The Nearly Men: Players Wenger Almost Signed: Attackers

Arsenal

So here we are, the final part of the series. This week’s instalment will really get your imaginative juices flowing, albeit in an extremely heart-wrenching fashion.

It’s fair to say that each and every one of the players included this week were (or still are) indisputably world-class and considered by many as the very best in their positions at one point or another.

Most would agree that Alexis Sanchez is the only world-class attacker Arsenal have had on the books since Thierry Henry left for Catalonia in 2007, which evidently played a key role in the nine-year barren spell without a trophy.

To think that one or more of these players could have been leading the line during those years as opposed to the likes of Bendtner, Chamakh or Sanogo is pretty depressing. Brace yourselves…

Luis Suarez

Unless you spent the summer of 2013 in hibernation, you will know about Arsenal’s well-documented attempts to sign Luis Suarez from Liverpool. The whole affair would become one of the most infamous transfer sagas in recent memory.

Arsenal had been informed of a release clause in the Uruguayan’s contract and in order to exceed the asking price of £40m and trigger the clause without needlessly over-spending in the process, the Gunners bid £40m plus £1.

The move only succeeded in insulting and alienating the hierarchy at Anfield, who then completely rejected any notion of letting Suarez go.

Wenger said afterwards: “I’m very happy with what I did. There again, the details will maybe come out one day – maybe not in my book, but somebody else’s book! I know only one side of the story, but we always had fair relations with Liverpool, we kept in touch over that period. It was not meant to be provocative at all – it could be interpreted like that, but it was not our purpose.”

Suarez went on to sign a new contract and had a superb season with Liverpool before Barcelona came calling.

Jamie Carragher has called Wenger’s move the “biggest mistake of his career,” and while this may be a little over the top, fans have been left wondering what would have happened if a bigger offer had been made. The 30-year-old has arguably been the world’s best striker in the time since the failed bid.

Ronaldinho

The Brazilian magician was the subject of strong interest from Arsenal before he had even made the move to Europe with PSG. Wenger met with Ronaldinho’s brother back in 2001, while he was still with Gremio, but the curse of the work permit struck once again.

“We could have got Ronaldinho before he went to PSG,” said Wenger in 2007. “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 went on to charm millions with both his ability to entertain as well as his clear love for the game, winning a vast array of trophies after his move to Barcelona in 2003.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Since his rise to prominence in the footballing community, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been known to a little egotistical to say the least. He’s one of the few who can get away with it – he has been that good throughout his career.

It turns out that this character trait did not develop due to his rise to the very top – he has actually been that way since he was a teenager, as Arsene Wenger would find out when he offered the Swede a trial following a superb season with Malmo.

“Arsene gave me the famous red and white jersey – the No 9 shirt with Ibrahimovic on it and I was so pleased I even posed for a picture wearing it,” Ibrahimovic has since revealed. “It was a fantastic moment for me. So then I waited for him to convince me that I should join Arsenal. But he didn’t even try. He never actually made me a serious offer, it was more, ‘I want to see how good you are, what kind of player you are. Have a trial’. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “No way, Zlatan doesn’t do auditions.”

Wenger’s account of events appears to corroborate the story: “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.”

The Frenchman can’t really be blamed for not wanting to see him in action with his players before committing to sign someone so young, but he would come to regret the decision.

Didier Drogba

Arsenal fans could have been saved a lot of painful moments against Chelsea during the post-Invincibles years if Wenger had opted to sign Didier Drogba before he left La Mans for Marseille.

The powerful Ivorian scored 16 times against the Gunners during his two spells in west London, and the fact that this could have been avoided for a sum as little as £100k is a hard pill to swallow.

Drogba is one of the few players who can be held in a similar regard to Thierry Henry in the history of the Premier League (although Thierry was obviously better, right?) and to think that the two could have been strike-partners – it would have been almost unfair on Premier League defenders.

“We watched Drogba very carefully when he was at Le Mans and his value was just £100k. But we felt at the time he might not be completely ready… Looking back now, of course it was a mistake,” Wenger said in 2009.

In fairness, Wenger could have been right when he thought he wasn’t ready – Drogba was something of a late bloomer, only moving to Chelsea when he was 26. It could be that the rest of his time at La Mans and his spell at Marseille was important in his development and made him into the player he became. On the flip-side however, the talent was obviously there to be harnessed by a capable coach.

Lionel Messi

You may recall from part two of this series that Wenger went after Gerard Pique back in 2003, at the same time he managed to sign up Cesc Fabregas. The Spanish centre-half was not the only player he failed to lure to London from La Masia that year, as he also negotiated with Jorge Messi – father and agent to a certain Lionel Messi.

The Messi’s requested that Arsenal bought the family a flat in London, something the club were reluctant to do, and a deal never materialised.

“I think, in the end, he was not so keen to move, because it was at a period where Fabregas came, and Fabregas and Messi played together in the same team,” Wenger said. “We wanted to take Fabregas, Messi and Pique. It worked only for Fabregas. It was not completely down to a flat, it was down to the fact that, in the end, Messi was comfortable at Barcelona.”

Whether these words are indeed true or whether the Arsenal boss was trying to help himself come to terms with missing out on possibly the greatest player of all time, we may never know. There is definitely the suggestion that more could have been done to persuade the Argentine maestro, but it is perhaps understandable that the club were unwilling to buy a London flat (amongst other fees) to sign a 16-year-old.

Cristiano Ronaldo

The summer of 2003 could have been incredible for Arsenal. Not only did they miss out on Messi and Pique that year, but another man who has a legitimate claim to be the best player the game has ever seen slipped through their fingers – Cristiano Ronaldo.

The four-time winner of the Ballon d’Or even had a tour of Arsenal’s training ground that year, and was given a club number 9 shirt with his name on the back as a gift, similarly to Ibrahimovic.

Ronaldo was impressed with what he saw and was looking likely to sign after a £4m fee was agreed with his club, Sporting. This would all change following a friendly game between Sporting and Manchester United, where Ronaldo caught the eye of Alex Ferguson.

Ferguson’s Portuguese assistant, Carlos Quieroz, had links with the club and these, along with a much larger bid, swung the decision in United’s favour.

“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 recalled in 2014.

You won’t be the only one hurting, Arsene.