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The ‘Almost’ ones

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Believe it or not, signing and selling players in real life is not as straightforward as FIFA makes it out to be. Transfers always have a chance of collapsing if a contract hasn’t been signed, and many players have experienced that pain in the past.

A transfer isn’t complete until you hear an official announcement or see the player wearing his new kit, but even then the deal can be hijacked.  With so much pressure on clubs to get deals done, and players always desperate for the next step in their careers, the transfer window is all-consuming.

Manchester United and Chelsea have both stolen players from under the noses of their bitter rivals, but they’ve also been on the receiving end. Add to that an unrelenting desire from fans to see new faces and now endless media coverage surrounding rumours, leaks and signings, it’s very difficult for these very delicate deals to be struck cleanly.

FootTheBall take a look at some memorable examples of players who were all set to join one club, only to then sign for somebody else.


David De Gea – From Manchester United to Real Madrid

Manchester United star De Gea was set to join Real Madrid on deadline day in August 2015, with Keylor Navas heading in the opposite direction, before the transfer collapsed. Reports in Spain claimed the Red Devils didn’t file the correct paperwork in time, while other rumours suggested Old Trafford’s fax machine broke.

The La Liga giants were frustrated with the collapse, confirming in a statement: “In short, Real Madrid have done everything they could at all times for deal to take place.” De Gea has remained a Man Utd player since, adding just three major trophies – the FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League – to his trophy cabinet.

Navas, meanwhile, won three Champions League titles and La Liga at Real Madrid and has since joined Paris Saint-Germain, winning Ligue 1 in 2019-20.

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Robinho – From Real Madrid to Chelsea

Chelsea started selling replica shirts with Robinho’s name on them before the deal was done, but they were left with egg on their faces.

Manchester City wanted to make a marquee signing after Sheikh Mansour’s takeover in 2008 and managed to sign the attacker for £32.5million.

The move came out of nowhere; it was so shocking that even Robinho didn’t seem to know who he had signed for.

“On the last day of transfers, Chelsea made a good offer for me personally, and good for Real Madrid, and it was accepted,” Robinho said, before someone pointed out his mistake.


Robert Lewandowski – From Lech Poznan to Blackburn

We’ve heard it all before, but it’s a story that admittedly never gets old. Imagine how ridiculously different football would’ve looked if that ash cloud didn’t stop Lewandowski from flying to England in 2010, seriously.

The Poland legend had emerged as a prolific young forward at Lech Poznan and was due to meet with Sam Allardyce and view Blackburn’s facilities, with a transfer waiting to be completed. It’s a great shame we never got to see just the duo of big Sam and Lewandowski ripping up the Premier League.


Willian – From Anzhi to Tottenham

Not many Liverpool and Tottenham fans like this man for what he did to their clubs. However, fans of the latter should be much more agitated than the Reds. Willian Borges might have been one of Chelsea’s most consistent performers over the last few years, but he could very well have been playing in a Spurs shirt were it not for Roman Abramovic’s intervention.

After completing his medical at Tottenham Hotspur, all was set for the Brazilian to join Roberto Soldado and compatriot, Paulinho, at the White Hart Lane. As it turned out, Abramovich personally moved to call Anzhi – Willian’s then club – owner, Suleiman Kerimov, to strike a deal. Willian then became a Chelsea player, leaving Spurs completely outraged.

Of his move to Chelsea, Willian said: “I don’t know how I can explain that moment. But it was the best moment I think in my life when I signed with Chelsea because it was my dream to come here.”

Paulo Dybala – From Juventus to Tottenham

A man who is seemingly linked to top clubs every summer without a genuine reason, Dybala did actually come very close to joining Tottenham in 2019. However, a move that was set to pocket Juventus a £69m fee fell through as Tottenham couldn’t find an affordable workaround regarding his image rights.

Dybala is available on a free transfer this summer, though, which might prove more appealing to Spurs and other previously interested parties.


