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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Manchester United’s biggest transfer fumbles

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When the news broke on Monday evening that Liverpool were interested in signing Manchester United target Cody Gakpo, people were shocked.


About an hour later they had the deal all wrapped up and people were less surprised. At this point, it’s just kind of what Liverpool do with their transfers. No messing about.

Unlike United, for instance, who do really like to um and ah and deliberate over potential moves, right up until the moment their rivals are snatching them up from under their feet.

This isn’t the first time that Manchester United have dropped the ball when it comes to transfers. And you can bet your bottom dollar that it won’t be the last, particularly given the fact that the Glazers are still somehow in town.

But who has been their all-time biggest fumble? That, my friends, is a question we can only answer together.

Let’s start at number eight and work our way down a rather incredible list of transfer bottlings, shall we? Yeah, let’s do that.

Marseille's Ivorian forward Didier Drogb

Didier Drogba scored 19 goals in 35 league games for Marseille / JAVIER SORIANO/GettyImages

Believe it or not, Manchester United had scouted Didier Drogba but Marseille wanted £25 million, according to Sir Alex Ferguson. As would become typical of them over the years that followed, the club twiddled their thumbs and allowed Chelsea to snap up the Ivorian striker for themselves.

What a signing he could have been.

Arjen Robben

Arjen Robben was keen to join Manchester United but no move materialised / Mark Thompson/GettyImages

Like Drogba, Arjen Robben was the subject of interest from Manchester United before Chelsea eventually secured his talents for themselves.

Robben was given a tour of the training ground and spoke face-to-face with Ferguson but no deal was struck. The flying Dutchman admitted that he was ready and eager to move to Old Trafford but no call came after he returned to PSV Eindhoven.

Chelsea did make an offer and Robben moved to London in 2004, where he played three seasons before joining Real Madrid. According to Rio Ferdinand, Robben actually turned down a transfer to United because “he didn’t like the smell” of the training ground.

Not sure we’re buying that one, Rio.

Wesley Sneijder

Wesley Sneijder was at the peak of his powers in 2010 / Valerio Pennicino/GettyImages

Week in and week out, year after year, you couldn’t read a single transfer gossip column without seeing Wesley Sneijder’s name pop up in connection with Manchester United.

For all the world it seemed as though it would happen but the leaves kept falling from the trees and the transfer windows passed until, eventually, Sneijder was old, grey, slightly (very?) overweight and struggling to get into the Nice team after joining as a free agent.

This wasn’t too much of a fumble, to be fair. Unless United had secured his signature following an imperious 2009-10 season, during which Sneijder won the treble with Inter under Jose Mourinho, reached the World Cup final with the Netherlands and should have finished at least second in the Ballon d’Or.

That version of Sneijder, well, that’s the kind of player you throw the kitchen sink at. Unless, of course, you are Manchester United, who signed Javier Hernandez, Chris Smalling, Bebe and Marnick Vermijl (who?) in the summer of 2010 instead.

Lille's Belgian forward Eden Hazard cont

Manchester United ultimately chose Shinji Kagawa over Eden Hazard / JEFF PACHOUD/GettyImages

This is an interesting one, as Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City were all reportedly interested in Eden Hazard when he was leaving Lille in the summer of 2012.

After losing the title on goal difference, however, United were rebuffed by the Belgian winger – who chose to join sixth-place Chelsea instead due to their victory in the Champions League that season.

Ferguson considered both the transfer fee (£34 million) and agent’s fee (£6 million) to be too high for the reigning two-time Ligue 1 Player of the Year, opting to sign the more cost-effective Shinji Kagawa.

Hat-trick against Norwich and slight Japanese-market boom aside, Kagawa was largely forgettable at Old Trafford and United should have done everything in their power to secure Hazard’s signature. He was one of the best players in the Premier League throughout his time at Chelsea.

Nani, Manuel Neuer

Ferguson was apparently a big fan of Manuel Neuer / Michael Regan/GettyImages

This one essentially boils down to Ferguson trusting his goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele, who preferred David de Gea to Manuel Neuer.

Neuer, who was Schalke captain at the time, led them on a remarkable run to a Champions League semi-final where they were eventually dumped out by United. He was snapped up by Bayern Munich in the summer, while Ferguson signed De Gea for £19 million on Steele’s recommendation.

De Gea was by no means a bad purchase by Manchester United but Manuel Neuer is a completely different level of goalkeeper. Even if he likes skiing a bit too much.

Toni Kroos

Toni Kroos may well have been the answer to all Man Utd’s midfield problems / Chris Brunskill Ltd/GettyImages

This one was all wrapped up, only for Manchester United to sack David Moyes and cancel the deal. It meant that four days after winning the World Cup, Toni Kroos joined Real Madrid, where he has now won three La Liga titles and four Champions League trophies.

Not bad at all. What hurts more: that he is exactly the kind of central midfield player United have missed since Paul Scholes’ retirement or that he would have cost only £20 million? It’s rough whichever way you look at it.

Oh well, at least you had Marouane Fellaini.

Ronaldinho, Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima

What could have been… / Alessandro Sabattini/GettyImages

Essentially, Manchester United were heavily rumoured to be signing Ronaldinho one year on from his successful 2002 World Cup campaign with Brazil. David Beckham had left for Real Madrid and a marquee replacement was needed.

We’re not sure what happened, but Ronaldinho ended up joining Barcelona from PSG instead and United were left with… Kleberson. Yep. That’s like going into a Porsche garage and coming out with a VW Golf. In fact, that’s probably a bit harsh on Golfs.

It’s probably wise to mention at this point that Manchester United also tried to sign Ronaldo from PSV in 1996. The Dutch club wanted £20 million though, which United simply couldn’t afford.

Barcelona, however, could, in a move that would eventually foreshadow Ronaldinho’s transfer. 34 goals in 37 La Liga games wasn’t a bad return on their investment in O Fenomeno, either.

Erling Braut Håland

How different things might have been had Erling Haaland ended up on the red side of Manchester / Michael Molzar/GettyImages

If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is your manager, having only a couple of Eliteserien titles with Molde to his name, and you’re not using that knowledge and subsequent connection to sign the brightest young talent Norwegian football has ever produced, then I’m sorry, but what exactly is it you are doing?

Erling Haaland was reportedly eager to join up with his former manager Solskjaer in the January transfer window of 2020, with Red Bull Salzburg requiring only £17.1 million for his release clause to be activated.

United, however, balked at the agent fee being demanded by Mino Raiola, and the player joined Borussia Dortmund instead.

It’s hard to really overstate just how transformative this signing could have been – it certainly would have saved them all that time, energy and money wasted on Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer of 2021.

It says a lot that the club are still looking for their long-term number nine.

Had they signed Haaland, they would have had no reason to buy one for the next decade. Crucially, they would have also stopped Manchester City from eventually buying him for themselves, a transfer that has made the most devastating attacking team in the league even scarier for the foreseeable future.

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