By Chris Wright
With the news today that, despite it looking like a done deal for a good few weeks, Arsene Wenger is reportedly ready to pull the plug on Arsenal’s £17 million move for Yann M’Vila in lieu of waiting for Abou Diaby to fulfil his debatable potential, we thought we’d have a little look at some of the other big names that the frugal Frenchman has passed on at the eleventh hour during his tenure in North London – it’s not a bad little squad as things happen…
1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Aged 19 at the time, Zlatan was on the very cusp of joining Arsenal from Malmo for £3 million in 2000, that was until Wenger had the temerity to ask him to play in one – singular – trial match for the club before signing professional papers. The response (in third-person of course)? “Zlatan doesn’t do auditions.”
2. Juan Mata: During the summer of 2011, when every last double helix of Cesc Fabregas’ DNA was pulling him Barcelona-ward, it emerged that Arsenal were in a decent old position to bring in Juan Mata to help ease the pain of separation. Arsenal dithered for what seemed like months in their attempts to coax brassic Valencia into selling on the cheap and, sure enough, Chelsea were more than happy to stride in with a big fat cheque for £24 million.
3. Petr Cech: After flirting for a while beforehand, it looked like Cech was all but set to join Arsenal upon leaving Sparta Prague in 2002. Both fees and personal terms were agreed but work permit issues saw the Gunners weigh up the pros and cons of the wrangling entailed and ultimately deemed Cech to not be worth the hassle. Instead, he joined French side Rennes before eventually ending up ‘you know where’ and swiftly becoming one of the best ‘keepers in world football.
4. Joey Barton: We’ll perhaps never know how close he actually came to joining Arsenal last summer but, having been told by Newcastle that he could leave for free (despite having a year left on his current deal) after bitching about his stalled contract renewal talks on Twitter, Barton was strongly linked with an unlikely move to the Emirates.
Barton claimed he’d been contacted by the club’s coaching staff, while chairman Peter Hill-Wood was swift to deny all accusations as the semi-saga bubbled away – right up until the point where Barton reverted to type and got Gervinho sent off for ruffling his quiff on the opening day of the season. His agent’s number was wiped from the Arsenal speed dial shortly after.
5. Didier Drogba: Wenger once revealed that he had the option of procuring Drogba for as little as £100,000 (less than half his weekly wage these days) back in the early 2000s when the Drog was starting out in France with Le Mans: “We watched him carefully but we felt he might not be completely ready,” Wenger said, “It was a mistake to miss him but when you are in football, everyone can understand. Anyway, we had Thierry Henry.”
6. Samuel Eto’o: Having left Real Mallorca as their all-time top league goalscorer having only been there for three and a bit seasons, Eto’o was offered to Arsenal in 2004 by Wenger’s own admission, though the ego-monster striker’s volatile reputation had the studious Frenchman mulling over whether or not acquiring a player who had recently (allegedly) physically assaulted his own agent was the smartest idea. Arsenal eventually dropped out of the race leaving the Cameroonian free to (allegedly) attack all the agents he wanted at Barcelona.
7: Claude Makelele: The year was 1996 and Wenger had just added a lanky midfield wisp by the name of Patrick Vieira to Arsenal’s…err…arsenal. A matter of weeks later a call came through from Nantes asking if Wenger would be interested in signing the promising Makelele.
Talks were held and a deal for Makelele was ‘close’ (according to an interview with Wenger from 2006) though Wenger withdrew the offer before a biro could be passed around as he thought, quite rightly as it turns out, that Vieira was more than up to the task.
8. Xabi Alonso: As was his penchant for the surreal transfer dalliance, Rafa Benitez suddenly decided in the summer of 2008 that he wanted shot of Xabi Alonso – the man universally acclaimed for running the Liverpool midfielder – in order to free up room for Gareth Barry – a man with a very good punctuality record and excellent handwriting – to help Liverpool kick on in Europe. Yes, that actually happened.
Upon learning of Benitez’s plans to replace him, Alonso opened talks with Arsenal and rumour has it that he was quite literally on his way to London to tie up the deal when Liverpool’s £15 million bid for Barry fell through like a crap meringue. Alonso stayed at Anfield for another year before toddling off to Real Madrid.
9. Yaya Toure: With little big brother Kolo on the books already, Arsenal looked as if they were holding all the aces as they attempted to snag big little brother Yaya. He even played in an Arsenal youth side for one game until those old work permit issues reared their ugly head and Toure joined Olympaikos instead before steadily becoming one of the most frightening midfield monoliths of the modern era at both Barcelona and Man City.
10. Cristiano Ronaldo: The story goes that, as a young’n, Ronaldo was shown around London Colney and was duly presented with an Arsenal shirt with his name on the back by Wenger himself. The Gunners even got as far as agreeing a £4 million fee with Sporting Lisbon.
Then, fatefully, Lisbon played Manchester United in 2003 to open their new stadium. Ronaldo had a storming game as Sporting won 3-1. Fergie had his interest piqued, stumped up £11-odd million, had Carlos Queiroz whisper sweet Portuguese nothings in Ronaldo’s ear and the rest, as they say, was thoroughly lucrative.
Any more of Wenger’s near misses you’d like to flag up Pies fans?