Five players Rafael Benitez tried and failed to sign for Liverpool who could have won them the Premier League

21 Jul

When Rafael Benitez left Liverpool in 2010, there was an inescapable feeling of ‘What If?’ which hung over Anfield like a smog.

In his first season, the Spaniard brought back the Champions League trophy, against all odds, and awoke a slumbering giant.

The Spaniard lifted the Champions League in 2005, but silverware was in short supply during his time at Anfield

With a prime Steven Gerrard in midfield, Benitez supplemented the England international with Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso alongside him in the Reds’ engine room.

And up front, Fernando Torres was one of the most feared strikers in the world as he left some of the best defenders of his era watching the back of his peroxide blond bonce whizz past them en route to goal.

But despite assembling a stellar side, the Spaniard found success hard to come by after the miracle of Istanbul in 2005.

Liverpool won the 2006 FA Cup thanks to yet more heroics from Gerrard, but the Premier League title evaded Benitez throughout his five-year reign.

Liverpool were always contenders during the Benitez era
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Last week, it was revealed the Spaniard missed out on signing Aaron Ramsey from Cardiff City in 2008.

Now at Juventus, the Wales international could have moved to Anfield, but the club decided they had Jay Spearing so did not need Ramsey. The 28-year-old is now at Juventus, while Spearing is at Blackpool.

But it transpires Ramsey is not the only player Benitez failed to bring to Merseyside during his five-year tenure.

Below, we look at four other superstars who came agonisingly close to signing for Liverpool and how the Reds could have looked if they had pulled off these incredible signings.

Simao – 2005

The tricky Argentine winger was one of the most coveted players in Europe at the start of Benitez’s reign
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After winning the Champions League, Benitez was well aware of the issues which needed addressing in his squad. Although talented, the team he inherited from Gerard Houllier was imbalanced.

In came Mohamed Sissoko to add steel to the midfield, while Peter Crouch offered a new dimension up front. But in that same final against AC Milan, the Reds started with John Arne Riise on the left side of their midfield.

Although capable of playing there, the Norwegian was hardly an inspiring choice. So Benitez identified Simao, the Benfica captain who has scored 22 goals the previous season, to add much-needed creativity.

After agreeing a £12million fee, Benfica then upped their asking price even though the winger was booked in for a medical in England. Liverpool backed out of the deal, with Simao knocking the holders out of the Champions League that season.


Dani Alves – 2006

The Brazilian is the most decorated active player in world football
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Dani Alves has won a staggering 43 trophies in his glittering career and, although the full-back is no longer a problem area for Liverpool, Benitez struggled on the flanks.

Back in 2006, a 23-year-old Brazilian was tearing up LaLiga with his rampaging runs and aggressive style of defending. Liverpool were naturally interested, but the deal fell through at the 11th hour.

“I pretty much had an agreement with Liverpool. But for whatever reason it didn’t happen at the last moment and I really don’t know why, as I wasn’t the one conducting the negotiations. I had other people representing me back then,” Alves told Four Four Two.

Instead, Benitez moved for Alvaro Arbeloa and Jermaine Pennant to bolster the right-side, with the Brazilian eventually moving to Barcelona in 2008.


Nemanja Vidic – 2006

Fernando Torres gave Vidic all sorts of problems when he was at Manchester United
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No player is perhaps as synonymous with the bitter rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United as Vidic. The Serbian was sent off four times in the fixture and was regularly terrorised by Torres.

But the centre-back could quite easily have been a Liverpool player had Benitez been more decisive.

“Yes, in Rafa Benitez’s time. I spoke to him about a few things, but my wife was the main one who spoke to him,” Vidic explained. “He was interested in signing me, but I don’t know what was the problem at the time.

“I spoke to him before I signed for Manchester United, though. I didn’t meet, but we spoke over the phone, in my car in Moscow, with my wife translating.

“I didn’t say no. They said just that they were interested, they want me. It was going to happen, going to happen. Then someone came and said: “Do you want to play for United?” and I said yes.

“After two days, everything was done. Then Liverpool said they wanted to do the deal but everything was done.”

Sir Alex Ferguson reportedly met the centre-half in Moscow and organised a deal instantly, perhaps in the knowledge he could become a Premier League great.

