Top Stars Who Almost Signed For Smaller Clubs!

Peter Crouch has revealed that Nottingham Forest almost bought Gareth Bale for £2 million back in 2009.

He’s not the first top player to almost sign for a respectively smaller club before becoming a worldwide star. We look back at six cases, including a fake one. Can you spot it?

Diego Maradona to Sheffield United

The 59-year-old Diego Maradona lives quietly in Harrogate after a relatively successful career with Sheffield United. He enjoys the odd glass of ale in his local, The Fat Badger, and regularly cheers on the pub’s darts team. Unlikely? Not overly so.

In 1978, then United manager Harry Haslam was impressed with a 17-year-old Maradona on a scouting trip to Argentina. A £200,000 bid was put in place but the deal collapsed due to further financial demands. Haslam signed fellow Argentinean Alex Sabella instead, who was sold two years later to Leeds United as the Blades dropped to the fourth tier of English football. Maradona did become involved with blades years later but, sadly, they were used for chopping up cocaine rather than lower league defences.

Eric Cantona to Sheffield Wednesday

In 1979 Trevor Francis became the first £1 million British player when he signed for Nottingham Forest. This transfer record has been overshadowed by a transfer blooper be made 13 years later as manager of Sheffield Wednesday. Francis invited a Frenchman named Eric Cantona for a trial at Hillsborough, where he shone during an indoor match.

The Owls boss wasn’t entirely convinced and insisted Cantona extend his trial by a week to see if he could perform as well on grass. You can imagine the Frenchman’s response. Cantona had already played almost 200 league games in France and had represented his country. And here was a Jasper Carrot-lookalike, who had signed the likes of Chris Bart-Williams and Andy Sinton, questioning his talent. Cantona hot-footed it up the road to sign for Leeds United and le reste appartient à l’histoire, as Eric might say.

Ruud Gullit to Ipswich Town
Soccer - UEFA Cup - Second Round - First Leg - Tottenham Hotspur v Feyenoord - White Hart Lane

In 1980 the late Sir Bobby Robson had assembled an impressive Ipswich Town side, spearheaded by Dutch duo Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen. Robson was impressed with an 18-year-old compatriot of his two stars, Ruud Gullit, and offered the dreadlocked youngster a trial at Portman Road.

However, he failed to shine and was also turned down by Arsenal, whose then boss Terry Neill felt £30,000 was too much to pay for “this wild child”. Gullit subsequently signed for Feyenoord where he played alongside Johan Cruyff, no doubt ruing the missed chance to line out with the likes of Eric Gates and John Wark in Suffolk.

Andriy Shevchenko to West Ham United
UEFA Champions League 1996/7 - Soccer

Over the years Harry Redknapp has been involved in more dodgy transfers than an alcoholic henna artist. However, he could have struck gold when boss of West Ham.

Himself and Frank Lampard Snr were approached, in Harry’s words, “by two Ukrainian villains” who they were so scared of they agreed to give a trial to a couple of young players they were touting.

One of them impressed, and scored, in a trial match against Barnet Reserves but Lampard felt the £1 million transfer fee was too steep. A number of years later, Lampard’s son would welcome the player to Chelsea who had just signed him for £30 million. Despite being a flop at Stamford Bridge, who knows how a young, hungry Andriy Shevchenko may have transformed West Ham United.

Lionel Messi to Millwall

In 2004 a tiny 16-year-old called Lionel Messi was at the crossroads of a fledgling career. He’d done well in Barcelona’s youth teams but the Catalan giants were stalling on offering a professional contract with doubts over his size and, particularly, a growth hormone deficiency clouding their decision. His father Jorge set about finding alternative employers but most other clubs had similar reservations. Except Millwall.

The London club were on a relative high, reaching the FA Cup Final that season, and player-manager Dennis Wise was keen to add some creative flair to a side soon to lose Tim Cahill to Everton. However, then Lions chairman Theo Paphitis and future Dragon’s Den star, scuppered the deal over financial concerns. Paphitis concedes it’s the one deal he regrets declaring “I’m Out”.

Zinedine Zidane to Blackburn Rovers
French Soccer - Premiere Division - Bordeaux v RC Lens

Kenny Dalglish famously signed Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll for Liverpool for a combined fee of about £55 million. So he obviously has an eye for a bargain. As manager of Blackburn Rovers in 1995, Dalglish was similarly keen on two young French players called Zinedine Zidane and Cristophe Dugarry.

However, Ewood Park chairman Jack Walker was having none of it, uttering the immortal line “why sign Zidane when you have Tim Sherwood?”. Newcastle United also turned down the legendary Frenchman the following year, feeling he wasn’t good enough for the second tier never mind the Premiership. He signed for Juventus three months later.