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The biggest transfers that never happened

Mitchell Wilks
Draxler is constantly linked to Arsenal without fail
Draxler is constantly linked to Arsenal without fail / Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images
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There's no mill that moves quite like football's transfer rumour mill.

Despite there only being two windows a season, transfer talk never quite goes away. And why should it? We all lap it up, no matter how absurd the rumours are.

The best rumours, though, are the ones that never seem to go away, despite there being a collective understanding that it's never happening; players suddenly become more remembered for their stint with a club they never joined. With that in mind, here are 30 of the best examples.


30. Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Sunderland

Zlatan Ibrahimovic
He'd suit red and white stripes / Marco Canoniero/Getty Images

Alright, not a famed memory or one that lasted very long. But seeing Sunderland scouts sneak Ibrahimovic's name onto the bottom of their striker targets during Sunderland 'Til I Die was hilarious.

One of many great moments in a calamitous 2017/18 season in the Championship. Who knows, perhaps Simon Grayson would've kept his job and got the band firing up if Zlatan had become a Black Cat.

29. Harry Kane - Real Madrid

Harry Kane
Kane could still be a Madridsta / Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

English player does well, link English player to fancy move abroad.

It's football's most common trope, mainly because Real Madrid have made a habit of signing anyone who shows any flash of brilliance. Kane has been put next to them for a while, but this one isn't exactly off the cards.

28. Romelu Lukaku - Chelsea

Romelu Lukaku
Lukaku headed to United over Chelsea / Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

The Belgian forward has been linked with that 'sensational' return to Chelsea ever since he dragged his suitcase out of the doors at Cobham in 2014.

That ramped up in 2017 when he left Everton, but instead he joined Manchester United. Since leaving them for Inter, the talk of the Chelsea return continues to drive people mad.

27. David Villa - Manchester City

David Villa
A loan to City was needed / Michael Stewart/Getty Images

When Villa signed for New York City FC in 2014, the immediate thought was when his inevitable loan to Manchester City would be, not if it would happen.

It was a regularly talked up switch and truthfully one that made sense. Unfortunately, City never pulled the trigger.

26. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic - Manchester United

Sergej Milinkovic Savic
Never happened / Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Pre-warning: Manchester United feature in this list a lot. Like, a lot. It's almost impressive how they become linked to every player on the planet.

The summer of 2018 was the Milinkovic-Savic saga, where the Red Devils were endlessly linked with an £80m move for the midfielder. The same talks weirdly popped up again in 2020 and 2021.

25. Neymar - Barcelona

Neymar
Neymar would definitely move back if possible / Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Despite breaking football completely by leaving Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain in a record £200m deal, talk of a return has never fully evaporated.

Neymar has swept up domestic titles in France - as expected - but hasn't been able to kick into another gear and make PSG European champions as the solo star. Considering Barcelona's financial mess, though, there's no way they're thinking of his return.

24. Kylian Mbappe - Real Madrid

Kylian Mbappe
Madrid could still be in his future / Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Another one that isn't exactly impossible and could well happen, when a top player isn't at one of Spain's big two, they're doing it wrong.

The media will not rest until they've booked that player into the main event and essentially made the move an inevitability, which is what continues to happen with Mbappe. Liverpool are always linked too, but the Real Madrid one is relentless.

23. Antoine Griezmann - Manchester United

Antoine Griezmann
Griezmann seemed destined for Manchester / Power Sport Images/Getty Images

The summer of 2017 saw Atletico Madrid's flamboyant Frenchman teasing and flirting with United about as much as humanly possible.

A saga dragged on throughout the summer, with Griezmann keen to leave and hinting at a move to United on social media alongside his brother. How did it end? He signed a new contract with Atletico, of course. He still gets linked to United years on.

22. Ronaldinho - St. Mirren

Ronaldinho
No words for this one / Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Yep. Football royalty and Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldinho was supposedly in talks with a move to Scottish side St Mirren in 2001.

He stalled and amid some legal issues, a deal collapsed. It wasn't spoken of again, mainly because the Brazilian soon exploded onto the world stage.

21. Kalidou Koulibaly - Manchester United & Manchester City

Kalidou Koulibaly
It's not happening / Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Every summer, Italian media seemingly bands together and joins forces over one objective; get Koulibaly a move to Manchester.

Be it United or City, the Napoli defender has been linked with a move to both Premier League sides at just about every chance. He's obviously heard about the Trafford Centre.

