The XI That Got Away
By Robert Exley
In time for the opening of the transfer window...
GK. Peter Shilton - In 1965 Peter Shilton as a 15 year old turned out for England Schoolboys against Scotland. Arsenal tried to lure young Shilts, but he could not be swayed from his home town club of Leicester City.
RB. Lillian Thuram - French World Cup, Euro 2000 winner and holder of a record 142 French caps had been often linked with a move to Arsenal, not least because like Henry and Petit he played under Wenger at Monaco. It was reported that Wenger was in discussions to bring him to Highbury in 2000 and eight years later with a Player-Coach role, neither of which materialised.
LB: Bixente Lizarazu/Roberto Carlos - In 1996 David Dein had lined up a deal with the future French World Cup winning Left Back. Bruce Rioch at the last minute pulled out after expressing his interest in Roberto Carlos who was at Inter Milan at the time. The Roberto Carlos deal never materialised either so Arsenal were left empty handed. Luckily the career of the incumbent left back Nigel Winterburn enjoyed an Indian summer under the incoming Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger.
When Roberto Carlos’s contract was coming to its end with Real Madrid in 2004 he made overtures via the press that he was interested in coming to the premiership and with Arsenal in particular due to the presence of Gilberto and Edu. However the left back of the time Ashley Cole was an up and coming talent on the world stage, plus Arsenal in the process of building the Grove would never have paid out so much in wages for an aging defender.
CB: Edmilson - ‘Edmilson is virtually already an Arsenal player, All he needs to do is sign on the dotted line’ was the message from his club Sao Paulo in the summer of 2000. Famously however he, along with fellow Brazillian Edu could not get past immigration officials at Heathrow due to ‘passport problems’. Edu eventually joined Arsenal in January 2001, however the Edmilson move fell through.
The fall out from this move continued until the following summer when the highly rated and popular fellow Brazilian Silvinho made a sharp exit from Highbury amid claims that his Portugese passport, obtained through his grand parentage, was not bona fide. Arsenal maintained Silvinho’s passport had been legit, however he had registered at his new club Celta Vigo as a Non-EU player and Celta’s president admitted he had to sell one of his other non-EU players to make way for Silvinho.
Edmilson later came back to haunt Arsenal on the pitch, scoring a late Champions League equaliser at Highbury in 2001 and lining up for Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League Final against Arsenal.
CB: Frank De Boer and MF: Ronald De Boer - In January 1997 Arsene Wenger failed in an attempt to bring both Frank and Ronald De Boer to Highbury. Ronald explained that "When I was with Ajax I had a meeting with Arsene Wenger in Amsterdam and he struck me as a man with a vision…I wanted to sign for him’. Both Frank and Ronald were contracted to Ajax until 2000, but had agreed orally that if a lucrative offer for one brother came by, he would be released provided the other stayed.
However Ajax apparently backed down on that agreement after floating the club on the stock market and pledging to shareholders that it would hold both of the de Boers and build around them a team to recapture the UEFA Champions League. The De Boers took legal action against Ajax to have the contract voided and both moved on to Barcelona in 1998.
MF: Johan Cruyff - During the 2010 World Cup coverage John Motson revealed how on meeting the legendary Dutchman during the 1974 World Cup he asked if he could fix it for him to join Arsenal. However Motson wasn’t hosting a football version of Jim’ll Fix It and Bertie Mee obviously thought Cruyff couldn’t add anything that wasn’t already brought to the table by Wilf Rostron. MF: Johan Cruyff - During the 2010 World Cup coverage John Motson revealed how on meeting the legendary Dutchman during the 1974 World Cup he asked if he could fix it for him to join Arsenal. However Motson wasn’t hosting a football version of Jim’ll Fix It and Bertie Mee obviously thought Cruyff couldn’t add anything that wasn’t already brought to the table by Wilf Rostron. (Ed’s note – just watched the video and it was Rudi Krol who wanted to come to Highbury, but why let the facts get in the way of a good story!)
MF: Glenn Hoddle - In an interview with Four Four Two magazine the former Tottenham hero, England manager, Physic healing enthusiast and self-appointed expert on the afterlife confirmed he received overtures from then Arsenal manager Terry Neill. Neill, who had been buoyed by bringing Pat Jennings, Willie Young and Steve Walford from the Lane thought he could steal the jewel from their self appointed crown of footballing excellence. However like Jesus and his meeting with the devil during his 40 day fast in the desert as chronicled in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke (didn’t they used to be in Bros?) Hoddle didn’t succumb to temptation. Born and raised in Middlesex from a Spurs supporting family Hoddle revealed ‘I don’t think I could’ve ever worn an Arsenal shirt. God bless my brother I don’t think he’d have ever spoken to me again.’
