We hardly knew ye
Every summer we hear seemingly endless speculation about who will be signing who – and often, it's the same names popping up time and again.
Some of the links feel lazy in their familiarity, but that doesn't stop tabloid hacks from peddling them anyway. Others were genuinely close to rocking up in England – multiple times – but sadly never made it...
Wesley Sneijder (to Manchester United)
The Dutch wizard retired in August 2019 having never featured in the Premier League, despite incessant links with Manchester United during his peak.
His best year came in 2010 at Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan and with the Netherlands side that reached the final of the World Cup. He managed to butter up United fans without playing for them, though, explaining his decision to turn down a move to Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool by saying: “I am a winner, I play for prizes.”
Stephen Appiah (to West Ham, Tottenham, Arsenal)
The Ghanaian might still be scratching his head over how he ended up failing to feature in the Premier League. In the summer of 2008, the midfielder became a free agent after being released by Fenerbahce and West Ham confirmed they were in talks to sign him, while Arsenal contemplated hijacking the move.
Neither move came off, but six months later Appiah was on trial with Spurs as he looked to finally find a club. That also fell apart after the north London club asked him to extend his trial from five days to a month, and he eventually returned to Italy before ending his career in Serbia with Vojvodina in 2012.
Juan Roman Riquelme (to Manchester United, Everton)
One of the game’s most revered artists, the four-time Argentine Footballer of the Year supposedly came close to a Premier League move several times.
Everton even confirmed his arrival on their official website in 2007 before rushing to delete the story and blaming it on a glitch, while Manchester United showed interest which Riquelme later backed up by admitting that turning down Alex Ferguson in 2006 was his only career regret.
Leandro Damiao (to Tottenham)
Internacional’s Brazilian hotshot spent three years being linked with a move to White Hart Lane after a promising start to his career.
However, a move failed to materialise under either Harry Redknapp or Andre Villas-Boas and the striker’s form soon plummeted during spells at Santos, Cruzeiro, Real Betis and Flamengo. The 30-year-old is now in Japan with Kawasaki Frontale – for whom he scored a pre-season winner against Chelsea.
Julian Draxler (to Arsenal)
Draxler burst onto the scene as a teenager at Schalke, encouraging Arsenal to make desperate attempts to sign him over several transfer windows.
He decided to remain in Germany, though, initially staying put before heading to Wolfsburg in 2015. He’s been at PSG since 2017, where things haven’t quite gone to plan so far. Links with Tottenham are still a regular feature in the gossip columns.
William Carvalho (to Arsenal, West Ham)
For about a decade, Arsenal were said to be chasing every defensive midfielder in Europe as they looked to replace Patrick Vieira and/or Gilberto Silva.
Yann M’Vila, who later joined Sunderland, was one, but Carvalho was a tabloid favourite who also earned links to Everton and West Ham. Interest from the latter even led Sporting CP president Bruno de Carvalho to label Davids Gold and Sullivan “the dildo brothers”. Classy.
Nicolas Gaitan (to Manchester United)
United, who clearly have a soft spot for a protracted transfer saga that never comes to much, were linked with Gaitan after he impressed for Benfica.
He never really realised his potential, though, and at 31 years old has already played for clubs in China and MLS, where he currently represents Chicago Fire.
Ronaldinho (to Manchester United, Blackburn)
The thought of the silky Brazilian gliding across Premier League pitches was enough to get a lot of fans very excited during his heyday, when 'Dinho was linked with Manchester United and even a shock move to Blackburn.
The man himself told FourFourTwo just how close he actually got to clinching an Old Trafford switch. “It almost happened with United,” he said. “It was a matter of 48 hours, but Sandro Rosell had told me way before I got the offer: ‘If I become Barça president, will you come?’ I said yes.”
Toni Kroos (to Manchester United)
Kroos was a major target for David Moyes after the Scot’s ill-fated succession of Alex Ferguson in 2013. A verbal commitment was given by the German to move to Old Trafford from Bayern Munich and everything appeared to be going smoothly.
But a year later, after Moyes had been sacked and the midfielder had won the World Cup, he joined Real Madrid instead. Kroos admitted later he “was close” to joining United, but it doesn't sound like he regretted his decision: “One thing I can say for sure: Manchester United would not have won the Champions League three times," he said.
Simon Kjaer (to... everyone?)
