When Dortmund beating the bejaysus out of Real Madrid a few weeks back, it was brought to the attention of many football fans that Robert Lewandowski, slayer of Madrid, was once on the verge of signing with feckin' Blackburn only for a volcanic intervention. Even if the story is false, it got us thinking about transfers that might have been and how they could have altered the fabric of histroy, a la Biff buying that sports almanac in Back To The Future 2. Here are a few of our favourite 'what might have been's' from recent football history.
Roy Keane came home to speak in Cork last year at a function for his old schoolboy club Rockmount. The standard question and answer session with littered with those tired old queries that are prodded at Keane whenever he comes home. So we had Vieira and the tunnel, stamping on Southgate, swiping at Shearer and raging at Fergie. The shaking shoulders and roaring laughter that accompanied these stories said a lot about what we want from Keane. He mostly played along and gave his local audience what they wanted; only pausing and contemplating in fleeting moments.
One of these was the story of just how close he came to signing for Blackburn Rovers when he was leaving Nottingham Forrest in 1993. Keane was at Blackburn in Kenny Dalglish’s office having shaken hands on a deal to join the club. But it was 5 o’clock on a Friday and the office was closed, no paper work could be drawn up so both men said they would leave it the weekend and complete the deal on Monday. Later that night, Alex Ferguson rang Keane and invited him around to his house to talk. The wheels began to turn and Keane was irrevocably set for Old Trafford. Fergie time doesn’t just apply to games.
Keane told the story of going on holiday soon after agreeing a deal with United and getting a phone call from an irate Dalglish assuring him that “no one f**** with Kenny Dalglish”and even a vague threat of suing. The Corkman turned to us in the audience and gave one of those grins that suggest both roguery and a capacity for torture. Was he concerned about Dalglish? No, not quite.
It is an intriguing thought though, to contemplate just what would have happened had Blackburn had office workers that worked beyond five of a Friday. Let’s say Kenny Dalglish waved somebody down as they rushed to an elevator at Ewood Park and asked them to fax on a few forms, how would English football have changed but more importantly; how would Keane’s career have differed?
A conservative guess would have him lasting at Blackburn about two years and maybe even shorter. Jason Wilcox and Stuart Ripley may have Premier League winner medals but they don’t exactly strike you as players Roy Keane would want either side of him. Alan Shearer would move a year early to Newcastle citing criticism from Keane after his 42 goal season as being a contributing factor, Kenny Dalglish follows his striker up north having being sacked for wearing a different t-shirt in support of Keane every week.
Keane moves to Juventus and with Antonio Conte, Edgar Davids, Didier Deschamps and Zinedene Zidane, wins five consecutive Scudetto titles and three Champions Leagues including a ruthless 4-0 dismantling of a limp Manchester United side at the semi-final stage in 1999. Keane reaches new heights with Ireland, now a calmer influence with his appetite for success sated in Turin.
He laughs off a bumpy pitch in Saipan in 2002 and insists yoga is worth doing while the FAI sources some footballs. Ireland bow out in the last sixteen and Keane insists they should be proud of their achievements. He returns to Italy, to fine wine and a new passion for art. Roy eschews a career in management instead taking up residence in Lake Como and studying Dante with an air of indifference.
Or no matter what his shirt colour was or what environment he was in, he’d remain black and white, fearless and fearsome, a character as fascinating and engaging as they come and one cursed with having to explain his mistakes to even audiences that worship him.
Either way, we’d have tuned in to watch.
So Roy Keane joined Blackburn, guess what happened next?
Stevie G to Chelsea
Long before Fernando Torres swapped Merseyside for London, there were rumours of an even bigger Liverpool icon trading his red jersey for Chelsea's blue. In the summer of 2005, mere months after leading Liverpool to a miracle Champions League win over AC Milan, captain Stephen Gerrard was the subject of an audacious £32 million swoop by a Chelsea team at the height of their Mourinho swagger.
Initially, Liverpool laughed off the offer, only for Gerrard to stun management and fans alike by announcing he would like to leave. The deal looked set to go down only to be scuppered by a last minute change of heart by Gerrard following a Jamie Carragher pep talk and perhaps more persuasively a pay rise that made him the highest paid player in Liverpool history.
The moves collapse leaves us with these two important What if questions.
