Maradona, Kaka And Rivaldo: The Craziest Football Transfers That Never Happened

English clubs from Ipswich to Bolton have nearly secured some of the biggest stars in football
07:00, 18 Jun 2022

With big names on the move seemingly every summer, football transfers have become an increasingly important component of the sport. Once upon a time you would ring up ClubCall to hear the latest news about your club, while scrolling the sports pages of Ceefax became a daily ritual for every football fan from a certain generation. Now, transfer news is broken on Twitter, by big name journalists that are treated like kings. 

But every summer, a bunch of ‘In The Know’ accounts pop up, claiming to be the half-brother of Jack Wilshere’s hairdresser, delivering fake transfer news to gullible fans eager to get ahead of the wave. It's a rarity that now a club can announce a surprise signing. 

But, in a simpler time, big names did come incredibly close to joining English sides, before for whatever reason, those deals fell through. We’ve picked out ten of the best.  

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Alan Shearer to Manchester United

The top scorer in Premier League history came very close to joining Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson was one of his biggest fans. United attempted to sign him before he moved to his boyhood club Newcastle in 1996, where he now has a statue outside St James’ Park. 

Shearer had even been to Fergie’s house to verbally complete a deal but Blackburn chairman Jack Walker was not keen on him joining their title rivals and preferred a then-world record £15m move to Newcastle.

As Shearer had so much respect for his father-like boss, he agreed to move to the Toon where he became a club legend. United instead bought some unknown Norwegian called Ole Gunnar Solskjaer… whatever became of him?

Steven Gerrard to Chelsea

The transfer saga that defined the noughties in the Premier League. Jose Mourinho famously loved Steven Gerrard and was desperate to bring the Liverpool captain to Stamford Bridge and play him alongside Frank Lampard. Gerrard was tempted; in 2004 he looked likely to move but stayed under Rafa Benitez. However, the following year it looked like Mourinho had got his man when Gerrard handed in a transfer request. 

But a week later he had performed a complete u-turn and signed a new contract, leaving the Liverpool fans that burnt his shirt looking very silly. He may have won Premier League titles at Chelsea but his club legend status at Liverpool is perhaps worth even more than that.

Gerrard to Chelsea was close
Gerrard to Chelsea was close

Kaka to Manchester City

In 2009, Manchester City were ready to make waves in world football having been taken over and there was one man they wanted to announce themselves as a footballing superpower. Kaka had won the Ballon d’Or in 2007 and looked likely to join City after a ridiculous £100m transfer was touted.

He was for sale and interested in the deal but instead political issues at the club meant that circumstances changed and the transfer never materialised.

Diego Maradona to Sheffield United

In 1978, Sheffield United really did come close to landing Diego Maradona. Harry Haslam, then Sheffield United manager went on a scouting trip to Argentina and to his shock, saw a 17-year-old Maradona playing in his homeland. Obviously impressed by his outrageous skill, Haslam thrashed out a deal worth £200,000 - which was a lot of money back in the day. 

However, the Second Division club would not pay the extra cash needed on top of the base fee and the deal never happened. You can read about this failed transfer here, thanks to Matthew Crist.

Zinedine Zidane to Blackburn

"Why do you want to sign Zidane when we've got Tim Sherwood?"

The famous line chairman Jack Walker delivered to then Rovers manager Ray Harford after the club had just won the Premier League. Zidane may not have come to Lancashire but the club did scout him and as they were champions, they may have been in with a shout of securing his signature.

Zinedine Zidane could have joined Rovers
Zinedine Zidane could have joined Rovers

Robert Lewandowski to Blackburn

Sorry Blackburn fans, but this one is a gem. Sam Allardyce had bid £4m for the Lech Poznan striker and he was set to travel to the North West before the infamous volcanic ash cloud struck. That gave Lewandowski enough time to change his mind and he went to Dortmund instead. The eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull denied Big Sam one of his greatest ever transfers.

Rivaldo to Bolton

Big Sam again. World Cup winner Rivaldo was on the brink of moving to Bolton in 2004 to the extent where he even released a statement:

"I want the challenge of trying to get Bolton into Europe for the first time in their history. It is an exciting time."

But then the sunny sights of Athens proved too much of a draw and he decided to join Olympiakos instead. I mean, what does Athens have that Bolton doesn’t?

Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Arsenal

Remember when Arsene Wenger had that strange period of time claiming he could have signed all of the best players in the world? But that really was the case for a short period of time. 

In 2000, he wanted none other than Zlatan Ibrahimovic on trial but famously the Swede said:

“I don’t do trials.”

They were also in for Cristiano Ronaldo. The future world megastar was at the training ground with his mother before Carlos Queiroz tempted him to join Manchester United. Crazy.

Cristiano Ronaldo became a star at Old Trafford
Cristiano Ronaldo became a star at Old Trafford

Gabrielle Batistuta to Ipswich

Yep really. £2.9m was thought to be the fee to secure the services of the Fiorentina man who was unhappy at the time. Adam Hurrey dissects this transfer in detail here, but this quote from Ipswich gaffer John Lyall explains all:

“Batistuta is thought to be unhappy at Fiorentina and a pre- contract agreement is said to exist between the Italians and Ipswich in advance of a £2.9m transfer, which would be a record for the Suffolk club.”

Remarkably this one never quite got over the line.

Denilson to Bolton Wanderers - 2009

In 1998, Real Betis signed 20-year-old Denilson for £21.5million in 1998  and made him the most expensive player in the world, tying him down to a ten-year contract. By 2009, his career was all but over. 

Failed spells all over the world led him to a trial with Bolton Wanderers, then 30 years old, but unlike the others on this list, it was the club that turned down the chance to sign him permanently. Bolton manager Gary Megson said: “He is a fantastic person and didn’t come here as a big-time Charlie. He mixed in with everyone else, and if anyone rang me up about giving him a reference he’d get nothing but positives.”

Damningly, Bolton didn’t sign him for footballing reasons, questioning his ability in comparison to Matty Taylor and Ricardo Gardner. What a world. 

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