We had to triple-check that Kjaer has actually never played in the Premier League, given the sheer quantity of rumours surrounding him over the years.
As a highly-rated youngster the Dane earned links with Chelsea, Arsenal, both Manchester sides and Tottenham. Since then he’s featured in Italy, Germany, Turkey, France and Spain – but never England.
Robert Lewandowski (to Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United)
Since his move to Blackburn Rovers was called off because of the interference of an Icelandic ash cloud in 2010, Lewandowski has continued to be courted by English clubs.
Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City have been among the interested suitors but he is heading into his sixth season at Bayern Munich instead.
Bas Dost (to Newcastle)
Reports in the summer of 2015 claimed that Newcastle were on the verge of securing the £9 million signing of Dost, before the Magpies and Everton had bids rejected for the Dutchman in January 2017.
Last summer, Dost was one of four Sporting stars to rescind their contracts after he was injured by an attack on the team bus by fans, leading to yet more speculation. He later penned a new deal in Lisbon after club president Bruno de Carvalho’s departure, but that didn’t stop him being linked with a move to St. James’ Park AGAIN this summer. Guess what? It didn’t happen.
Hulk (to Chelsea)
Back in 2012, Hulk held talks over personal terms with Chelsea after a reported £38 million deal was agreed with Porto.
The Brazilian secured a lucrative move to Zenit instead, citing concerns over a lack of game time at Stamford Bridge – but that didn’t stop the rumours from circulating. Now at Shanghai SIGP, the forward has been linked with the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal over the years and has spoken openly about his admiration for the English game.
Daniele De Rossi (to Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea)
The Roma legend finally departed the Italian capital this summer for a romance-fuelled move to Boca Juniors, but he had the opportunity to jump ship much sooner when he was targeted by Manchester City in 2012.
De Rossi turned down big bucks to stay at home but the rumours didn’t end there, as Manchester United and Chelsea were soon said to be ready to change his mind. They didn’t.
Marcelo Salas (to Manchester United)
After pulling out of a move for the Chilean in 1997 because of his £12 million price tag, Alex Ferguson again showed interest after his impressive display at the 1998 World Cup.
That soon snowballed into yearly reports that the striker was heading to Old Trafford until he eventually joined Juventus from Lazio in 2001. “We would’ve liked to have had him,” Fergie grumbled years later.
Karim Benzema (to Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, West Ham)
Benzema has been at Real Madrid for a decade now, but much of that time has been spent with his name occupying reports suggesting a move to the Premier League is likely.
There has been talk of meetings with Manchester United officials, being offered to the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham by Real, and even the Frenchman turning down a move to West Ham. Expect plenty more to come…
Isco (to… everyone)
Isco’s name is rarely out of the papers and over the years there have been any number of Premier League moves touted.
The Spaniard came close to joining Manchester City before heading to Real Madrid, while Pep Guardiola was said to be considering reigniting interest just this summer. Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea have also been frequently linked with a swoop over the last few years.
Ivan Perisic (to Arsenal, Manchester United)
After years of speculation, Perisic finally completed a move away from Inter Milan – to Bayern Munich. Arsenal and Manchester United have been regularly linked with a move for the Croatian, with the latter coming close to signing him following an impressive 2018 World Cup.
But the winger later explained his motives behind staying in Italy to FourFourTwo, admitting: “It’s true that an offer from Manchester United was on the table – I was really close to leaving Inter. When Luciano Spalletti arrived [in June 2017], he showed tremendous desire to keep me in the team and made it clear he didn’t want to lose me. That was very encouraging.”
Edinson Cavani (to Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United)
Cavani’s consistency in front of goal over the last decade means he's constantly featured in British gossip columns. While at Napoli in 2013, the Uruguayan left the door open by admitting that “being coached by someone like (City boss) Manuel Pellegrini or (Chelsea boss) Jose Mourinho would always be a pleasure”.
He headed for Paris instead, but that hasn’t stopped the rumours circulating. Just this summer, PSG’s all-time top scorer was linked with a move to Old Trafford – not for the first time – but once again, it was all noise.
Kevin Strootman (to Manchester United)
This has been a very long-running saga and was still ongoing this summer, when Marseille were said to have offered the Dutchman on loan to United for the 2019/20 season.