What would a Gerrard move to Chelsea meant for the club? As we have seen countless times for England Lampard and Gerrard just do not work together. So it is fair to assume that their partnership even under the guidance of the “Special One” would have misfired, becoming the subject of much media scrutiny and Fan angst.
Unwilling to go through another season of Ross and Rachel-esque, will they won’t they work stories Chelsea, sell Frank Lampard the following summer in a bid to accommodate their £30m midfielder Gerrard.
It is also unlikely that in the same summer they bought Gerrard that Abramovich would have sanctioned the signing of the £24 million signing of Michael Essien, a key component in future Chelsea title runs.
What would a Gerrard move from Liverpool meant to the club?
Looking to fill the hole left by his departed captain, Rafa Benitez might have finally landed the player he coveted the most in his time at Liverpool: Gareth Barry. Barry’s arrival would also have had the knock on effect of Xabi Alonso staying at the club as he was only sold to Real to get the funds for Barry. No Alonso move also means no Liverpool move for Robbie Keane who miss out on the chance to play for one of his many childhood clubs.
Would fan anger at the loss of such favourite meant that Liverpool would have stepped in with a bid to bring back Michael Owen a player who begrudgingly moved to Newcastle later that summer?
Thanks to Jamie Carragher we will never know.
Lewandowski To Blackburn
Granted Robert Lewandowski was linked with virtually every club in European football in the spring of 2010, but let there is something tantalising about his rumoured move to Blakcburn.In June 2010 Robert Lewandowski, a striker with Lech Poznan who’d scored 18 goals in the previous season, signed with Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund, an up-and-coming Bundesliga side who’d just finished 5th in the German top flight. Dortmund was not Lewandowski’s first choice. He was ready to sign with Blackburn Rovers only for his flight to Lancashire to watch Blackburn play Everton be cancelled by Icelandic volcanic ash cloud that wreaked havoc on European travel.
Even in April of 2010, the Dortmund chairman seemed resigned to losing the Polish striker to the Premier League. " We think Lewandowski would be served by moving to Borussia. But we have no chance if his club think about only getting the highest fee." Without Lewandowski, Blackburn finished a respectable 15th the following season considering the chaos wrought upon the club by the Venky’s acquisition, though they lacked an outstanding goal scorer and only managed 46 goals. The lack of fire power forced them to bring in Yakubu, and despite his goal scoring prowess, Blackburn were relegated the next season, and the club has been engulfed in chaos ever since and seem condemned to perpetual Championship mediocrity. It’s not hard to imagine Lewandowski bringing a bit of culture and finesse to the Big Sam system. Maybe a young Phil Jones sticks around, Venky’s begin throw their money around (hello Ronaldinho) and suddenly Blackburn become one of those not great, but not terrible Premier League sides who finish between 8th and 12th every year – Stoke with class, perhaps.
As for Dortmund, they were slow to bring Lewandowski into the fold, starting him only 15 times in ’10-11, but last year he was revelation, scoring 22 times. Perhaps Klopp finds another diamond in the rough, but shorn of those 22 goals, it’s easy to imagine Dortmund not winning the Bundesliga last year, and it’s impossible to imagine them in the Champions League final this year without the Pole.
John Terry To Man City
Flash back to the summer of 2009. A minted Man City have cash to burn and are desperately looking for the marquee signing that would give the club legitimate credibility as they tried to chase down United, Liverpool and Chelsea. It was a crazy summer that would see them sign Kolo Toure, Adebayor, Tevez, Garry Barry, Roque Santa Cruz and others but the player they really wanted was John Terry. Terry seemed tempted but ultimately resisted and promised his career to Chelsea. But what if he spent the last four season at the Etihad, partnering with Vincent Kompany? He would have shared a dressing room with Wayne Bridge, and incredibly, the fallout over Terry impregnating Bridge’s girlfriend would have turned into a dressing room dispute, though it would have deprived us of the amazing non-handshake. Inevitably Terry would have had seismic effect on the pitch at City.
At the height of his powers in ’09, we can see him uniting the City team and prolonging Mark Hughes’s reign. On the flip side of the coin, it is impossible to imagine City winning the league last season with a decrepit Terry playing a major role in the team’s defence. And as for Chelsea, it almost impossible to imagine them winning that improbable Champions League trophy last year without Terry there at the Camp Nou to kick Sanchez in the back and get sent 0ff (thus galvanising the rest of the team). This is one transfer what if that would have totally altered the upper echelon of recent English football.