Former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier has revealed that the presence of Harry Kewell in the Reds’ squad discouraged the Merseysiders from pursuing their interest in a young Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo was just 18 when he was snapped up by Manchester United from Sporting, and has since gone on to become one of the finest players of his generation.
At Old Trafford and later Real Madrid, the Portugal star has smashed countless records and help both sides to Champions League glory as well as a host of other titles.
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But according to Houllier, Liverpool lost the race to his signature because they were unwilling to bend their wage structure for the teenage phenomenon.
“I saw him in the Toulon Under-21 tournament and we went for him,” Houllier recalled to the Liverpool Echo on Sunday.
“But we had a wage scale and we weren’t paying the sort of salary he wanted.
“Then Manchester United played a friendly against Sporting Lisbon and all their boys said to Sir Alex Ferguson: ‘You have to sign him’.
“But I agreed with not breaking the wage structure. I thought it would cause problems in our dressing room.”
Instead of Ronaldo, Liverpool signed Kewell from Leeds United, and the Australia star went on to spend five seasons at Anfield in a spell remembered fondly by supporters despite constant injury problems.
“Maybe we would have won the title with Ronaldo, but we had Harry Kewell, who was outstanding at the time and was very hungry but got a bad injury,” Houllier added.
“After that, he never had the same confidence, the same appetite.”
It had started out as a joke.
Every time AC Milan sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli sounded Alessandro Lucci out about one of his players during the summer, the agent would casually drop in the name of his most valuable client, Leonardo Bonucci.
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Mirabelli thought nothing of it until it became clear on July 12 that not only was the defender actually ready to leave Juventus, the Italian champions were actually prepared to sell the centre-piece of their brilliant backline.
“Bonucci’s transfer wasn’t planned but it was an opportunity we had to grab as it went past,” Mirabelli told Rai Sport.
“Over the first few days, I didn’t even tell [CEO Marco] Fassone; I thought Lucci was joking. Then, I saw the lad really did want to come to Milan and we worked out the negotiations very quickly.”
Indeed, the deal was done inside 48 hours, with the Rossoneri agreeing to pay Juve €42 million for the services of a man also coveted by Chelsea and Manchester City.
Even Milan’s players were stunned by Bonucci’s sudden arrival from Turin and had no issue with the new signing being immediately installed as club captain.
“I didn’t actually believe he’d come!” Giacomo Bonaventura enthused. “Leo is a winner, a pillar of the national team and his arrival is a fantastic thing.
“From what I know of him, his character will be very useful in the dressing room, which is coming off the back of some troubled years. He’s destined to become a real point of reference.”
The reverence of his new team-mates was understandable.
Since joining Juventus in 2010, Bonucci had developed into the finest defender in football, one of Pep Guardiola’s “favourite ever players”, a man who played a pivotal role in the Bianconeri’s unprecedented run of six consecutive Scudetti and re-emergence as a major European force.
He was not just a central defender, he was central to how Juve played because of his wonderful passing skills. Bonucci was, thus, viewed as the major coup of Milan’s summer spending spree, the one signing sure to succeed, a natural-born leader capable of turning losers into winners.
Now, though, some feel that the joke is on Milan.
Bonucci was confirmed on Monday as one of the 30 nominees for this year’s Ballon d’Or, but that news only served as an awkward reminder of just how dramatic a dip in form the Italy international has suffered since his switch to San Siro.
The best defender in the world suddenly looks like one of the worst in Serie A, prompting former Napoli and Udinese director Pierpaolo Marino to claim: “I think Milan already regret buying Bonucci.
“I think that if Massimiliano Mirabelli and Marco Fassone could go back in time, they’d spend that money on a top striker instead.”
That is most certainly not the case, though.
Admittedly, the unplanned nature of Bonucci’s arrival left Vincenzo Montella with an unexpected dilemma: should he change his formation to suit his most significant summer signing? The Rossoneri had last season played with a flat back-four, but Bonucci’s preferred position was in the centre of a three-man defence.
