With several parties involved and tight deadlines to work to, it’s not always easy to complete a transfer.
For every move that goes through and ends with a player posing with a new shirt alongside his new manager, numerous more fall by the wayside.
In this slideshow, we focus on the deals that collapsed after everything seemed to be in place.
The history of the game could have been very different had some of these signings been completed…
20. Charlie Adam to Tottenham, 2011
The inspirational Blackpool captain came within two minutes of joining Spurs on the final day of the January 2011 transfer window.
The Scot was foiled by the fact that a member of the Blackpool board forgot to turn on his new-fangled mobile phone, leaving him out of touch on the most important deal-making day of the year. The necessary signatures therefore weren’t ready until 11.02pm and Adam was forced to remain at Bloomfield Road until the end of the campaign, before joining Liverpool for £6.75m in the summer.
19. Muller to Everton, 1994
Not Gerd, not Thomas, but Luis Antonio Correa da Costa. The Brazilian agreed to join the Toffees after helping the Seleção win the 1994 World Cup.
Boss Mike Walker even called a press conference, but Muller walked out on the club 30 minutes before being unveiled after discovering the horrendous news that he was going to get taxed on his £20,000 weekly wage and wouldn’t receive a free house and car. The poor lamb joined Japanese outfit Kashiwa Reysol instead.
18. Willian to Tottenham, 2013
It’s fair to say Tottenham weren’t particularly happy to learn Chelsea had hijacked their move for Anzhi Makhachkala wide man Willian in 2013. Spurs looked set to land the Brazilian for £30m after fighting off competition from Liverpool, with Willian even completing a medical at White Hart Lane as the north Londoners sought a replacement for Real Madrid-bound Gareth Bale.
Yet Chelsea, despite not appearing to be in the race up until this point, held a trump card: Roman Abramovich’s relationship with Anzhi owner and fellow Russian oligarch Suleyman Kerimov. A few days later, Willian was unveiled as a Blue.
17. Juninho to Aston Villa, 1999
John Gregory’s Villa were sitting second in the Premier League in January 1999, and looked set to bolster their title tilt by signing Juninho from Atletico Madrid. A £12m fee was agreed for the Brazilian, but a spanner was thrown in the works when then-Atletico president Jesus Gil was hospitalised.
Other club officials were reluctant to do business without their boss’ say-so (Gil did, after all, sack 15 managers in three seasons and once declared his players “don’t deserve to live”), and the deal evaporated.
16. Michael Essien to Burnley, 1999
Club policy resulted in the Ghanaian powerhouse not signing for Burnley as a 17-year-old. Essien had been on trial at Turf Moor after impressing in the Under-17 World Cup, but the Lancashire club decided not to sign him after refusing to budge on their policy of paying more than 60 quid a week for an apprentice.
Unperturbed, Essien moved to Bastia the following year and went on to represent Lyon, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Milan, winning four league titles, five domestic cups and the Champions League.
15. Rivaldo to Bolton, 2004
“There is a chance [of joining Bolton], as long as the club offer more money and match what I'm asking," an upfront Rivaldo revealed in 2004. "The club is good, the stadium is very nice and my challenge would be to take the club into Europe.”
The former Barcelona and Milan attacker ultimately opted against joining Sam Allardyce’s eclectic mix of ageing high-profile foreigners (Jay-Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff, Ivan Campo) and unfashionable British journeymen (Simon Charlton, Kevin Poole, Anthony Barness), instead signing for Olympiacos in Greece.
14. Raul to Tottenham, 2008
Real Madrid’s all-time leading appearance-maker could have been banging the goals in at White Hart Lane had it not been for Juande Ramos’s sacking in 2008.
“I had a meal with my agent and Ramos to tell me about Tottenham and the Premier League,” said the legendary Spanish striker. But with a deal on the table, the Spurs board decided to appoint Harry Redknapp, which scuppered the deal. Raul spent another couple of years at the Santiago Bernabeu, before joining Schalke in 2010.
