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How Newcastle Turned Down Chance To Sign Zidane In 1996; Labelled Unfit For EPL

How Newcastle Turned Down Chance To Sign Zidane In 1996; Labelled Unfit For EPL 

Football agent Barry Silkman has revealed how Newcastle United missed the chance to sign France and Real Madrid legend Zinedine Zidane back in 1996.

The 1998 Ballon d’Or winner’s career trajectory could have taken a significantly different route.

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Back in 1996, while he was still playing for Bordeaux in Ligue 1, he was offered to Newcastle United.

The French club were open to selling him – for a mere £1.2million. A deal that, on reflection, would have been the bargain of the century.

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Then Newcastle boss Kevin Keegan was offered the player by Silkman, who had connections with Bordeaux.

But the Magpies turned him down as their scout in France didn’t rate him.

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Former Manchester City and Crystal Palace midfielder Silkman was asked by fellow agent Jerome Anderson if he could get Zidane in at Newcastle, while he’d also heard about him through his friend Robbie Slater, the then West Ham player.

“I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and go and watch him play and see what I think,” Silkman told talkSPORT.com.

“The day I went to watch him play he actually had the flu and they only brought him on at half-time, but he scored one goal and made two others.

“After ten minutes, I said to Robbie we’ve got to try and bring him back here.

“I went back to Jerome and said ‘I’ve watched the player and I’m going to put him in with Kevin Keegan and if a deal gets done I’ll make sure you are looked after’.

“He said ‘that would be fantastic’.”

Zidane was already an international with France and playing in the UEFA Cup with Bordeaux.

For Silkman, his talent was obvious and got in touch with Keegan to offer him the player.

He continued: “I spoke with Kevin and said I’ve seen this player out in France and he looks absolutely fantastic. His name is Zinedine Zidane. He was 24 and this was in the January of 1996.
“Kevin said to me he would get somebody on it and has someone out in France and he knows the players and would get him watched.

“I said ‘Kev, one million per cent he will be good enough’.

“While I was there, I went to see the president of Bordeaux and he told me they wanted £1.2million and if they got that they would pay me a small commission out of it.

“I thought there was probably a deal to be done a £1million, but if I stick to £1.2million then at least I’m safe.

“I told Kevin the price was £1.2million. He sent somebody to watch him and then a couple of days after that he sent me a fax.

“He got his report back from the guy who watched him and said the player has got no chance of making it, at best he could play for Wolves – who were bottom of the First Division.

“I phoned Kevin and said ‘who on earth have you sent to watch this player, it must be f***ing Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles’.

“Kevin laughed and said that was the guy they relied on in France and that’s his report. He said he’s watched the player, knows the player and doesn’t think he’s good enough to play for Wolves and they are bottom of the First Division.”

He ultimately did not end up at St James’ Park. In 1996, Zidane was named Ligue 1 player of the year and Juventus did not pass up on the opportunity to sign him – for the same price that Newcastle were offered.

Silkman also had a hand in that deal and recommended the player to the Italian club.

He spoke with one of the club’s scouts and with club legend Roberto Bettega, who had a senior role in the club’s hierarchy.

“I’d run out of options here,” he said. “Jerome Anderson had already put him into clubs, so I’d run out of options.

“I spoke to friend of mine called Maurizio and he used to do a lot of scouting work for Juve. His brother-in-law was the chief executive at the club – his name is Roberto Bettega.

“I called Maurizio and said ‘I’ve got a fantastic player and I think he’s going to be good enough to play for Juventus. His name is Zinedine Zidane, he’s in Bordeaux’.

“He came back to me a couple of hours later and said it was interesting and they did have reports on him and they are very favourable.

“Bettega called me later in the day and said Maurizio values your opinion greatly and he thinks you are the best judge of a footballer he’s ever met.

“I told him and a couple of weeks later they phoned me to say they’d bought the player and were leaving him there for the rest of the season but had paid £1.2million.

“He went to Juventus and as they say, the rest is history.”

Zidane went on to prove himself as one of the greatest players of his generation – winning back-to-back Serie A titles as soon as he arrived and was twice a Champions League runner-up.

Then in 2001, Real Madrid smashed the transfer record to bring him to Spain as they paid £45.6million – a record that stood unit 2009.

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