Diego Maradona: The one that got away for Sheffield United and Arsenal

Sky Sports speaks exclusively to Keith Haslam, son of former Sheffield United manager Harry Haslam, who tried to bring Diego Maradona to Bramall Lane; Arsenal also tried to sign Maradona, says Haslam

Argentina player Diego Maradona in action circa 1985. 0:48
The son of former Sheffield United manager Harry Haslam explains how a deal to to sign a teenage Maradona for £400,000 fell apart...

Diego Maradona's compelling, controversial and incomparable career took him from Argentina to Spain and Italy and back again - but he twice came close to playing in England.

Maradona, who has died at the age of 60, famously led Argentina to World Cup success in 1986 and became immortal at Napoli as the heartbeat of a team that lifted two Scudettos, a Coppa Italia and the UEFA Cup.

But one of the greatest players the game has seen so nearly weaved his magic in the nation that loathed him for his 'Hand of God' in Mexico City - and it was Sheffield United's Bramall Lane that almost became his stage.

It was 42 years ago when Harry Haslam, then manager of the Blades, travelled to South America on a scouting mission as Argentina basked in the glow of their first World Cup triumph, and on home soil, too.

Diego Maradona was crowned the best player at the tournament when Argentina won the World Cup in 1986
Image: Diego Maradona inspired Argentina to World Cup victory in 1986... but he could have been playing in England

Ricky Villa and Ossie Ardiles had been earmarked for a £750,000 switch to South Yorkshire, only for Tottenham to profit when the deal fell through.

But a teenage Maradona was also catching the eye playing for Argentinos Juniors in Buenos Aires.

Haslam's son, Keith, remembers the extraordinary deal that "would have made Sheffield United" - but never was.

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Harry Haslam (l) with Ossie Ardiles and Tony Pritchett of the Sheffield Star; Haslam had flown to Argentina on a scouting mission
Image: Harry Haslam (l) with Ossie Ardiles and Tony Pritchett of the Sheffield Star; Haslam had flown to Argentina on a scouting mission

"My father was out in Argentina in Buenos Aires with a couple of his coaches, Danny Begara and Oscar Acre," Haslam tells Sky Sports' Tim Thornton.

"He was trying to line up a deal with Ricky Villa and Ossie Ardiles but Sheffield United couldn't afford the money that was required at the time and Tottenham got them.

"My dad was looking around for another player and the super-kid at the time was Diego.

"They negotiated a deal, which was accepted, of £400,000, but the chairman of Sheffield United, John Hassell, said, 'There isn't a player at 18 worth £400,000, so we can't do the deal'.

"Everything else was lined up. It would have made Sheffield United. My father joked with the chairman, 'We don't need supporters - we'll have enough scouts watching Sheffield United.

"But my father moved on and signed Alex Sabella as a replacement."

Keith Haslam, son of former Sheffield United manager Harry, spoke to Sky Sports from his home in Sheffield
Image: Keith Haslam, son of former Sheffield United manager Harry, spoke to Sky Sports from his home in Sheffield

Four years later, Keith was back in Argentina with his father, and witness to another prospective Maradona move.

This time it was to Arsenal but circumstances - the Falklands War of 1982 between Argentina and the United Kingdom - would again intervene.

"My dad had left Sheffield United and got a call from Terry Neill, the manager of Arsenal at the time, to see if he could broker a deal for Diego, knowing what had happened in '78," Haslam said.

"Again, a deal was negotiated in Buenos Aires for [Diego] to become an Arsenal player.

"The finances were all sorted out from the sponsor. Everything seemed fine when my dad came home from Buenos Aires but four days later, Maggie Thatcher sent the fleet out to the Falklands and everything was scuppered.

"His agent at the time wanted him to come to England. His commercial value would have doubled."

Haslam watched Maradona close up before then when Argentina played then-Czechoslovakia in a friendly at Mar del Plata in March 1982 and admitted he was mesmerised by the diminutive figure on and off the pitch.

"I've never seen anything like it," he said.

"We met him in a restaurant at that time and everyone stood up to applaud him when he walked in. He was a god out there."

'Biggest mistake chairman will ever make'

Tim Thornton joins Sky Sports' Pitch to Post podcast - out on Friday on Sky Sports' platforms and available to download at regular podcast providers - to reflect on the stunning nearly-transfer.

"It's probably the biggest mistake that chairman will ever make!".

Look out for the latest edition on Friday and download the Pitch to Post Review podcast on your provider

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