10) Manchester United’s 2013 summer
A summer so catastrophic we will surely not see the like again. It is impossible to single out just one failed transfer deal from David Moyes’ fabled summer in the Manchester United hotseat, so sit back as we recount the expired release clauses, failed bids and three random lawyers that grabbed everyone’s attention in 2013.
It all began with Moyes’ desperation for a marquee signing to signal his intentions as boss. Cesc Fabregas, then of Barcelona, was earmarked as that man. Their interest made public, chief executive Ed Woodward was tasked with flying home early from the club’s pre-season tour of Sydney to “conduct some major transfer business”. Three separate bids of around £30m had been lodged and rejected. United remained confident.
Confident until Fabregas held a press conference where he insisted he “never thought about leaving,” that is. A month or so wasted, the club continued to scrabble around for a much-needed midfielder. Fabregas’ Barca teammate Thiago Alcantara looked almost certain to be that man. David De Gea stoked the rumours after Thiago scored a match-winning hat-trick in the U-21 European Championship final, signing his match ball with the message: ‘See you in Manchester’. It was another fruitless chase.
And so deadline day dawned. With no new midfielder in sight and the deadline closing in, Roma confirmed they had received – and rejected – a £12m bid for Daniele De Rossi, while Luka Modric and Wesley Sneijder were targeted. United had one final trick up their sleeve however, with Athletic Bilbao star Ander Herrera on their radar. Personal deals had been agreed, but the £30m release clause provided a stumbling block. The club baulked at the fee, and sent three lawyers to the Spanish club’s headquarters to thrash out negotiations.
Except that they didn’t: The club denied any relationship with the ‘Three Amigos’. Another target fell by the wayside as Moyes, now sweating at the prospect of not making a big transfer in his first summer as boss, turned to a trusted associate. Rumours regarding Marouane Fellaini had circulated throughout the summer but it seemed inevitable he would join former boss Moyes at his new club. The deal was finally forced through in the late hours of deadline day, but not for Fellaini’s £23.5m release clause. Instead, United inexplicably waited for said clause – which was negotiated by Moyes himself – to expire in July, then paid an extra £4m for his services.
9) Ashley Cole to Chelsea
You’ve heard it all before. “When I heard Jonathan repeat the figure of £55k, I nearly swerved off the road. ‘He is taking the piss, Jonathan!’ I yelled down the phone. I was so incensed. I was trembling with anger. I couldn’t believe what I’d heard.”
Cole’s revelations in his 2006 autobiography ‘My Defence’ have been oft-repeated, generally by the fans of the club he left after a year-long transfer saga. This sordid affair all started in January 2005, with Cole, his agent Jonathan Barnett and Chelsea chiefs Jose Mourinho and Peter Kenyon attending a secret meeting together in a London hotel. All four were later fined for their parts in the tapping-up affair, but Cole’s intentions were made clear.
Still, Cole and Arsenal reconciled. The England man signed a fresh one-year contract extension in the summer of 2005 despite Chelsea’s continued interest, with the Premier League champions still linked with a move. Everything seemed harmonious between Cole and his boyhood club, until Chelsea waved a £90,000 weekly wage at him in July 2006. Arsenal settled for £5m and William Gallas in part-exchange to bring an end to the sorry tale.
8) Patrick Vieira to Real Madrid
The only surprise in Patrick Vieira’s eventual exit from Arsenal in 2005 was that he didn’t join Real Madrid. For two years he had been linked to the Spanish giants. When the captain eventually left, he headed for Serie A.
Reports of Real’s interest surfaced in July 2003, the summer before Vieira led his side to the historic ‘Invincibles’ season. Regardless of that Premier League title win, the Frenchman expressed his wish to leave in 2004. Real were joined by Inter Milan and Chelsea as the midfield destroyer’s suitors. Arsene Wenger had already earmarked West Ham’s Michael Carrick as his replacement, but in the end it was not necessary. Vieira stayed.
After capping his Arsenal career with an FA Cup win over Manchester United, Vieira departed for Juventus. Wenger insisted the club were “ready to let him go” in order to help Cesc Fabregas grow into a more prominent midfield role, and you know the story from there.
7) Dimitar Berbatov to Manchester United
September 2, 2008 was a whirlwind day in football. The summer transfer deadline was upon us, with Manchester United looking to make Spurs striker Dimitar Berbatov their big signing. A £25m fee had been agreed, and the deal looked a formality.
Of course, it wasn’t without a hitch. Spurs were reported to have compiled and filed a dossier of complaints against United’s conduct in pursuing Berbatov in July.
“The public comments by Manchester United’s manager, announcing that he has made an offer for Dimitar and is confident that the deal will go through, is a blatant example of sheer arrogance and interference,” said Spurs chairman Daniel Levy. Still, the deal looked almost certain to go through.
And so to deadline day. From absolutely nowhere, United’s bitter rivals Manchester City entered the fray. Complete with fresh financial backing from new oil rich Abu Dhabi United Group, a £34m bid for Berbatov was lodged, dwarfing United’s £25m.
Even that wasn’t the final twist in this tale. Mark Hughes claimed “it’s agreed between ourselves and Tottenham”, but little did he know that Ferguson had one final trick up his sleeve. In a tremendous manoeuvre, the Scot ensured he was there to meet Berbatov at Manchester airport when his plane touched down. After taking him to United’s training ground, Spurs eventually caved in and accepted the £30.75m on offer.
