Diego Armando Maradona playing in an international friendly game against Germany. Argentina, January 1981.

14 ridiculous transfers that nearly happened: Maradona to Sheff Utd, Zlatan to QPR…

Former Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid stars are among the players who came close to completing bizarre moves to the likes of Leeds United, Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers.

The likes of Pep Guardiola, Diego Maradona and Johan Cruyff have all been involved in some of the best ‘nearly-transfers’ you could imagine.

Every club has a story like these, and it was impossible to include them all, but Blackburn Rovers really do seem to have more than most.

Pep Guardiola

Ahead of Manchester City’s FA Cup clash with Wigan Athletic in February 2018, Guardiola admitted that he almost joined the Latics upon their promotion to the Premier League in 2005, but he was deemed not good enough to compete for a place in midfield with Jimmy Bullard and Graham Kavanagh.

“I was not good enough, that is the truth,” Guardiola said. “I was old, really old!

“I knocked on the door, I tried to come here to play in English football, but I was not able.

“The same happened here at Manchester City, when I came here with Stuart Pearce. They were so clever! I was not good enough.”

READ: Hussein Yasser: Pep said he’d rather retire than sign for long-ball Man City


Blackburn Rovers have a pretty good history when it comes to ridiculous transfer rumours, but let’s start with Ronaldinho.

Venky’s made the former World Player of the Year an offer of £20million over three years to move to Lancashire from AC Milan.

“He is keen to play in the EPL and I think that goes in our favour,” Venky’s chair Anuradha Desai told BBC Radio Lancashire.

Desai also confirmed Blackburn were hopeful of signing David Beckham and Damien Duff (again). We don’t need to tell you whether any of these players moved to Ewood Park.

Virgil van Dijk

While managing Cardiff City, Neil Warnock revealed he was convinced not to sign Van Dijk at Crystal Palace after his chief scout insisted the defender was too slow.

“I think he’s still in a job as well,” Warnock said of the scout.

Diego Maradona

Maradona had a remarkable flirtation with Yorkshire on two occasions throughout his career.

After a scouting trip to Argentina in 1978, Sheffield United manager Harry Haslam urged the Second Division club to sign a 17-year-old Maradona in a £200,000 deal – only for the Blades to opt for Alex Sabella in a £160,000 transfer and suffer relegation to the third tier.

Nine years later, Leeds United managing director Bill Fotherby held talks with an agent of Maradona to see whether the Argentina star could be persuaded to join the Whites, who were also in the Second Division at the time.

It might have been a bit of a PR move with Fotherby never seriously intending to sign Maradona, but it clearly worked a treat.


Bolton’s squad in 2004 contained the likes of Jay-Jay Okocha, Fernando Hierro and Ivan Campo, and at one stage it appeared Rivaldo was about to join Sam Allardyce’s ranks.

“With a transfer of this size you can never be 100% sure, but Sam’s made his offer and things are going very well,” Peter Harrison, a representative of the Brazilian, told the Bolton Evening News. “There’s nothing untoward about the delay. Rivaldo just wanted time to think about it.

“I know for sure that Sam made a good impression on him and so did Phil Gartside. Everything’s looking good.”

Rivaldo, who was a free agent after leaving Cruzeiro, even said: “I want the challenge of trying to get Bolton into Europe for the first time in their history. It is an exciting time.”

Alas, just a couple of weeks later, Allardyce told the club’s official website: “I can categorically confirm that Rivaldo will not be joining us.”

Robert Lewandowski

We really enjoyed the volcanic ash cloud over Iceland in 2010 which disrupted a host of flights around Europe. Yer da went mental, and it was really quite funny.

Blackburn fans, meanwhile, continue to rue the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, as it scuppered their chance of signing a 21-year-old Robert Lewandowski from Lech Poznan in a £4million.

Zinedine Zidane

“Why do you want to sign Zidane when we’ve got Tim Sherwood?”

There are many ways to answer that question, but for former Blackburn chairman Jack Walker there were none.

Blackburn had won the Premier League in 1994-95, and Ray Harford and his assistant coach Derek Fazackerley wanted the club to sign a 23-year-old Zidane, who was playing for Bordeaux at the time.

READ: The night Zidane, Dugarry and co. introduced themselves to Europe

Roberto Carlos

We never got to see Carlos, a man whose body composition was made up of 80% thigh, charging up to a dead ball and leathering a free-kick into a wall for an English club, but it so nearly could have been in the West Midlands.

