11 world-class players who nearly joined unfashionable Premier League clubs

Roberto Carlos Aston Villa

Sam Allardyce will never forgive Mother Nature. In 2010 he was on the cusp of landing up-and-coming Polish striker Robert Lewandowski at Blackburn Rovers, but for a freak twist of fate which put paid to the move. 

"I think about it every time I see him play," he sighed wistfully in 2013, lamenting the move that never was. Read on for that and more… 

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Mohamed Salah to Newcastle United

Back in 2011, Newcastle looked set to sign an 18-year-old Salah on loan, after he impressed scouts while playing for El Mokawloon in Egypt. The Egyptian was even quoted as calling it a “dream” move, but the deal collapsed when Newcastle balked at a £500,000 loan fee. 

Salah stayed put, and eventually signed for Basel a year later.

Roberto Carlos to Aston Villa

Carlos caught the attention of Aston Villa chairman Doug Ellis during a friendly between Brazil and Sweden at Villa Park in 1995. The West Midlanders even held talks with the player, then of Palmeiras, but manager Brian Little wasn’t convinced and opted to sign Gareth Southgate from Crystal Palace instead. 

Carlos joined Inter Milan in 1996 – where Roy Hodgson tried to use him as a forward. “I didn't like the system or where Hodgson wanted me to play in it,” he later lamented to FourFourTwo

Robert Lewandowski to Blackburn Rovers

In 2010, Blackburn manager Allardyce reportedly had a £4.2m bid for Lewandowski accepted by Lech Poznan. The deal, however, was scuppered by the infamous Icelandic volcano ash cloud which grounded flights in and out of the north-west. 

Big Sam snapped up Nikola Kalinic in his place, while Lewandowski eventually moved to Dortmund and won the Bundesliga twice. “He could have used us as a stepping stone but it didn't happen,” said a glum Allardyce years later. 

Andriy Shevchenko to West Ham

Andriy Shevchenko, West Ham

Harry Redknapp famously claimed to have been offered Shevchenko for just £1m during his time as West Ham manager in the late 1990s. As Redknapp tells it: “We were approached by these two villains who said they were doing some business in the Ukraine, and we were so scared of them that we agreed to have a look at a couple of these kids.

"One of them we played against Barnet reserves and he scored the winner. They said they wanted a million quid for him, and Frank said it was too much. I'm blaming Frank – we let him go. His name was Andriy Shevchenko...”

Gabriel Batistuta to Ipswich Town

In the early part of 1994/95, Ipswich emerged as surprise contenders to sign Batistuta for £2.9m, with the Argentine reportedly unhappy at newly-promoted Fiorentina. 

Manager John Lyall was said to be in close contact with the player’s representatives, but the deal fell through when La Viola offered Batigol an improved contract to resist the Suffolk club’s overtures and stay in Florence.

Edinson Cavani to West Ham

West Ham were keen admirers of Cavani during his time at Palermo, and it seemed as though the feeling was mutual. The Uruguayan’s former coach, Stefano Colantuono, revealed that the striker was keen on a move to Upton Park in 2008 to “try out an adventure in the Premier League”. 

Alas, West Ham failed to stump up the €17m Napoli paid two years later.

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Didier Drogba to Portsmouth

Didier Drogba, Guingamp

Harry’s back! Redknapp scouted Drogba as a potential strike partner for Yakubu Ayegbeni during Portsmouth’s debut Premier League season. The Ivorian was impressing with Guingamp at the time and scored twice against Lyon when Redknapp watched on from the stands. 

But, with limited funds available, the Pompey chief was told that Drogba’s £3.5m price tag was too high and signed Teddy Sheringham on a free instead.

Radamel Falcao to Aston Villa

In 2008, Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill was offered the chance to sign an emerging Colombian prospect who was impressing with River Plate in Argentina.

Radamel Falcao was reportedly available for as little as £5m, but O’Neill thought otherwise, opting for goalscoring firepower in the form of Wigan’s Emile Heskey instead. Ah. 

Zinedine Zidane to Blackburn Rovers

Blackburn chairman Jack Walker may have bankrolled the club’s 1995 Premier League success, but he didn’t always get it right. 

When then-manager Kenny Dalglish suggested they sign a young Zidane from Bordeaux to help bolster their title-winning squad that summer, Walker’s reported reply earned him a place in football folklore: “Why do you want to sign Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?”

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to West Brom

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Saint-Etienne

Former Baggies scout Stuart White revealed that West Brom had the chance to sign Aubameyang for a bargain £2m back in 2011. After watching the Gabonese impress for Saint-Etienne against Auxerre, White was contacted by his agent, who told him Aubameyang was available on the cheap. 

Despite this, further scouting reports advised against it. Aubameyang went on to score 41 goals in 97 games for the club and joined Borussia Dortmund for around €13m in summer 2013.

Luka Modric to Newcastle United

An episode that came to define Kevin Keegan’s ill-fated second spell as Newcastle boss. In 2008, the former Mags chief got a call from Modric’s agent, who was eager to explore the possibility of sending the Dinamo Zagreb star to St. James’ Park. 

But King Kev’s hopes of signing the Croatian were scuppered by Newcastle’s vice-president of player recruitment, Tony Jimenez, who branded him “too lightweight”. The same Tony Jimenez who thought bidding €5m for Bayern Munich's Bastian Schweinsteiger was a stroke of genius.

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