Montella decided to change, meaning not only were Milan starting the season with 10 new players, they would also be doing so with a new formation. Therefore, the coach and his team were always going to require time to adapt. The surprise, though, is that Bonucci has looked so unsure of himself, even in his beloved back three.
There have been uncharacteristic lapses in concentration, inexplicable unforced errors and even his famed distribution has repeatedly betrayed him. He was meant to raise Milan’s game; instead, he has dragged them down.
“He certainly knows he has to improve his performances, but he has been the first to admit it,” Montella said before the international break. “But he is not a problem and he never will be. He is a resource for Milan and will be for many years to come.
“People seem to think everything is Bonucci’s fault, but I know how to get the best out of him and his playing style.”
It’s time now for Montella to back up that claim, with Bonucci having returned to Milanello this week after two dismal displays for Italy, against Macedonia and Albania.
The Rossoneri sit seventh after seven rounds of Serie A action, having lost three games already, including their last two, away to Sampdoria and at home to Roma. A third consecutive defeat would be catastrophic for Montella’s hopes of holding on to his job, as Milan’s next opponents are city rivals Inter.
As a result, the coach desperately needs the real Bonucci to stand up at San Siro on Sunday evening. The defender’s poor form has gone well beyond a joke at this stage.
David Moyes has revealed he did not want Marouane Fellaini to be his first signing as Manchester United manager.
Moyes moved to the Red Devils from Everton in 2013 and brought Fellaini with him, forking out £27.5 million for the Belgium international.
However, the Scotsman claims he was actually looking to sign Nemanja Matic but ended up capturing Fellaini instead on transfer deadline day.
“You can ask my staff – the last thing I wanted was for Marouane Fellaini to be my first signing,” Moyes told Radio 5 live.
“I knew, coming from my old club, the look was never going to be good.
“I’ve got to say we looked at Matic as well. He hadn’t done well for Chelsea and had gone back to Benfica.
“He was a consideration. We probably did need a more defensive type player in hindsight.
“Someone who would sit and play, make passes from the middle of the park. But we didn’t get a lot of the things we hoped for.
“And in the end we only ended up getting Marouane on deadline day or we would’ve got no one in that summer at all.”
Fellaini had initially struggled to win over the United faithful after switching from Everton, but the midfielder has caught the eye under Jose Mourinho’s tutelage.
Man Utd win and over 2.5 v Liverpool 10/3
The 29-year-old has impressed when playing alongside Matic, who joined United from Chelsea in the summer, in the heart of the midfield, scoring four goals in all competitions so far.
‘If I don’t start that game I’ll join you!’ – Moyes reveals just how close Fabregas came to Man Utd move
David Moyes has revealed he came close to landing Cesc Fabregas during his time at Manchester United, while he also had conversations with Gareth Bale over a move to Old Trafford.
Bale, still at Tottenham at the time, was also a target for Real Madrid during the summer of 2013, while Fabregas was unsure over his long-term future at Barcelona.
The pair were targeted by Moyes as he attempted to stamp his authority on the United team he had inherited from Sir Alex Ferguson, with United attempting to foil Real’s protracted attempts to acquire the Welshman, and also secure the signature of Fabregas.
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Moyes has now revealed that he spoke with both players, with Fabregas pledging to join if he was left out of the Barcelona starting XI on the first day of the season. Unfortunately for the Scot, the Spain international started, though he eventually moved to Chelsea just a year later.
“I spoke to Gareth Bale a couple of times. He had his heart set on going to Real Madrid, we tried to change it,” he told BBC Radio Five Live. “We tried to convince him but we couldn’t do so. We offered more money to Tottenham at that time.
“Cesc Fabregas, who I spoke to on the phone several times, was not sure of his place in the Barcelona team. I remember him saying to me ‘if I don’t start the first game at Barcelona then I’ll definitely be looking to join you’ and he started the first game at Barcelona.
“So it’s small things, you’re waiting on happening. But I don’t want it to sound like hard luck stories because there were other players, but those were the two who looked to me like Manchester United players.”
Moyes ended up signing Marouane Fellaini from Everton, and was sacked 10 months after taking the United job, with the club unable to qualify for the Champions League.
