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When Diego Maradona nearly joined Sheffield United and real reason deal didn't happen

It’s a well known secret that Sheffield United tried to sign Diego Maradona back in the 1970s.

This isn’t an urban myth that’s been blown out of proportion, either. The Blades actually came very close to landing a player many believe to be the greatest of all time.

Tributes are currently pouring in for Maradona, who has died at the age of 60.

His exploits for Argentina are widely renowned, with some saying he effectively won the 1986 World Cup single-handedly.

Granted icon status in his home country, Maradona will also forever be a hero in the Italian city of Naples.

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Napoli paid a then world record £5m (BBC Sport) for the forward in 1984 and he helped them win their first ever Scudetto in 1987. There was a second in 1990 and a UEFA Cup win the year before.

They have not won the Italian title since.

Yet four years before he first made the move to Europe when joining Barcelona in 1982, Maradona was almost on his way to Bramall Lane.

The truth behind Diego Maradona and Sheffield United

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As the Guardian reports, United’s then manager, Harry Haslam, watched Maradona play in 1978 during a scouting trip to Argentina.

Just 17 at the time, Haslam was so impressed with the teenager he immediately set up a £200,000 deal for the Blades to sign him.

This is where the rumours get a little murky. It’s claimed that the board weren’t prepared to stump up the cash – missing out on the game’s greatest player in the process.

Yet the real truth is far less juicy, but does paint the club in a better light.

United were ready to pay the money, but couldn’t afford the extra fees that were later added on top. £200,000 is small change in football terms now, but it wasn’t 42 years ago.

Especially for a Second Division side like the Blades.

So, they moved onto Maradona’s countryman, Alex Sabella. The midfielder arrived from River Plate for £160,000.

Again, the story has become that Sabella was a failure; but this was not the case. In fact, the Bramall Lane crowds were hugely impressed by the Argentine.

It was just unfortunate his time there coincided with relegation to the Third Division. Sabella was sold to Leeds United at a profit, though, leaving for £400,000 in 1980.

But Maradona did come remarkably close to being a Blade. What could have been.

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