So near yet so far - the ones that got away from Wenger!
When Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa signed for Newcastle, he became the latest addition in the list of players who escaped Wenger’s clutches and opted to move elsewhere. At a time when Arsenal is struggling to find worthy players for their team, it becomes more and more difficult when they miss out on their transfer targets by close margins.
Gunners, undoubtedly, have had access to the best youth talent all over the world. The manager boasts a well established scouting network that allows him to have plenty of players in Arsenal’s radar. He draws special pleasure in spotting potentials stars early in their careers and nurturing them to greater heights. Lads like Chamberlain, Miyachi, Eisfeld, Gnabry are a few of the promising young talents in the current squad who have been acquired from different clubs all over Europe. While Wenger has struck gold with some in previous years, he has also missed out on a lot of them. In the past we have had players like Fabregas, Van Persie, Walcott and Vermaelen, who came here as unknowns and became world class in the Gunner’s Arena.
Despite such a tremendous success with young talent, there have been some names which at one point in their careers came very close to signing for the Londoners. All these names went on to make it big eventually, leaving Wenger and Arsenal fans to bemoan the loss.
Something that they say about fate…
“There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be…”
Let’s take a look at some of the players who they missed out on and prepare to be surprised.
Solid as a wall in front of goal, this man has been Chelsea’s Number 1 for years. Undoubtedly the best goalkeeper in England at present, but not good enough for the Gunner’s scouts in 2002. Arsenal had the chance to sign him before he joined Rennes, but the chief scout turned him down. He signed for Chelsea two years later and came back to London to mock Arsene’s men.
“Before I went to Rennes I was watched by Arsenal but when I couldn’t get a work permit the situation was missed, and at the last-minute I think the person who was the chief scout at Arsenal didn’t think I was good enough for the English league. So in the end it didn’t happen“, Cech was quoted in an interview.
Another Ajax starlet was close to joining Arsenal last summer but chose to go to their north London rivals, Spurs. It is understood that he was not happy with Wenger’s plan to play him in the midfield, and wanted a more suitable role in the team. He prefers the center back position but Arsenal apparently were full at that place. He chose Tottenham for more game time and a young and enthusiastic manager, Andre Villas-Boas. The Belgian would have easily fitted in the team, with his country mate Vermaelen to mentor him. His recent performances under Villa-Boas have been scintillating and a delight for football fans to watch. Arsenal continue to have defensive lapses, and a reinforcement at that position is much needed at this moment.
He is growing in confidence each week and is sure to establish himself as a world class defender in upcoming years. Should Wenger have presented a better deal for Jan?
In the summer of 2008, Liverpool’s Benitez made a move for Gareth Barry in an effort to ‘improve’ his team and Xabi Alonso was supposed to be the man to pave way for him. With his first team place under threat, Alonso started to look for available options. At this moment Arsenal were desperately looking for someone to partner Cesc Fabregas in midfield, and Alonso was a perfect match for them. What a combination Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso would have formed for the Gunners when playing alongside each other!
Alonso was close to signing for the north London club, but Liverpool’s asking price of £16 million was not acceptable to Arsene. Arsene was stubborn on his stand and the move didn’t materialize. Things did not change much as Gareth Barry decided to stay at Aston Villa for another season and later moved to City. Alonso continued at Liverpool for one more year before signing for Real Madrid.
Arsene then gambled on a young midfield who goes by the name of Denilson.
He was perhaps one of the biggest players to slip through Arsene Wenger’s hands. Arsenal were looking to replace Patrick Vieira’s towering presence in the center of midfield and Yaya Toure could have been their man. He was physically and technically suitable for the job and was interested in signing for the Gunners. His brother Kolo Toure was a big influence, and he could have persuaded his younger brother easily to sign for them, but things were not meant to happen.
Yaya Toure was handed a trial in 2003, but he failed to impress Wenger on that occasion and he described him as “just average”. Wenger elaborated later that there were issues with his work permit in England as he had not played enough internationals for his country. Yaya Toure moved on, a missed chance when you realize that Arsenal are looking for a replacement of Vieira till date.
Toure admits that being rejected by Wenger inspired him to be the player that he is today.
“I wasn’t going to give up because of it, though. I went away and learned how to be a footballer.”
In the summer of 2011, Juan Mata had decided that his time in Valencia was over and wanted to make a move to the Premier League. Wenger had admired Juan Mata’s style of play and plotted to bring him to the Emirates. Having sold Fabregas to Barcelona, Mata could have filled the void left by the Spaniard. Mata had talks with Arsenal and the deal was about to be concluded before Chelsea entered the race in the last minute. Roman splashed out his cash and Mata completed the U-turn.
Wenger had agreed for £17 million with Valencia and the papers in London had already announced his arrival.
