Undone deal: Day Spurs thought they’d signed French linkman Manu Petit, only to pay for him taxi to Arsenal

Undone deal: Day Spurs thought they’d signed French linkman Manu Petit, only to pay for him taxi to Arsenal


How’s your luck? Tottenham believed they were about to pull off the signing of Emmanuel Petit in 1997, but Arsenal had other plans.

This was a period of great success for the Gunners – Dennis Bergkamp and David Platt were added to the squad that summer, while Arsene Wenger was appointed manager in 1996.

So, when it was put to France midfielder Petit: Do you want to fight relegation or challenge for Premier League titles, it was a no-brainer.

Petit was in London, talking to Spurs chairman Alan Sugar about moving to the capital from Monaco. Arsenal heard about the meeting and got word to him not to sign anything until the midfielder had at least heard Wenger’s pitch about this new era that was about to unfold at Highbury.

That seemed fair enough considering Wenger was the man who brought him through at the French club, so Petit asked Sugar for time to think about the offer at his hotel. Spurs even paid for the taxi to drive him there, but the player instead diverted the cab to Wenger’s house where he was joined by vice-chairman David Dein and a £3.5 million deal was sealed.

“It was the first time I met David Dein and Tottenham paid for the cab to help me sign for Arsenal,” Petit said in 2018. “It’s part of the legend now.

“I knew the rivalry but not how big it was. David Dein still loves that story – and [more than] 20 years later he’s still telling it!”

His transfer began Wenger’s revolution, with Gilles Grimandi and Nicolas Anelka also arriving at Highbury. By the end of the pony-tailed one’s first season, he was a Premier League and FA Cup winner, his partnership with Patrick Vieira in midfield lauded, he won the World Cup and he even found time to help Sun Hill’s finest with an appearance on The Bill.

But those long blond locks he became known for may never have been seen by British fans, as his teammates threatened to cut them off owing to an apparent rudeness.

“When the French lads came over, the atmosphere was a little different,” Ray Parlour recalled. “Dennis Bergkamp was another one, they were a little more bit serious and we tried to get a bit of fun out of them. They did change quickly and they did really enjoy the banter, but every now again, for example, Manu Petit sometimes would walk straight past you. You’d say, ‘morning, Manu’, and he’d walk straight past you. He did it to all the players. He did it to Tony Adams, he did it to David Seaman and that’s not acceptable.”

Vieira and Petit formed a formidable partnership in the heart of Arsenal’s midfield but it was cut short when Petit joined Barcelona in 2000.

“Whatever problems you have, you say good morning to somebody, don’t you? It’s very rude if you just walk past someone. It’s just having that respect for other people. So, one morning we nailed him against the wall and told him: ‘Make sure you say good morning to everybody because, if you don’t, we’ll cut your ponytail off!’ We even had scissors. After that, he was good as gold!”

It goes to show you that anything can happen in football. This summer the Gunners thought they were going to sign Raphinha, but then Chelsea came along. Now they have Gabriel Jesus and if Wenger can pass any advice on to current boss Mikel Arteta it would probably be to not let him get in a taxi on his own!

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