The ultimate 'what ifs'...
As far as ‘what if’ moments go, it was a pretty big one. Sam Allardyce was on the verge of signing youthful Polish striker Robert Lewandowski for his Blackburn Rovers side back in 2010, only for a freak twist of fate to scupper the move.
"I think about it every time I see him play," Big Sam lamented in 2013. And there are plenty more where that one came from…
Gabriel Batistuta to Ipswich Town
Ipswich hoped to profit from Batistuta’s unhappiness at Fiorentina in the early part of the 1994/95 season and lined up a £2.9 million swoop.
Boss John Lyall was in close contact with the Argentine’s representatives, but a potential deal collapsed after the Italian club put an improved contract on the table to convince him to stay.
Didier Drogba to Portsmouth
While at Portsmouth, Harry Redknapp says he scouted Drogba as a partner for Yakubu in Pompey’s maiden Premier League campaign.
Ivory Coast international Drogba was impressing at Guingamp and scored twice under the nose of an onlooking Redknapp in a game against Lyon. However, the manager was told by the club hierarchy that the striker’s £3.5 million valuation was too steep, and Teddy Sheringham was recruited on a free transfer instead.
Roberto Carlos to Aston Villa
In 1995, Carlos caught the eye of Villa chairman Doug Ellis during a friendly between Brazil and Sweden at Villa Park. The Birmingham club even entered talks to sign the Palmeiras star, but boss Brian Little decided he’d rather pursue the signing of Gareth Southgate from Crystal Palace.
The following year the Brazilian signed for Inter, where Roy Hodgson even tried deploying him up front. “I didn't like the system or where Hodgson wanted me to play in it,” he later lamented to FourFourTwo.
Zinedine Zidane to Blackburn Rovers
Blackburn chairman Jack Walker may have masterminded the Ewood Park side’s unlikely 1995 Premier League triumph, but he didn’t get everything right.
The manager at the time, Kenny Dalglish, put forward the idea of bringing in a youthful Zidane from Bordeaux to add some creative spark to his title-winning team. Walker’s response has gone down in football folklore: “Why do you want to sign Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?”
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to West Brom
Ex-West Brom scout Stuart White has revealed that the Midlanders could’ve brought in Aubameyang for just £2 million in 2011. White observed the striker in action for Saint-Etienne against Auxerre before being told by the Gabon international’s agent that his client was available on a cut-price deal.
That wasn’t enough to encourage the Baggies to make a move, though, as reports from further scouting missions advised against it. Auba went on to score 41 goals in 97 games for the French club before signing for Borussia Dortmund in a €13 million deal in 2013.
Mohamed Salah to Newcastle United
Newcastle were close to signing an 18-year-old Salah on a loan deal back in 2011 after scouts spotted him impressing for El Mokawloon in his native Egypt.
The winger was even quoted describing a St. James’ Park switch as a “dream”, but it all crumbled when the Magpies discovered they would have to fork out a £500,000 loan fee. Salah stayed where he was before joining Swiss side Basel a year later.
Edinson Cavani to West Ham
Cavani’s form at Palermo caught the attention of West Ham bigwigs, and for a while it appeared that the feeling was mutual.
Ex-Rosanero boss Stefano Colantuono revealed that the Uruguay international was interested in trying out “an adventure in the Premier League” in 2008 – but the east Londoners failed to match the €17 million offer Napoli put forward two years later.
Radamel Falcao to Aston Villa
In 2008, Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill was given the opportunity to bring in an exciting Colombian prospect making an impression in Argentina with River Plate.
Falcao was said to have a price tag of just £5 million, but the Irishman decided against a move and instead plumped for Emile Heskey from Wigan. Ouch.
Andriy Shevchenko to West Ham
Harry Redknapp famously said that he had the chance to sign Sheva for the paltry sum of £1 million while he was in charge of the Hammers in the late 1990s.
“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,” he explained. "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...”
Luka Modric to Newcastle United
This episode would define Kevin Keegan’s doomed second spell at St. James’ Park. In 2008, King Kev received a call from Modric’s agent, who was keen on clinching a potential move to the Premier League from Dinamo Zagreb for his client.
However, the club’s vice-president of player recruitment Tony Jimenez branded the Croatian “too lightweight”. The same Tony Jimenez who thought it was a great idea to bid €5 million for Bayern Munich midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Robert Lewandowski to Blackburn Rovers
Lech Poznan agreed to sell Lewandowski to Rovers for £4.2 million in 2010 before nature took its course to ruin the move. The deal collapsed due to the infamous ash cloud produced by an Icelandic volcano, which saw flights grounded in and out of the north-west.
Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce brought in Nikola Kalinic instead, while the Pole went on to join Borussia Dortmund and lift two Bundesliga tiles. “He could have used us as a stepping stone but it didn't happen,” said a glum Allardyce years later.
Alasdair Mackenzie is a freelance journalist based in Rome, and a FourFourTwo contributor since 2015. When not pulling on the FFT shirt, he can be found at Reuters, The Times and the i. An Italophile since growing up on a diet of Football Italia on Channel 4, he now counts himself among thousands of fans sharing a passion for Ross County and Lazio.