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Manchester United’s worst January signings

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Transfers are gambles at the best of times, but January elevates the stakes to a whole new level.

With prices at a premium and such little time to get deals over the line, we’ve seen some eyebrow-raising moves take place in the winter transfer window – some work but some, as all clubs have come to experience, really don’t.

While Manchester United can boast some of the best January signings of all time, they have made numerous blunders. Below, 90min ranks them.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester United vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers

Ritchie De Laet could never fulfill his potential / Matthew Ashton/GettyImages

Ritchie De Laet spent three and half years at Manchester United following his arrival as a promising youngster in January 2009.

As it turned out, the Belgian would go on to have more loan spells than Premier League starts for the Red Devils, never managing to get his feet on the ground in the first team. The right-back excelled in United’s reserve team but simply couldn’t shine when given his opportunities at senior level, managing six appearances in total for the club.

He would, however, later become a Premier League champion with Leicester.

Wilfried Zaha

Wilfried Zaha in action for Manchester United / Clive Brunskill/GettyImages

Another player tipped to go and achieve great things is Wilfried Zaha, who was brought in by Sir Alex Ferguson halfway through the 2012/13 campaign.

A glittering prospect at the time, Zaha simply failed to get going during his time at Old Trafford, also being sent out on loan more times than he featured in the Premier League for the Red Devils.

In all, he played six times during the two years he was at United before sealing a permanent transfer to Crystal Palace – where, as we know, the rest has certainly become history.

Diego Forlan

Diego Forlan was somewhat of a flop / Clive Mason/GettyImages

Diego Forlan’s move to Manchester United in January 2002 was an exciting one. A youngster who’d impressed in South America, the then-22-year-old arrived as a goal-hungry striker but departed starved 18 months later.

The Uruguayan icon would play 97 times for Ferguson’s side, but failed to live up to expectations as he managed just 17 goals in all competitions.

He later went on to make waves in Spain, helping both Villarreal and Atletico Madrid to European honours, as well as starring for his country for over a decade as he lifted the 2011 Copa America title.

Soccer - Preseason Friendly - Manchester United vs. Valencia

Zoran Tosic’s transfer to Manchester United was practically pointless / Matthew Ashton/GettyImages

When talking about impact-less transfers, Zoran Tosic has to be right up there.

The winger was brought to the club at the midway point in the 2008/09 season after impressing in his native Serbia, only to play just five times in the year-and-a-half he was at Old Trafford.

He was sent out on loan a year after his arrival before getting a permanent transfer to CSKA Moscow in the summer of 2010, where his career took off.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Manucho *** Local Caption *** Cristiano Ronaldo, Manucho

Manucho never got going at Manchester United / Alex Livesey/GettyImages

Like pretty much all of the players on this list, Manucho was actually a decent footballer; 22 international goals is testament to the quality he boasted. It just never happened for him in Manchester, though.

The Angolan earned the move after thoroughly impressing in his homeland but was immediately forced to go out on loan due to complications with his work permit. After coming back from Panathinaikos, the striker only managed a solitary Premier League appearance due to the world-class competition at the club at the time.

In that appearance, however, he did register an assist for Danny Welbeck, who was also making his league debut as United beat Stoke 5-0.

Fangzhuo Dong

Dong Fangzhou’s Manchester United career was anticlimactic throughout / Touchline/GettyImages

If Manucho was hindered by the burden of admin, then Dong Fangzhou was practically crushed by it after he got to Manchester in January 2004.

As the first Chinese player to ever arrive at the club, there was momentous excitement around the signing of Fangzhou. However, he was denied a work permit and forced out on loan straight away.

He enjoyed great success at Royal Antwerp, finishing as the Belgian top flight’s top scorer in the 2005/06 campaign and starting the following season with 11 strikes in 15 appearances, Fangzhou was finally given a work permit in December 2006 – nearly three years after joining United.

Having waited all that time and risen expectations through the roof with his glorious form in Belgium, the striker flopped. He left the club 18 months after making his debut, managing just one Premier League appearance.

There’s only one possible list-topper here, though.

Manchester United fans thought they’d made one of the signings of the century as the club announced the arrival of Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal in January 2018, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan going the other way.

The forward had comfortably established himself as one of the best players in the country with the Gunners, so it was a shock to everyone when his Red Devils career panned out the way it did.

Becoming the first Chilean to play for the club, Sanchez managed just five goals across 45 appearances in 18 months – after which he went out on loan to Inter for the 2019/20 campaign before making the deal permanent the season after without featuring for United again.

This monumental flop happened all while Sanchez was one of the English top flight’s highest earners, taking home eye-watering sums of money for his performances. From start to finish, the Chilean has to be considered one of the worst January signings in history.

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