Just when Wenger thought he had landed his man, Chelsea swiped Mata from right under his nose with a bid of £23.5 million. He was given a better deal by the Blues, and he decided to opt for Arsenal’s London rivals. Since his move, Mata has improved a lot as a player and has become the main man at Chelsea, scoring 14 goals and assisting 20 this season.
Wenger could do nothing but watch another prospective star ditch him for money.
What if I told you that Arsene had the chance to sign the Ivorian for a mere £100,000 in 2001! Shocking isn’t it. But folks, back then Arsenal had Henry, Bergkamp, Pires in their attacking line up, and they thought differently. Arsene failed to recognize the talented youngster and decided against signing him from Le Mans. Drogba, like many others in this list, came back to torment the Gunners by signing for their London rivals Chelsea.
Drogba meanwhile acknowledges that it was his fate that made it possible for him to come to Chelsea instead of Arsenal. Drogba would establish himself as a prolific goal scorer for Chelsea and become a nightmare for Premier League defenses.
He once said during an interview…
“If I did not sign for Arsenal then it was not meant to happen. It was not my destiny. I believe a lot in this. It did not happen for a reason. I don’t think he [Arsène Wenger] missed something because he had Thierry Henry.”
Arsene recently thought of bringing the Ivorian back to Arsenal as he was facing a rough patch with the Shanghai club, some food for thought in the current Winter transfer window!
This list gets creepy when we think that Ibra could have been a Gunner if it was not for his ego and Wenger’s stubbornness. In early 2000 Wenger called up Ibrahimovic to Arsenal’s training grounds with a plan to sign him. Wenger had heard about this Swedish prodigy and wanted to mentor him alongside Henry, who was yet to establish himself. He even had a jersey made for Zlatan with the number 9 to impress the youngster. Wenger wanted him to come for trials with the club and show him how good he is; Ibra supposedly was not up for the task as he rated himself too high for such a thing called “audition”. Aged 16 at that time, he was too outrageous for Wenger to handle.
As brilliant and arrogant as he is, Ibrahimovic famously said,
“Zlatan doesn’t do trials!”
If this was not enough, Wenger, the professor, responded in a classic manner…
‘He then gave me one of his funny Wenger looks.’ –Zlatan told Journalists.
That look just defined one final stance for Wenger, might be his biggest mistake. Zlatan signed for Ajax instead, who wouldn’t have dared to request for a trial after this episode.
Wenger was very annoyed with his attitude and refused to sign him on any cost, something he would regret later on when the Swede went on to play for almost every big club in Europe and became one of the best strikers in the world.
A young and talented Brazilian was making headlines all over Europe and Arsenal had a chance to sign the promising youngster. Ronaldinho was a sensation at Gremio with his heroics right from a very young age. He played in a match which his side won 23-0, and he ended up scoring every goal in that match. He was part of Brazil’s national team for all age groups, and also had a few senior caps to his name. Unknown at that time, but still destined for success later on. Arsenal plunged in to make an inquiry about the youngster, and were very close to signing him. The deal was almost done and Ronaldinho had agreed personal terms with the Gunners before the infamous work-permit law became a spoilsport.
Wenger revealed later on, “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.”
With a handful of international caps to his name, Ronaldinho was ineligible to play in England back then. Paris Saint-Germain signed him from Gremio later on and he moved to France. After his move to Arsenal had collapsed, St.Mirren tried to sign him on loan, but they also failed as he was involved in a fake passport scandal in his home country.
Imagine Arsenal fan’s delight if they had a team containing the likes of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires and Ronaldinho.
May be this was the biggest and the costliest miss for Arsene Wenger in his entire tenure. But for Wenger’s parsimony, Ronaldo had almost became a Gunner before joining Manchester United. Apparently, Ronaldo preferred Arsenal to United when he was at Sporting Lisbon but Wenger was reluctant to bow down to Lisbon’s demands as he didn’t evaluate Ronaldo to be of £12 million at that time, and was ready to pay only four.
Meanwhile, Manchester United visited them for a friendly match and the Red Devils were so impressed by his skills that they convinced their manager to bring him to Old Trafford on the return flight from Lisbon. Ferguson was convinced of Ronaldo’s abilities and brought him to United for £12.25 million. That extra £8 million became the difference as Wenger was again left with a sorry face to miss out on someone who went on to become the world’s most expensive player.
He admitted to this story later on in an interview…
“I had Ronaldo at the training ground. I showed him around and I gave him a shirt. It had got his name on the back. But in the end it was a question of the amount of transfer fee between the two clubs. Of course, he has proved to be a bargain [at £12.25 million]. But the price that we discussed was in fact much lower, it was divided by three.”
Ronaldo has always admired Wenger a lot for his abilities, and he once said,
“Wenger remains someone that I still have immense esteem for and it’s clear that he’s a really intelligent football guy.”
Wenger might have missed out on these men, but what he has achieved with others is truly remarkable. The kind of perseverance and tenacity he has for his job is rarely seen in the game. He has given everything he had to Arsenal, and the fans realize his importance.