13. Emmanuel Petit to Tottenham, 1997
French midfielder Petit was a key figure as Arsenal won the double in 1997/98, but he could have ended up on the other side of the north London divide. Upon touching down on English soil the summer before the start of that campaign, Petit met with chairman Alan Sugar as Spurs sought to steal a march on their rivals.
“The day I arrived in England I first went to White Hart Lane,” Petit later confirmed to FourFourTwo. “I had a meeting with Mr Sugar and they made me an offer. [Later] I went to see Arsene Wenger at his place. When I arrived he was with David Dein, and two hours later I’d given my word to Arsenal.”
12. Kenny Dalglish to West Ham, 1967
Dalglish signed his first contract with Celtic in 1967, before moving south of the border to Liverpool – where he won 14 major trophies and remains the greatest player in the club’s history – 10 years later.
The Scot almost joined an English club right at the start of his career, though, with West Ham taking him on a two-week trial. Defender Harry Redknapp remembers driving a 15-year-old Dalglish to training during that time, but the Hammers were unable to convince the forward to snub Celtic and move to London instead.
11. David de Gea to Real Madrid, 2015
Every time De Gea pulls off a wonder save to deny an opposition striker, Manchester United fans give thanks to Real Madrid’s dodgy fax machine – the item routinely blamed for the Spaniard’s botched transfer to the Santiago Bernabeu in 2015.
It was, in fact, Madrid’s failure to submit the relevant paperwork in time which scuppered the move. The La Liga giants tried to blame United for the mishap while also lodging a hopeful appeal to FIFA, but no extension was granted and De Gea remained at Old Trafford.
10. Roy Keane to Blackburn, 1993
The heartbeat behind Manchester United’s success throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s, Roy Keane almost ended up at Ewood Park rather than Old Trafford.
Following Nottingham Forest’s relegation in 1993, Rovers agreed a £4m fee with the East Midlanders and personal terms with Keane, but a failure to obtain the necessary paperwork on a Friday meant the transfer was delayed until the following week. United boss Alex Ferguson spotted a chance to intervene, contacting the player and persuading him to sign for the Red Devils instead.
Dalglish didn’t take it well, at least as far as Keane remembers. "I was going to Cyprus with a few lads… [Dalglish] said: 'I'm going to find you. I'm going to come to Ayia Napa and find you.’ So, every bar in Ayia Napa, I was looking over my shoulder waiting for Kenny Dalglish to walk in."
9. Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Arsenal, 2000
Ibrahimovic has enjoyed a magnificent career, representing a host of European heavyweights in Ajax, Inter, Milan, Juventus, Barcelona, PSG and Manchester United. Arenal could have added their names to the list way back in 2000, but the Swedish striker didn't take too kindly to being asked to undergo a trial in north London.
“Arsene Wenger gave me the famous red and white jersey - the No.9 shirt with Ibrahimovic on it and I was so pleased I even posed for a picture wearing it," the then-Malmo striker explained in 2012. "So then 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.’”
8. Michael Laudrup to Liverpool, 1983
“We went away from Anfield thinking the deal was done,” explained the Danish legend who, as a 19-year-old Brondby sensation, agreed a three-year deal with the English champions. “But two weeks later they came back saying they wanted to offer the same package but for four years, because I needed time to develop. I was disappointed, so I decided not to join.”
The Reds regretted moving the goalposts soon after, as Laudrup went on to shine at Juventus. He also represented Barcelona and Real Madrid, winning La Liga on both sides of the Clasico divide.
7. Robert Lewandowski to Blackburn, 2010
It’s been a tough decade for supporters of Blackburn Rovers, who have had to watch their team sink from the Premier League to the third tier. The bizarre replacement of Sam Allardyce with Steve Kean in December 2010 is widely regarded as the moment the decline began, but perhaps a volcanic ash cloud bears the brunt of responsibility for their fall.