Gabriel Heinze – 2007

Heinze’s proposed move to Liverpool nearly caused a legal battle
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“Gabriel was told, with no ambiguity, that historically Manchester United do not sell players to Liverpool, and vice versa.”

Sir Alex Ferguson was not about to become the first United manager to sanction a transfer between the north west rivals for 43 years, as he revealed in his autobiography.

That’s what the Argentine was pushing for in 2007. He had a ‘mercenary streak,’ according to Fergie and when efforts to join Liverpool were blocked, the defender attempted to make a legal issue out of it.

Joining from Paris Saint-Germain in 2004, signs of trouble first surfaced a year later. He had a winner’s mindset, but was as hard-nosed as they came. “Ruthless, would kick his own granny,” Fergie wrote.

“After one year he wanted to leave. We were playing Villarreal (in the Champions League in September 2005) when his agent came to see me,” he added.

“Things were never the same after that. The following day he injured his cruciate,” adding that when he returned to action during the 2006/07 season he wanted new terms on a new contract.

It was decided everyone would be better off without the other, which is when he attempted to force through a move to Liverpool.

Not since Phil Chisnall in 1964 had someone swapped Old Trafford for Anfield and Fergie was determined to keep it that way despite his opposite number’s best efforts that summer.

“It’s clear he’s a player we like and he’s a very good player,” Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez said. “That’s the reason why they don’t want him to leave for us.

“We made an offer which they rejected. The lawyers are now working on it and so we have to wait.”

And here’s how the team *might* have looked…

Rafael Benitez surely would have had a title-winning squad on his hands, with a young Aaron Ramsey also on the bench
buildlineup.com

Eden Hazard: How the previous 23 players who went from Premier League to Real Madrid rated in LaLiga

15 Jun

Eden Hazard becomes the 24th player to make the switch from the Premier League to Real Madrid.

His transfer was completed this week in a deal worth up to £150million and he was presented to a 50,000 crowd at the Bernabeu on Thursday.

Eden Hazard was presented to the Real Madrid crowd on Thursday
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He follows in the footsteps of some greats such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric as well as some who would like to forget their time in Madrid.

Here at talkSPORT.com we have ranked the other 23 players who have gone from England’s top flight to the Spanish club.

23. Jonathan Woodgate

The new Middlesbrough head coach was a surprise Real Madrid signing when he joined from Newcastle for £13.4million in 2004.

He had to wait a year to make his debut and what a first game it was. He managed to score an own goal before then being sent off.

Woodgate made just 14 appearances in the two seasons he was at Madrid.

Jonathan Woodgate had a disastrous debut for Real Madrid
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22. Julien Faubert

The West Ham right-back was loan to Madrid in 2009 for the second half of the season but made just two appearances.

21. Thomas Gravesen

Another surprise signing of the Madrid Galactico era was that of Everton midfielder.

During two seasons he was in and out of the side and later sold to Celtic for £2million.

Thomas Gravesen had two seasons at Real Madrid
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20. Nicolas Anelka

Anelka’s time at the LaLiga club was less than successful after a £22.3million transfer from Arsenal in 1999.

Just two goals in 19 league games, and a falling out with Vicente del Bosque, saw him leaving the following summer. He places above Faubert and Graversen because he won the Champions League at the end of that season and scored in both legs of the semi-final.

Nicolas Anelka won the Champions League in his only season at Real Madrid
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19. Jerzy Dudek

The goalkeeper moved to Real Madrid in 2007 at the age of 34 with Pepe Reina the number one at Liverpool.

In four years he managed just 12 appearances due to the legendary Iker Casillas’ performances between the sticks.

Jerzy Dudek played just 12 games in four years at Real Madrid
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18. Emmanuel Adebayor

The striker joined on loan from Manchester City for the second half of the 2010/11 season and scored eight goals in 22 games, including a hat-trick on the final day of the league season.

Emmanuel Adebayor was loaned to Real Madrid from Manchester City
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17. Michael Owen

Owen had a slow start to his career in Madrid following his transfer from Liverpool in 2004.

He struggled to score in the early stages of the season but ended with 13 LaLiga goals in his one and only year there.

Michael Owen scored 13 LaLiga goals in his only season at Real Madrid
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16. Michael Essien

Jose Mourinho signed Essien on a season-long loan from Chelsea in 2012 after he fell out of favour with Andre Villas-Boas.

