Paddy Power and Ruby Walsh were graced by the presence of Liverpool legend Phil Thompson on our From The Horse’s Mouth podcast this weekend and after six years as assistant boss to Gerard Houllier, he was kind enough to reveal some of the star transfers that just slipped through the club’s grasp.
At the end of the 2002/03 season, I had Paul Stretford, who is Wayne Rooney’s agent, on the phone to us going, “look, there’s this player called Cristiano Ronaldo, he’s a great talent and you can have him. Come and watch him at our expense and we can do a deal.”
Porto had just beaten Celtic in the (2003) UEFA Cup final, so they still had a game remaining in Portugal and it was against Sporting Lisbon. So, I went to Lisbon to watch the game and we knew that Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle were all being asked to come and see him play, so we knew other teams were onto him.
It was a guy called Tony Henry, who is one of Paul Stretford’s staff, that took me over to the game. After we watched the match you could see that Cristiano was a player, so I asked Tony, ‘what’s the deal?’
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He said: “The deal is 4 million quid. You can do it over the four years of his contract,” and added, “he wants £1m a year”. I answered, “A million a year, he’s only 18!”. Tony replied “that’s negotiable, but it’s got to be net,” – which is where the club pay the tax.
I thought it was a lot of money, but they were desperate to try and get him out of Portugal.
So I came back to the Liverpool training ground the next day – bear in mind our season is over – and all I see on the yellow ticker on Sky Sports News was ‘Manchester United have signed Cristiano Ronaldo for £12.2m’. I was gobsmacked and Gerard Houllier said, “Phil, what the hell has gone on there? You said it was £4m!”
We had said it to Rick Parry before we came back from Portugal and he told us he’d have a look at our budget, but Man United moved quick. But Gerard asked me to get onto Tony Henry and find out what the hell had gone on.
So I rang him and asked and he said: “I know, I know! When I got off the planed back from Portugal, I got a phone call and I got told ‘you’re off the deal’.”
Whatever happened with that extra £8.2m is not for me to say, but £4m was what I was quoted for him.
Maybe Man United moved quicker on him than we did, but it wasn’t like we’d made a bid and lost out.
One of the strangest transfers that nearly happened was John Terry coming to Liverpool.
In the final game the 2002/03 season it was like a play-off to get in the Champions League when we played Chelsea away. They beat us down at Stamford Bridge just before Roman Abramovich came to town, but we’d heard Chelsea were in dire straits financially.
They weren’t going to offer Frank Lampard a contract or John Terry.
After the game Gerard Houllier said to me, “He’s (Terry) a bit of a player, isn’t he?” and I replied “he’s a great player John Terry. He’s not the quickest, but he reads the game fantastically well.”
I also told Gerard that I didn’t believe Chelsea had offered him a contract yet. So, as the Chelsea players were walking around the pitch for the traditional lap of honour, Gerard went to shake John’s hand and asked him, “how would you like to play for Liverpool?”
Terry replied, “I’d love to Mr Houllier. I’d love to.” Gerard told him he’d be in touch and we went into the dressing room. While we were in there and he told me what had happened, I said, “Gerard, we’ve got to get his agent’s number and do this quick.”
So we sent one of our coaches to the players’ lounge to see John and said to him, “I believe you had a word with Gerard Houllier, can we have your agents name and phone number please?” Terry said he’d do better than that and handled him his personal phone number.
A couple of weeks later that summer Abramovich took over Chelsea and his first dealings were to sign up John Terry and Frank Lampard on big contracts. We were so close to getting him though.
Gerard Houllier came to me one day and said, “We can sign Alan Shearer and he wants to come to us!” I couldn’t believe it, because I knew Shearer was trying to get a two-year contract out of Newcastle.
I said, “Gerard, do you not think he’s using us?” but he was adamant. “Phil, I’ve spoken to him and he wants to come to us,” he said.
I then asked about getting the ball rolling and we chatted about it. We thought maybe we should speak to our counterparts at Newcastle. I believe Rick Parry spoke to one of the directors at Newcastle and asked for first refusal on Shearer since he wasn’t signing a new contract.
Newcastle absolutely s**t themselves when we asked about him.
That’s because they knew we were onto him and they said they were going to do something to keep him. The very next day Alan signed a new contract with Newcastle, he got his two years.
Following that I’m in Gerard’s office and who comes through on the phone, but Alan Shearer. Gerard pressed the conference call button, so I’m listening to all of this, and the first words out of Shearer’s mouth were, “I didn’t just use you to get a new contract at Newcastle. I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”
As they got older Michael Owen and Alan had a bit of a falling out and Michael always used that story about Shearer trying to get out of Newcastle against him. I don’t think it would have happened to be honest, but Gerard was convinced that the deal was done.
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