Ronaldo, Messi and the stars Arsenal ALMOST signed under Wenger

Cristiano Ronaldo ‘had the shirt’ at Arsenal before he joined Man United, but he is far from the only superstar Arsene Wenger missed out on… from Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to Kylian Mbappe, this is the incredible team the Gunners ALMOST had

  • Arsene Wenger revealed how close Arsenal came to signing Cristiano Ronaldo
  • The Frenchman says Ronaldo ‘had the shirt’ before Manchester United swooped
  • The Juventus forward is one in a long list of stars who nearly joined the Gunners
  • Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Kylian Mbappe were all targets for Wenger
  • He also tried and failed to sign Yaya Toure, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante (twice!) 

Arsene Wenger had some brilliant players at Arsenal during his 22-year spell in north London, but according to the man himself, the list of stars to have pulled on the famous red shirt during his reign could have been far more impressive.

Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Kylian Mbappe were all transfer targets for the Frenchman, while this week he revealed that Cristiano Ronaldo ‘had the shirt’ before Manchester United swooped in to sign him from Sporting Lisbon in 2003.

The list of players the Gunners came close to signing is both star-studded and exhaustive, with Wenger admitting he has 50 transfer regrets and that ‘the history of a big club is full of missed great players.’

Here, Sportsmail runs down the huge names Wenger missed out on – and what he had to say about them.

Arsene Wenger has revealed plenty about his near-misses in the transfer market with Arsenal


With Wenger on the hunt for a long-term David Seaman replacement, he enjoyed a meal out with legendary Italian goalkeeper Buffon while he was still playing for Parma.

However, Juventus came in quickly for Buffon, splashing out £32.6million on him back in 2001. 

He would go on to win a remarkable nine Serie A titles for the club as well as four Coppa Italia crowns, while lifting the World Cup with Italy in 2006.

Arsenal wanted to sign Gianluigi Buffon as a long-term replacement for David Seaman in 2001


Arsenal had signed Cesc Fabregas in the summer of 2003 from Barcelona and he would go on to become captain. However, their business could have been even better if they has managed to prise Pique away as well. 

The Spanish centre back eventually joined Manchester United a year later and spent four years there before moving back to boyhood club Barcelona. 

Wenger failed to sign Gerard Pique from Barcelona but he later joined Manchester United


Kompany, who was viewed as one of the hottest prospects at the back, was identified as a potential replacement for Sol Campbell but Wenger was beaten to his signature by Hamburg before he went on to play for and captain Manchester City.

The Belgium defender’s agent confirmed Arsenal’s interest as he discussed Kompany’s suitors before he announced himself on the world stage.

In 2014, Jacques Lichtenstein revealed: ‘I had meetings with Emilio Butragueno at Real Madrid, the club leaders at Barcelona and by Arsene Wenger himself at Arsenal. 

‘But heading to an absolute top club immediately was not the right solution because Vincent is someone who feels alone in an environment where he is not properly valued. Vincent is not a third or fourth choice.’

Vincent Kompany went on to become a legend for Manchester City after joining from Hamburg


The Gunners could have snapped up one of the most formidable defenders in world football had they acted faster when Varane played for French club Lens.

Real Madrid eventually got their man in 2011 and he hasn’t looked back since, making over 300 appearances for the Spanish giants and winning 67 caps for France.

Back in 2013, Wenger said: ‘I’m happy for him because he’s carving out a role at one of the world’s best clubs, which is remarkable. 

‘Yet at the same time, when you are in charge of a club like Arsenal, you have to wonder why this player is not playing for us. He was at Lens, and we might well have caught him there.’

Raphael Varane was another star name that the long-serving Arsenal boss missed out on


Toure, who would have been the perfect Patrick Vieira replacement, played in a pre-season friendly for Arsenal against Barnet but red tape denied them from signing him permanently and he would end up joining Ukrainian side Metalurh Donetsk.

Seven years later, he started his journey of becoming a City legend, winning three Premier League titles along the way.  

‘It would be up at the top [of my list of regrets],’ Wenger lamented when remembering the passport trouble that prevented Toure from joining the Gunners. 

‘He had an agreement with us – and it’s not because we didn’t want to sign him that he went to Ukraine.’

City legend Yaya Toure played for Arsenal in a pre-season friendly against Barnet in 2003


Arsenal could have acquired the services of French World Cup winner Pogba back in 2012 when he was on the verge of leaving United. However, they were too slow out of the blocks and were pipped by Juventus again.

Opening up on the frustrating pursuit, Wenger said: ‘Things happened very quickly. We were interested in him. We tried to get him to come here. But he very quickly signed for Juventus.’ 

Wenger was interested in signing compatriot Paul Pogba before Juventus snapped him up 


After playing an instrumental role in Leicester’s incredible title-winning campaign during the 2015-16 season, Wenger laid his eyes on Kante to fill a much-needed void just in front of the defence. 

And Wenger claimed in February 2017 that he had in fact made two attempts to sign the ever-reliable midfielder, once while he was an unknown figure at Caen, before Leicester and then Chelsea got their hands on him.   

‘I tried to sign Kante when he was in France and when he was at Leicester,’ Wenger said. 

‘We can’t explain everything – transfers are transfers – but it is quite obvious when you look at where he has gone. I believe Kante has had a huge impact. It’s no coincidence Chelsea are where they are and Leicester did what they did.’ 

