Man City's Kevin De Bruyne the one that got away for Bayern Munich
The list of top players Bayern Munich have plucked away from Bundesliga rivals grows every year: Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze, Mats Hummels, Manuel Neuer in recent seasons, soon to be followed by Leon Goretzka in the summer.
But Bayern may rue missing out on one particular star: Kevin De Bruyne, Germany's Player of the Year in 2014-15, and now the driving force behind Manchester City's assault on four fronts.
"I would give the shirt off my back for him," current Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes said said last month. "You must have a player like him in his position. He is far and away the best player in Europe at the moment."
Bayern head north to face De Bruyne's former team Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga at the weekend -- a side that have clearly never recovered from their star player's £55 million departure to City late in the 2015 summer transfer window.
Bayern, for that matter, will be kicking themselves for not bringing the Belgian to Bavaria after his career blossomed right under their noses in the north of Germany: first on a season long-loan from Chelsea at Werder Bremen (2012-13) and then at Wolfsburg between January 2014 and August 2015.
Having picked him up from Genk for around £7m, then-Champions League holders Chelsea loaned the promising 21-year-old to Bremen in a deal engineered by their savvy sporting director Klaus Allofs. De Bruyne caught the eye, not just with his distinctive red hair, and scored a consolation goal in Bremen's 6-1 defeat at the Allianz Arena, while he started all but one of Bremen's 34 league outings -- missing just the one game through injury.
Buoyed by 10 goals and nine assists during his spell with Bremen, De Bruyne returned to Stamford Bridge and began the following season as a first-choice for Jose Mourinho, starring alongside new signing Eden Hazard in a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford. But he soon fell down the pecking at Chelsea, having to feed on scraps having lost the confidence of Mourinho to play to his tactical instructions.
With his sterling feats just up the road in Bremen still fresh in the memory, Allofs (now in charge of transfer business at VW-backed Wolfsburg) took the plunge once again on De Bruyne's untapped talents, this time on a permanent deal at what proved a bargain €22m in January 2014.
The midfielder provided an assist for Naldo as his new side had the temerity to take the lead against Bayern in March, before succumbing 6-1 at home as Pep Guardiola's side romped to the Bundesliga title at the earliest ever juncture.
The assorted talents of Toni Kroos, Xherdan Shaqiri, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Gotze all starred in Guardiola's debut season as a coach in Germany, but Bayern may look back at both Shaqiri and Gotze's ill-feted spells at the club and wish they had invested in De Bruyne at that stage instead. Though hindsight is a wonderful thing.
The following season, a De Bruyne-inspired Wolfsburg savaged Bayern 4-1 in the first game back after the winter break, scoring twice and setting up another in a virtuoso performance. He played in all but six minutes of the league campaign and deservedly picked up Germany's Player of the Year award but the club finished runners up to Bayern. Though that was no mean feat.
Indeed, on the back of De Bruyne's majestic form, Wolfsburg finished "only" 10 points behind Guardiola's side -- the closest margin in the past five years (a gap matched only by Thomas Tuchel's brilliant Borussia Dortmund in 2015-16 in Pep's final season.)
All the while transfer talk was heating up again. De Bruyne started the 2015-16 campaign by giving Guardiola's side another reminder of his talent as he set up a late equaliser for Niklas Bendtner (remember him?) in the Super Cup penalty shootout success over Bayern.
It proved enough for the Bavarians to make their move. Though Allofs, aided by VW's treasure chest, was trying in vain to establish Wolfsburg as serious rivals, he knew he was fighting a losing battle to keep hold of his main asset. Everything was set for De Bruyne to move across Germany, before Bayern baulked at the price.
"We reached a personal agreement with Bayern after two meetings. The deal collapsed on the asking price," De Bruyne's agent Patrick De Koster later said. "I think that Bayern wanted to pay €50m, but not a euro more."
Bayern attempted to save face, denying a bid, clearly knowing they were fighting a losing battle against City, who eventually got the deal over the line at approaching €80m with add-ons. And the rest is history.
A few months later, approaching Christmas of 2015, Guardiola announced he wouldn't be renewing his contract at Bayern after three seasons, and he was finally able to link up with De Bruyne when he arrived at City the following summer.
Bayern may look back with some regret over what might have been, as De Bruyne has emerged to become one of the best players in the world under Guardiola. But as they prepare to face 13th placed Wolfsburg, aiming to cement their sixth Bundesliga title in a row, they might just be glad that he's not on the opposing team this weekend.
Mark Lovell covers Bayern Munich for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @LovellLowdown.