Ronaldo, Haaland, Maradona: Every Premier League club's 'one that got away'

Beckham, Drogba, Modric

Every Premier League club has one - a terrace legend about how one of the game’s all-time greats came close to joining their ranks, only for a cruel twist of fate to stand in their way.

And with it recently emerging that Everton’s academy staff once snubbed the chance to snap up a certain Erling Haaland, now of Borussia Dortmund fame, GIVEMESPORT felt it timely to chronicle such sagas of overlooked youth prospects, misguided scouting reports and near misses in the transfer market.

Here’s every Premier League club’s one that got away….

Arsenal - Harry Kane 

Barely a day goes by without Arsene Wenger bizarrely boasting about a world-class player he could’ve but didn’t sign for Arsenal, as if that’s something to be proud of.

Yet perhaps the most standout got-away saga of modern times is the academy’s decision to ditch Harry Kane as a nine-year-old because he was too chubby.

Now obviously, it would take a coach with the psychic abilities of Mystic Meg to predict the then-rotund toddler would go on to become a goalscoring phenomenon for Arsenal’s bitter rivals.

Then again, deciding a kid won’t make it before he's even entered puberty just because he’s a little podgy is equally laughable.

Aston Villa - Roberto Carlos 

A pioneer of the marauding full-backs that dominate the game today and the master of the banana free kick, former Aston Villa chairman Doug Ellis was desperate to get his hands on Roberto Carlos after an impressive showing for Brazil against Sweden in a friendly held at Villa Park.

The iconic left-back has revealed he even held talks with the Birmingham-based clubs and also had interest from their bitter City rivals.

However, manager Brian Little wasn’t as keen as Ellis and nothing materialised, paving the way for Carlos to instead join Real Madrid by way of Inter Milan.

Brighton - Roy Keane 

Every Premier League club has a back catalogue of players who failed to impress on trial before emerging as footballing superstars elsewhere.

Brighton, however, really shot themselves in the foot with this one.

A certain Roy Keane was all set to travel to the English south coast from Ireland to show what he was made of, only for the trial to be cancelled the day before his departure.

Apparently, the Seagulls heard Keane lacked natural height and decided to call the whole thing off at the last minute.

Talk about short-sighted.

Burnley - Michael Essien 

At his best, Michael Essien was one of the top midfielders in the world, winning every trophy on offer during his time at Chelsea except the FA Cup.

Nonetheless, Burnley missed out on acquiring the Ghana legend’s services as a youngster despite him being on the books at Turf Moor.

A club policy for apprentices prevented them from paying him more than £60 a week, and it seems Essien didn’t do enough to convince them he was worth a bit more than that.

The Blues clearly disagreed, paying £26m to sign him from Lyon in summer 2005.

Chelsea - Kevin De Bruyne

Three huge names automatically come to mind.

Somehow, Chelsea let Mohamed Salah, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne slip through their grasp, signing all three as youngsters and deciding to cash in before any of them had been given the chance to make a mark at Stamford Bridge.

But due to the sheer fact he made the least first-team appearances of the trio (just nine) we’re picking Kevin De Bruyne. You know, Kevin De Bruyne - probably the best midfielder in the world right now?

Ahh yes, that Kevin. For whatever reason, Jose Mourinho wasn’t quite so convinced and didn’t stand in the Belgium international’s way when he sought a permanent move to Wolfsburg.

18 months later De Bruyne was brought back to the Premier League by Manchester City, quickly establishing himself as the superstar we see today.

Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne

Crystal Palace - Virgil van Dijk 

Neil Warnock’s second stint at Selhurst Park was hardly vintage stuff with just three wins from his 17 games in charge.

But it did pave the way for the much more successful Alan Pardew to take the Crystal Palace reigns and according to the now-Middlesbrough manager, he did make one very good transfer recommendation.

Warnock alleges he wanted to sign Celtic’s Virgil van Dijk, only for a club scout to tell him the Dutch defender was too slow.

Saints would go on to snap up van Dijk instead and after a series of impressive campaigns sold him to Liverpool for £75m.

Everton - Erling Haaland 

Very much the inspiration for this article, it was recently revealed that Everton had passed up the opportunity to sign Haaland as a youngster.

Their Scandinavian talent spotter had organised a four-day trial with the Toffees' youth ranks, but the academy staff weren’t quite so enthused and quickly sent Haaland packing back to Norway.