“I actually came close to joining Aston Villa early in my career,” Carlos told The Sun.

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

Andres Iniesta

Is there another player you could picture less in the Scottish Premiership than Iniesta? Is there another player you think of less when you hear the words ‘Barry Ferguson’s replacement’?

Alex McLeish did indeed try to sign Iniesta for Rangers as a replacement for Ferguson back in 2004.

“He was only 18 at the time,” McLeish told the Daily Record. “We asked if we could bring him to Scotland and were told that they would try and make some hay at Barcelona and get him over to us.

“They said Iniesta needed to get some action.”

It worked out alright for Iniesta in the end, but just imagine the midfielder playing behind Nacho Novo and Dado Prso. Glorious.

Michael Essien

In 2009, former Burnley chairman Brendan Flood discovered the Clarets could have signed Essien, but they were unwilling to pay the midfielder £60-a-week.

“I discovered Michael Essien had been on trial here for a few days,” Flood said. “One of the best players in the World Cup – and we hadn’t signed him.

“The club policy meant we wouldn’t pay an apprentice more than 60 quid a week. It smacked me in the face that the problem was a lack of communication within the club that stopped our youth guys making an exception to the rule.”

READ: Michael Essien, Chelsea’s selfless hero, and the folly of utility men

Andriy Shevchenko

Shevchenko himself denies having ever had a trial at West Ham, but according to Harry Redknapp, the east Londoners rejected the chance to sign the striker.

“I was offered [Shevchenko] when he was only 19. We had him over for training for three or four days and I remember watching him play for us in a game against Barnet reserves at Chadwell Heath.”

But it is at this point we’re treated with one of the most ‘Arry Redknapp quotes of all time.

“He didn’t pull up any trees but looked decent enough. But this was just after I had had all those problems with the Romanian lads and I thought the last thing I needed was a Ukrainian.

“Besides, they were asking around £1million for him and I didn’t have the money at the time.”

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Even Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the wisened uncle of European football, was once young. But a young Zlatan was still Zlatan – in name and temperament.

Somehow, crisis club QPR convinced him to go for a trial at Loftus Road in 1998. It didn’t go very well.

When one of the coaches put in a meaty tackle on Ibrahimovic, the big Swede told the coach to “fuck off”. And that was the end of that. Oh, what could have been…

READ: When a teenage Zlatan failed a trial at QPR… for telling coach to ‘f*ck off’

Ivan Rakitic

We’re not saying Sunderland have made some bad decisions in the transfer market over recent years, but they were still paying Jack Rodwell’s wages until 2018, and they also turned down the chance to sign Rakitic for £380,000 in 2011.

Despite the recommendation of European director of scouting Ian Atkins, the Black Cats decided not to pay the compensation to sign a 22-year-old Rakitic, who had only six months left on his contract, from Schalke.

D’ya know what? We are saying Sunderland have made some bad decisions in the transfer market over recent years.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

It felt like we were waiting to see Aubameyang in the Premier League for years. It took a club-record £56million offer from Arsenal to eventually make it happen, but West Brom could have achieved it for significantly less back in 2011.

Sadly for Albion fans, the club decided he just wasn’t worth it at €2million.

“I have to stress, every scout in the land will have a similar story,” said the man who recommended him to the Baggies. Maybe so, but this is a doozy.

READ: Ex-WBA scout says club passed on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for €2m

Johan Cruyff

Cruyff did have a dalliance with Leicester City before joining Levante later in his career, but that’s nothing on the story that Scottish second-tier side Dumbarton tried to sign the Dutch icon, who was 33 at the time.

Then-Dumbarton manager Sean Fallon later admitted the club’s attempt was a glorified PR exercise. “I knew it was always unlikely we would get Cruyff, but the way I saw it we couldn’t lose,” he said. “At worst, it got Dumbarton on the back pages for a few days and boosted the club’s image and profile, which was very low at that time. At best, if we were really lucky, we might get a magnificent player.”

But the offer did catch Cruyff’s eye. “Was I tempted? Yes, of course,” he said in his later years. “Playing in England, or Britain, was something I had always wanted to do.

“But I thought I was too old at that stage to go to Scotland, where you know the weather will be difficult. When you’re old your muscles get stiff, and moving to a cold country is asking for problems.”

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