When Rafael Benitez left Liverpool in 2010, there was an inescapable feeling of ‘What If?’ which hung over Anfield like a smog.
In his first season, the Spaniard brought back the Champions League trophy, against all odds, and awoke a slumbering giant.
With a prime Steven Gerrard in midfield, Benitez supplemented the England international with Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso alongside him in the Reds’ engine room.
And up front, Fernando Torres was one of the most feared strikers in the world as he left some of the best defenders of his era watching the back of his peroxide blond bonce whizz past them en route to goal.
But despite assembling a stellar side, the Spaniard found success hard to come by after the miracle of Istanbul in 2005.
Liverpool won the 2006 FA Cup thanks to yet more heroics from Gerrard, but the Premier League title evaded Benitez throughout his five-year reign.
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Last week, it was revealed the Spaniard missed out on signing Aaron Ramsey from Cardiff City in 2008.
Now at Juventus, the Wales international could have moved to Anfield, but the club decided they had Jay Spearing so did not need Ramsey. The 28-year-old is now at Juventus, while Spearing is at Blackpool.
But it transpires Ramsey is not the only player Benitez failed to bring to Merseyside during his five-year tenure.
Below, we look at four other superstars who came agonisingly close to signing for Liverpool and how the Reds could have looked if they had pulled off these incredible signings.
Simao – 2005
After winning the Champions League, Benitez was well aware of the issues which needed addressing in his squad. Although talented, the team he inherited from Gerard Houllier was imbalanced.
In came Mohamed Sissoko to add steel to the midfield, while Peter Crouch offered a new dimension up front. But in that same final against AC Milan, the Reds started with John Arne Riise on the left side of their midfield.
Although capable of playing there, the Norwegian was hardly an inspiring choice. So Benitez identified Simao, the Benfica captain who has scored 22 goals the previous season, to add much-needed creativity.
After agreeing a £12million fee, Benfica then upped their asking price even though the winger was booked in for a medical in England. Liverpool backed out of the deal, with Simao knocking the holders out of the Champions League that season.
Dani Alves – 2006
Dani Alves has won a staggering 43 trophies in his glittering career and, although the full-back is no longer a problem area for Liverpool, Benitez struggled on the flanks.
Back in 2006, a 23-year-old Brazilian was tearing up LaLiga with his rampaging runs and aggressive style of defending. Liverpool were naturally interested, but the deal fell through at the 11th hour.
“I pretty much had an agreement with Liverpool. But for whatever reason it didn’t happen at the last moment and I really don’t know why, as I wasn’t the one conducting the negotiations. I had other people representing me back then,” Alves told Four Four Two.
Instead, Benitez moved for Alvaro Arbeloa and Jermaine Pennant to bolster the right-side, with the Brazilian eventually moving to Barcelona in 2008.
Nemanja Vidic – 2006
No player is perhaps as synonymous with the bitter rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United as Vidic. The Serbian was sent off four times in the fixture and was regularly terrorised by Torres.
But the centre-back could quite easily have been a Liverpool player had Benitez been more decisive.
“Yes, in Rafa Benitez’s time. I spoke to him about a few things, but my wife was the main one who spoke to him,” Vidic explained. “He was interested in signing me, but I don’t know what was the problem at the time.
“I spoke to him before I signed for Manchester United, though. I didn’t meet, but we spoke over the phone, in my car in Moscow, with my wife translating.
“I didn’t say no. They said just that they were interested, they want me. It was going to happen, going to happen. Then someone came and said: “Do you want to play for United?” and I said yes.
“After two days, everything was done. Then Liverpool said they wanted to do the deal but everything was done.”
Sir Alex Ferguson reportedly met the centre-half in Moscow and organised a deal instantly, perhaps in the knowledge he could become a Premier League great.
Gabriel Heinze – 2007
“Gabriel was told, with no ambiguity, that historically Manchester United do not sell players to Liverpool, and vice versa.”
Sir Alex Ferguson was not about to become the first United manager to sanction a transfer between the north west rivals for 43 years, as he revealed in his autobiography.
That’s what the Argentine was pushing for in 2007. He had a ‘mercenary streak,’ according to Fergie and when efforts to join Liverpool were blocked, the defender attempted to make a legal issue out of it.
Joining from Paris Saint-Germain in 2004, signs of trouble first surfaced a year later. He had a winner’s mindset, but was as hard-nosed as they came. “Ruthless, would kick his own granny,” Fergie wrote.
“After one year he wanted to leave. We were playing Villarreal (in the Champions League in September 2005) when his agent came to see me,” he added.
“Things were never the same after that. The following day he injured his cruciate,” adding that when he returned to action during the 2006/07 season he wanted new terms on a new contract.
It was decided everyone would be better off without the other, which is when he attempted to force through a move to Liverpool.
Not since Phil Chisnall in 1964 had someone swapped Old Trafford for Anfield and Fergie was determined to keep it that way despite his opposite number’s best efforts that summer.
“It’s clear he’s a player we like and he’s a very good player,” Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez said. “That’s the reason why they don’t want him to leave for us.
“We made an offer which they rejected. The lawyers are now working on it and so we have to wait.”