20. Rivaldo - Bolton Wanderers

Foot : 1/4 Final England - Brazil / Wc 2002
Rivaldo at the Reebok - almost / Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Back in the good ol' days of Sam Allardyce's Bolton running the streets in the Premier League, Rivaldo was one of many big names linked with a move to the club.

Potentially linking up with Jay-Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff and Ivan Campo, the Brazilian World Cup winner said himself in 2004 that he was closing in on the move. Massive wage demands for the 32-year-old saw the move collapse, however. British football's darkest hour.

19. Ivan Rakitic - Sunderland

FBL-LIGA-ESP-REAL MADRID-BARCELONA
Fine margins / OSCAR DEL POZO/Getty Images

Those Black Cats at it again, this time with a more realistic prospect that they managed to make a goof of in 2011.

Sunderland passed up the chance to sign Rakitic for a measly 380k that January, with the 22-year-old out of contract in the summer. Who needs an exciting young Croatian when Lee Cattermole is patrolling the park with Jack Colback, right?

18. Zinedine Zidane - Blackburn

Bordeaux's Zinedine Zidane (R) struggles to keep M
A young Zidane at Bordeaux / DERRICK CEYRAC/Getty Images

Off the back of their Premier League winning 1994/95 season, Blackburn being linked with an up and coming French hotshot at Bordeaux wasn't as surprising as it sounds now.

Of course it hasn't aged well, but a move to Blackburn would've made sense on paper at the time for Zidane. Still, it never materialised in a shoddy 1995 summer window and Blackburn fell as Zizou headed to Juventus a year later.

17. Robinho - Chelsea

Manchester City's Brazilian forward Robi
Robinho was meant to join Chelsea / ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

The infamous first mega money signing of Manchester City's new era in 2008, Robinho headed to Manchester on deadline day despite a long chase from Chelsea.

Robinho was set on Chelsea where Luiz Felipe Scolari had taken on the hot seat, but moved to City at the death as Real couldn't strike a deal with the London side. Chelsea doesn't even have a big ASDA anyway, so the Brazilian was right.

16. Toni Kroos - Manchester United

Toni Kroos
United might just have missed a trick with this one / Soccrates Images/Getty Images

After a hellish spell as Manchester United manager, the one thing David Moyes did do was seemingly set up a deal to bring Toni Kroos to Old Trafford in 2014.

The move seemed all ready to go, but the plug was pulled when Moyes was sacked and Louis van Gaal didn't pursue it following his arrival. Kroos moved to Real Madrid despite having the chance to get rather close to his pal Robbie Williams in England. Shame.

15. Hulk - Tottenham

FC Zenit St. Petersburg v FC Alania Vladikavkaz - Russian Premier League
Hulk was always linked to Tottenham / Epsilon/Getty Images

Famous for being built like a brick proverbial and being stupidly good on FIFA back in the day, Hulk's cult hero status had him wrapped up in a media saga with Spurs in the 2010s.

The Brazilian winger was linked with a move to Andre Villas-Boas' Tottenham in 2013, and despite it not coming off, those rumours never truly died down, somehow popping up every year or so. Was never happening.

14. Nabil Fekir - Liverpool

Nabil Fekir
Fekir in his unofficial Merseyside derby / Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

In 2018, the Lyon midfielder's move to Anfield felt as close to done as possible, without the announcement.

Hourly updates, fans unable to put the phone down, tweet notifications on from just about every outlet. The Fekir/Liverpool saga was constant fuel, but ended with absolutely nothing to show for it despite the deal ready to be completed. Knee injury, you see. You know the ones.

13. Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Arsenal

AC Milan's Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahi
Ibrahimovic has faced Arsenal plenty of times since / GIUSEPPE CACACE/Getty Images

While a move to Sunderland was never happening, a young Ibrahimovic could have headed to Arsenal, if it wasn't for a trial period. Definitely not his own ego. No way.

Arsene Wenger invited Ibrahimovic to London for a trial, but outraged at the thought of having to prove himself again, the Swede declined and moved to Ajax instead.

12. Robert Lewandowski - Blackburn

Robert Lewandowski
This could be the Rovers right now / Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Much stranger reading compared to the failed Zidane move, mid-table Blackburn had invited over Lewandowski in 2010 with a view to signing the young Polish striker.

A volcanic ash cloud saw his trip to the north of England cancelled, however, and Blackburn missed out. How close were they to actually completing a deal, though? We'll never know.

