Football teams have eyes everywhere (and not just in the case of Marcelo Bielsa). Scouts are always looking for the next hot young thing, and sometimes they find them. This is great for the young prospect who is looking to move onto bigger and better things. The problem is that sometimes the prospect is almost picked up by someone not so big and not necessarily better. Without a high-powered agent looking after them, the young player may find themselves where they want to be. Today, we’re taking a look at some world-class players who came very close to playing for clubs that really wouldn’t have looked good on them.
Zinadine Zidane at Blackburn Rovers
“Why do you want Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?”
These were the words of Jack Warner, owner of Blackburn Rovers. Zidane had started his career at Cannes but was transferred to Bordeaux in 1992. This is where he caught the eye of then-manager Kenny Dalglish in 1995. Warner had good reason for preferring Sherwood to the relatively unknown Zidane. With Sherwood as captain, Blackburn made 2nd place in the 1993/4 Premiership season and won it the next year. Warner must have felt that nothing in his team was broken, so there was no need to fix it.
Warner, at least, could console himself that he was not the only one. Allegedly, Newcastle United could have picked up Zidane for £1.5 million at the start of the 1996 season. They turned him down, saying that they didn’t believe he was good enough for first division football. Whoever was responsible for that decision is probably counting their lucky stars that they have remained anonymous.
Didier Drogba at Portsmouth
2003 was a good year for Portsmouth. They won promotion to the Premiership for the first time, and with the dependable Harry Redknapp in charge things were looking good. But in order to stay in the top ranks of English football, they were going to need a striker. Redknapp had his eye on a young man who was currently playing for French team Guingamp at the time – Didier Drogba.
Drogba was still coming into his own at the time. The year before, he’d scored three goals in eleven appearances, but the 2002 season was when he came into his own. The 17 goals he scored that season and helped Guingamp to a record-breaking 7th place in their league. Redknapp wanted to buy him for £3.5 million. Sadly, that was a bit steep and Portsmouth went with Teddy Sheringham on a free transfer instead. The next year, Chelsea bought Drogba for £24 million.
Roberto Carlos at Aston Villa
No one was quite sure what to do with a young Roberto Carlos when he began his football career at the age of 17; they just knew he was good. At the age of 19, he was called up for the Brazil national squad despite not playing for top-tier clubs. He was a forward when he started at União São João, a lower tier club. When he moved to Atlético Mineiro, he was put into defence. He famously butted heads with Roy Hodgson at Inter Milan because Carlos wanted to stay at the back, while Hodgson wanted him to play as a winger and he also played at defensive midfield for a time.
Perhaps it is this confusion that made Aston Villa want to pass on one of the greatest Left Backs ever to play the game. Compared to some, Carlos was something of a slow starter. It wasn’t until 1996 and his move to Real Madrid that things started to click for Carlos. After that, “El Hombre Bala” (“The Bullet Man”) was absolutely fine, blasting in free kicks from impossible angles.
Luka Modric at Newcastle United
Even now, one of the world’s best players is not much to look at. He’s not particularly tall, he’s kind of skinny and there’s that nasty-looking hairband that doesn’t appear to be working. No wonder Tony Jimenez, Newcastle United’s Vice-President of player recruitment, too one look at Luka Modric and said: “too lightweight”. They turned down the offer to sign him from Dinamo Zagreb in 2008, with Tottenham Hotspur signing him instead.
Even then, it was not easy for Modric to shake the lightweight title. A knee injury early on in his first season at Spurs had many others questioning his fitness, including Arsene Wenger. But after a change in managers at White Hart Lane, things settled down as Harry Redknapp put him in central midfield. Now, if anyone wants to call Modric a lightweight, all he has to do is point at his massive trophy cabinet.
Mo Salah at Newcastle United
Newcastle again. Maybe Newcastle wouldn’t be considered an ‘uncool team’ these days if they had gone through with a few of these signings. This time its Mohamed Salah, who made an immediate impression on the Toon scouts while playing in the Under 20s World Cup. By the sounds of it, Salah also wanted to play in the UK. “It’s a dream for any player to play in one of the strongest league competitions in the world,” he said in 2011.
Well, the dream quickly turned sour for Newcastle, who bottled it when presented with a £500,000 loan fee. Salah went to Basle for two years instead. Then he almost played for a cool Premiership team, Chelsea who, for reasons no one but Jose Mourinho will understand, loaned him out to Italian clubs for most of his tenure at the Blues.