The Gooner once did a series on players who nearly joined Arsenal – as in were actually close to signing, rather than just some guy mentioned them on twitter.
Here are one of the best and another one.
Originally printed in The Gooner, issues 118 and 116.
Nowadays Arsenal are all about sexy football and fancy dan foreigners displaying their skills. It wasn’t like that 20 years ago, but it could have been when Terry Neill was offered the teenage Ruud Gullit for a bargain basement price. Gullit was playing for FC Haarlem in Holland, who were managed by one Barry Hughes, former playing colleague of Don Howe and former coaching partner of Arsenal assistant manager Wilf Dixon (still following?). Haarlem were in dire financial trouble, but had the teenage prodigy Gullit up front. Hughes offered him to Arsenal, and Neill and Howe flew to Holland. Neill’s verdict: “He could obviously play a bit but was lazy and undisciplined, played when he wanted to and wouldn’t track back.” Foreigners, eh?
According to Barry Hughes, Gullit didn’t have the best of games that day, but the Haarlem boss was still stunned when Arsenal didn’t want him. The asking price was £200,000, but Hughes may have taken £80,000 or less to ease his club’s problems. While Arsenal floundered on for several more unsuccessful years Gullit started his rise. He won the Dutch league with Feyenoord, then twice with PSV before a world record £6 million move to AC Milan. There he won three Serie A titles and was voted European Player of the Year and twice World Player of the Year. He also won the Dutch and Italian Cups, two European Cups, two Super Cups and captained Holland to the European Championships.
Most players Arsenal failed to sign probably wouldn’t have made too much difference, and it’s true that one man can never carry a team for long. You have to wonder, though . . .
On the other hand, Gullit had problems later on with managers and would never have got on with George Graham. George would probably have swapped him for Perry Groves, and then how would we have felt?
Geoff Thomas has had a long and fairly undistinguished career, playing for seven clubs, and now back at Crewe, his first. His heyday was in the early nineties Crystal Palace side, alongside Ian Wright, that narrowly failed to win the FA Cup. If Palace had beaten ManUre at Wembley in 1990 their history since may have been different. But within a couple of years the side was breaking up, and that was when Thomas appeared on George Graham’s shopping list.
To some amazement, Geoff Thomas was capped nine times for England. His final appearance in 1992 climaxed with a howling miss, as an attempt to chip the French keeper ended up some considerable distance from goal. Another incredible fact is that in the list of England players, directly below ‘Thomas, G: 9 caps’, is ‘Thomas, M: 2 caps’. Yes, the man who won the League for us played for England seven fewer times than Geoff Thomas.
Other ‘highlights’ of Thomas, G’s career were missing a penalty in Palace’s 9-0 thrashing by Liverpool in 1990 and injuring himself warming up while at Barnsley. He did score a cracking goal for Forest at Highbury in 1998 though, after nutmegging Tony Adams. Forest still lost.
What sticks in my memory most is the time when a move to Arsenal looked imminent and some mates were discussing Thomas’s, er, talent. “He’s a pretty good player, really,” I heard somebody say. I almost looked round to see who’d said it before realising it was me! Fortunately, I got over it.
To be fair, Thomas was a decent journeyman, just not talented enough for Arsenal, even compared to Hillier and Morrow. I’m not sure how close Arsenal actually got to signing him, but perhaps we should be grateful George never liked to open his wallet too far.