Even as we enter the first few days of the 2013 Summer Transfer Window, Arsenal fans have already tasted the potential excitement of signing real superstars in time for the 2013/14 campaign.
Moving away from the persistent rumour mill, I thought it might be entertaining to look back on some of the superstar signings which Arsenal almost made, but - for a variety of reasons, didn’t.
In typical fashion, a great number of the players we failed to sign went on to carve out illustrious careers both within the Premier League, and abroad.
A mixture of hard bargaining, poor judgement and a slight lack of faith, has led to many players walking through the prestigious Arsenal doors, only to leave without putting pen to paper. Below, are seven such examples.
1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
In the year 2000, a 16 year old Zlatan Ibrahimovic visited the Arsenal training ground to seal a move to Highbury. After trying on the shirt, Zlatan was quite happy to sign on the dotted line.
At this stage however, Arsene Wenger had yet to see him play with his own eyes. The Frenchman requested that Ibrahimovic takes part in the first team’s next training session, but the request was refused by the cocky Swede, who went on to sign for Ajax instead.
Ibrahimovic continued with his career, securing moves to Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan and then PSG. He has scored three goals against Arsenal, helping to knock them out of the Champions league in the process.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
Believe it or not, Arsenal were once extremely close to securing the signature of Cristiano Ronaldo. Before the Portuguese world-beater signed for Manchester United, he visited the Arsenal camp, and held discussions with Arsene Wenger.
He was taken on a tour through the training ground, and introduced to the Club’s highly advanced facilities. At the end of his visit, Ronaldo was even presented with his very own Arsenal shirt, with his name printed on the back.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the deal fell through because a financial agreement could not be struck with Sporting Lisbon, as Wenger refused to increase his bid. As a result, Manchester United went on to sign Ronaldo, for just £12.5 Million.
3. Vincent Kompany
Long before Kompany’s move to Manchester City, he was very much on the radar of the Arsenal scouting system.
In 2006, Kompany was looking to move away from his boyhood club, Anderlecht. Arsenal made contact with both the club and the player’s agent, in order to enquire about his availability.
According to Vincent Kompany’s agent, Arsene Wenger was extremely keen on buying the centre back, as a like-for-like replacement for Sol Campbell. Instead, a £5.1 Million deal was struck with Hamburg, which eventually resulted in the Belgian moving to Manchester City. Bizarrely, Arsenal’s interest vanished without a trace following their initial enquiry.
4. Yaya Toure
Much like Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic, Yaya Toure was also closely linked with Arsenal from an extremely early age. The Ivorian midfielder took part in trials at Arsenal as a youth player, only to be denied a work permit.
Arsene Wenger claimed that his age, paired with his relative anonymity as an International at the time, led to the patience of Toure running out. He eventually left for Metalurh Donetsk.
Over the years, Yaya Toure worked his way up through the ranks, moving from Olympiacos to Monaco, Barcelona and then Manchester City.
5. Petr Cech
Before moving to Rennes in 2004, Petr Cech claims that he was closely watched by Arsenal’s scouting network as he plied his trade at Sparta Prague,
The Gunners tried to make their move, but yet again, complications regarding a work permit stopped the deal in its tracks. Cech also claims that Arsenal’s Chief Scout felt that the Czechoslovakian wasn’t good enough for the English Premier League.
Consequently, Cech moved to Rennes, before Arsenal’s bitter London rivals Chelsea snapped him up. Of course, since his move to London, he has proven to be one of the best Goalkeeper’s in England.
6. Phil Jones
After rising through the youth ranks at Blackburn, Phil Jones made quite the name for himself during the 2010/11 campaign, capturing the eyes of numerous top-flight clubs.
Despite the defender’s young age, Arsenal were prepared to break the bank to land him. Express Journalist Matt Law reported that Arsenal had a bid accepted, and even offered wages which were higher than those offered by Manchester United, which was the eventual destination of the Englishman.
Despite Arsene Wenger’s best efforts, Phil Jones slipped away to Manchester, for what seems to have been a move for less money. Since his transfer, Jones has gone on to appear 46 times for United, and has made his senior England international debut.
7. Ruud Van Nistelrooy
The striker who would go on to become one of the most hated faces in North London, was once extremely close to become a large part of it.
Van Nistelrooy attracted attention from both Arsenal and Manchester United after netting 62 goals in 67 appearances for PSV Eindhoven. The Dutchman looked an amazing talent, but one player in particular stopped Arsene from making his move. That player, was none other than Francis Jeffers.
Arsene Wenger claims to have chosen Jeffers over Van Nistelrooy, after deciding that the club should maintain an “English basis”. The move proved to be a mistake, as Jeffers went on to score just four times for The Gunners in 22 appearances, whilst Van Nistelrooy bagged 95 goals for United in 150 appearances.
Naturally, many Arsenal fans will review the list of names above, and feel a sense of resentment towards Arsene Wenger, along with the Arsenal scouting network. Fans will feel that questions should be asked regarding the sheer consistency of the failed superstar signings.
However, at the same time, we have to appreciate the beauty of hindsight. It’s incredibly easy for us to look back and wonder why on earth these players weren’t signed, but it would have been far more difficult for Wenger and his army of scouts to accurately predict the scale of quality these players would one day possess.
It must be said that, despite the seven misjudgments exposed above, Arsene Wenger was spot on when it came to players such as Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, and so forth. In fact, a quick run through Arsene Wenger’s complete list of signings will demonstrate the Frenchman’s ability to pull off both incredibly genius - and astonishingly poor signings, throughout his 17 year reign.
Unfortunately for us, the seven listed superstars who slipped through our grasp are now long gone. All we can now do, is hope that such mistakes are not repeated in the current, or future transfer windows. Over to you, Arsene.