Medicine is not always a formality. Here are five deals that collapsed after the doctors got involved, with an ‘idiot’ depriving Gary Breen of a dream move to Inter Milan.
Ruud van Nistelrooy to Manchester United
The Dutch centre-forward finally got his big move in 2001 – a year later than planned.
In April 2000, Manchester United struck an £18.5m deal with PSV Eindhoven for Van Nistelrooy, who traveled to England to drop his trousers and cough for the doctors at Old Trafford. It was believed to be a formality and United arranged a press conference to unveil their new star striker.
But the Red Devils were not satisfied with an injury carried by Van Nistelrooy. They wanted the player to undergo tests on his medial ligament, but neither Van Nistelrooy nor PSV were willing to commit. So United pulled the plug.
The next day, while training with PSV, Van Nistelrooy ruptured his cruciate ligament in the same knee.
He was banned for a year, but Sir Alex Ferguson was still determined to make Van Nistelrooy his centre-forward. Almost exactly a year after the original deal collapsed, United got their man and Van Nisterooy signed a £19m deal. And he was bloody brilliant.
Loic Remy to Liverpool
Liverpool were ready to hand their No.7 shirt to Remy in 2014, but the Reds eventually pulled out of an £8million deal with QPR.
The French striker had agreed personal terms of £90,000-a-week and traveled to Boston, where Brendan Rodgers’ side were on their pre-season tour. Remy was eager to go as his move was rubber stamped. But Liverpool dragged their feet. They initially said the deal was held up by administrative problems two days before they walked away.
Liverpool never said why, but it was widely reported that they were concerned about the player’s heart. After consulting cardiologists, the Reds chose not to take the risk.
QPR boss Harry Redknapp couldn’t fathom the decision: “I don’t see how he could have failed a doctor. He had a string one here, one in Marseille and in Newcastle and with France before the World Cup. You couldn’t meet a better lad .”
A month later, Chelsea paid £10.5 million to sign Remy, while Liverpool moved for Mario Balotelli instead. It went well.
Marko Arnautovic to Chelsea
Chelsea were less willing to take a chance on Arnautovic after they agreed to sign the Austrian striker in 2009.
The Blues had arranged a £12m deal with FC Twente for a player dubbed ‘the new Zlatan Ibrahimovic’. But they refused to proceed with the transfer after they discovered a fracture in his foot.
The injury almost also prevented a subsequent switch to Inter Milan. But after the Italians took another look at Arnautovic, they agreed to take him on loan for the season.
They needn’t have bothered. Arnautovic managed just three substitute appearances in Inter’s Treble-winning season before Twente instead sold him to Werder Bremen for around half the price Chelsea were prepared to pay a year earlier.
Gary Breen to Inter
Like everyone else in 2002, Inter dreamed of a Gary Breens team.
The Irish defender was out of contract at Coventry and came off the back of an impressive showing at the World Cup. Barcelona were reportedly interested, but Inter made Breen an offer he couldn’t refuse.
However, an ‘idiot doctor’ ruined the centre-back’s dream move with a knee problem said to be to blame.
“Before the Spain game I had a deal with Inter,” Breen told Off The Ball in 2017. “When we got back to Dublin I flew out to Milan, I had the doctor, the doctor failed and I’m still not over that.
“Basically the doctor was an idiot.
“When it didn’t come to anything, I actually struggled a bit after that. I just couldn’t get it out of my head, but you know, that’s life.”
Breen joined West Ham instead.
— The Boys We’ve Seen (@boysweveseen) February 6, 2023
The Wimbledon striker was due to join Rangers for £6.5m on a five-year contract worth £15,000-a-week in 2000 and was taken to Glasgow to sign at Ibrox on the same day as Ronald De Boer.
“I flew up with my dad in Sir David Murray’s private jet,” explained Hartson Open goal in 2018. “I arrived at Glasgow airport and it was like Michael Jackson arrived. There was press everywhere.”
But Hartson never put pen to paper. Rangers told the Welshman there was “something with your knee”, while Murray was prepared to be more blunt.
“His levels of fitness, our doctor told us, was a risk,” Murray said. “We didn’t feel he had the right fitness at the time to go straight into the Champions League.
“No disrespect, but scoring against Huddersfield is a bit different to scoring against Galatasaray.”
The doctors also ruled out subsequent moves to Spurs and Charlton, but Celtic were more willing to accept Hartson the following year. “Look John, unless you’ve got a hole in your heart I’ll sign you,” Martin O’Neill told the striker, who went on to make 109 goals for the Bhoys.
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