That came on the back of talks about an imminent move for the midfielder under both David Moyes and Louis van Gaal – but the man himself insists there was never anything concrete behind the chatter. “I never talked with anybody,” he said. “There was a lot of speculation, but to be honest I only spoke with Roma.”
Kalidou Koulibaly (to Manchester United)
Barely a transfer window has passed in recent times, winter or summer, where Koulibaly hasn’t been talked of as a target for the Old Trafford hierarchy.
Expect those rumours to continue as Napoli president Aurelio Di Laurentiis threatens to sell off his players following a mutiny that saw the squad fail to report for a punitive training camp, although for his part Koulibaly reiterated his love for Naples with a social media post saying “this is where I feel at home”.
Ivan Rakitic (to Manchester United)
This one has been swirling around the gossip columns for years, but it seems more likely now than ever, with the Croatian not looking particularly happy with his lack of game time at Barcelona.
Burak Yilmaz (to Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal)
Yilmaz’s goalscoring exploits in Turkey have seen him frequently fill gossip columns, and a move to Liverpool was touted in 2013 after he notched 32 goals for Galatasaray.
The transfer rumours didn’t end there, with Chelsea and Arsenal also said to be considering the Turk, but he stayed put before eventually heading to China with Beijing Gouan in 2016 – where he lasted just one year before returning to his home country.
Adriano (to Chelsea)
In 2005, Adriano appeared to end talk of a move to Stamford Bridge by saying: "Throughout the season Chelsea have been there with a multi-million pound offer but appear to have become more determined. I'm happy to know that but am happy in Milan where I'm treated like a king."
That didn’t stop rumours re-emerging three years later, when a part-exchange deal with Inter involving Frank Lampard was the talk of the town. It all came to nothing though, and given the way the Brazilian’s career went from that point, that was maybe for the best.
Yoann Gourcuff (to Arsenal)
Gourcuff was considered the next big thing in French football after inspiring Bordeaux to the Ligue 1 title in 2009, and rumours of interest from north London refused to go away over subsequent years.
The playmaker was linked with the Gunners on a permanent basis, for a loan switch and as a free agent, but it ultimately came to nothing as he stayed put in France.
Tranquillo Barnetta (to Newcastle)
Barnetta’s agent was left in a rage by Newcastle’s “ridiculous” £40,000-per-week wage offer in 2011, when Alan Pardew’s side were looking to tempt him over from Bayer Leverkusen.
Things fell apart at that point, but the rumours were revived the following summer when the Switzerland international became a free agent. Again, after 18 months of speculation, it came to nothing.
Thomas Muller (to Manchester United)
Talk of United making a move for Muller has been rekindled of late as the Red Devils look to strengthen their faltering front line.
Louis van Gaal wanted to bring the Germany international to Old Trafford during his time in charge but couldn't make it happen, and their hopes of doing better this time round were dealt a blow recently when the 30-year-old said: “I don’t need a change of scenery – the weather is changing in Munich on Monday, that’s enough for me.”
Alan Dzagoev (to Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham)
Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham have all been credited with an interest in Dzagoev over the years, with then-CSKA Moscow boss Leonid Slutsky revealing English scouts watched his star man against Spurs in December 2016: “It's not surprising that scouts were watching him and it will not be surprising if he continues his career in one of the top British clubs,” he said.
Dzagoev later revealed that one of those clubs was Chelsea, saying that club owner Roman Abramovich “told us if we want to go to England, we just need to tell him”. We’re still waiting…
David Villa (to Liverpool)
Liverpool reportedly wanted to team up Valencia striker David Villa with compatriot Fernando Torres at Anfield in 2008, and the striker fanned the flames by talking up the interest from Rafa Benitez’s side: “Liverpool have a Spanish coach and I also have a lot of friends there,” he told reporters at the time.
It wasn’t to be, though, as the Spaniard headed for a glorious spell at Barcelona and the Reds brought in, erm, David N’Gog instead.
Rivaldo (to Manchester United)
The Brazilian football icon was linked with a switch to Alex Ferguson’s United side after they completed a historic treble in 1999, but the move never came off.
He’s convinced it would’ve been a success though, as you could tell from his reaction to Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino becoming the first Brazilian to hit 50 Premier League goals recently. "Perhaps if I had signed for Manchester United when I had the opportunity, I could have achieved something similar to what Firmino is doing at Liverpool,” he said.
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