He made 35 appearances in total before returning to the Blues the following season.

Michael Essien was on a season-long loan at Real Madrid
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15. Javier Hernandez

Another striker loaned from the Premier League, this time Hernandez joined on a year-long loan.

He managed just nine goals in 33 games before returning to Manchester United.

Javier Hernandez scored nine goals during his loan spell in the Spanish captial
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14. Lassana Diarra

An £18.88million signing from Portsmouth was perhaps a little surprise as he had previously been sold by Arsenal and Chelsea.

He ended up spending five relatively successful seasons in the Spanish capital before being edged out by Sami Khedira. Diarra won one LaLiga and one Copa del Rey during his time there.

Lassana Diarra signed from Portsmouth for £18.8million
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13. Gabriel Heinze

The defender was signed by Real Madrid in 2007 from Manchester United for £8million and won the league title in his first season.

He played a key role in the two seasons he was at the club before leaving for Marseille.

Gabriel Heinze joined Real Madrid in 2007
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12. Jose Antonio Reyes

The striker was loaned from Arsenal in 2006 for the season.

His most important moment came in the final game of the season when he came off the bench to score twice to help win the league title.

Jose Antonio Reyes scored crucial goals during his loan spell from Arsenal
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10. Thibaut Courtois

Courtois still has the chance to move up, or down, this list after just one season at Madrid under his belt.

He may have only had eight clean sheets last season but it has been a difficult year for the club and you can expect that to change.

Courtois has struggled in his first season at Real Madrid
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11. Ricardo Carvalho

An ageing Carvalho was a steal at just £6.7million in 2010 from Chelsea.

He ended up spending three seasons with Madrid and won the league title in his second campaign.

Ricardo Carvalho proved to be a good signing from Chelsea
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9. Alvaro Arbeloa

The defender was a stalwart for Madrid over seven seasons from 2009 to 2016.

He cost just £5million from Liverpool and won one LaLiga title, two Champions Leagues and two Copas del Rey.

Alvaro Arbeloa was a steal at just £5million
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8. David Beckham

Beckham may not have enjoyed the success that was billed at the time of his £24.5million transfer in 2003 but was a key part of an exciting Madrid team that contained the likes of Ronaldo, Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane.

He lasted just four seasons in the Spanish capital, with one league title, before heading to LA Galaxy in the MLS.

David Beckham spent four seasons at Real Madrid
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7. Arjen Robben

Robben could have been higher on this list had Real not forced him to leave after just two seasons.

He joined from Chelsea in 2007 for £24million and won LaLiga in his first year. He was a crucial member of the team before being sold to Bayern Munich.

Eight league titles, five German cups and one Champions League title later and Bayern have not looked back.

Arjen Robben was sold to Bayern Munich after two seasons in Madrid
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6. Steve McManaman

Just the second English player to play for the club, with the first being Laurie Cunningham.

He was part of a very successful Real side in the early part of the Millennium where he won two league titles and two Champions League titles in four seasons.

After he left the club, former manager Vicente del Bosque said McManaman and Geremi were the two most important players in that squad.

Steve McManaman won the Champions League twice at Real Madrid
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5. Ruud van Nistelrooy

He may have been 30 when he signed for the Spanish club but he proved to be a great signing for just £11million.

Van Nistelrooy scored 64 goals in 96 games over four seasons and he also won two LaLiga titles.

In his first season, he was the top scorer in LaLiga with 25 goals.

Ruud van Nistelrooy was prolific for the Spanish club
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4. Xabi Alonso

Alonso was a £30million signing from Liverpool in 2009 and had five successful seasons with the club.

He was an integral figure and won two Copas del Rey, one league and one Champions League.

Xabi Alonso was signed for £30million from Liverpool
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3. Gareth Bale

A world-record transfer at the time when he was signed from Tottenham for £85million but he has been worth every penny.

Bale has developed a habit of scoring in big finals for Madrid. He scored in the 2014 and two in the 2018 finals as well as a penalty in the 2015 victory.

Gareth Bale’s Real Madrid days appear to be numbered despite his success
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During his time in the Spanish capital he has won four Champions League titles, one league and one cup.

He has now scored 102 goals in 231 games and will always be an important part of their history no matter how much his relationship may have soured in recent months.

