One more year: Five stars who had to compromise over big moves

Date published: Wednesday 26th June 2019 8:13 - Ian Watson

Paul Pogba and Neymar are both keen to move on this summer though Manchester United and PSG are rather less willing to cut a deal. If they really want out they’ll have to try a lot harder. This lot had to wait at least a year before getting their way…


Luis Suarez
The Liverpool striker had what has become one of the most famous contract clauses in football – or did he?

In summer 2013, Arsenal thought so. Suarez had spoken of his desire to quit Anfield in a series of interviews and Arsenal made their move. They agreed personal terms with Suarez’s representatives before offering the £40,000,001 they believed was necessary to formally begin the process of signing the Uruguayan.

“He was very close,” said Arsene Wenger in 2017. “We had an agreement with the player. We had been wrongly advised that he had a clause, with a minimal clause, but we had an agreement with the player. You can ask him.”

Indeed, their information was sound – Suarez did have a clause. Liverpool just decided not to honour it.

“He had a buy-out clause,” admitted John W Henry less than a year later. “But what we’ve found over the years is that contracts don’t seem to mean a lot in England – actually not in England, in world football. It doesn’t matter how long a player’s contract is, he can decide he’s leaving.

“For the first time we took the position that we weren’t selling. Since apparently these contracts don’t seem to hold, we took the position we’re just not selling and it’s been great for Luis, it’s been great for us.”

Indeed it was. Suarez got over the disappointment of being refused an exit by knuckling down, scoring 31 goals and pushing Liverpool to within touching distance of the Premier League title. A pay rise and the promise of a move abroad a year later sugared the pill, especially when Barcelona came calling with £65million.


Cristiano Ronaldo
Agreeing with something Sepp Blatter said was never a good look even before the ex-FIFA president was fully exposed as a crooked sh*tbag. But Ronaldo happily accepted Blatter as an ally when he weighed in on Manchester United’s refusal to sell the 42-goal winger in 2008.

After Blatter likened £100,000-a-week Ronaldo’s predicament to “modern-day slavery”, the United star said: “It’s true. I agree with what the president of Fifa said. I know what I want and what I would like.”

United spent the summer swimming against the tide. Ronaldo, Real Madrid and the bloody president of FIFA were all pushing for the move to happen, but Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill stood firm. Even if they were tempted to cave, Ramon Calderon’s hot take strengthened their resolve.

“If I was Manchester United I’d be happy and proud to be able to negotiate such a transfer for one of my players,” said the Real president. “Everything would be a lot easier if United realised that they could pull off the transfer of the century.”

Less than a month later, just before the start of the 2008-09 season, United declared victory in the battle, even if Real eventually won the war.

“I can confirm that I’ll be playing for Manchester United next season,” said Ronaldo. “I’ll be playing with my heart and soul and I will fight and honour the shirt with the same desire and dedication as I always have.

“My coach was kind enough to come and see me in Lisbon a few days ago. It was a very honest conversation between two people that respect each other and that I’m sure share a mutual affection and friendship. Sir Alex listened to me, I listened to him and we established that the best for both sides would be for me to continue at Old Trafford.”

Ferguson revealed the content of that conversation in his autobiography: “‘You can’t go this year, not after the way Calderon has approached this issue’. I said: ‘I know you want to go to Real Madrid but I’d rather shoot you than sell you to that guy now. If you perform, don’t mess us about, and someone comes and offers a world record fee, then we will let you go’.”

Ronaldo kept his end of the bargain with 26 goals in another title-winning campaign and so did United. A year and £80million later, he was off to Madrid.


Luka Modric
After starring in 2011 for Tottenham under Harry Redknapp in the Champions League, Modric decided that was his preferred stage. But a fifth-place finish in the Premier League meant Spurs couldn’t give the Croatian what he craved. Modric didn’t have to look far for a club that could.

“I would like to go to Chelsea,” he said in June, a week before they confirmed the appointment of Andre Villas-Boas. “A lot of players would like to go there and play for Chelsea because it is one of the best clubs in the world, and so do I. I would like to play there. But we will see what will happen. Chelsea are a great club, they play in the Champions League every year, they have great players, they are ambitious and have an ambitious owner who wants to invest in the club and make it win the Champions League, the Premier League and other titles.

“They are going in a great direction and everything about the club is very good.”

Modric wanted it all.

“I don’t want to fight and argue with Tottenham,” he continued. “I’ll want to go in a good way, a friendly way so I can stay friends with them. I love them and they love me but that’s the way it is and I have to think what is best for my career. But first I need to speak to Daniel Levy and see his view on everything.”

Modric obviously didn’t know Levy as well as the rest of us. The Spurs chairman insisted the midfielder would not be sold while turning down bids of £22million and £27million. “That’s the end of it,” Levy said after meeting with Modric, who quickly caught on.

“Now Levy doesn’t want to talk to me and said there is no possibility that I can leave Spurs,” Modric moaned. “He threatened me – he said if I didn’t accept the club’s stance, they would make me sit on the bench or in the stands.”

That is where he remained for a clash with Manchester United early in the season –  “His head’s not in the right place,” explained Redknapp – and Abramovich upped the ante with a £40million offer on deadline day. He could have doubled it but Levy was apparently determined to make a point.

A year later, after another stellar year in Spurs’ midfield, Modric was granted his move, for around £10million less than Chelsea offered 12 months previously. “Luka has been a terrific player for us and, while we preferred not to part with him, we are pleased that it is to Real Madrid,” said Levy, who wasn’t in a position to be too smug, given Chelsea had just won the Champions League and denied fourth-placed Spurs their rightful place in the competition the following season.


