instead went on to forge a successful career with a string of top clubs including Inter Milan, Leeds United, Tottenham, Liverpool and Celtic.
The Irish forward—now at LA Galaxy—has scored 228 career goals in 537 appearances during a career that has spanned nine clubs and culminated in total transfer fees just shy of £90 million, per Transfermarkt.
Villa did eventually land their man in January 2012 on a short-term loan during the MLS close-season. The temporary signing gave Villa a lift during a troubled season under Alex McLeish as Keane netted three goals in seven appearances, per Transfermarkt.
However, rather than getting just two months out of a veteran Keane, Villa fans must rue the day that the club refused to stump up the additional £500,000 to land the talented teenager from their Midlands rivals. Goals, assists and a healthy profit were all missed due to the club's reluctance.
The skilfull Brazilian nearly joined Aston Villa during the 1999 January transfer window after falling out of favour at Atletico Madrid. Villa manager John Gregory was keen to add Juninho to his side after injury had limited his opportunities in the Spanish capital. Peter White at the Guardian reported:
Gregory will fly to Spain after Saturday's match at Newcastle to finalise personal terms with Juninho, after Villa and Atletico Madrid agreed a £10 million transfer fee.
The player is set to sign a four-year contract with Villa, worth £30,000 a week in wages as well as a £2 million signing-on fee. "I want to return to England and I want to join Aston Villa," he said.
However, the move to Villa Park didn't materialise as Juninho instead decided to head back to Middlesbrough on-loan. Juninho had previously been a hit on Teeside after a surprise transfer to Boro in 1995. He became a fan favourite, contributing 13 goals and two assists per Transfermarkt, to help the club reach the FA Cup and League Cup finals. However, relegation forced the diminutive playmaker to move on.
After a less than impressive return to the Premier League on-loan, Juninho was subsequently loaned to Vasco da Gama and Flamengo in his native Brazil, before returning to Middlesbrough for a third time after helping Brazil win the 2002 World Cup. The latter part of the Brazilian's career saw him turn out for Celtic, Palmeiras, Flamengo and Sydney, per Transfermarkt.
The signing of Juninho would have been an interesting proposition at Villa Park. The Brazilian would have been likely to have played in the hole behind the likes of Stan Collymore, Dion Dublin and Julian Joachim. However, unfortunately the Villa faithful were unable to see this interesting partnership come to fruition.
Regarded as one of the best players to have ever featured in the Premier League, Villa fans must be left wondering what could have been had Frank Lampard traded the claret and blue of West Ham for Aston Villa. Although it may sound like an absurd thought, the Villans were in for Lampard just before he moved across London to join Chelsea. As reported by Neil Moxley of the Daily Mail:
Aston Villa are poised to match Chelsea's £11 million bid for Frank Lampard, West Ham's England midfielder. Manager John Gregory was in talks with chairman Doug Ellis yesterday over increasing their offer for the disillusioned 22-year-old.
Gregory made his £7.5 million pitch a fortnight ago but has since seen the stakes upped. Ellis has made £15 million, plus any money raised from the sale of Gareth Southgate, available this summer, and a large chunk of that would be eaten away by Lampard's acquisition.
In fact, Villa not only matched the £11 million bid for the midfielder, but instead they offered West Ham a combined £15 million for Lampard and West Ham team-mate Frederic Kanoute. However this bid was rejected, per the Telegraph, and Lampard moved to Chelsea instead.
The rest is history. A young Lampard went on to spend 13 seasons at Stamford Bridge, becoming a legend in the process and a pivotal part in Chelsea's dominance during the mid-2000s. Lampard won nearly all domestic and European honours, including the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League and Europa League in addition to scoring over 200 goals for the club to make him Chelsea's all-time top goalscorer, per Transfermarkt.
Having failed to land his man, Gregory instead settled on midfield duo Hassan Kachloul and Mustapha Hadji, who surprisingly never reached the heights of Lampard.
Another claim by chairman Doug Ellis in his 1998 autobiography, "Deadly", is that an agreement was made with Bristol City to sign Andy Cole prior to his transfer to Newcastle. Peter White at the Guardian reports the tale:
Ellis says he struck the deal with the Bristol City chairman Leslie Kew. "I shook Leslie's hand on the condition it was subject to the manager's approval and confirmation.
