This coming May will mark fifteen years since Bolton Wanderers qualified for the UEFA Cup. For the first time in the clubs’ history, it was ‘Destination Europe.’
A 3-2 win on the final day of the season against Everton ensured Wanderers ended the season in sixth place, level on points with eventual Champions league winners Liverpool & three points behind Everton, who had secured a place in the Champions League qualifiers for the following season.
It was a tremendous achievement for Wanderers, who had gone from the typical yoyo team to a comfortable top half side in the space of four years. Outside of Bolton, Big Sam will never truly get the recognition he deserves for taking Bolton to Europe.
Let’s rewind back to before the start of the 04/05 season. As plans were being made to build the team to take Bolton to the next level, one player Wanderers pursued relentlessly stole all the headlines - Brazilian icon, Rivaldo.
Speculation had been rife that the World Cup winner and former AC Milan & Barcelona player would be swapping the continent for little ol’ Bolton. Even as young as I was at the time, I knew how much of a big deal it would have been to sign a player like Rivaldo. It was simply unbelievable that Big Sam had managed to convince Youri Djorkaeff & Jay-Jay Okocha to sign; Rivaldo would have been a step above.
Sadly as you all know, talks fell apart and Rivaldo would ultimately head to Greece to sign for Olympiacos.
A part of me has always wondered that if Rivaldo had signed all those years ago, would Bolton Wanderers have finished in the top four?
Without him, Wanderers missed out on the promise land of the Champions League by three measly points.
Yes seems to be the obvious answer. It was a dreadful run of form that was the main catalyst for it. After starting the season terrifically, the wheels started to buckle in December. An horrific run of six consecutive defeats led to Wanderers slipping down into mid table obscurity.
Having a player with the experience of Rivaldo on the books could have prevented such a collapse in form. For everything he had won, he could have been a calm influence in the dressing room, a figure to inspire the team to fight back in the games that were in reality, defeats.
Rivaldo would have arguably been the perfect replacement for Le God Youri Djorkaeff, who had left following a contract dispute. Rivaldo would have filled the void Djorkaeff left, with his skill and prowess on the ball. Something that Wanderers were guilty of lacking during those tight games.
In contrast, Rivaldo’s arrival could have changed Big Sam’s transfer targets for the rest of the window.
Take El-Hadji Diouf. A late arrival in August on loan from Liverpool, Dioufy reestablished his career and became a true cult hero during his four years with the club.
Dioufy was vital to Wanderers securing that top six finish. He scored the goal to stop the rotten run of form against West Brom & scored the goal which clinched a place in the UEFA away at Fratton Park.
I wonder if Dioufy would have signed had we already got Rivaldo? It’s possible he wouldn’t. There's no guarantees that in his 30s, Rivaldo would have had the same impact Diouf did that season. Then again, it could have meant Les Ferdinand didn’t sign and Rivaldo would partner Super Kev and Dioufy up front. Now that would have been glorious.
Ultimately, Rivaldo would have been the cherry on top of an already glorious Wanderers sundae. That 04/05 season will live long in the memory of all those Wanderers fans who were there to see it. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter that we had just missed out on the top four. It was Destination Europe & we couldn’t bloody wait.
If you have any other ‘What if’ ideas you want us to discuss, let us know in the comments below.