Everyone has an opinion on Mesut Ozil. Some adore his laid-back style and nonchalant approach to the game, while others lambast his languid body language when things aren’t going well.
Whatever your view, there can be no argument that the German has got people talking since joining Arsenal from Real Madrid for a then-club record fee of £42.5 million in late 2013.
Ozil 13/2 first scorer v Watford
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Ozil sauntered through the Emirates Stadium doors with weighty expectations on his shoulders but immediately delivered on his debut, with a sumptuous assist for Olivier Giroud in an away game against Sunderland.
From showing his talents in the north east of England to dominating defences in north London, the 28-year-old quickly justified his reputation as the assist king of Europe due to his ability to pick out a killer pass, whatever the occasion, whomever the opposition.
The Germany international, who spoke to Goal about a range of topics including his playing style back in May, celebrates his 29th birthday on Sunday and appears to have approached a crossroads in his career, with an expiring contract in the summer of 2018.
As Goal revealed last week, Arsenal have yet to put a formal proposal to Ozil despite a series of talks throughout last season that were eventually broken off due to the uncertainty over manager Arsene Wenger’s future.
42 – Since his @premierleague debut, Mesut Ozil has provided more assists (42) and created more chances (407) than any other player. Ya. pic.twitter.com/SBeOwr0V3F
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 12, 2017
With negotiations now resumed, there is a feeling that Ozil could still commit to the club despite interest from several elite European sides – but, for most people, it is not a question of if or when he will sign a new deal, but whether he is worth one.
Looking at the stats from the past four years, Ozil is second only to Philippe Coutinho in terms of minutes per chance created (24.5 mins), while he has the most chances created, most successful crosses and most assists in the league since 2013/14.
However, while Ozil’s numbers have always been impressive, ex-players and pundits continue to use his body language as a stick with which to beat him.
Indeed, the man himself admitted a couple of seasons ago that he needs to improve that aspect of his playing style – before then explaining to Goal in May that people need to accept who he is and he won’t change for anyone.
Perhaps there was a moment of enlightenment and acceptance that Ozil doesn’t need to alter his game for anyone, given it has worked well for him in his career so far.
If you could only keep one, who would it be? #AFC
— Chris Wheatley (@ChrisWheatley_) October 12, 2017
Admittedly, he doesn’t assert himself on games in the same way Alexis Sanchez does. Chasing down defenders and scoring wonder goals isn’t what he does, yet creating ample opportunities and space for his forward team-mates is still something that the Arsenal team lack at times.
But can Ozil’s time at Arsenal be considered a success, given the huge investment (£73.7m, including transfer fee and wages)? His contributions have been superb and while Arsenal’s system may have exposed his weaknesses at times, the overall quality of the player in question makes it vital that they hold onto him this summer.
Encouragingly, while Alexis Sanchez flirts with the idea of joining Manchester City in January, Ozil’s agent continues to hold positive talks over a contract extension, which looks like a genuine possibility.
“I always want to control the game, give assists and help my team”, Ozil told Goal. “It was like that with me from the start.
“In my position you have many possibilities playing forward: You can demand the balls, make telling passes or score yourself. I feel the most comfortable playing as a No.10 because I’ve done it since I was young.
“Of course, that makes me proud and it is an honour [to be compared with Dennis Bergkamp]. He is a living legend at Arsenal and he was an amazing football player. But I do not want to compare myself with anybody.
“I have my own style and I’ve had it since I was a kid. I am proud of these comparisons, but I am Mesut Ozil.”
Ozil has three FA Cups to his name and his arrival came at a crucial point in Arsenal’s history. Following the barren years after the move from Highbury to Emirates Stadium, the showpiece signing from Real Madrid breathed new life into Arsene Wenger’s side and while many would have hoped for domestic or European success, the signing should be judged on his individual impact – not the collective.
Whether this is his last season or not, Ozil can hold his head high when he sees the level of difference he has made to an Arsenal team who lacked a genuine world class talent before his arrival.
Delivering a major trophy in May would be the ultimate way to silence those critics and prove himselft worthy of a new contract.