Football can be a cruel mistress but for these players, things probably turned out alright in the end.
Here’s 11 stars whose careers almost took a different path…
11. Luke Shaw – Chelsea
Despite not quite making the desired impact at Manchester United considering his record-breaking transfer back in 2014, things could have been very different for Luke Shaw.
The left-back almost joined Chelsea after playing with their development academy, but he wasn’t offered a place and ended up joining Southampton as a eight-year-old.
The boyhood Blues fan almost found himself plying his trade at Stamford Bridge before joining the Red Devils, but it’s clearly just not meant to be…
10. Mario Balotelli – Barcelona
Could you picture Mario Balotelli in the famous Catalan blue and red? It’s an image that’s almost hard to even imagine, but the reality was oh so real. As a 16-year-old, Mario had a trial with the Spanish giants and things went better than expected.
Head of the youth team Jose Ramon Alexanko later said: “Mario played an exceptional game, he scored five goals. He was good enough and we could have signed him.” It never came to fruition with his attitude reportedly scuppering a deal. Imagine our surprise…
9. Diego Costa – Corinthians, Palmeiras and Santos
Before establishing himself as one of the most fearsome (and aggressive) strikers in world football, Diego Costa almost didn’t make it in the game. In Brazil, the Atletico Madrid striker played on the streets and didn’t receive any kind of formal coaching until the age of 15, at which point he was offered to a host of clubs in his homeland.
He was rejected by all of them, including Corinthians, Palmeiras and Santos before heading to Europe where he joined Braga and kick started his career before joining Atletico.
8. Rashford – Man City
Man City are a daunting enough proposition for opponents these days without Marcus Rashford, so can you imagine if the Citizens had the United whizzkid in their ranks? It was almost the case as the Mancunian had a trial with the blue side of the city at the age of nine.
City were just a stone’s throw away from his home but they deemed him too small and weak to make it in the game. How wrong they were…
7. Harry Kane – Arsenal
Everyone by now has seen the pictures of a young Harry Kane donning the red and white of Tottenham’s arch-rivals Arsenal (and if you haven’t, time to come out from under the rock you’ve been living under). Thankfully for Spurs fans, that stage of his life is long gone but he almost wasn’t one of their own.
The English goal-getter spent a year at the Highbury academy before being released for being too small and slow with Arsene Wenger admitting in 2015 that he was disappointed the Gunners had allowed him to slip through their hands. We’re not bloody surprised…
6. Ronaldinho – St Mirren
You’re not reading that wrong at all. That does indeed say that the one time Ballon d’Or winner did in fact nearly join Scottish minnows St Mirren. But how? Back in 2001, the Brazilian maestro had a deal already agreed for him to move to Paris Saint-Germain from Gremio in the summer, but was looking for a short-term move to Europe before that deal came into place so that he could acclimatise.
Then-manager Tom Hendrie claimed that everything was in place for the move, and that it would’ve gone ahead if it wasn’t for a legal problem with Gremio putting the move off at the last minute.
5. Javier Zanetti – Independiente
A five-time Serie A winner, a Champions League title, a UEFA Cup winner’s medal, an Olympic silver medal and his shirt number retired by Inter Milan – it’s fair to say that Javier Zanetti won’t be forgotten in the Italian capital anytime soon.
Argentinian side Independiente didn’t quite think he would be any good, saying he didn’t have the physique to make it in the game. Their loss was certainly Inter’s gain…
4. Yaya Toure – Arsenal
Ah Arsenal, another gem slipped through the cracks. This time Yaya Toure, who actually did play for the Gunners before a move failed to materialise. As a 20-year-old back in 2003, Toure played a pre-season friendly for the club against Barnet, but failed to impress as a lanky striker with Wenger calling him ‘completely average’.
Despite his frail start, the club did still want to snap him up but cited work permit and passport issues as a factor which saw him go down a different career path via Barcelona and Manchester. We’re sure he’s not complaining…
3. Ronaldo – Flamengo
When people talk about the best strikers to ever play the game, the likes of Pele, Emile Heskey and this man come up. Ronaldo, ‘O Fenômeno’, was one of the most fearsome hitmen on the planet and will forever be remembered accordingly, but his favourite team, Flamengo, weren’t such big fans.
The Brazilian tried to get signed by his childhood team, but they turned him down. He joined Cruzeiro instead, hit 44 goals in 47 games for them, moved to PSV Eindhoven at 17 and became the legend he was always destined to be.
2. Zinedine Zidane – Blackburn Rovers
Ah Jack Walker, what a sweet and naive man you’ll be remembered as. He’ll always be remembered as the man who brought Blackburn Rovers a Premier League title, but he’ll never be forgotten for uttering the words: “Why do you want to sign Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?”
There’s no comparing the two careers of arguably the best midfielder to ever grace a football pitch and Tim Sherwood, a man more famous for wearing gilets than kicking a ball. Rovers fans can only sit back and what imagine could have been with the Frenchman in the middle of their midfield. Dreaming…
1. Lionel Messi – Newell’s and River Plate
Back when football wasn’t almost a competition between two men competing to be the best, a little known Argentinian called Lionel Messi was struggling to make it as a footballer. A deficiency which stunted his growth caused Newell’s Old Boys, a club Messi actually was a part of, to decide against investing in the youngster, not willing to pay the $1000 per-month it would cost to provide him with growth hormones.
Messi was scouted by River Plate, but they too weren’t willing to invest in the costly medication, with Barcelona swooping and splashing the cash freely. It’s safe to say it paid off…