9 players Abramovich missed out on – & who Chelsea signed instead

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Barcelona forwards Lionel Messi and Neymar celebrate scoring against Getafe at Camp Nou, Barcelona, March 2016.

Roman Abramovich won the lot as Chelsea owner and spent plenty of money doing so – but he wasn’t been able to secure moves for every player that caught his eye.

Over the course of his near two decades as Chelsea owner, Abramovich spent over £2billion on transfers to help establish the club as one of European football’s biggest powerhouses.

Star players have moved to Stamford Bridge since 2003 but there’s arguably an equally long list of players whose mooted transfers to Chelsea failed to materialise.

We’ve identified nine amazing players Abramovich missed out on as Chelsea owner and who they signed instead.

Lionel Messi

“It was not one step away but Chelsea were really trying to sign Leo Messi in 2014, with Jose Mourinho as the manager,” journalist Fabrizio Romano revealed in a  YouTube interview.

“They were really pushing and pushing on Leo Messi’s side to try to persuade him to try a Champions League experience.

“They [Chelsea] were contacting people close to Leo Messi, discussing with people and lawyers close to Messi to try to convince him for a new opportunity in the Premier League.

“Then everything collapsed simple because of Barcelona. Barcelona was something special for Lionel Messi.

“But Roman Abramovich wanted Leo Messi. He was going seriously to try for Messi as the new star for Chelsea but the deal collapsed.”

Just imagine – all our questions about Messi’s ability to perform on Tuesday night in Stoke would have been answered.

Instead, we found out that Juan Cuadrado couldn’t.


Back in 2010, when Chelsea were league champions, they came incredibly close to signing a certain young Santos prospect. Wonder what ever became of him?

“There were many calls for him,” Neymar’s former agent Wagner Ribeiro said in an interview with AS.

“I received an official offer from Chelsea the day Neymar debuted with the Brazilian team in 2010. They made an offer, we studied it, but in the end we didn’t decide anything. On that occasion, we transferred it to Neymar’s father and the player himself.

Their bid was deemed to have been around £25million, but the move never came to fruition. Yossi Benayoun would have to do instead.

Steven Gerrard

He may be regarded as a Liverpool legend, but Gerrard almost joined Chelsea in the mid-2000s.

After a move in 2004 petered out, Gerrard consoled himself by winning the Champions League. It didn’t stop him seriously considering a move south that summer though.

“I rang Struan [Marshall, his agent],” he wrote in his 2007 autobiography. ‘”Struan, I’m going to find out whether they want to sell me. Put in a transfer request.” Struan phoned Liverpool. “Take this call as a transfer request,” Struan told them. “We will back it up in writing if you need us to. But this is it.”

“Bang. In went the transfer request, a hand-grenade rolled into the Liverpool boardroom.”

The news was met with anger on Merseyside, with fans burning Gerrard’s shirt on the street. The midfielder decided to stay after receiving a club-record wage deal and Chelsea signed Michael Essien instead.

READ: A tribute to Michael Essien, Chelsea’s man for all things and all seasons

Luka Modric

Modric was already one of the best midfielders in Europe when Chelsea came knocking in 2011 and, in his 2020 autobiography, he revealed how close he came to switching from Tottenham to Stamford Bridge.

“With the 2010-11 Premier League season over, I was ready for my summer vacation,” Modric explained.

“But it didn’t last long, as my agents – Vlado Lemic and Davor Curkovic – passed on Chelsea’s wish to sign me. Before transferring to Tottenham, it had seemed I would move to Stamford Bridge. This new contact only added to the impression that Chelsea thought highly of me.

“My feeling was that it was time for a move – I wanted to fight for trophies and win titles, and I felt this wouldn’t happen if I stayed at Tottenham. I wanted to move to a more ambitious club.”

Modric met Abramovich on the Russian’s yacht and a move seemed inevitable but Daniel Levy dug his heels in and Modric stayed at Spurs. He would move to Real Madrid one year later.

Chelsea signed Raul Meireles instead but we can’t help thinking they’d have preferred to sign Modric.

Roberto Carlos

“Roberto Carlos himself said in an interview that he had to decide between Chelsea and Fenerbahce after leaving Real Madrid,” Romano said.

“He was really close to joining Chelsea, he had the meeting with Chelsea’s board in London. But then everything collapsed because of the agreement missing with his lawyers.

“So there were some problems also on the salary and this is why everything collapsed at the final stages with Chelsea, and he accepted to join Fenerbahce as the final club of his European career.”

Considering Chelsea already had Ashley Cole, it would have been a gluttonous move. Mourinho swooped for Juliano Belletti later that summer as an alternative.

Fifteen years later, Roberto Carlos finally made his English football debut…

READ: I saw Roberto Carlos play Sunday league… and it was gloriously sh*t


It is well-known that Ronaldinho nearly signed for Manchester United in 2003 before leaving PSG for Barcelona instead – but it is lesser known that Chelsea were also in for him.

The man himself later revealed: “Chelsea tried to take me there once, and some other teams were interested in signing me, too.

“The league there is so fast and so intense all of the time – it’s great to watch and not boring at all.

“I don’t tend to watch all 90 minutes of Premier League games, but I will see more of the highlights and the goals in the Premier League than I see of other leagues around the world.”

Chelsea came back with another offer in 2007 but were turned down by both Ronaldinho and Barcelona. They signed Florent Malouda instead.

Andrea Pirlo

It’s well known that Pirlo and Carlo Ancelotti hold loads of respect for each other – and the World Cup winner almost followed his former manager to Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2009.

Recalling the proposed move, Pirlo said: “Carlo was like a father and a teacher for me, a kind, friendly man who knew how to make things fun.

“I’d spent the best years of my career with him. If you’re a player who wants to get on and give everything, you won’t find anyone better than him.

“Carlo was my motivation for agreeing to head to London.”

But Chelsea’s strict policy when it comes to signing players over 30 proved to be a crucial stumbling block in the deal and they opted not to sign the legendary midfielder.

Chelsea missed out on signing Pirlo but secured a deal for Nemanja Matic in the same window. He’s hardly Pirlo-esque, but Matic would eventually prove to be one of the shrewdest signings of the Abramovich era.


The world transfer record was on the verge of being broken in 2008 when Chelsea agreed a £79million deal for Kaka with AC Milan.

The Brazil international was initially reluctant to move to England, but was poised to join the Blues after being convinced by newly-appointed boss Luiz Felipe Scolari.

But the deal collapsed when Carlo Ancelotti – who would join Chelsea himself a year later – decided he wanted to keep the 26-year-old for another season.

Chelsea signed Deco instead and Kaka joined Real Madrid for a world record £56million the following year.

READ: A tribute to Kaka, the ‘rare piece of talent’ who belonged to Jesus

Alessandro Nesta

Chelsea made a huge effort to sign Nesta in the summer of 2003, tabling a £35million offer for the centre-back in a deal that would have made him the world’s most expensive defender.

While Nesta was at the peak of his powers, and was arguably the world’s finest defender in 2003, the timing wasn’t quite right – he’d only joined Milan the previous summer and had won the Champions League in his first season there.

Chelsea didn’t sign a centre-back that summer but Mourinho bought Ricardo Carvalho the following year to partner John Terry. They’d famously concede just 15 goals on the way to winning the 2004-05 league title.

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