Malcom, Alexis, Di Stefano and transfers that were hijacked at the last minute

With both Manchester sides battling to sign Tottenham’s Dimitar Berbatov in 2008, the Bulgarian frontman had a difficult decision to make. Spurs had accepted an offer from City, though the striker wanted to sign for United.

When Berbatov flew into Manchester to speak to City officials, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson was at the airport to pick him up, much to the player’s surprise. United then got their man for a price lower than City had offered.

“I am flattered that he [Ferguson] gave me so much of his time,” Berbatov said. “He personally came to pick me up at the airport. It was a shock to me, but it was a pleasure to get to know him.” 

After a 25-goal campaign with Everton, Romelu Lukaku had his pick of Champions League clubs to join ahead of the 2017-18 season.

As the reigning Premier League champions, Chelsea were the clear frontrunners, with manager Antonio Conte desperate to sign a striker who had been discarded by the Blues during Jose Mourinho’s tenure at Stamford Bridge.

However, much to the Italian’s disappointment, United were ultimately willing to stump up more cash for the Belgium international, who moved to Old Trafford for a whopping £75 million.

Lukaku has proved worth every penny, though, netting 27 times in his first year on Manchester before then proving himself one of the world’s elite forwards with his performances at the 2018 World Cup.

With Chelsea and Manchester United locked in a battle to sign Pedro from Barcelona in 2015, it was a matter of urgency which closed the deal.

United officials had flown to Spain to talk to the forward but the winger’s agent later said that the Manchester side had, metaphorically speaking, “fallen asleep” during the protracted negotiations, thus allowing Chelsea to swoop in and take Pedro to west London for £19m. 

As the story goes, Emmanuel Petit was in London for talks to sign with Tottenham in 1997.

During discussions with Spurs chairman Alan Sugar, the Frenchman became aware of interest from north London rivals Arsenal, who told Petit not to put pen-to-paper at White Hart Lane until he had spoken with compatriot Arsene Wenger.

With his options now open, Petit was sent back to his hotel in a taxi paid by Spurs to think things over, only for the World Cup winner to take a detour to Highbury and sign with the Gunners instead.  

As Goal revealed, Manchester City were left furious when primary transfer target Jorginho joined Premier League rivals Chelsea in July 2018, believing that the midfielder had been “bullied” into moving to Stamford Bridge rather than the Etihad by Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis.

City had agreed terms with both the player and his club a fortnight beforehand but were left astounded by what they viewed as “an unprecedented level of unprofessionalism” when De Laurentiis reneged on the deal in order to allegedly make Jorginho a part of Partenopei coach Maurizio Sarri’s move to Stamford Bridge.

Indeed, the Premier League champions claimed that the Brazil-born Italy international had been desperate to link up with Pep Guardiola but that he had been forced into joining Chelsea after being told that if he did not do so, he would not be sold and would have to see out the final two years of his contract at the San Paolo.

First, Tottenham swiped Willian from Liverpool. Then, Chelsea stole the Brazilian away from them.

In the summer of 2013, Spurs were confident in securing a deal for the Anzhi Makhachkala star only for Jose Mourinho to hijack the deal after learning that the attacking midfielder was in London for a medical.

“That’s the danger of medicals before contracts,” the Portuguese said after wrapping up a £30m deal for Willian. “The best thing you can do is do the medical in secret.”

“The first time I saw Cristiano Ronaldo,” former Arsenal scout Damien Comolli recalled, “I thought, ‘Who the hell is this?’ I called my contact in Portugal and told him that I had seen a phenomenon. Not since Thierry Henry had I ever seen anyone like that.

“He came to the [Arsenal] training centre twice. Nobody knows that. He met Thierry, who was his idol. But when it came to making the transfer, there was no money.”

As a result, Manchester United gleefully snapped up the future five-time Ballon d’Or winner in 2003 for a bargain £12.24m – a British record for a teenager at the time – thus completely altering the course of Premier League and Champions League history.

A new owner and, in turn, new-found wealth.

Manchester City’s Abu-Dhabi based patrons went on the hunt for a statement signing in 2008 and Real Madrid’s Robinho ticked all the boxes.

After falling out of favour at the Santiago Bernabeu, the Brazilian had made it clear that he wanted to move to the Premier League, although hinted that his preference would be to join a London club.

However, despite initial talks with Chelsea, City waved some serious cash at Robinho and Real, signing the forward for £32.5m on the final day of the summer transfer window.

Even the forward had been left in a daze by how quickly things had changed, as he expressed his delight at singing for Chelsea in his first interview with City!