Cesc Fabregas
Knowing what was to come that summer in 2010, Arsenal tried to head off Barcelona at the pass when, in April, chairman Peter Hill-Wood claimed the Catalans had promised not to pursue Fabregas. “There was a private conversation that took place in the boardroom and assurances have been made at the highest possible level,” he said. “Arsenal do not expect those to be broken.”

That was that. For 24 hours at least. “We’ve never said that we are not going to try to sign Cesc Fabregas,” rebutted Barca sporting director Txiki Begiristain. “We’ll see what happens.”

Fabregas’s desire to return to the Nou Camp was understandable. He made clear that wish to Arsene Wenger in what he described as “probably the greatest conversation I’ve had with anyone in my life” while the Arsenal boss told the Spain midfielder to leave it with him for the duration of the World Cup.

Barca turned the screw during the tournament, with Begiristain, old president Joan Laporta, new president Sandro Rosell, Gerard Pique and Xavi taking it in turns to tap, tap, tap away at Fabregas, all the while having an opening offer of £30million turned down by Arsenal. Even Liverpool players were at it, with keeper and part-time entertainer Pepe Reina introducing Fabregas at the World Cup winners’ parade as “the future of Barca and the future of Spain” after Pique and Carles Puyol ambushed their team-mate, dressing him in a Barca shirt.

Fabregas recognised it was not a good look. He tried to make amends to the club paying his wages by dedicating his World Cup medal to them. “This is for the Arsenal players, the Arsenal fans, the manager Arsene Wenger and all the staff,” he said. “I am really proud of being an Arsenal player.”

Xavi ratcheted up the sh*thousery as Arsenal’s refused to budge. “Arsenal need to understand they are only delaying the inevitable,” says Xavi. “If we don’t manage to get his signature this season then Arsenal only really have him on loan for a year – because there is nothing they can do to stop him joining next summer.”

When Fabregas finally declared his intention to stay a week before the start of the season, Arsenal’s relief was tinged by the nagging inevitability of Xavi being proved right. And so it came to pass.

Fabregas’s final season was as Arsenal as they come. They sank from a point behind leaders Man Utd at the end of February to finish fourth; lost to Barca in the Champions league last 16; and their best chance of a trophy was tossed away when Birmingham were gifted a last-minute winner in the League Cup final.

At least they made Barca work for Fabregas. Barca’s players and officials refused to let the football season get in their way of their pursuit of Fabregas, with Dani Alves offering the most succinct take: “I am convinced Cesc will join us. Arsenal are tourist class. Barcelona are in business class and any player would want to join us.”

Perhaps the longest saga with the most inevitable ending in transfer history finally reached its conclusion in August 2011 when Barca agreed to pay a fee which had the potential to reach £35million. Was it worth all the hassle?

Not really. Fabregas lasted three seasons at Barca and ended up being the odd man out in Barca’s crowded midfield, especially following Pep Guardiola’s departure a year after Cesc’s arrival. “There’s a little thing with Xavi in 2010 before the World Cup,” explained Fabregas explained in 2016. “He told me ‘you have to come, my Achilles, I will not last too long’. I came and he still played for five years.”


Riyad Mahrez
It would have been easy to fathom if some of Leicester’s title winners in 2016 retired on the spot. How were the likes of Wes Morgan and Marc Albrighton ever to better what they had just achieved?

But bigger things were predicted for the likes of Jamie Vardy, N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez and the vultures circled. Vardy opted to reject a move to Arsenal while Kante scuttled off to Chelsea. Mahrez, perhaps recognising that his stock might never be higher, wanted to go too but the Foxes refused to entertain any interest in the winger, despite Barcelona and Arsenal both being linked.

“I think he is an intelligent man and he will stay,” predicted Claudio Ranieri. “We support him very well, this is important, when you change teams maybe you don’t find team-mates who help you at the same level.

“He improves more if he stays with us for another year, maybe next year he can think about another solution.”

Mahrez held Leicester to Ranieri’s word and within days of the end of a dismal season for the Foxes as reigning champions, the Algerian went on the record to state that he had served out his 12-month agreement and he wanted to move.

“Out of the huge admiration and respect I hold for Leicester City I wanted to be totally honest and transparent with them and have therefore informed the club I feel now is the time for me to move on,” said Mahrez’s statement. “I had a good discussion with the chairman last summer and we agreed at that time I would stay for another year in order to help the club as best as I could following the transition of winning the title and in the Champions League.

“However, I am fiercely ambitious and feel now is the time to move on to a new experience.”

But Leicester were rather less willing to satisfy Mahrez’s wishes. Arsenal, Barca, Monaco, Spurs and Chelsea all sensed an opportunity while Roma took the p*ss by offering £20million – less than half the Foxes £50m valuation. They returned with £32million but Leicester were no more impressed. A summer’s worth of posturing passed before it got interesting on deadline day.

Mahrez was authorised to “make an express trip to Europe to formalise his transfer to his new club” but no move materialised. The following January threatened to come and go without a move for Mahrez before Manchester City rocked up on deadline day with a £60million package. But Leicester had upped their asking price to £80million, forcing City to back down and Mahrez to lose his sh*t and disappear for ten days.

“Riyad is very depressed this evening over the events of the last two days,” said a ‘close friend’ of the missing winger. “He doesn’t understand why Leicester have behaved in the way they have.”

He eventually returned and finished the season strongly in an effort to catch the eye yet again. His form alerted Real Madrid but City came back for Mahrez and finally stumped up £60million in cash. Two years after initially expressing a desire to move on, Mahrez got his move and became a Treble winner in his first season under Guardiola.


Ian Watson


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