Wenger tried to snap up the services of midfielder N’Golo Kante on two separate occasions


Arsenal had worked on a deal to sign Ronaldinho while he was plying his trade for Gremio back in 2001. But with it almost wrapped up, work permit issues scuppered the transfer, which left Wenger bemoaning the near-miss. 

‘We could have got Ronaldinho before he went to PSG,’ the Frenchman revealed. 

‘I met his brother, who is his agent, a long, long time before he went to PSG – when he was 20 – but we just could not get him to England because of the rules here.’ 

The Frenchman wanted to bring Brazil superstar Ronaldinho (left) to the club back in 2001


This one would come back to haunt Arsenal as Drogba loved scoring against Wenger’s side – netting 13 times in just 15 matches for London rivals Chelsea. While the striker played for Le Mans, he was firmly on the Frenchman’s radar.

‘I missed him when he played in France at Le Mans – not even in the top league,’ Wenger admitted. 

‘I knew he was good player there and I missed him. And secondly because he hurt us so much in big games that all this pain would not have happened.’ 

Didier Drogba would go on to haunt Arsenal’s defence for London rivals Chelsea for years


The extreme confidence of Ibrahimovic denied Wenger the chance to sign him as a teenager. The pair were in talks over a potential move but things did not quite go to plan as he was only offered a trial at Arsenal. 

‘Arsene gave me the famous red and white jersey – the No 9 shirt with Ibrahimovic on it and I was so pleased I even posed for a picture wearing it,’ Ibrahimovic said. ‘It was a fantastic moment for me. So then I waited for him to convince me that I should join Arsenal.

‘But he didn’t even try. He never actually made me a serious offer, it was more, “I want to see how good you are, what kind of player you are. Have a trial”. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “No way, Zlatan doesn’t do auditions”.’

Zlatan Ibrahimovic did a photoshoot in an Arsenal shirt but failed to push through the switch


Another huge regret on Wenger’s long list is Arsenal’s failure to lure five-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi to north London when he was a youngster breaking through at Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy.

The Frenchman tried to seal moves for three Barca starlets in 2003 – Fabregas and Pique being the other two – but unfortunately couldn’t tempt the young Argentine to leave the Catalan giants.

In 2019, Wenger revealed: ‘We were in discussions with [Messi] when we bought Fabregas, because Messi played [with him].

‘Pique and Fabregas came to England [with Manchester United and Arsenal respectively], Messi stayed in Spain. We were interested in him, but he was untouchable at the time.’

Messi’s former agent, Fabian Soldini, recently opened up on Arsenal’s attempt to sign Messi, saying: ‘[Messi] was tempted to go to Arsenal, but he didn’t go.

‘I remember the day that Cesc asked to leave [Barcelona]. Messi was also asked to go, but he didn’t want to leave.’

Wenger was keen to sign Lionel Messi from Barcelona’s academy but he didn’t want to leave


Wenger has previously admitted that his biggest regret was not getting a deal for Ronaldo over the line before he went on to win everything for United, Real Madrid and Juventus.  

‘I showed him around and I gave him a shirt. It had his name on the back,’ Wenger said in 2008. ‘But in the end it was a question of the transfer fee between the two clubs.’

Alex Ferguson and Manchester United pushed harder for his signature and were rewarded, stealing the Portuguese star from under Arsenal’s noses.

Wenger expanded on just how close Ronaldo came to joining Arsenal this week, telling The Guardian: ‘We had an agreement with Sporting and Man United took Carlos Queiroz as assistant coach, and they just outbid us quickly and took Ronaldo, but we had an agreement basically. 

‘He had the shirt of Arsenal, I had lunch with him and his mother at the training ground!’

Arsenal almost signed Cristiano Ronaldo from Sporting Lisbon before he joined Man United


Arsenal’s £40million plus £1 bid for Suarez back in the summer of 2013, made in the belief that his Liverpool release clause would be triggered, is perhaps the most famous offer in football in recent times. 

And it was shut down straight away, with Reds owner John W Henry tweeting: ‘What do you think they’re smoking over there at the Emirates?’

Wenger has since reflected on the transfer saga following Suarez’s move to Barcelona, saying: ‘We had an agreement with the player and we had been wrongly advised that he had a clause (in his contract). 

‘You can ask the player. He will confirm that he wanted to join us. Then they kept him one more year, improved his contract and promised to sell him to a club abroad.’

The Gunners offered Liverpool £40million plus £1 for Luis Suarez in bid to trigger his release


Mbappe was once on Wenger’s radar as well, with the world’s hottest striker confirming his compatriot looked to sign him back in 2017 while he was still playing for Monaco.

However, the French World Cup winner never had his heart set on moving to the Emirates and eventually joined Paris Saint-Germain on loan before sealing a permanent transfer a season later.  

‘We were in touch in 2017,’ Mbappe said. ‘I’d chosen a different path, and he didn’t hold it against me. He was a gentleman and wished me good luck.’

PSG star Kylian Mbappe revealed that Wenger was interested in signing him from Monaco


Last year it emerged that Sancho caught Arsenal’s eye, with Wenger revealing that he tried to sign him when he was playing in City’s youth teams.

However, after spending two years at City, the winger ended up joining Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund, where he has  flourished into one of the most exciting youngsters in world football.

Wenger said: ‘I wanted to take him from Man City when he didn’t get the games. I tried to lure him because he’s from London. I tried to get him to. He’s one of the best players of his generation. He can dribble, he has the arrogance.’

Jadon Sancho attracted interest from Wenger when he was playing for City’s academy

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