Well, another transfer window is flapping wide open in LS11 just as it is in less crisis-torn football outposts and, embargo notwithstanding, a couple of Serie A fringe performers have breezed into Elland Road and signed for Leeds. Possibly there are more to come, maybe an outgoing or two as well. It’s certainly different, in a good way too, from some of the depressingly inert United transfer markets of the unlamented Bates era – but it hardly compares with the wheeling and dealing we did in more halcyon days. And, if anything, some of the rumours that never came to fruition down the years were more exciting and entertaining than certain signings that actually did happen (take a bow, Messrs. Sharpe & Brolin).
There have been so many players linked with transfers to Leeds United over our chequered history and, in the nature of these things, only a small proportion ever actually pulled on the famous white shirt. Of those who never arrived, it would probably be easy to name at least two world-class International sides comprising players who were rumoured to be signing for United, but missed out on that pinnacle of honours and finished their careers tragically unfulfilled – apart from the odd cartload of silverware. The likes of Tomáš Skuhravý, Rainer Bonhof, Peter Shilton, Trevor Francis and even Dean Saunders have all, at one time or another, been tipped as Leeds United players, only to remain trapped in dreadful anonymity at the likes of Liverpool, Bayern Munich or Nottingham Forest. Here – in time-honoured reverse order – are my top three exciting but unrealised rumours – you may well have candidates of your own, so please feel free to comment.
3. Duncan Ferguson
In 1994, it really did look as though this one might happen. The wonderfully talented if ever so slightly thuggish Scottish striker, looking to move south to England from then mighty Rangers FC, seemed nailed-on for a transfer to Leeds in the region of £4million, but ended up at Everton where he prospered before moving on to Newcastle. Ferguson had a bit of a “reputation” on and off the field as a nutter – in fact he did time in Barlinnie for over-generous use of that nut in a dispute with Raith Rovers defender John McStay. A little prone to over-exuberance when he’d had a drop or two (he was known as Drunken Ferguson or alternatively Duncan Disorderly) he had previous convictions for nutting a policeman and punching and kicking a supporter on crutches. Nice.
2. Peter Beardsley
This was one of those “definitely happening, mark my words and get your money on it” rumours that you’d have so loved to be true. Beardsley was a wonderful player, class, poise and jinking speed all rolled into one dynamite package of energy and skill. I’d first noticed him in rather abbreviated TV highlights of a Cup game he played for Carlisle United, when he stood out as the real deal among a load of dross. After a spell in Vancouver, he moved briefly to Man U – but the other thing about Beardsley was that he was such a nice, modest guy – not really the type of player for the Theatre of Hollow Myths at all. Leeds could have signed him whilst he was at Vancouver – Peter Lorimer recommended that they do just that – but we couldn’t raise the cash (some things never change). Beardsley made his name at Newcastle, in the same side as a veteran Kevin Keegan and emerging Chris Waddle. From there, a big money move to Liverpool, and it was whilst unaccountably out of favour at Anfield that the Leeds rumour surfaced again – he was buying a house locally, he’d been seen at Elland Road – there really did seem to be something in it. Sadly, Beardsley was The One Who Got Away – Twice. A great shame, as any club would have been improved by the addition of Beardsley, a phenomenal talent you could have built a team around.
1. Diego Maradona
Surely the craziest rumour ever, bar none. In 1987, Leeds had just missed out, under Billy Bremner, on an FA Cup Final and promotion to the top flight in the first-ever play-offs. We were doomed to a hangover season in 87-88 and the fans’ mood and expectations were dulled. Then sensational whispers emerged that managing director Bill Fotherby, a larger-than-life used-car-salesman of a bloke, had managed to persuade the agent of Diego Armando Maradona to enter into talks with Leeds United over the proposed signing of the Argentine superstar. This was only just a year after Maradona had just about single-handedly (geddit?) won the World Cup for the Argies, and his stock could hardly have been higher on the global football scene. Strangely, he had very nearly signed for Sheffield United as a youngster, and for a measly £250,000 at that. The Blunts got Alejandro Sabella instead, who actually did end up briefly at Elland Road. But Maradona was different – astoundingly different to just about anyone else – people compared him favourably to Pele. He was even compared – unfavourably, and by the ever modest and unassuming George Best himself – to self-proclaimed greatest player ever, G. Best. It was a signing that was never going to happen, and surely the Number One Daft Rumour of all time.
It’s tempting to wonder how the history of Leeds United might have differed if we’d signed Trevor Francis and Peter Shilton in 1974, or Peter Beardsley in 1990, or even the “Hand of God” himself in 1987. The story of any major club is littered with “what ifs” and this certainly applies to our beloved Leeds. Of course our sights are set lower these days – although we’re now roughly about where we were in ’87 when an enterprising director started that Diego rumour, with a view to putting us back on the map.
Perhaps somebody in the Elland Road corridors of power will try to get the excitement going this time around with an audacious loan-with-a-view-to-permanent swoop for the undeniably promising prospect Lionel Messi? Watch this space…