Dig if you will a picture… of an alternative world where top, top players didn’t make it to the very summit of footballing magnificence but took a severe wrong turn in their careers, ending up in the doldrums, alone, unloved and probably skint.
Believe it or not, there have been scores of occasions when a player who went on to become a legend almost made a move that with hindsight looks insane. I’ve dug up some of the best ones and also fed the data into my PREDICTOMAX™ contraption (a lie detector that I bought from Jeremy Kyle and rewired a bit so that it projects alternative realities).
Just go with it, eh…
Remember that Icelandic volcano that spewed vast clouds of ash across the European skyline back in 2010? Chaos ensued as flights across the continent were suspended, with thousands of people stuck where they didn’t really want to be.
But it wasn’t all bad news. Lech Poznan striker Lewandowski was supposed to be on his way to seal a deal with Sam Allardyce at Blackburn Rovers, but the ash cloud thwarted his travel plans and now he’s banging them in for Bayern Munich instead.
PREDICTOMAX™ says… Lewandowski’s Blackburn career would have been cut short due to a horrific knee injury but he would have stayed in the town and would now be a sales manager for HLL Linens on the Walker Park industrial estate.
He’s the enemy of all right-thinking Englishmen thanks to his 1986 World Cup handball chicanery but if things had panned out differently, the stumpy Argentine cheat could have been a hero instead. When he was just 17, Maradona caught the eye of Sheffield United boss Harry Haslam, who tried to bring him over from South America, only to baulk at the asking price of £200,00. The rest, as they say, is history.
PREDICTOMAX™ says… Maradona’s time in South Yorkshire would have ended abruptly following a horrific knee injury but he would have rebuilt his life (and eventually his knee), landing a job as a laboratory assistant in what was then Sheffield Polytechnic. Diego would have married a colleague, Janet, and although they were never able to have children, they had two springer spaniels who they loved very much.
Now a veritable Catalonian god, it could have all been very different indeed had Alex McLeish made good on his determination to bring Iniesta to Rangers after making a series of inquiries. Possibly spooked by McLeish’s interest, a place in the first team was found for Iniesta and thankfully for everyone really, the lad never looked back.
PREDICTOMAX™ says… Things didn’t work out well for the midfield genius in his alternate Glasgow reality. His career cut short by a horrific knee injury, a tapas restaurant he went on to open was controversially closed down due to rats and he ended up living in a caravan in Stranraer.
Oh look, it’s Blackburn again! Imagine the glory that the Lancashire club could have attained if they’d added the legendary Zidane to their ranks back in 1995. Then-manager Kenny Dalglish wanted to enhance his title-winning side with the young Frenchman, only for club owner Jack Walker to block the move, reportedly saying, ‘Why do you want to sign Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?’ Hmmmm, why indeed…?
PREDICTOMAX™ says… Shortly after joining Blackburn, Zidane fell foul of a horrific knee injury and went on to become the managing director of HLL Linens on the Walker Park industrial estate. Indeed, it was him who recruited and trained up Robert Lewandowski after the Pole’s career at Ewood Park ended in similar tragic circumstances.
We stay in Scotland, where Leicester’s creative wizard Mahrez almost wound up just a few years ago after a two-month trial with St. Mirren when he was just 17. He was an instant hit, scoring seven goals in four reserve matches, but the climate almost drove him insane and he eventually fled to the bus station on a borrowed bike before making his way back to France, later describing the Scottish weather as ‘abuse’.
PREDICTOMAX™ says… Unlike the other players in this feature, Mahrez didn’t succumb to a knee injury in his alternate reality; instead freezing to death outside a bakery while waiting for a friend to buy a pie.