Though the transfer window has shut, the insatiable need for the market rumbles on around the footballing globe, such is the crazy amount of interest the proverbial ‘silly season’ brings to fans.
Indeed, like it or not, transfers and everything that goes with them are one of the major strands of the general footballing narrative. Especially in the digital age, where every supporter can be clued up about potential incomings or outgoings very quickly.
However, what about those mega deals that didn’t quite come off? Here, in our The one who got away series, we’ll take a look at perhaps the most surprising transfers to have fallen at the final hurdle.
Rangers – Andres Iniesta, 2004
In 2004, Rangers’ financial crisis was still a long way off and then-manager Alex McLeish was in the process of sealing a number of big name transfer coups. The likes of David Prso, Nacho Novo, Jean-Alain Boumsong and Alex Rae all arrived at Ibrox as the Gers looked to wrestle the Scottish Premiership title back from the hands of Celtic.
While the likes of Rae, Prso and Novo all made themselves heroes amongst the Light Blue faithful, there could have been another to walk through the doors and up the marble staircase to create history. Indeed, according to ‘Big Eck’, the club were interested in luring Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta to the club.
Iniesta, of course, would go on to cement himself as one of the game’s greatest ever midfielders, though was just making his way through the Camp Nou ranks in 2004. The Blaugrana were just forming the basis of the side who would catapult them into greatness during that period and, as McLeish told Graham Hunter (via the Daily Record) a loan deal could have been on the cards.
Countryman Mikel Arteta had enjoyed success in leaving the Catalan giants for Scotland and, after a phone call between Rangers assistant Jan Wouters and Barca assistant Henk Ten Cante, the Scottish giants registered their interest in the future World Cup winner.
“Rangers were downsizing and I needed players of quality, who could take the ball in midfield”, said McLeish at Aye Write Book Festival in 2017.
“Jan Wouters phoned Henk ten Cate, who was Rijkaard’s assistant at Barcelona. Jan asked if there was anybody we could get and was told about a young kid called Iniesta.”
However, it seems that Rangers’ interest in the teenager prompted the Camp Nou giants into fast-tracking Iniesta into their first-team, where he would later form perhaps the best midfield in the history of modern football alongside Xavi and Sergio Busquets for both club and country.
“The Monday after Jan had made the call, Iniesta was moved into the first team.
“When Henk ten Cate got back to us, we asked about Iniesta and were told: ‘He’s in the first team squad now’.”
The interest in Ineista prompted his promotion to the first-team under Louis van Gaal, who the Spaniard would later dub one of the most influential men in his career, before kicking on under Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola to cement his place as one of the best players to ever lace up a pair of boots.
For Rangers, it could have been so different.