All-Time Great Players Who Were Closing to Joining Middle of the Road English Clubs

Oct 30, 2020, 4:00 PM GMT
Photo Shoot - Johan Cruijff
Leicester wanted to sign Johan Cruyff in 1981 | VI-Images/Getty Images
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Football is a world that is full of 'what if?'

Often it is, what if a player had joined this club instead of that club and how might their career that we know so well have been different - for better or for worse?

Here's a look at six legends of the game who surprisingly came close to joining rather middle of the road clubs in England...

6. Luka Modric (Newcastle)

Dinamo Zagreb's forward Luka Modric chas
A young Luka Modric was offered to Newcastle | STRINGER/Getty Images

Four Champions League title and the 2018 Ballon d’Or cements Luka Modric among football’s all-time greats. He could have wound up joining Newcastle early in his career, though.

The Magpies were offered the chance to sign Modric by an agent in 2008, ahead of the season which eventually resulted in their relegation from the Premier League.

However, despite interest from manager Kevin Keegan, a decision was made higher up the St. James’ Park hierarchy that the midfielder lacked the physicality for English football.

5. Didier Drogba (Portsmouth)

Harry Redknapp scouted Didier Drogba in 2003
Harry Redknapp scouted Didier Drogba in 2003 | FRED TANNEAU/Getty Images

Didier Drogba was a late bloomer. He didn’t play top flight football until he was nearly 23, moving to Guingamp for the equivalent of around £80,000 in early 2002. But the Ivorian quickly started to make an impact upon getting that chance and impressed Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp.

Redknapp had been to France on a scouting mission during 2002/03 as Pompey prepared for life in the Premier League and witnessed Drogba score twice against French champions Lyon – two of 32 he managed in all competitions that season.

Moving to Fratton Park would have meant partnering up front with Yakubu, but Guingamp wanted £3.5m and Portsmouth turned to Teddy Sheringham on a free transfer instead.

4. Roberto Carlos (Aston Villa)

Brazil v World XI
Roberto Carlos caught the eye of Aston Villa in 1995 | Simon Bruty/Getty Images

Along with Brazil colleague Cafu, Roberto Carlos helped re-invent the art of full-back from the mid-1990s onwards and there was a possibility he could have joined Aston Villa before achieving international acclaim during 11 years at Real Madrid.

It was a friendly between Brazil and Sweden at Villa Park in 1995 that is thought to have brought him to the attention of long-time Villa chairman Doug Ellis. Carlos, who was still playing club football for Palmeiras in Brazil, even assisted the only goal of the game for Edmundo.

“I met with the club, but nothing happened,” he revealed in 2017. “Birmingham were also interested, but it didn’t go anywhere and I later joined Inter.”

3. Zinedine Zidane (Blackburn)

(FILES) - Picture taken 26 April 1995 in
Kenny Dalglish wanted Zinedine Zidane for Blackburn | FRANK PERRY/Getty Images

Legend has it that wealthy Blackburn benefactor Jack Walker, who bankrolled the Lancashire club to the Premier League title in 1994/95, questioned manager Kenny Dalgish’s interest in signing Bordeaux midfielder Zinedine Zidane because Rovers already had Tim Sherwood.

Zidane was in his early 20s at the time and was beginning to make an impact as part of developing France squad, but Blackburn ultimately passed. He joined Juventus in 1996, scored twice in the 1998 World Cup final, became the most expensive player in the world in 2001 when he moved to Real Madrid and is generally considered to be one of the greatest of all time.

There is a rumour that Newcastle also passed on Zidane in 1996 upon concluding that he wouldn’t be good enough for the Premier League.

2. Johan Cruyff (Leicester)

Johan Cruyff
Leicester prematurely went public over signing Johan Cruyff | Getty Images/Getty Images

Leicester aimed for the moon in early 1981 when they entered talks to sign a 33-year-old Johan Cruyff, who was looking for a new club in Europe after three seasons in the glittering NASL.

The Foxes were bottom of the First Division at the time, but manager Jock Wallace felt Cruyff, a three-time Ballon d’Or winner and three-time European Cup winner, was the man to save them.

Although it was thought that Cruyff was interested, there were concerns. That led Wallace to boldly announce in the press that a deal was close in a bid to try and force the player’s hand. But it didn’t work and it was Spanish side Levante who won the race to sign him in the end.

1. Diego Maradona (Sheffield Utd)

Diego Maradona, 16, warms up 12 Septembe
Sheffield United tried to sign a 17-year-old Diego Maradona | AFP/Getty Images

Whether you believe that Sheffield United got cold feet over the transfer fee or the more seedy story involving alleged intervention from Argentina’s military junta, Diego Maradona was closed to making the switch from Buenos Aires to South Yorkshire in 1978.

The future superstar was just 17 at the time and had been spotted by Blades boss Harry Haslam during a scouting trip in Argentina. But the deal fell through and he eventually played for Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli and Sevilla...and never in England.

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