Ah, the transfer window, the merry-go-round that one can not get off. Millions, even billions change hands, with players getting their heads turned overnight and agents often puppeteering the show. No one is safe.
Once upon a time, players could move at almost any point during the season. That was actually the case as recently as 2002 when FIFA introduced mandatory transfer windows as part of an agreement with the European Commission to try and offer contractual stability for both players and clubs. While it may have been beneficial, it also brought us fans the madness of the transfer window.
When Neymar left Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain for 222 million reasons in 2017, it set a record yet to be broken. Deals rarely fail due to a lack of funds, but with so many gears needing to move in motion, anything can happen.
Without further ado, we look at five relatively recent Premier League deals that could have changed football history …
Steven Gerrard – Liverpool to Chelsea – 2004 and 2005
Steven George Gerrard was born in Whiston, Merseyside, around 10 miles from Anfield; he joined the club at age nine, signed his first professional contract at seventeen, and made his first-team debut a year later. By 2003, at just 23 years of age, he was named the club captain. A local lad on his way to superstardom, and he delivered, staying with Liverpool until 2015.
The Premier League trophy eluded him, but Gerrard was instrumental in winning two FA Cups, three League Cups, a Community Shield, a UEFA Cup, a UEFA Super Cup, and, as his finest achievement, the UEFA Champions League in May 2005. “How can I leave after a night like this?” he asked the press in Istanbul.
But it was a miracle he was even there. A year earlier, in the summer of 2004, Chelsea – with the backing of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and with a certain Jose Mourinho at the helm – courted Gerrard. Reportedly, he promised the Portuguese coach he would sign, only to backtrack on his words and remain at Liverpool.
The saga carried on, though. By December, Gerrard was again considering leaving, and while the Champions League triumph seemed to change his mind, there were issues with negotiating a new contract. On July 5th, 2005, Gerrard, his agent Struan Marshall, and Liverpool all issued separate statements about his imminent departure, just 24 hours before a new four-year deal was finally signed. And so he stayed, despite fans already burning his shirts outside the stadium. Soon all was forgiven.
Zinedine Zidane – Bordeaux to Blackburn – 1995 / Robert Lewandowski – Lech Poznan to Blackburn – 2010
Between the Premier League rebranding in 1992 and Chelsea’s first oligarch-backed win in 2005, only three clubs won the title: Manchester United did it eight times, Arsenal celebrated thrice, and in 1994/95, it was Blackburn Rovers who finished on top. Now, of course, they haven’t been seen in the Premier League since 2012.
But 1995 was indeed a different era for the Rovers. Local businessman Jack Walker, who invested in his boyhood club, had fulfilled his dream of winning the Premier League title with the Rovers, led by Alan Shearer, who was brought back in 1992 for a then British transfer record of 3.6 million pounds. It made sense to strengthen the title-winning team further, and Blackburn scouts set their eyes on a 23-year-old French midfielder named Zinedine Zidane.
He would have been cheap too. While some players set the world alight as teenagers, Zidane did not. By then, he had just one cap for France, and while he showed glimpses of obvious potential, the consistency and self-belief weren’t there yet. Walker doubted too. “Why do you want to sign Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?” he confronted manager Kenny Dalglish famously.
And so Zidane remained at Bordeaux, receiving the 1995/96 Ligue 1 Player of the Year award before moving first to Juventus and then in 2001 to Real Madrid for a world record fee at the time. World Cup hero and Ballon d’Or recipient in 1998, European champion in 2000, and Champions League winner in 2001/02, all before retiring at just 34.
Blackburn again failed to capitalize 15 years later when a 21-year-old Polish striker named Robert Lewandowski popped up on their radar. Still playing in his home country for Lech Poznan, he would have been affordable for a team desperately needing goals to stay in the Premier League. This time, Mother Nature intervened.
Lewandowski was set to fly to Blackburn and sign a pre-contract in April, but the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, an Icelandic volcano, halted most of the European airspace. “It made no sense to drive,” recalled his agent Cezary Kucharski.
Eyjafjallajökull helped Borussia Dortmund hijack the deal, and in his second Bundesliga season, Lewandowski became one of the league’s best attackers. After 187 games and 103 goals for Dortmund, he joined Bayern Munich, scoring 344 in 375 for the Bavarians while winning every trophy possible.
Blackburn instead replenished their forward line with free agent Benjani, Barcelona youngster Ruben Rochina, Manchester United talent Mame Biram Diouf, and Manchester City loanee Roque Santa Cruz who combined for 64 games and just 9 goals in 2010/11.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Malmö to Arsenal – 2000 / Cristiano Ronaldo – Sporting Lisbon to Arsenal – 2003
Arsenal won the Premier League in 1997/98, 2001/02, and 2003/04, with the latter being their famous Invincibles season – but with the cost of building the Emirates Stadium to replace Highbury, head coach Arsene Wenger could not afford to splash the cash on proven players.
However, he had an outstanding record of noticing talent and, in 2000, invited a lanky 17-year-old Swedish kid to Arsenal. As Zlatan understood, it was a done deal when he flew to London and received an Arsenal shirt with his name on the back, but Wenger wanted a trial first. For the striker, that meant the deal is off, so he left, and that was that.
Ajax Amsterdam snapped him up, and Ibrahimovic has never looked back, scoring over 500 goals in total for Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United, and Los Angeles Galaxy.
Just three years later, Wenger let another generational talent slip from his grasp. They welcomed 18-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo to train with the team and handed him his own No. 9 shirt, but the move fell through when Arsenal couldn’t agree on a transfer fee with Sporting.
Sir Alex Ferguson then made his move, and Ronaldo joined Arsenal’s fierce rivals Manchester United instead. It was a turning point for at least the next decade: while Ronaldo won five Ballon d’Ors and five Champions League trophies with United and later Real Madrid, Arsenal added just five FA Cups to their trophy cabinet.