Fast forward to today and the 20-year-old has been tipped by Miguel Delaney to become half of the next great player rivalry in the beautiful game, facing off against PSG’s Kylian Mbappe.

Fulham - Gabriel Batistuta

Rather incredibly, Fulham were once the front-runners to sign Argentine icon Gabriel Batistuta, who was as beautiful to look at as he was to watch play football.

His agent appeared incredibly keen on a move to Craven Cottage but Fulham manager Jean Tigana wasn’t exactly reciprocal, his response apparently being ‘thanks, but no thanks’.

Maybe that was the right call - Batistuta’s career soon ground to a halt and within a couple of seasons he’d tellingly ended up playing in Qatar instead.

Leeds - David Seaman 

One of the proudest Yorkshiremen you’ll ever meet, David Seaman was left in tears when Leeds decided to cash in on him as a teenager, with childhood hero Eddie Gray selling him to fourth-tier Peterborough.

Within four years Seaman was back in the top flight with Birmingham City and by the time the Premier League came into being he was already well-established as Arsenal and England’s No.1.

Nigel Martyn certainly wasn’t a bad goalkeeper but just imagine Leeds having prime Seaman between the sticks for their glory years.

Leicester City - Johan Cruyff

Leicester City were so convinced they'd signed Johan Cruyff that manager Jock Wallace had told the press that it was essentially a done deal.

The footballing legend had spent the previous few years playing in America's now defunct NASL but eyed a return to Europe, hopeful of getting himself in shape for the 1982 World Cup. 

A short-term switch to relegation-threatened Leicester seemed like a solution that benefitted all parties, and the Foxes had run the numbers to work out they could afford to pay Cruyff £4k per match. 

However, just as Wallace was briefing the press, Cruyff was heading to Spain and the following weekend he instead made his debut for Levante. 

The Levante move was actually pretty disastrous for Cruyff as he struggled to make any real impact, while Leicester plummeted out of the top flight. 

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates for Juventus

Liverpool - Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo's enormous potential wasn't exactly a secret during his Sporting Lisbon days and Liverpool were courting both him and Ricardo Quaresma back in 2002 after impressing for Portugal at the Toulon Tournament. 

Finances were a real problem, however - Ronaldo wanted a salary that exceeded Michael Owen's, and England's boy-wonder had just dazzled his way to the Ballon d'Or. 

Then Manchester United played a friendly against Sporting, Ronaldo famously dragged John O'Shea over hot coals for ninety minutes and the teenager's price-tag skyrocketed from £4m to £13m. 

Liverpool couldn't match it and thus their bitter rivals won the battle for Ronaldo's signature.

Manchester City - Jerome Boateng

Believe it or not, there was once a time when Jerome Boateng couldn’t get a game at the heart of Man City’s backline.

After being prized from Hamburg as a youngster, the German international had to largely settle for occasional outings at full-back and come the end of his first and only season at the Etihad, City allowed him to return to the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich.

The European champions paid just £12.15m and that has proved to be an absolute coup. As well as lifting the World Cup with Germany, Boateng’s won two Champions League titles and eight Bundesliga titles at the Allianz Arena.

Manchester United - Alan Shearer 

Such is the quality and prestige of Manchester United’s academy that you could make a pretty strong Premier League team out of alumni who didn’t quite make it at Old Trafford, from Jonny Evans to Dwight McNeil.

But it’s no secret that Sir Alex Ferguson was desperate to work with Alan Shearer, the greatest goalscorer in Premier League history, only to miss out on him twice.

Indeed, Shearer reportedly snubbed Ferguson on two separate occasions - first when he left Southampton as one of English football’s most promising young players, and then when he departed from Blackburn as a Premier League title winner.

Talks were held with Shearer and his agent, but ultimately he couldn’t resist signing for boyhood club Newcastle instead.

Shearer wouldn’t taste silverware for the rest of his career, while United would dominate English football without him.

Alan Shearer celebrates scoring for Newcastle

Newcastle - Dennis Bergkamp 

Dennis Bergkamp is synonymous with a famous goal against Newcastle but that moment of exquisite individual brilliance will have been even harder to take for those at St. James’ Park well aware the Dutchman could’ve ended up scoring for the Toon rather than against them.

After three goal-laden seasons at Ajax, Bergkamp was struggling to produce his best football with Inter Milan, while Newcastle were looking for a superstar striker to replace Manchester United departee Andy Cole.

