Leeds United almost signed Diego Maradona in 1987 according to their former Managing Director Bill Fotherby.
Fotherby oversaw Leeds’ promotion to the Second Division and subsequent First Division title win. When the Maradona interest began, the Whites were still in the second tier.
The Argentine was then a year removed from his ‘hand of God’ goal against England in the 1986 World Cup and had just won Napoli’s first-ever Serie A title.
The former Leeds director revealed to the Daily Mail that he met with Maradona’s agent at the time, Jon Smith, and discussed a potential deal.
“Jon said, “Bill, you couldn’t afford Maradona. No chance. Do you realise that you’re talking £8million?”.
“Everyone thought we were crazy. But I got Smith up to Leeds and we had lunch in the box, looking onto the pitch.
“Look Bill,” he said. “We’re bringing him over for a match between England and the World XI. Now, the possibilities of him having a game at Leeds… what could you do?”
“I said we could fix it up with the city council, make it a big do. “But it mustn’t leak out.”
News of the interest was not long leaking, despite Smith’s best efforts.
“Soon we were getting phone calls from Buenos Aires about Maradona. Directors of Arsenal and Tottenham are asking: “Are you going for Maradona? Where have you got the money from?”‘
Smith gave his side of the story, in quotes reported by Leeds Live, with the agent playing down the potential deal.
“I thought I was just chatting amongst friends before the conversation took an unexpected turn,” he wrote.
“‘How’s Diego?’ asked Peter.
“‘He’s fine. We’re doing a few bits and pieces with him. We helped get him his Coke deal – the black stuff, not the white stuff – and although we aren’t that close to him, we’re inside the camp.’
‘Ok. Think he’d sign for Leeds?’
“I was taken aback. ‘Er… probably not. The weather isn’t quite as good as Naples for starters.’
“‘Yeah, but if we paid him a lot of money? And we arranged a big house, spared no expense, that sort of thing, what about then?’
“‘I don’t really know. Maybe.’ I thought no more of it.
“But from that one answer, they leaked story after story to the press about how Maradona was weighing up a move to Leeds.”
Maradona would stay at Napoli before a move to Sevilla, while Leeds won promotion to the First Division.
They signed another superstar in Eric Cantona and won the league in 1992/93.