As all Arsenal fans know nothing is ever simple, especially when it comes to the Gunners transfer dealings. Perhaps there is a curse placed upon the club who back in the 30’s were known as the ‘Bank of England club’, but more recently have been doing all they can to get players on the cheap. If you believe in curses there are plenty examples to suggest why the club would have one when it comes to transfers.
Perhaps it all started back in the early 80’s when Arsenal were offered the chance to sign an 18-year-old Rudd Gullit who then played for Dutch side HFC Haarlem. Terry Neil, the Arsenal manager later said that he considered £30,000 too much for ‘this wild kid’.Gullit was transferred to Feyenoord in 1982 and the rest of course is history.
However, there was an even bigger name to be linked with a move to North London back in 1982. One Diego Maradona who, whilst playing for Boca Juniors was scouted by Arsenal and the player even stated that he wanted to make the move to London. It seems however, that the Football League had other ideas and they blocked the move claiming that they didn’t want foreign players outside of Europe playing here for at least another two years.
It seems 1982 was a busy time for Arsenal in the transfer market. They may have missed out on two of the World’s great players but they did make one high-profile signing but in true Arsenal fashion this particular deal was marred with problems from the beginning.
Make no mistake, Yugoslav international Vladimir Petrovic was a very gifted football player. Signed from Red Star Belgrade in the summer of 82, the midfielder who was Yugoslav footballer of the year in 80 and 81 was unable to make his Arsenal début until December due to several ‘Red tape’ issues.
Petrovic (below) only made 22 appearances for the Gunners and was unable to settle leaving the club at the end of the season. Had things worked out differently Petrovic could have gone done as a club legend but it seemed that this transfer was doomed from the start.
Whilst Petrovic departed, Arsenal were able to make a huge statement in the transfer market during the summer of 1983. The London club had beaten both Liverpool and Manchester United to the signing of 21-year-old Charlie Nicholas from Celtic for a sum of £750,000.
It was believed that the move to Highbury had made Nicholas the highest paid player in Britain.
It’s fair to say that the move did not work out, the goals that flowed so freely in Scotland were now too few and far between.
Champagne Charlie (below) will always be remembered fondly for a brace in a 4-2 win against North London rivals Tottenham on Boxing Day 1983 and another double in the League Cup final win over Liverpool in 1987.
Nonetheless, 54 goals in 184 games was not what was expected from the young superstar. He wasn’t quite the flop that Lee Chapman was back in 82/83. £500,000 for a return of 4 goals in 23 games. In fact Chapman scored more goals against Arsenal in his career than he ever did for them.
1988, and both Arsenal and Everton had agreed a fee of £2.2 Million, a then British record with West Ham for striker Tony Cottee. Yet, Cottee who had scored 92 goals in 212 appearances for the Hammers choose Everton, citing that he went to there to win things.
Perhaps the rejection from Cottee was one of the reasons that George Graham seemed reluctant to splash the cash. He had early success of course, purchasing three of the ‘famous Arsenal back four’, Dixon, Bould and Winterburn for a combined fee of just over a Million pounds.
Graham did however, also purchased the likes of Eddie McGoldrick, Jimmy Carter, Colin Pates, Vince Bartram and Chris Kiwomya. Arsenal legends, they were certainly not. Ironic then that it was down to a transfer that ended up costing Graham, who was then the clubs most successful manager, his job.
The signing of the Norwegian Pal Lyderson and Danish International John Jenson and more significantly the £425,000 ‘bung’ that the Arsenal manager received put an end to the Scots reign at Highbury. In another twist of irony the day Graham was sacked, Arsenal beat Nottingham Forest at Highbury thanks to a goal from the aforementioned Kiwomya (below), one of his three goals he scored for the Arsenal.
When you manage the same club for twenty years, it’s fair to expect some ups and downs in the transfer market. Like George Graham had done previously, Arsene Wenger struck gold early on in his Arsenal tenure with the likes of Vieria, Petit, Overmars, Anelka and Henry among others but for every super star or bargain buy there were several spectacular failures.
Names such ras Cygan, Squillachi, Stepanovs, Gervinho, Jeffers , Andre Santos and Park Chu-Young strike fear into the hearts of Gooners everywhere.
But it’s not just about the players that Wenger did buy, there is quite an impressive list of ‘the ones that got away’.
Back in 2001 Zlatan Ibrahimovic (below), then of Swedish side Malmo was invited to Highbury and presented with a shirt by the Arsenal manger. Zlatan rejected the offer and depending on which story you wish to believe, either he rejected the offer because he thought he should be starting the very next game for the Gunners or that the Malmo manger advised him against it. Either way it seemed like an opportunity lost for the Londoners when a year a later he signed for Ajax for just over £6 Million.
Two years later and another two legends were allowed to slip the net and go elsewhere. It may have been Manchester United that signed Cristiano Ronaldo but it was actually Arsenal who got there first and were very close to bringing the young Portuguese winger to Highbury in 2003. Ronaldo even admitted that he nearly signed for Arsenal before United entered proceedings.
In the pre-season of 2003, Ya Ya Toure (below) had a trial with Arsene Wenger’s side. Toure, younger Brother of Kolo played in a goalless draw against Barnet. Just like with Ibrahimovic a couple of stories emerged as to why the player wasn’t signed, with the main line being that Wenger rejected the player. It’s probably not surprising that Wenger later denies that claim based of Ya Ya’s career with Manchester City.
Wenger also allegedly tried and obviously failed to sign N’Golo Kante twice, losing out to both Leicester and Chelsea. Another player who turned down a move to North London was Jamie Vardy. In the summer of 2016 a bid of £20 Million was accepted by Leicester only for the player to eventually turn down the move. Wenger instead spent £18 Million on Lucas Perez who flopped and was later sold to West Ham for a loss of £14 Million.
Yet, despite all of this Arsenal’s most embarrassing escapade in the transfer market occurred in 2013 involving Liverpool forward Luis Suarez. The Gunners were advised, wrongly as they later discovered that the player had a release clause of £40 Million and proceeded to bid £40,000,001.
The bid was angrily received and laughed off by Liverpool as no such clause existed and the affair became, and still is when brought up, a very humiliating episode for the club.
There appears that there may be no respite for Arsenal fans in regard to shocking transfer activity. As recently as 2019 the Gunners bid £40 Million for Crystal Palace winger Wilfred Zaha after the South London club placed an £80 Million price tag on the player. I wonder who in the Arsenal hierarchy thought that Palace would be tempted by such an offer?
Arsenal fans everywhere will be wondering, hoping, will the shaming ever end?
by Dave Squires