11. Karim Benzema - Arsenal

Karim Benzema
Sign da ting, Karim / David Ramos/Getty Images

Another name for the list of famous players that Wenger infamously tried to sign for Arsenal, there was a point where Benzema was coming every summer throughout the 2010s.

Having landed Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid, Arsenal fans were dreaming of a similar arrival. Was it ever happening? As Vince McMahon would say, no chance in hell.

10. Leandro Damiao - Tottenham

Leandro Damiao
Spurs legend / Esteban Garay/Getty Images

No, you're not in a fever dream. Leandro Damiao does exist.

The Brazilian forward was linked with Spurs throughout the 2010s more times than I've had hot dinners. The offer was apparently there in 2013, but Damiao opted for Napoli instead. A deal fell through regardless, and he only left Brazil for Europe on a short loan to Spain in 2016.

9. Lionel Messi - Manchester City

Josep Guardiola, Lionel Messi
No reunion in Manchester / Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Ever since City came into money, they've been destined to be linked with every rather invaluable player under the sun. Messi regularly topped that list.

It went into overdrive following Pep Guardiola's 2016 arrival, and then some more following his 2020 Barcelona contract disputes. No matter how much fans want it to happen, there is no chance. Again though, big ASDA, his loss.

8. Nico Gaitan - Manchester United

Osvaldo Fabian Nicolas Gaitan, Nico Gaitan
Gaitan never got his United move / Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images

Old Trafford should make room for statues for some of their greatest club servants never to actually appear for the side or sign on officially.

Nico Gaitan's six year spell with Benfica isn't even remembered for his exploits on the pitch, but a forever impending move to United which never happened. Cult hero.

7. Kaka - Manchester City

Real Madrid new player Brazilian midfiel
Kaka chose the Santiago Bernabeu instead / JAVIER SORIANO/Getty Images

Having blossomed into one of football's very finest, Kaka was linked with a huge money move to big spenders City in January 2009.

City were prepared to pay £88m to land the Brazilian that summer and Milan would've accepted, but Kaka famously refused the move and pledged his allegiance to Milan, before moving to Real Madrid that summer.

6. Gareth Bale - Manchester United

Gareth Bale
Bale to United comes up every summer / David Ramos/Getty Images

Every summer, a new photoshop of Bale's head on the latest United home kit crops up online. And it fools absolutely nobody.

The Welshman has been a target for United under Ferguson and in the later 2010s, but a move was never as close as the hundreds of weird, photoshopped images and constant speculation would suggest. Cursed.

5. Steven Gerrard - Chelsea

Chelsea's Frank Lampard (L) greets Liver
Almost club teammates / ODD ANDERSEN/Getty Images

In 2005, Chelsea were inches away from securing the Lampard/Gerrard pair at club level.

'Inches' meaning a u-turn on a transfer request submitted by Gerrard following a £32m bid. Gerrard cited the fans as the reason for the change of heart.

4. Isco - Manchester City

Isco
A move to City looked inevitable / Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Isco seemed nailed on for a move to City after shining with Malaga, following Manuel Pellegrini to the club in 2013.

They lost out against Real Madrid despite already including him in chants and would continue to be linked with the tricky Spaniard for the rest of time. Isco is to City what Gaitan is to United.

3. David de Gea - Real Madrid

David De Gea
No Dave, they're not looking to sign you / Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

A slow fax machine was the sole reason why David de Gea didn't join Real Madrid in the summer of 2015.

Frozen out of the United squad, sat waiting in Spain for the move to go through after endless barrages of speculation. And it didn't happen. Speculation continued after, but never to the same extent.

2. Julian Draxler - Arsenal

FBL-EUR-C1-PSG-MAN UTD
It's not happening / GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/Getty Images

Just about every summer since the German midfielder could kick a ball, he's been the subject of reported interest from the Gunners.

But despite all the 'welcome to Arsenal' compilations, the graphics and the speculation, there's probably more chance of Arsenal signing one of us at 90min to fix their midfield.

1. Wesley Sneijder - Manchester United

Wesley Sneijder
A United cult hero / Julian Finney/Getty Images

Topping the lot is a true legend of Manchester United. So good he never even turned out for the side.

Seriously, what is a transfer window without Sneijder being linked with that move to Old Trafford? Nobody believed it, but everybody was frothing at the mouth to read it. Give him a statue alongside Gaitan, you cowards.

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