Flights across Europe were cancelled when Eyjafjallajökull erupted in March 2010, with Lech Poznan striker Robert Lewandowski among those inconvenienced. The Poland international intended to discuss a move to Ewood Park with Allardyce, but he was unable to travel and later joined Borussia Dortmund instead.
6. Eric Cantona to Sheffield Wednesday, 1992
Sheffield Wednesday boss Trevor Francis brought the maverick Frenchman over from Nimes for a trial, where he impressed in an indoor friendly match. Francis wanted Cantona striker to stay for another week so he could judge him on grass, but the moody star refused and moved to Leeds instead.
Wednesday were forced to watch on in horror as Cantona won the league at Elland Road, before joining Manchester United and lifting the trophy on another four occasions. The Owls, conversely, couldn’t manage anything better than a seventh-place finish during the forward’s time in England.
5. Johan Cruyff to Dumbarton, 1980
The three-time Ballon d’Or winner – who came close to joining Leicester in 1981 – held talks with Scottish side Dumbarton at the age of 33. Cruyff, a champion of Total Football in the 1970s and widely regarded as one of the best players of all time, admitted he was “tempted” – just not quite enough.
Dumbarton's chairman and manager flew to Amsterdam to hold talks with the Dutchman but ultimately failed to land his signature. “I thought I was too old at that stage to go to Scotland, where you know the weather will be difficult,” sighed Cruyff, who joined the Washington Diplomats instead.
4. Paul Gascoigne to Man United, 1988
Alex Ferguson remembers speaking to Gazza the night before going on holiday at the end of the 1987/88 season. “He said ‘Go and enjoy yourself Mr Ferguson, I’ll be signing for Manchester United'. So I went on my holidays, but then the chairman rang and said he’d signed for Tottenham. They bought a house for his mother and father in the northeast and that swung it.”
In an interview with Sky Sports in 2013, Gascoigne hinted that he would make a different decision if he had his time again. “[Ferguson] always says one of his greatest regrets was not signing me, but I think it was the other way round," the former midfielder said. “I know I would have had a lot more trophies in my cabinet if I went with him.”
3. Zinedine Zidane to Blackburn, 1995
Few footballing queries can have more dramatic irony than Jack Walker’s irate “Why would we want Zidane when we’ve got Tim Sherwood?"
The Blackburn chairman pumped in the funds that helped his boyhood club win the Premier League title in 1994/95, but perhaps Rovers’ success would have been rather less fleeting had Zidane joined their ranks the following summer.
First-team coach Dereck Fazackerley – who was sent to France to scout the then-Bordeaux playmaker – and manager Kenny Dalglish pushed for the move, but Walker was keen to extol the virtues of Sherwood instead.
2. Alfredo Di Stefano to Barcelona, 1952
Di Stefano is regarded by many as the best player in Real Madrid's history, but the legendary forward could easily have made history with Barcelona instead. When the Argentine first opted for a move to Spain, the Catalans were the first to show interest, with Di Stefano pulling on the Blaugrana shirt in a 1953 pre-season friendly.
But what Barça didn’t realise was that he was registered with two clubs, and so they ended negotiations with Millonarios to focus on discussions with River Plate. Madrid stepped in and snapped up the free-scoring hitman, who went on to win five consecutive European Cups and eight Spanish titles.
1. Diego Maradona to Sheffield United, 1978
Arguably the greatest footballer in the history of the sport once came close to signing for Sheffield United. On a trip to Argentina in 1978, Blades scout Harry Haslam watched a 17-year-old Maradona play for Argentinos Juniors. Haslam was so impressed with the teenager’s performance that he arranged a deal there and then, but United were reluctant to stump up the £200,000 asking price and signed his compatriot Alejandro Sabella instead.
Maradona later confirmed the story in an interview with FFT: “Not only was it a real offer, it seemed that the transfer was about to happen. We were both going to travel. I think we even had our flights bought. But then, the transfer collapsed and we couldn't go to Sheffield. It would have been a pleasure to play in England.”
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