THEY were the greatest transfers in football history… that never quite happened.
Moves that would, could, should, have been game-changers.
Superstar strikers who were so close to joining very different clubs for pocket money.
A team made up of players who were linked with moves to bizarre clubs
Legendary defenders going on the cheap.
And even midfield maestros who might have transformed a club’s long-term fortunes.
Except, of course, fate intervened, scuppering deals that were on the brink of coming to fruition.
In a new book, “Big Deal” by Richard Sydenham and John Wragg, 100 current and former bosses, including some of the dug-out greats, recall their biggest transfer coups — and also the ones that got away and still hurt.
For supporters who scan the back pages, especially during the summer window, for the latest transfer speculation about their teams, it is an insight into how close deals can get before they fall apart.
But as the managers line up to tell their tales, there is no doubting the frustration a near-miss can cause.
After all, can you imagine just how annoyed Sam Allardyce was in 2010 when a situation that nobody could have foreseen saw him missing out on a little-known Polish striker now wearing Barcelona colours?
Allardyce said: “There was Robert Lewandowski when I was at Blackburn Rovers.
“It was just £6m-£7m as he was still at Lech Poznan in Poland.
“He got to the airport to fly over to meet with us.
“But if you remember the Icelandic ash cloud of 2010 — well, because of that he couldn’t get on the plane!
“That ash cloud crisis lasted for a few days and it meant that Lewandowski never arrived from Poland.
“I could have been a God bringing Lewandowski to Blackburn Rovers. He could have got us in the top half of the league with the goals he went on to get.
“He ended up signing for Borussia Dortmund instead of us.”
Thirty years before that, Wolves fans were denied a remarkable Molineux double-signing — Michel Platini and another Polish striker, Zbigniew Boniek.
Then-boss John Barnwell, the last gaffer to win a major trophy at Wolves — the 1980 League Cup — recalled: “I needed a midfield player of quality because I had Kenny Hibbitt and Willie Carr and both were at the backend of their careers.
“So I had agreed a £100,000 deal with Saint-Etienne to sign Michel Platini in 1981.
“I could not get my board to agree to it and it dragged on for about three weeks. Then Platini sustained a leg injury and was out for a few months so that transfer was put to one side.
“When he came back he was sold to Juventus and soon became the world star we all soon got to know about.
“He was a huge missed opportunity for us. He was magically gifted technically.
“Whether he would have handled the more aggressive game in England, I’m not sure. But it would have been nice to have found out!
“The other big one was Boniek. I sent my chief scout over to Poland to watch him play for Lodz.
“He even stayed at his place and Boniek agreed to come over and sign for us but my chairman reneged on the deal when he had indicated to me that we could sign him.
France legend Platini incredibly almost signed for Wolves back in the dayCredit: Getty – Contributor
“Like with Platini, he ended up going to Juventus instead.”
Closer to home and two of the Premier League’s greatest players — one renowned as “Captain, Leader, Legend” and the other feted as “one of our own” — might also have had very different career trajectories.
John Terry won everything with Chelsea. The centre-back was the defensive rock and cornerstone of the team built by Jose Mourinho who then became one of the fixed points in a decade of turbulent managerial change and constant success.
Yet before all that, the defender was so close to swapping the blue shirt for blue and white stripes.
Steve Bruce, now at West Brom which is his 12th club in management, was only in his second job when he believed he was about to land the young Terry.
Bruce said: “When I was managing Huddersfield, I was so close to signing John Terry.
“I thought it was going to happen, pretty certain actually, for £750,000.
“But then Gianluca Vialli, who was manager at Chelsea, changed his mind.
“John had done well out on loan with Nottingham Forest for five or six games and because of that they decided to keep him.
“The deal had some legs at the start and I really thought I was getting him, but all of a sudden it didn’t happen. It would have been a straight deal, no loan.
“JT was only a kid then. The course of history would have been changed wouldn’t it?
“One of the most successful captains ever, with five Premier League wins, five FA Cups, a Champions League and nearly 80 caps for England. Instead, he would have been at Huddersfield Town.”
Bruce admitted it was “kind of ironic” that he ended up signing Terry for Aston Villa more than 15 years later.
But whether there will be a late reunion between Sean Dyche and England skipper Harry Kane, well, only time will tell.
In 2014, though, Dyche really thought he could tempt Kane to Burnley.
Dyche believed he could bring Kane to Burnley eight years agoCredit: Jamie McPhilimey – The Sun
“I know it sounds mad but at the time he’d had a couple of loan spells that hadn’t worked out, like at Norwich.
“My mates at Millwall told me Harry had handled it very well, worked hard for the team, playing off the striker and linking play very well.
“I still knew people there and they all said he was a brilliant lad and was very professional, so all the boxes were ticked.
“After those reports and having met him myself, I thought, ‘Yep, you’re definitely the type of player for us’.
“In fact, around that time, I met him and his family randomly in Portugal.
“He said he wanted to give Tottenham a proper go but I gave Tim Sherwood a call to see if we could nick him.
“My board made the relevant phone calls but it soon became clear that at that time they were never going to give me the money.
“Tottenham wanted something like six or seven million, which doesn’t sound much now but at the time was a lot, especially for a club like us.
“We were prepared to pay two or three, but our board couldn’t go any higher.”
Other bizarre transfer links from the past include Peter Shilton and Toni Kroos to Manchester United, Alan Hansen and Emmanuel Petit to Tottenham, Rio Ferdinand and Cristiano Ronaldo to Liverpool, and Phillip Cocu to Southampton.
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