As we hover around the midway point of the January transfer window, you’re almost certain to see your team linked with a whole host of players.
Some will seem realistic, but others… well, not so much. However, each time you see one of the “wait, what?” style rumours, it’s worth remembering that some bizarre-sounding moves were very close to happening.
Some of them did happen, in fact, like Henrik Larsson joining Manchester United or Sol Campbell returning to Arsenal after his Notts County stint, but for know we’ll focus on those which fall under the ‘close, but no cigar’ banner.
Robert Lewandowski to Blackburn Rovers
As bizarre transfer stories go, this one’s right up there.
The second volcanic ash cloud of 2010 was blamed by some for Barcelona losing their Champions League semi-final after their flight was grounded, but the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull had a much more far-reaching impact on Blackburn Rovers.
The Lancashire club had invited Robert Lewandowski, then of Lech Poznan in Poland, to visit their training facilities ahead of a potential move, only for his flight to be grounded. By the end of the season, after he had scored a hatful for the club, Borussia Dortmund came calling. The rest is history.
Ronaldinho to St Mirren
Another player who very nearly arrived in the UK before making a different European move was Ronaldinho.
In March 2001, with the Brazilian still at Gremio but set for a summer move to Paris Saint-Germain, St Mirren fell short in a loan approach after failing to get international clearance to sign the player. This was around the time fellow SPL club Dundee had secured the signing of Argentina striker Claudio Caniggia, so big statement moves weren’t unheard of, but Dinho was still one of the hottest young prospects in world football and St Mirren were, well, St Mirren.
The Saints were ultimately relegated that season, and would have to wait five years to return to the top flight. You can’t help but think the young Brazilian might have had the quality to keep them afloat.
Diego Maradona to Sheffield United
The best thing about this one? Sheffield United weren’t even a top-flight club when El Diego was linked with the club in the late 70s.
Alejandro Sabella, who played for the Blades in the old Second Division, was thought to have encouraged a teenage Maradona to leave Argentinos Juniors and link up with him in Yorkshire. Sadly for all concerned, it never came to pass.
United were relegated to the third tier at the end of the 1979-80 season, and a year later Maradona had left his first club for Boca Juniors. He’ll probably be fairly happy with how it all turned out.
Rivaldo to Bolton Wanderers
Okay, maybe this one isn’t so weird in the context of the other weird signings made by Bolton – Youri Djorkaeff and Fernando Hierro are right up there, to name but two – but c’mon guys. It’s Rivaldo.
The Brazilian was said to be ‘very close’ to joining the Lancashire club in 2004, but ultimately ended up trading Milan for Olympiacos and going on to play well into his forties.
As for the Trotters, they took the money they might have spent on Rivaldo and instead signed El-Hadji Diouf on loan (that one worked out pretty well) and Diouf’s international teammate Khalilou Fadiga on a free (look, one out of two isn’t the worst hit rate).
Bastian Schweinsteiger to Newcastle United
In 2008, six years before he was a World Cup winner, Schweini was reportedly on Kevin Keegan’s list of potential Newcastle signings after it emerged he might be available on the cheap.
Instead, the club signed Nacho Gónzalez, a player who the manager didn’t approve, and who supposedly had only been scouted via YouTube clips.
Keegan quit days later, while Schweinsteiger went on to win four more Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich and lift the Champions League in 2013. Newcastle were relegated that same season.
Mehdi Benatia to Blackpool
Blackpool signed a hell of a lot of players under Ian Holloway, but one who they didn’t end up signing would go on to achieve a lot more than those they did.
Morocco international Benatia was apparently available from Clermont in the summer of 2009 for just £100,000, though who’s to say whether he’d have done better than Ian Evatt and Alex Baptiste in helping lead the Tangerines to the Premier League. A real butterfly effect situation.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic to QPR
We’ve all heard about Ibrahimovic’s trial at Arsenal, but the QPR story never got as much press. Which is odd, as it’s surely the weirder of the two.
According to Zlatan’s pal Tony Flygare, the striker rocked up at Loftus Road as a teenager before he had even made his Malmö debut. Suffice to say, Gerry Francis didn’t offer him a contract, and QPR would go on to sign Fulham’s Luke Cornwall on loan a couple of months later. Guess which of the two teenagers had the more successful career.
Pep Guardiola to Wigan Athletic
Speaking ahead of Manchester City’s FA Cup meeting in 2018, Pep Guardiola claimed he was “not good enough” for Wigan after he considered a move to England in his mid-30s.
With every respect to Lee McCulloch and Jason Jarrett, we reckon Pep was being a bit self-deprecating (self-Peprecating?).
Roberto Baggio to Derby County
Derby County had a couple Italian stars rock up in the mid-90s, with Francesco Baiano joining Stefano Eranio at Pride Park in the summer of 1997.
Baiano was a pretty big name in his own right, having played more than 100 times for the Fiorentina generation of Gabriel Batistuta and Rui Costa, but they could have wound up with an even bigger one.
Gazzetta dello Sport claimed at the time that the Rams were chasing Roberto Baggio, who was – let’s not forget – still at AC Milan and still in the Italy squad at 30 years of age. It was a different time.