Alexis Sanchez looked destined to sign for Manchester City during summer of 2017, with Arsenal only blocking the transfer because of their inability to find a suitable replacement.

However, as January approached, the Gunners were ready to cash in on the Chilean, who had only six months left on his Gunners contract, and a move to the Etihad appeared a formality.

Indeed, personal terms had long since been agreed, but then Manchester United offered to make Alexis the highest-paid player in the Premier League and the forward instead moved to Old Trafford for approximately £35m.

City were furious at the time but now have no regrets, having taken the title by a whopping 19 points from United, for whom Alexis has looked utterly lost playing under Jose Mourinho.

It was late on a Friday evening in the summer of 1993 when Nottingham Forest starlet Roy Keane shook hands with Blackburn Rovers boss Kenny Dalglish on a transfer to Ewood Park.

The Scottish manager requested that the contract be drawn up and signed right away but every member of his club’s admin team had wrapped up for the day. As a result, pen could not be put to paper until the following Monday.

By that stage, though, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson had both called and met Keane in person, convincing him to accept a smaller salary to move to Old Trafford instead.

The news did not go down well in Blackburn. “Nobody does this to Kenny Dalglish,” the Liverpool legend told the 21-year-old Irishman. “You’re a wee bastard and you won’t get away with this.”

Even Keane admitted that he “felt bad” about going back on his word but he had no regrets and went on to become one of the greatest captains in United’s history. Even Dalglish admitted while sitting alongside the former midfielder on a TV panel last year that Keane had made the right call.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was literally about to sign for Fiorentina on July 25, 2015 when the Serbian broke down in tears at the Viola’s headquarters, confessing, “I’m sorry but I can’t. I really can’t.”

Viola sporting director Daniele Prade was as annoyed as he was astounded. He refused to try to change the Genk midfielder’s mind. 

“We don’t beg anyone to come here,” Prade declared. “Sergej asked us to hold off on doing the medical so that he could speak with his girlfriend and then decide.

“But, for us, that wasn’t on. If he has issues outside of football to resolve, then we’re going to take a step back and say, ‘Enough’.”

Prade’s hard-line response to his 11th-hour breakdown was perhaps justified but it wasn’t particularly shrewd, as it ultimately paved the way for Lazio to sign the Serbian the very next day for €9m.

The Serbia is now worth at least 10 times that figure, having attracted the attention of the game’s elite clubs after three stellar seasons at the Stadio Olimpico.

Ronaldinho made a name for himself in Europe during his two-season stay at Paris Saint-Germain between 2001-03. The Brazilian’s scintillating performances in Ligue 1 saw him become the focus of transfer interest from a number of elite clubs.

Manchester United led the chase for Ronaldinho’s signature but, just as all parties concerned were closing in on a deal, Barcelona – fresh from seeing David Beckham snub them to join Real Madrid instead – lured the outrageously gifted forward to Camp Nou in a €30 million deal.

It proved an absolute steal, with Ronaldinho inspiring Barcelona’s revival, helping them win La Liga twice and only their second ever European Cup, in 2006.

Manchester City were so sure that Dani Alves was on his way to the Etihad in the summer of 2017 that they promised journalists a sit-down interview with the Brazilian once he joined up with the club for pre-season fixtures in the United States.

However, even though he had agreed a two-year contract and held talks with manager Pep Guardiola in Barcelona, Alves performed a dramatic u-turn on the weekend of his wedding by secretly signing for Paris Saint-Germain while City officials were still expecting him to arrive in Manchester the following week.

Guardiola was furious and they weren’t alone, as Juventus had only released him from the final years of his contract as he had claimed to be desperate to play for his former Barca boss one more time. 

As for the man himself, Alves claimed that he had simply put his new bride first by choosingn Paris over Manchester and insisted that the bigger wage packet at the Parc des Princes had not been a factor in his decision.

Quite simply, the greatest transfer hijacking the world of football has ever seen.

Alfredo Di Stefano was plying his trade in Colombia with Millonarios in 1953 when both Real Madrid and Barcelona both tried to sign the gifted Argentine attacker.

There are numerous myths and rumours surrounding one of the most influential and infamous transfers of all time, so all we know for certain is that although Barca thought that they had finalised a deal to bring Di Stefano to Catalunya, he instead turned up in the Spanish capital to join Real instead. 

It was the ultimate game-changer, as Di Stefano acted as the catalyst in Real becoming the dominant force in European football, playing a pivotal role in eight Liga titles and five consecutive European Cups as he went about establishing himself as a legend of the game during 11 glorious years at the Bernabeu.

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