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Six world-class transfers that never happened

Written by Charles Jones on 15th July 2022

Charles takes a look at six world-class players whose moves to Fulham never materialised.

Every football team has a story about the one that got away.

Whether it’s Lionel Messi almost signing for Rangers, Kylian Mbappe nearly joining Arsenal or even Zinedine Zidane almost joining Blackburn Rovers, almost every club has the story of the one player they could’ve signed.

Unfortunately, at Fulham, we have these stories every summer. From Matt Grimes to Jason Koumas, our transfer department can never seem to nail down every target.

However, while some of us are still reeling over the fact Diego Rolan conned the club for some free Wimbledon tickets, there are a few more high-profile names that have escaped our grasp over the years, and with that in mind, I’m looking at six world-class Fulham transfers that never came to fruition.

Jan Oblak

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Back in 2009, Fulham had Jan Oblak on trial, but the then 16-year-old stopper turned down a move to Craven Cottage in favour of staying in Slovenia.

To be fair, you can’t blame any 16-year-old who doesn’t fancy moving across Europe to chase what for most players that age is an unrealistic dream of becoming a Premier League footballer.

However, it probably wouldn’t have taken Oblak long to establish himself as a star at Craven Cottage.

Had he signed and developed in west London, the Slovenian probably would have gotten plenty of chances during the ill-fated 2013/14 season as injuries limited Maarten Stekelenburg to just 19 league appearances that term, leaving David Stockdale as our regular number one.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be and Fulham have had to watch Oblak establish himself as one of the world’s best at Atletico Madrid over the past decade.

Jordan Henderson

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As Liverpool fans love to bring up, Fulham almost ended up with Jordan Henderson as a part of a swap deal that would have seen Clint Dempsey end up at Anfield in 2012.

Dempsey may have been keen to move to Merseyside at that time, but it was clear that Henderson didn’t fancy a move to west London, admitting to BT Sport earlier this year that he actually cried when he was told of this proposed deal.

“I went back to my room, cried a little bit and I was devastated really. From that moment on I just tried, it wasn’t an option to leave because I hadn’t been at the club for long and I worked so hard to get there so I wasn’t just going to leave,” Henderson said.

One official complaint to the FA later, Liverpool quickly dropped their interest in Deuce and he would eventually move to Tottenham on deadline day.

As for Henderson, well, he’d go on to captain Liverpool to Champions League and Premier League glory, earning 69 England caps in the process.

Suffice to say, we missed out on a decent player here.

Antoine Griezmann

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Probably the most famous story on this list. For some reason, we opted to choose Kostas Mitroglou over Antoine Griezmann back in 2014.

To be fair to Fulham, at the time, it didn’t seem a ridiculous decision. After all, Mitroglou was in unreal form over in Greece at the time, and we needed more of a pure number 9 as Darren Bent faltered and Dimitar Berbatov jetted off to Monaco, but with hindsight, this may be the biggest transfer mistake in Premier League history.

Mitroglou would play just three games for Fulham, scoring zero goals in the process, while Griezmann would establish himself as one of La Liga’s best attackers, winning the World Cup with France in 2018.

Robert Lewandowski

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Another of the world’s best attackers, we had apparently agreed a loan move with an option to buy the Polish striker in December 2009 ahead of the January transfer window, but for one reason or another, Lewandowski never arrived in England.

Fulham would eventually get a new striker that winter in the shape of Stefano Okaka, but with all due respect to the former Watford striker, Lewandowski is a cut above the Italian.

Lewandowski has since broken all sorts of records in the Bundesliga for Bayern Munich, while if it weren’t for the 2020 edition being cancelled, he probably would have been a Ballon d’Or winner too.

Perhaps we would have won the Europa League final that year if we had Lewandowski leading the line rather than Bobby Zamora on one good leg.

Gabriel Batistuta

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A failed transfer that probably worked out for the best, Fulham almost signed a 35-year-old Gabriel Batistuta back in 2004.

The Argentine’s agent even went on the record to speak about the potential move that summer.

“We’ve been speaking to the directors at Fulham for several months,” Batistuta’s agent said.

“They’ve always wanted Gabriel and he has always wanted to play in the Premiership.

“The football in England is quick and the kind of competitive challenge we want. Gabriel knows he could do a job there — but it has to be a project that interests him.

“He wants to spend the last few years of his career with a team going places. Fulham could be the ideal side — if he is persuaded by the financial offer and the sporting project. It is up to them.”

Of course, a move never came to fruition, but we did sign another legendary striker that summer in the shape of Andy Cole.

Cole would net 12 goals in 31 appearances for the Whites that season, while an injury-plagued Batistuta would score just once for Al-Arabi in the Qatari league that season.

Batistuta would have been a blockbuster signing, but it’s fair to say that Cole was probably the better option.

Raheem Sterling

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As stated in Michael Calvin’s book The Nowhere Men, Fulham came incredibly close to signing Raheem Sterling as a teenager back in 2010.

In fact, Sterling apparently visited Motspur Park ahead of his potential move to Craven Cottage, but after a late approach from Liverpool, Sterling left us high and dry.

An incredibly talented young player who ditched Fulham for Liverpool, Raheem Sterling walked so the likes of Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho could run.

The winger has gone on to win four Premier League titles and score over 100 Premier League goals.

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