A match made in heaven then, with Kevin Keegan enquiring into Bergkamp’s availability.

Eventually, however, Newcastle ended up signing Les Ferdinand, with the Netherlands icon moving to Arsenal instead.

Sheffield United - Diego Maradona 

A tale that almost defies belief.

Back in the 1970s, Sheffield United manager Harry Haslam travelled to South America on a scouting mission and tried to sign Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa, only for the deal to fall through to the benefit of Tottenham Hostpur.

Haslam sought alternatives and soon settled on a teenage Diego Maradona, agreeing a £400k deal with Argentinos Juniors.

The only problem was Haslam’s employer, Blades chairman John Hassell, who declared no 18-year-old footballer could be worth such a lofty sum.

Of course, that now seems like the most modest of investments for arguably the greatest footballer of all time. Sheffield United, meanwhile, have spent the intermittent period bobbing around the top four tiers of English football.

Southampton - Emmanuel Adebayor, Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda 

Incredibly, Southampton could have signed Emmanuel Adebayor, Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda in the same summer, building on the momentum of a 2002/03 campaign that saw them finish eighth and reach the FA Cup final.

Scout Terry Cooper earmarked Drogba and Malouda, whose double-act had taken Guingamp to the top half of Ligue 1, and owner Rupert Lowe even arranged the terms for a €4m double-deal.

But manager Gordan Strachan sent his own scout, Ray Clarke, to watch them in action and he obviously wasn’t too impressed because Southampton ended up signing neither. Clarke didn’t have much of an opinion on Malouda, while he questioned Drogba’s underwhelming first touch.

Adebayor, meanwhile, was on the verge of being announced as a Saints player. But there was a slight disagreement over personal terms, and all of a sudden then-manager Didier Deschamps contacted the club to reveal Monaco had made a rival offer.

The future Arsenal man chose the French tax haven over the British south coast.

Two seasons later, Saints were relegated to the Championship. 

Tottenham - David Beckham 

David Beckham may have been born into a Manchester United-mad family but he grew up in London, taking trials with Leyton Orient and attending Tottenham’s School of Excellence.

He trained with Spurs for a couple of years but when the time came to sign on the dotted line, he wasn’t quite convinced by Tottenham boss Terry Venables, fearing the future England manager didn’thave any real idea who he was.

Beckham told Venables he’d like some time to consider Spurs’ offer, only to realise his heart was set on joining Manchester United instead.

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West Brom - Luka Modric 

What a signing this would’ve been.

West Brom boardroom pair Jeremy Peace and Mark Jenkins had worked hard to develop a harmonious relationship with Dynamo Zagreb, who were and still are one of European football’s most consistent producers of talented youngsters.

And the relationship almost bore perfect fruit in future Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric, who Tony Mowbray was a huge fan of.

Had the Baggies achieved promotion to the Premier League that summer, it’s likely a deal to bring Modric to the Hawthorns would’ve gone ahead.

Unfortunately, though, they lost in the playoff final to Derby County - who you might remember for being the worst Premier League team of all time.

West Brom went up a year later, but by that point Modric had already agreed a move to Spurs.

West Ham - Andriy Shevchenko 

It shouldn’t be forgotten that before Chelsea made Andriy Shevchenko one of the costliest flops in Premier League history, he was probably the best goalscorer in the world and had fired AC Milan to 2002/03 Champions League glory.

But it could’ve all been so different had Harry Redknapp not been put off by two furtive-looking Ukrainians who wanted £1m for their snazzy centre-forward back in the 1990s.

Redknapp claims to have been so scared of the pair that he allowed the player in question to partake in a friendly against Barnet and he even scored the winner.

The goalscorer’s name was Andriy Shevchenko, but Redknapp’s assistant, Frank Lampard Senior, felt the price-tag was too high, and they turned the mysterious Ukrainians down.

Wolves - Michel Platini 

Way before Michel Platini was disgraced as one of football’s most corrupt wrong’ens, he was one of football’s greatest players.

Wolves boss John Barnwell boldly attempted to bring him to Molineux and even got to the stage of discussing fees with Saint Etienne.

But the club’s hierarchy were less sold on the idea of spending big on a foreign player and when Platini suffered a broken ankle, the potential deal was left dead in the water.

Not too long after, Platini would instead move to Juventus, where he won practically every trophy going - including three consecutive Ballon d’Ors.

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