1995 was a magical year for Blackburn. Not many know, though, that after their Premier League-winning campaign, the small Lancashire town could have signed the greatest midfielder ever.
If not for their owner’s preference for Tim Sherwood.
In truth, no Blackburn fan can begrudge Jack Walker anything. A lifelong supporter who made his money through steel, Walker’s input was the driving force behind their success. His well-known importance to the club was probably why, in 1995 when he snubbed the chance to sign Zidane, no one questioned his decision. Not even Kenny Dalglish.
And why would they? With Blackburn already having won the title with a solid midfield pairing, it seemed completely ignorable that they had given up on the French international.
Just a year after, however, they reality of their decision would hit home. When Blackburn crashed out of the Champions League and finished seventh in the Premier League, while Zidane won Ligue 1 Player of the Year.
This contrast would continue, as Blackburn were relegated in 1999, Zidane had already won two Serie A titles, the FIFA World Player of the Year and the Ballon d’Or. This opposite trajectory would, for the most part, continue.
It would, however, be hardly fair to say that Zizou’s glittering career could have been predicted. The Champions League and World Cup winner is the greatest central midfielder of all-time. He has won 15 trophies internationally and domestically, operating at the heart of the greatest XI ever assembled at Real Madrid.
It would seem even more surprising then, that he was willing to go to Blackburn. But when they tried to take him and teammate Christophe Dugarry off Bordeaux’s hands, Blackburn were the champions. And with talents like Sutton, Shearer and Le Saux, it was really no surprise that Zidane was keen.
And this wasn’t just speculation or rumours. Both Zidane and Dugarry visited Blackburn’s training ground after their scout had recommended Zidane swap France for England.
“I can remember going out to watch Zinedine Zidane and recommending him to come here, when you’re the champions that’s the time to cement it and go and get the best players you can. You just looked at Zidane and thought what a good player he is. You just think what might have been.”
After this, Dalglish had agreed a deal in principle with Bordeaux to sign both Zidane and Dugarry. But much to his surprise the board and Jack Walker would refuse to sanction his request. Culminating with the owner uttering the infamous words “Why would we want Zidane, when we have Tim Sherwood?!”
That was it; the deal was dead. Tim Sherwood, who had captained Blackburn to Premier League glory, was a favourite at Ewood park. Seemingly at the height of his performances, Walker refused to replace him for a young Frenchman. Even with the glimpses of Zidane’s quality having already been on show.
Combine this with the 2009 ash cloud halting their transfer of Robert Lewandowski. It’s safe to say that Blackburn missed out on some incredible talent. Zizou, however, would probably be less bothered by his move falling through. Going on to perform at the highest stages and under brightest lights of European and world football.