Today, one of the greatest philosophers in the game turns 71.
Arsene Wenger, the man who changed English football in the late 1990s and an elder statesman in his role at FIFA, has an almost unmatchable career with trophy-laden spells in France, Japan and England.
A 22-year stint in charge of Arsenal brought unparalleled success in the form of three league titles, seven FA Cups and an unbeaten league campaign.
Well, that and a raft of missed signing claims.
Indeed, a hallmark of Le Prof’s seems to be helpfully revealing he was close to signing some of the biggest stars in world football.
Now, it’s such a staple of football discourse in this country that you’ve probably heard it all before, so GIveMeSport are going to do something slightly different.
Today, we’re going to rank the 10 best players he missed out on in terms of how important the deal would have when links emerged. This isn’t to say these players wouldn’t have gone on to help Arsenal as their careers unfolded but more an examination of Wenger’s squad at the time.
10. Vincent Kompany
Had Vincent Kompany been a target for Arsenal between 2008 and the final days of the Wenger era he’d be an awful lot higher in these rankings. One of the most dominant central defenders in Premier League history, the Belgian certainly would have added some much needed leadership to the Gunners’ so often soft ranks.
Still, linked with a move during his formative days at Anderlecht, it’s hard to say Kompany would have offered much of an improvement at the time.
The Invincibles era may have started to fade by then and there were early signs of a defensive lapse but the presence of Kolo Toure and William Gallas provided strong options.
At the time, Kompany was more of a central defensive midfielder too and with Gilberto Silva still going strong, it’s hard to argue he’d have been able to make an instant impact.
9. Paul Pogba
Linked with a move to North London in 2014, Paul Pogba would have had an awful lot of competition when it came to a creative midfield berth, such was the level of talent available to Arsenal at the time.
Mesut Ozil (in his pomp back then), Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere combined for 29 Premier League assists, with the likes of Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud occupying the attacking berths further forward.
He was more of a box-to-box midfielder back then but Pogba’s lack of defensive discipline at Manchester United has been called into question more than once so his addition, while useful going forward, wouldn’t have been the answer to the club’s most crucial needs.
8. Didier Drogba
Obviously, Didier Drogba’s ridiculous record against Arsenal (13 goals in 12 games) makes this sound somewhat ridiculous but it’s important to remember the striking options Wenger had to call upon at the time.
Reportedly scouted during his time with Le Mans (1998-2002), Highbury was home to players such as Nicholas Anelka, Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp so scoring goals was certainly not a problem.
A towering central striker relying on his physicality may not have suited their style back then and Drogba would surely have been little more than a ‘big man’ on the bench, despite his obvious technical prowess when afforded time at Chelsea.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
7. Gareth Bale
Depriving bitter rivals Tottenham of one of their greatest ever Premier League players would have, of course, been nice for Arsenal but Gareth Bale simply wouldn’t have got much of a look-in had he moved to the Emirates instead back in 2007.
Arsenal were still going for the Premier League title at the time (not finishing outside the top four) although not as seriously as in the years prior to Jose Mourinho’s arrival at Chelsea and had Gael Clichy at left-back.
While talented, Bale was yet to become the devastating wide forward we’d see under Harry Redknapp and Andre Villas-Boas as well as in Madrid, so coming in as an auxiliary left-back would have had little impact in terms of pushing them up the league.
6. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Arguably the most infamous nearly miss for Arsenal and an embryonic sign of the Zlatan Ibrahimovic brand, the Swede told the club (in third-person of course) that he doesn’t do auditions.
Still, it’s important to remember why Wenger was reluctant to commit so early on into his career. Much like the Drogba situation, Ibrahimovic would have had to battle some of the best striking options the Premier League has ever seen during his teenage years.
5. Gianluigi Buffon
One of the greatest goalkeepers in modern European history, Gianluigi Buffon reportedly snubbed a move to Arsenal while still a Parma player before eventually joining Juventus in a world-record move back in 2001.
There’s no doubt Arsenal have struggled with ‘keepers over the years but the transition from David Seaman to Jens Lehmann was fairly seamless in the early part of the 2000s and brought major success in the form of a league title and an FA Cup.
There’s no doubt Buffon would have been a significant upgrade on the likes of Manuel Almunia but, given the size of the transfer fee involved and their goalkeepers at the time, Buffon doesn’t rank any higher than 5th.
4. Yaya Toure
Here’s where the misses start to get really galling.
Though at the time of his Arsenal trial against Barnet in 2003 Yaya Toure was far from the kind of player he’d turn into at Manchester City, a midfielder of such profile would have helped manage the transition from Gilberto Silva and Patrick Vieria into, well, pretty much nothing.
While it’d be dismissive to describe Toure as a defensive midfielder due to his ludicrous array of passing and attacking instincts too, he was largely operating in an anchor role or central defence in those days.
Passport trouble denied him a move and he eventually moved to Ukraine before going on to an absolutely stunning career at the top level.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo
How different the footballing world might have been had Cristiano Ronaldo signed for Arsenal instead of Manchester United while still a Sporting Lisbon player.
Perhaps he needed Sir Alex Ferguson’s relentless winning mentality to truly carve himself into the player he’d become during those days rather than the philosophical approach Wenger was famous for but, come on, this is CR7.
The greatest ever goalscorer in Champions League history and arguably the most ruthless finisher to play the game, even merely depriving United of his services between 2003 and 2009 would have helped Arsenal with some of their title ambitions.
2. N’Golo Kante
Targeted twice, N’Golo Kante could well have been the difference in deciding how Wenger’s legacy would end.
Signing for Leicester instead in the summer 2015, the Frenchman would help transform the Foxes into title-winners. If Fort Knox had arms and legs, it’d still be jealous of the security Kante offered that season.
Arsenal finished second to Leicester despite beating them twice after losing over double the amount of games and, considering his exploits in 2015/16, it’s not hard to imagine the Gunners offering a much stronger title challenge.
Had they got him, Wenger could well have bowed out of Arsenal with an elusive fourth Premier League title.
1. Lionel Messi
Yes, Lionel Messi wasn’t the world’s best player in 2003 and Arsenal would have been signing a teenage prodigy but, in fairness, this is LIONEL MESSI.
Understood to have been close to moving to North London alongside Cesc Fabregas only for the club fail to find the Argentine’s family a flat (honestly, how infuriating), it’s not as though Messi would have had to wait long.
After all, Fabregas was handed his debut just months after joining in late 2003 and was a regular in Premier League squads by the start of the 2004/05 campaign.
At the time, Messi was starting to emerge as Ronaldinho’s heir and perhaps Thierry Henry could have offered the same kind of mentor role had he gone to Arsenal instead. From then on, who knows what Arsenal could have done in the Champions League during a period where they were genuine contenders.
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