Nabil Fekir – From Lyon to Liverpool

Fekir was regularly regarded as a top-class footballer throughout the 2010s, but one that couldn’t catch a break with injuries. His performances for Lyon tempted Liverpool to sign him for £53m in 2018, but the deal fell through.

It was pure heartbreak for the creative Frenchman, who revealed later on that it wasn’t a medical issue with his knee that scuppered the deal, but a hiccup with his agent. He signed for Real Betis the following summer.


Roy Keane – From Nottingham Forest to Blackburn

Blackburn missed out on the signing of Keane in the summer of 1993 because Kenny Dalglish had gathered the wrong forms and, with it being a Friday afternoon, had to wait until the following Monday to finalise the deal.

In that time, Sir Alex Ferguson swooped in and signed Keane for United after meeting with him and telling him to hold out for the Red Devils to come in and find an agreement with Nottingham Forest. Just imagine how different United’s fortunes would’ve been if Keane opted for Blackburn instead.


Kaka – From AC Milan to Manchester City

AC Milan legend Kaka almost made a £100m move to Manchester City in January 2009, shortly after the Premier League side had been taken over by Sheikh Mansour. Discussing the proposed transfer in November 2017, the player said: “The negotiations between City and I went very far indeed.

“It came to the point where all of the numbers and the finer details had been discussed. The offer was on the table. The only thing separating City and I was my final word.”

But Kaka couldn’t go through with the transfer and decided to join Real Madrid for a world record £56m six months later.

Shortly after the deal collapsed, City’s executive chairman Garry Cook told, “If you want my personal opinion they bottled it. “He clearly was for sale but we never got to meet with the player, the behaviour of AC Milan got in the way.”

Paul Gascoigne – From Newcastle to Manchester United

In 1988, Gascoigne was regarded as the most exciting prospect in the country and Manchester United were keen on bringing him to Old Trafford.

“We spoke to him the night before I went on holiday,” Ferguson said. “He said, ‘Go and enjoy yourself, Mr Ferguson, I’ll be signing for Manchester United.’ “So I went on my holidays but Martin Edwards [then chairman] rang and said I’ve got some bad news – he signed for Tottenham.”

Spurs chairman Irving Scholar had managed to change Gascoigne’s mind by offering to buy a £120,000 house for his parents and, crucially, a sunbed for his sister.


Mykhaylo Mudryk – From Shakhtar to Arsenal

The transfer saga of the January 2023 window, it appeared as though Arsenal had earmarked the dynamic young Ukrainian as the man to come in and supercharge their surprise Premier League title push.

The Gunners were reportedly in constant dialogue with Shakhtar Donetsk, putting in three bids for the highly-rated 22-year-old. And Mudryk himself seemed to make it very clear on social media that he was desperate to join Mikel Arteta’s squad.

Then Chelsea appeared. Box office Boehly blew Arsenal’s offer out of the water and that was that.


John Obi Mikel – From Lyn to Manchester United

Mikel was presented as a Manchester United player in a press conference back in 2005, only for Chelsea to claim that they already had an agreement with the player’s agent.

United asked the Premier League to launch an investigation into the matter and a year-long legal battle ensued between the English giants.

The Red Devils eventually agreed to terminate their agreement and the Blues got their man, though they had to pay their rivals £12million in compensation.

Alfredo Di Stefano – From Millonarios to Barcelona

Di Stefano won eight league titles and five European Cups at Real Madrid, but things could have been very different.

The forward had agreed to join Barcelona in 1953 and even played in a pre-season friendly, but the Spanish Football Association blocked the transfer due to issues over his registration rights. With the transfer on hold, Madrid took advantage of the uncertainty and agreed a deal with Colombian side Millonarios.

Di Stefano would be allowed to play four years in the country, two seasons with Real and two campaigns with Barcelona on an alternating basis. The humiliated Barca president was forced to resign and the interim board ripped up the contract, freeing Di Stefano to join Real for a small fee.


Arnold Lewis
A hardcore Chelsea fan, who is often found playing football on the weekends. He has an exceptional voice and his rendition of old Hindi classic songs will make your heart melt. He is the man with the funky hair.

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