Let's Take A Look At Some Of The Players Wenger Nearly Signed...
|Would this team have won the Premier League for Arsenal?|
With the news that Angel Di Maria's name can be added to the long list of stellar stars Arsene Wenger has "very nearly signed" over the years, we thought we'd have a look at some of the other big names the frugal Frenchman has passed on. As you might've guessed, it's not a bad squad.
Petr Cech: Having flirted for a while beforehand, goalkeeper Cech seemed certain to join Arsenal from Sparta Prague in 2002, with both the fee and the personal terms reported to be squared away. However, Wenger told a news conference that "work permit issues" reared their ugly head and, after weighing up the pros and cons of pursuing the deal, he deemed Cech to be unworthy of the hassle. The Czech joined Rennes before eventually ending up at Chelsea and promptly winning all there is to win on his way to becoming a bona fide club legend.
Raphael Varane: After Varane joined Real Madrid in the summer of 2011, it was left to Wenger to rue what might have been. He had submitted a bid for one of the best young centre-backs in world football 18 months earlier. "He was at Lens, and we might well have caught him there," Wenger lamented via his personal blog on Eurosport. "Yet at the same time, when you are in charge of a club like Arsenal, you have to wonder why this player is not playing for us."
Vincent Kompany: According to Kompany's agent in the Daily Express, Wenger was keen to sign his client as a like-for-like replacement for the waning Sol Campbell in 2006. Arsenal's scouts had tracked Kompany for a while, and as the promising young Belgian defender prepared to leave boyhood club Anderlecht and step out into the wider world, the stage looked set. However, despite confirmed interest from Barcelona, Real Madrid and Wenger, Kompany was somehow talked into joining Hamburg before becoming one of the best around at Man City.
Gerard Pique: As with another stellar La Masia graduate soon to crop up in this list, Wenger openly admitted in the Telegraph that he once attempted to prise a 15-year-old Pique from Barcelona's academy. Pique was even invited on a tour of Arsenal's training facilities in 2002, but in the end opted to join Manchester United before eventually returning to the Nou Camp.
Claude Makelele: The year was 1996 and Wenger had just added a lanky wisp by the name of Patrick Vieira to his collective. A matter of weeks later, a call came through from Nantes asking whether Wenger would be interested in signing their promising young midfield wrecking ball by the name of Makelele. Talks were held, and a deal for Makelele was "close" (according to an interview with Wenger from 2006 in the Independent), though he eventually decided that Vieira was more than up to the task of running the midfield on his own. As it happened, Makelele would go on to define the role in front of the back four during a rather successful career of his own at Real Madrid and Chelsea.
Paul Pogba: Wenger was beaten to the punch by Juventus when the French midfielder was desperately seeking to flee the Manchester United reserves in the summer of 2012. Speaking on French television, Wenger said: "Things happened very quickly. We were interested in him. We tried to get him to come here, but he very quickly signed for Juventus." Now worth over 60 million pounds and one of the best in the game in his position, both Wenger and United can count this as a major loss.
Ronaldinho: Arsenal were working on a deal to sign the emergent Ronaldinho from Gremio in 2001, but with the transfer agreed and very nearly sealed, "work permit problems" (again) saw the move dashed. "We could have got Ronaldinho before he went to PSG," Wenger told Sky Sports. "I met his brother, who is his agent, a long, long time before he went to PSG -- when he was 20 -- but we just could not get him to England because of the rules here." Ronaldinho didn't stay long at PSG, but his three World Player of the Year awards suggest he did rather well at Barcelona.
Yaya Toure: With Kolo Toure already on their books, Arsenal decided to run the rule over his younger brother, Yaya. Despite looking like they held all the aces, sadly it wasn't to be. Yaya made a single appearance for Arsenal's youth side before work permit problems (yes, again) saw the Ivory Coast midfielder move on. "I know him very well, since he was 15 years old, so I know him for a long time. He is a top-class talent," Wenger told the Arsenal website. "He was here as a young boy but we cannot get players in here if they are not internationals. He had no work permit and was too young. We tried to wait until when he was in Belgium, we tried to get him a European passport. He was not patient enough and left for Metalurh Donetsk." After spells at Olympiakos, Monaco and Barcelona, Toure has now reached his peak at Man City.
Lionel Messi: Some of the details of this one are shrouded in spurious tittle-tattle, but it is known that a 15-year-old Messi accompanied fellow Barca rookies Pique and Cesc Fabregas on a tour of Arsenal's training ground in 2002. Alas, according to Wenger, the deal for Messi fell through after the two parties quibbled about accommodation being provided for the youngster's family. "I think in the end [Messi] was not so keen to move," Wenger told a news conference. "It was not completely down to a flat in the end, it was down to the fact that Messi was comfortable at Barcelona."
Cristiano Ronaldo: The story goes that Ronaldo was shown around London Colney and was duly presented with an Arsenal shirt with his name on the back by Wenger himself. He even got as far as agreeing a 4 million-pound 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 12.25 million pounds, had his assistant and fellow Portuguese Carlos Queiroz whisper sweet nothings in Ronaldo's ear and the rest, as they say, was thoroughly lucrative. "My biggest regret? I was so close to signing Cristiano Ronaldo, and not only did I not get him, he signed for Manchester United. So that of course still hurts today," Wenger told Arsenal sponsor Huawei many years later.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: There are conflicting versions of the story but Zlatan certainly arrived at Arsenal in 2000 to negotiate a transfer from his boyhood club, Malmo. Wenger had the temerity to ask him to play in one trial match for the club before signing professional papers. "He was 16, I asked him to have some training with the first team. He did not want to do it and I did not sign him," said the Frenchman.
Ibrahimovic's supposed response (in third person of course) was brilliant. "Zlatan doesn't do auditions," he said and he later confirmed to the Guardian: "I didn't like being asked to prove myself. I know I'm good enough. I don't need to show it to you. Either you know who I am or you don't." Ajax knew who he was, and a career of trophy after trophy at the likes of Inter, Barcelona and PSG suggests that perhaps Wenger should have made his intentions clearer.