Paul Pogba seems set to return to Manchester United. But he is just one of many world stars who could have been playing at Arsenal…
It has been another frustrating summer at Arsenal with a number of Arsene Wenger’s transfer targets already turning down moves to the Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners missed out on Leicester striker Jamie Vardy earlier in the window, while long-term reported target Gonzalo Higuain left Napoli for Juventus in a £75m deal.
They are just the latest in a long line of players Arsenal have missed out on during Wenger’s tenure in north London, with the seemingly Manchester United-bound Paul Pogba, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo on the star-studded list of names who got away:
Wenger was first drawn to Hart’s talents following a loan spell the goalkeeper had with Birmingham during the 2009/10 season.
The Frenchman enquired about the England international’s availability but there was one slight problem, Hart’s parent club Manchester City.
“I remember when Hart played at Birmingham, I asked about him and they told me he is at Man City. I thought he would be the ‘keeper there. He has something that is needed for a goalkeeper to play at a big club and I am not surprised he made it as No 1.” – Wenger in 2011.
Varane’s rise from Lens to Real Madrid has seen him make 93 appearances for the Spanish giants and win 29 caps for France.
But Arsenal could have had the 23-year-old at their disposal had Wenger and his scouts acted faster when the player was plying his trade at Lens.
“I’m happy for him because he’s carving out a role at one of the world’s best clubs, which is remarkable. Yet at the same time, when you are in charge of a club like Arsenal, you have to wonder why this player is not playing for us. He was at Lens, and we might well have caught him there.” – Wenger in 2013.
In the summer of 2003, Arsenal signed a 16-year-old Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona’s La Maisa academy, but it could have been even better for the Gunners.
Pique, who starred in the same youth team as Fabregas, was also on Wenger’s radar but the Frenchman could not get the deal over the line.
A year later the central defender joined Manchester United and spent four years at Old Trafford before moving back Barca.
“It was at a period where Fabregas came. We wanted to take Fabregas, Messi and Pique. It worked only for Fabregas.” – Wenger in 2014.
Before Manchester City signed the Belgium international in 2008, Kompany was one of the hottest prospects in European football.
Wanted by Barcelona and Real Madrid as a 20-year-old at Anderlecht, Kompany was also identified by Wenger as a potential replacement for Sol Campbell.
However, the Frenchman was beaten to his signature by Hamburg.
“I had meetings with Emilio Butragueno at Real Madrid, the club leaders at Barcelona and by Arsene Wenger himself at Arsenal. But heading to an absolute top club immediately was not the right solution because Vincent is someone who feels alone in an environment where he is not properly valued. Vincent is not a third or fourth choice.” – Kompany’s agent Jacques Lichtenstein in 2014.
Arsenal were tracking Real Madrid forward Bale at Southampton alongside England star Theo Walcott.
Walcott made the move to the Emirates Stadium in 2006 with Bale joining north London rivals Tottenham in 2007, and Wenger has since admitted he made a ‘huge mistake’ in not signing the Welshman.
“We didn’t take him as we had Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy and didn’t want another left-back. I must confess it was a huge mistake as he can play in midfield. He struggled at the start at Tottenham, then they moved him to midfield and he has done exceptionally well. The career of a player sometimes depends on playing in the right position.” – Wenger in 2013.
As previously mentioned, Wenger tried to sign three players from Barcelona’s academy in 2003 but the Frenchman could not prise Lionel Messi away from the Nou Camp.
“I think in the end he was not so keen to move. It was not completely down to a flat in the end, it was down to the fact that Messi was comfortable at Barcelona.” – Wenger in 2014.
There has been a massive scramble for Pogba’s signature this summer and it looks like Manchester United are closing in on their man in what is expected to be a world-record transfer fee.
However, Arsenal could have landed the France international when he was preparing to leave Manchester United in 2012, but the Gunners were too slow out of the blocks and Pogba moved to Juventus.
Would Manchester United be getting the finished article in Paul Pogba?
“Things happened very quickly. We were interested in him. We tried to get him to come here. But he very quickly signed for Juventus.” – Wenger in 2014
Arsenal already had Yaya’s brother Kolo in their ranks and they were very close to adding the former after he had a trial with the club in 2003.
However, the Gunners could not beat Metalurh Donetsk to the Manchester City midfielder’s signature because he did not have a passport.
Wenger has since admitted it was a huge blow to miss out on the Ivory Coast international, who did wear an Arsenal shirt in a pre-season friendly against Barnet in 2003, but revealed it was beyond the club’s control.
“Let’s not forget that Toure had an agreement with us – and it’s not because we did not want to sign him that he went to Ukraine. We have made mistakes, but he is not a mistake.” – Wenger in 2014.
Another Ballon d’Or winner that got away, Ronaldo had a tour of Arsenal’s training ground in 2003, where he was impressed by Wenger’s approach and what the club could offer him.
However, Arsenal failed to get the deal done with Manchester United assistant manager Carlos Queiroz using his Portuguese influence to help lure Ronaldo to Old Trafford.
“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 in 2014.
Arsenal have suffered at the hands of Drogba over the years but it could have all been avoided for the small fee of £100,000.
Wenger was well aware of the talents of Drogba, who has scored 16 goals against Arsenal during his career, through his time at La Mans but thought he was not ready for a move to the Premier League.
“We watched Drogba very carefully when he was at Le Mans and his value was just £100,000. But we felt at the time he might not be completely ready… Looking back now, of course it was a mistake.” – Wenger in 2009.
Described as the biggest mistake of Wenger’s managerial career by Sky Sportspundit Jamie Carragher, Arsenal missed out on Suarez after bidding one pound over his £40m release clause.
The offer did not go down well with Liverpool and after speaking to club captain Steven Gerrard, Suarez, who was thought to be keen on a move to the Emirates Stadium, stayed at Anfield.
He almost fired Liverpool to the title in the following season before moving to Barcelona for £75m.
“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.” – Wenger in 2013.
Ibrahimovic was a teenager when he met Wenger to talk through a potential move to Arsenal, but things did not quite go to plan as Wenger only offered the Swedish striker a trial.
But Zlatan doesn’t do trials…
“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. 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”. – Ibrahimovic in 2012.
Arsenal were working on a deal to bring the Brazilian star from Gremio to north London in 2001.
With the deal to bring the two-time World Player of the Year to the Premier League almost done, work permit issues scuppered the transfer and left Wenger bemoaning the rules.
“We could have got Ronaldinho before he went to PSG. 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.” – Wenger in 2007.
The West Ham forward took the Premier League by storm last season, scoring nine goals and laying on 12 assists.
He continued his excellent form at Euro 2016, scoring three goals as France went all the way to the final.
And his form was no surprise to Wenger, who admitted watching him many times when he was at St Etinne before deciding against signing him.
“He was a top talent, always. But [he] had periods of being up and down. I’ve looked at him many times. I’ve known him for a long time. He played at Saint-Etienne and we watched him many times.” – Wenger in 2016.