Burnley Football Club, Burnley, United Kingdom

There’s an old adage in football which says that “goals win games”, but this does not do justice to the myriad of the seemingly infinitesimal events that impact the outcome of matches and tournaments alike.

Then there’s events off the field too, which may also appear meaningless by themselves but ultimately make the difference between a club’s eventual success or failure.

With these points in mind, it’s no surprise that football history is packed full of seminal ‘sliding doors’ moments, which altered the course of history and changed careers both for good and bad.

We’ll explore some of these moments in more detail below, while appraising their impact on the teams and individuals involved!

#1. United Sign Cantona for £1.2 Million

Enigmatic and controversial in equal measure, it’s fair to say that French striker Eric Cantona had failed to deliver on his undoubted potential by the time he arrived at Leeds United as a 25-year-old in January 1992. His skill and flair quickly earmarked him as a fans’ favourite, however, while his tally of 14 goals in 35 matches helped the Yorkshire side to an historic league title at the end of 1991/92 campaign.

By November, however, cash-strapped Leeds were due to pay a further instalment to Nimes in relation to Cantona’s purchase, while relations between the laid-back Frenchman and Leeds’ disciplinarian coach Howard Wilkinson were becoming strained.

Then came a moment that changed the course of Premier League history, as Leeds’ chairman Bill Fotherby called his Manchester United counterpart Martin Edwards to enquire about the availability of full back Denis Irwin. This was rejected out-of-hand, but Edwards, who was with Sir Alex Ferguson at the time, responded with an informal bid for Cantona, which was ultimately accepted and saw the Frenchman cross the Pennines for a little over £1 million.

At the time, United were languishing 10th in the inaugural EPL table, having endured a seven-game winless run that saw them score just four goals. Cantona’s signing also followed failed bids for David Hirst, Matt Le Tissier and Brian Deane, while summer acquisition Dion Dublin had been ruled out of the campaign with a broken leg.

The rest, as they say, is history, as Cantona transformed United’s misfiring attack and emerged as the talisman in a side that won four EPL titles in just five seasons. In total, he scored 82 goals in 185 appearances for the Red Devils, while helping to lay the foundation for the Red Devils extended domestic dominance.

As for Leeds and Wilkinson, they struggled in the wake of Cantona’s departure, while Wilkinson was sacked in September 1996 just two days after the Frenchman inspired the Reds to a 4-0 win at Elland Road.

#2. John Terry the Terrier?

John Terry remains one of the most successful and identifiable centre halves in Premier League history, having played 717 games for his boyhood club Chelsea and represented his country on 78 occasions during his time at Stamford Bridge.

He became the Blues influential captain under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho in 2003, while his Chelsea career saw him win 17 major honours including five Premier League titles, five FA Cups, three League Cups and the UEFA Champions League at the end of a rollercoaster 2011/12 campaign.

For a while, he was considered to be the best and most reliable centre back in the world, while his presence in the starting lineup was as reassuring as accessing a registration bonus code for Jack Poker.

However, the player’s immense and sustained success may not have manifested were it not for an event in 2000, when the 19-year-old Terry was the subject of a £750,000 bid by then-Huddersfield Town boss Steve Bruce.

At the time, this was a huge amount of money for a teenager who had yet to establish himself in the Chelsea first team, with Terry spending the 1999/00 season on loan at Nottingham Forest. Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, Chelsea accepted the bid, with then-manager Gianluca Vialli prepared to let the young Englishman go for such a fee.

Terry’s exit would scarcely have warranted a murmur at the time, and while the youngster considered the move, he ultimately decided to stay at the Bridge. This proved to be a great decision for all parties, with Terry integral to Chelsea’s success in the Roman Abramovich era and emerging as a truly influential captain for club and country.

#3. Gerrard’s Anfield Slip-Up

Let’s face facts, players lose their footing all the time, while for a midfielder this usually doesn’t prove to be too catastrophic. For the legendary Steven Gerrard, however, a simple slip ultimately cast a shadow over his stellar career, while briefly transforming a true Liverpool icon into little more than meme fodder for a period of time.

The slip itself came just before half-time in an EPL game against Chelsea at Anfield in April 2014. Dropping deep in between his two centre backs, Gerrard took a square pass from Mamadou Sakho and allowed the ball to roll under his boot and across him as he looked to switch play to the right-hand side. However, he lost his footing and the ball was collected by Chelsea striker Ibrahim Ba, who raced through on goal before slotting home to open the scoring.

To provide some context, Liverpool had kicked off the match against Chelsea five points clear of Chelsea at the top of the table with three matches to play. Manchester City, who the Reds had beaten the previous week, lay six points back with a game in hand, and a first title in 24 years was in touching distance for Liverpool and their manager Brendan Rodgers.

Ironically, a goalless draw would have still left the Reds with their destiny in their own hands, which makes the urgency with which Gerrard looked to move the ball forward and press the game a little bewildering. Of course, he spent the remainder of the game fuelled by emotion and looking to make up for his mistake, but he perhaps tried a little too hard as Chelsea added a second in injury time to seal the win.

City then beat Crystal Palace 2-0 to close the gap and further boost their goal difference, before overcoming Everton 3-2 six days later to move top thanks to their superior goal difference. Then the Reds travelled to Selhurst Park in a bid to win and reclaim control of the title race, but despite opening up a 3-0 lead, their attempts to score more and improve their own goal difference saw the Eagles rally and net three times in the last 11 minutes and effectively end the Reds’ title challenge.

The Reds ultimately finished second and two points behind City, with Gerrard’s slip completely derailing a thrilling and completely unexpected title challenge. As for Gerrard, he never did win the Premier League title for his beloved Liverpool, with the Reds having to wait until 2020 for their maiden EPL crown.