"I tried to track down our manager [Ron Atkinson] and the next half-hour I made telephone calls to our training ground, Villa Park, his home and his mobile, to no avail. No one seemed to know where he was."
Ellis tried for two days to find Atkinson. "To this day I don't know where he was."
When "Deadly" finally managed to discuss the details of the transfer with Atkinson, Villa had been pipped to the deal by Newcastle who signed the English striker instead. Cole went on to score for fun for the Toon Army—he netted 43 goals in 58 games, per Transfermarkt— before Sir Alex Ferguson opened the chequebook to bring him to Manchester United in a shock transfer in 1995.
This was not the end of the Cole-to-Villa saga though. When Manchester United attempted to sign Dwight Yorke from the Midlands outfit in 1998, then manager John Gregory was only interested in a part-exchange deal involving Cole, writes Bleacher Report's Will Tidey in his book "Life with Sir Alex" (via Google Books). However, money finally talked and Doug Ellis accepted a £12.6 million offer, meaning that Villa lost Yorke and missed out on Cole.
Ironically, Yorke and Cole went on to form one of the best strike-partnerships in Premier League history, firing the Red Devils to the famous treble in 1999. During his United career, Cole scored 119 goals in 268 appearances, per Transfermarkt, before he fell down the Old Trafford pecking order.
This again alerted Gregory and Villa to the England striker, however the Midlands club again missed out on Cole as he completed an £8 million transfer to Blackburn in December 2001. Peter O'Rourke of Sky Sports reports that Gregory wanted Cole but was unable to strike a deal as he was required to sell players before acquiring new ones. As per the article, Gregory was quoted as saying:
People are aware of the transfer policy of our club, and so we were unable to pursue our interest in Andy Cole. It was because we do have a policy at Aston Villa at the moment that I must sell before I can buy, although I think Andy would have loved to have come here.
Despite three attempts to land Cole, Villa were ultimately left empty-handed. In an alternative reality, Villa's strike-force could have been led by Cole and Yorke, with Gregory once admitting that the duo were his "Dream Team" for Villa's attack, per Phil Shaw at the Independent.
In one of the most audacious transfer attempts in recent history, Villa boss Martin O'Neill attempted to sign Real Madrid playmaker Wesley Sneijder in the summer of 2009. O'Neill was a fan of the Dutch international and even publicly declared his interest, as reported by Kevin McCarra of the Guardian:
I think that the more creativity you have in your side the better chance you will have. These are particularly special players who are not [generally] available.
If there were players like Sneijder, who have great talent and might be surplus to requirements at a club that is buying [new players], then I think you should be interested, even if that interest is not reciprocated. Because how else are you going to try and improve your team?
It was even believed for a time that Aston Villa were favourites to sign the skilful midfielder as the other interested party—Inter Milan—were unable to initially agree a transfer fee with Real Madrid, as reported by the Daily Mail. However, having given time for the Villa fans to dream, the deal eventually gained normality as Inter Milan completed the £13.2 million acquisition of the former Ajax youngster later in the month.
Sneijder made his name with Ajax, scoring 58 goals and providing 44 assists in 180 games, whilst helping the Amsterdam club to Eredivisie and KNVB Cup success, per Transfermarkt. His impressive performances secured a big-money move to Madrid, where the Dutch star scored 11 goals and contributed 11 assists in 66 appearances for Los Blancos, again helping his club win the domestic league, per Transfermarkt.
After being deemed surpass to requirement at the Bernabeu, Sneijder secured a cut-price move to Italy with Inter, much to the dismay of the Villa faithful. The dead-ball specialist got his career back on track in Milan, being named UEFA Club Midfielder of the Year in 2010 as he helped Inter to a Serie A, Coppa Italia and UEFA Champions League treble.
The midfielder then fell out with the Milan club over a contract renewal which led to a transfer to current club Galatasaray in 2013. In an illustrious career, Sneijder has recently reached the 100 international cap milestone during the 2014 World Cup, as reported by the Daily Mail.
The sight of Sneijder in a Villa shirt would have been a truly spectacular event. However, the truth is that his talents would probably have been wasted in a midfield alongside the likes of Barry Bannan, Chris Herd and Marc Albrighton.