MF: Roy Keane - After Forest were relegated from the inaugural Premiership in 1992/93 Arsenal were in the running alongside Blackburn and Manchester United for Keano’s signature. However George Graham refused to break Arsenal’s pay structure to bring Roy Keane to Highbury. Instead Eddie McGoldrick came from Crystal Palace to line up alongside Jensen, Morrow and Hillier (had you ever heard of a midfield sillier?)
FW: Diego Maradona - He revealed how in 1979, at the age of 19 that Arsenal ‘tried to buy me and another player from Argentinos Juniors - around the time Ricky Villa and Ossie Ardiles signed for Tottenham. But it didn't happen. I sometimes wonder what might have happened’. Whatever the reason for him not coming to Highbury, we were robbed of the chance of seeing both Brady and Maradona in the same side. He has also revealed admiration for the current day Arsenal stating that 'They play beautiful football. They break quickly - they defend and attack as one. I am a fan of Arsenal when I am in England’.
It was also recently revealed that Diego harbours ambitions of one day becoming the Arsenal manager, despite his world cup failure with one of the most talented Argentine squads in recent years. Should this dream become a reality for Diego it would be the football equivalent of spurning the advances of a young Marilyn Monroe only to take up the offer of spending the night with her corpse.
FW: Cristiano Ronaldo - In the summer of 2003 Ronaldo signed for United for £12.25 million. However as the now near legendary stories goes, Arsenal had the opportunity to sign him first. Ronaldo met Wenger on three occasions at Arsenal’s London Colney training ground, was provided with a tour of the facilities and was even given his own shirt with his name on the back. Wenger even left a lasting impression on Ronaldo’s mother, as Cristiano explains ‘After I signed for Manchester United, she and I were sitting watching a Premier League game on television and she yelled out 'I know that guy, I liked him'. Wenger later retorted that ‘I'm disappointed that I seduced only Ronaldo's mum’.
What did scupper the deal was the issue of the fee. With their hands tied by the building of Ashburton Grove, Arsenal could only stretch to £4 million to secure his signiture from Sporting Lisbon. United’s fee was over three times that amount. Wenger however notes that he recognised Ronaldo much earlier than that stating ‘We watched him play in Toulon (the international under 21 tournament) and we had bought Luis Boa Morte from the same tournament’, which goes to show that Wenger doesn’t always know.
27th December 2010
User Comment and Reaction
User comments on this article are now closed. If you want to continue the debate, why not do so on the Gooner Forum.
Jamie 11:42am 27th Dec 2010
Wilf Rostron? In 1974? The curly-haired guy didn't make his first-team debut until 1975. - Post No. 669
StuartL 13:16pm 27th Dec 2010
A little suprised that George Weah didn't make the list especially as he was world player of the year or something, mind you that would have killed the career of Christopher Wreh wouldn't it. - Post No. 670
20:59pm 27th Dec 2010
I wish Stepanovs was on that list. - Post No. 674
yusuf imran 23:02pm 27th Dec 2010
What about the big bad dog himself, Didier Drogba, apparently he failed a medical at Arsenal, so Arsene let him go. - Post No. 675
Westy 0:29am 28th Dec 2010
You could add Cech & Ronaldinho to the list, also chalked up to 'work permit issues'. - Post No. 676
merson_is_god 9:11am 28th Dec 2010
Zlatan Ibrahimovic should be on there....got given a shirt, was going to join from Malmo...instead we signed FRANCIS JEFFERS!!! - Post No. 677
HowardL 9:45am 29th Dec 2010
Almost every player at some time may have expressed an interest in joining what is one of the most famous clubs in the world, long before they even know a great deal about what's on offer. So you could add lots more - but what would it all mean? We are what we are. 6-0 v Wigan tonight will put us top. - Post No. 686
Never Outgunned 12:21pm 1st Jan 2011
We could add a lot more - but I think the fcat the article is called the XI that got away kinda suggests there's going to be a restriction does it not. Also the reason as to why Drogba and Weah isn't mentioned, there are already two forwards. - Post No. 786
Ben 19:39pm 21st Jan 2011
I read Arsene Wenger in Four Four Two magazine say he missed out on claude makelele & Samuel Eto. But i think Ronaldinho and Cristiano Ronaldo are probably the most frustrating ones that got away. Imagine Ronaldindo in the Invicibles team. plus we could have really done with Cristiano Ronaldo the last 5 years - Post No. 1438
29th August 2016
Online Ed: Reports from Watford v Arsenal