2. Luka Modric

The playmaker has been incredible for Real Madrid after signing for £30million from Tottenham in 2012.

He has won 13 trophies in those seven seasons and a key figure in those four Champions League wins.

Modric has elevated his game over the last few seasons and was given the Ballon d’Or in 2018.

Luka Modric has been one of Real Madrid’s best signings
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1. Cristiano Ronaldo

There is no argument about who should top this list.

Cristiano Ronaldo may have been a world record signing in 2009 when he joined from Manchester United for £80million but they certainly got value for money.

Real Madrid have missed Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals this season
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He scored an incredible 450 goals in 438 games for the club before leaving for Juventus last summer.

Ronaldo won an impressive 15 trophies as well as four Ballon d’Ors during his time in the Spanish capital in one of their most successful eras.

Manchester United vs Liverpool rivalry: When Gabriel Heinze tried to force Anfield transfer in 2007

21 Feb

It’s the big one for Manchester United and Liverpool fans this weekend when the bitter rivals meet at Old Trafford and ahead of the match – live on talkSPORT – talkSPORT.com looked at the time United defender Gabriel Heinze attempted to force through a transfer to Anfield.

Heinze attempted to force through a transfer from Manchester United to Liverpool in 2007

“Gabriel was told, with no ambiguity, that historically Manchester United do not sell players to Liverpool, and vice versa.”

Sir Alex Ferguson was not about to become the first United manager to sanction a transfer between the north west rivals for 43 years, as he revealed in his autobiography.

That’s what the Argentine was pushing for in 2007. He had a ‘mercenary streak,’ according to Fergie and when efforts to join Liverpool were blocked, the defender attempted to make a legal issue out of it.

Fergie was not prepared to sell Heinze to Man United’s rivals, Liverpool

Joining from Paris Saint-Germain in 2004, signs of trouble first surfaced a year later. He had a winner’s mindset, but was as hard-nosed as they came. “Ruthless, would kick his own granny,” Fergie wrote.

“After one year he wanted to leave. We were playing Villarreal (in the Champions League in September 2005) when his agent came to see me,” he added.

“Things were never the same after that. The following day he injured his cruciate,” adding that when he returned to action during the 2006/07 season he wanted new terms on a new contract.”

Gab what you can

Heinze at Man United

Premier League title (2006/07)
Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year (2004/05)

It was decided everyone would be better off without the other, which is when he attempted to force through a move to Liverpool.

Not since Phil Chisnall in 1964 had someone swapped Old Trafford for Anfield and Fergie was determined to keep it that way despite his opposite number’s best efforts that summer.

“It’s clear he’s a player we like and he’s a very good player,” Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez said. “That’s the reason why they don’t want him to leave for us.

“We made an offer which they rejected. The lawyers are now working on it and so we have to wait.”

Heinze’s people even tried shady tactics to circumvent United’s position, as former Crystal Palace chairman Simon Jordan explained in his book, Be Careful What you Wish For. Phil Alexander, the club’s CEO, received an approach from someone called James Green who claimed to represent a South American agency called Soccer SA.

“The gist of the conversation was that this agent was that this agent wanted Crystal Palace to buy Gabriel Heinze from Manchester United and then immediately sell him on to Liverpool,” he wrote, adding Palace would be paid £1m in ‘commission’ – a bung in Jordan’s eyes.

Rafa Benitez was keen to sign Heinze for Liverpool in 2007

He instructed Alexander to inform United chief executive David Gill, with the information being used as evidence at the tribunal, which sided with United.

Heinze was later sold to Real Madrid and speaking in 2011, revealed his regret at the way his career in Manchester ended, citing his and Ferguson’s strong personalities.

“I spent three years in Manchester and had some great moments and I regret it [leaving the club] a lot. There are a lot of things I regret from the last months but I am a strong personality, Sir Alex is a strong personality. I took the decision and, looking back, I regret it because it meant leaving a great club and their supporters. I was aware of the rivalry [with Liverpool], I knew the risk of going from Manchester to Liverpool and what it means. I hope it doesn’t tarnish the way they [the supporters] see me and they will remember the three years I had in the team.”

The big one on talkSPORT

Manchester United v Liverpool is live on talkSPORT at 14:05 on Sunday 24 February