6) David Beckham to Real Madrid
Once the poster boy of English football, by 2002 David Beckham’s future at Manchester United had been called into question for the first time. Sir Alex Ferguson’s subsequent claim that the winger “thought he was bigger than the manager” sheds some light on their relationship, with missed training sessions (due to caring for an ill child), football boot assaults and Champions League snubs typifying the battle.
Indeed, Beckham’s two-goal salvo from the bench against Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final second leg felt every bit a swansong for England’s captain.
With speculation rife, it came down to Real and Barcelona to battle it out for Beckham in the summer of 2003. Barcelona president Joan Laporta claimed that he could get an agreement in place to sign Beckham. He was re-elected, but it was Real who got their man.
It all worked out in the end for everyone. Real and Beckham secured the deals they wanted, leaving Barcelona to search for another marquee signing. They bagged Ronaldinho, while United signed a spotty Portuguese winger from Sporting Lisbon. Cristiano something, his name was.
5) Luis Suarez to Barcelona
Another with an air of inevitability surrounding it, Suarez signed for Barcelona last summer in a deal worth around £70m. However, it was the saga which engulfed his, Liverpool’s and Arsenal’s season in 2013 that merits inclusion.
It all started at the end of May, with Suarez expressing his desire to leave the club after helping Liverpool to a seventh-placed finish.
“It is a difficult moment for me, my coach and my colleagues know that they [the British media] didn’t treat me well,” Suarez said. “My reason for leaving is my family and my image, I don’t feel comfortable here anymore.”
Despite his second biting incident the season before, Arsenal saw fit to make a bid. “What are they smoking over there at the Emirates?” was the bizarre response from Reds owner John Henry after the Gunners bid £40,000,001.
This offer triggered a clause in Suarez’s contract, but one which the club readily chose to ignore. Real Madrid were known to be interested in the star as well and, with the new season looming, Suarez’s destination was still unconfirmed.
Liverpool eventually persuaded him to stay, and he so nearly fired them to the Premier League title that season. Suarez went on to break the club’s unspoken rule of never biting more than one player, and was allowed to join Barcelona.
4) John Obi Mikel to Chelsea
It all now seems so unnecessary. John Obi Mikel in a transfer saga. Halcyon days.
Impressive showings for Nigeria in an advanced midfield role at the 2003 U17 FIFA World Championships and 2005 FIFA World Youth Championships saw Mikel’s star on the rise. In April 2005, Manchester United announced the signing of the midfielder, complete with photographs of him holding the shirt with his own squad number.
However, in what Ferguson would describe as “disgusting” actions, Chelsea caught wind of the deal. Not long after, Mikel was claiming that United had pressured him into signing a contract and that he actually wanted to join Chelsea.
Eventually, FIFA were brought in to decide the dispute, and they instructed Mikel to return to his Norwegian club Lyn Oslo after a complaint from United. Shortly after, Chelsea not only paid £4m to Mikel’s club, but £12m to the side that had never even signed him – United – in July 2006.
3) Alan Shearer to Manchester United
The one Sir Alex Ferguson could never sign. On three separate occasions United came calling for Shearer, and on three separate occasions they left with nothing.
The first instance came in 1991, a fresh-faced 21-year-old Shearer breaking records at Southampton. By the summer his club were willing to sell, but United’s stalling on the deal cost them as Blackburn paid a British record £3.6m. Shearer came back to haunt Ferguson by firing Rovers to the Premier League title in 1994/95.
Media reports continued to link Shearer with the Red Devils, and the striker’s sterling showing at Euro ’96 forced United’s hand. With Blackburn eager to cash in on their prized asset, United were the only runners in the race for his signature.
Or so it seemed. Despite Shearer himself admitting United “was the probable move”, league runners up Newcastle – the striker’s boyhood club – emerged with a world record £15m bid. A couple of meetings with manager Kevin Keegan firmed up Shearer’s decision.
Ferguson’s response of “that’s me f***ed then”, in hearing Keegan had already met the player, provides the beautiful icing on one of the longest-running sagas in modern times.
2) Steven Gerrard to Chelsea
“How can I think of leaving Liverpool after a night like this?”
Having just inspired his boyhood club to the most unlikely of Champions League final victories over AC Milan, it seemed that talk of Steven Gerrard joining Chelsea would finally disappear. The rumours that had started in June 2004 had raged on for nearly a year, but Gerrard was now signalling his intention to stay at Anfield.
Just two months later, that wish had dissipated. Contract talks had stalled, despite manager Rafael Benitez and chief executive Rick Parry stating their desire to keep Liverpool’s talisman.
June passed with Liverpool fans desperately checking the news on a daily basis. Chelsea were back in for him, while Real Madrid were also known to want the England midfielder. By July, Gerrard confirmed Anfield’s worst fears. “This has been the hardest decision I have ever had to make,” he said of his choice to leave.
Chelsea had made a £32m bid for Gerrard and he seemed almost certain to don the Blues shirt for the 2005/06 season, but a whirlwind week ended with a contract U-turn within 24 hours of his exit statement, and a new £100,000-a-week deal for Gerrard.
1) Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where it all started, but a fair assessment would be as far back as the 2006 World Cup. After Wayne Rooney’s dismissal in the quarter-final against Portugal, Ronaldo’s despicable sin of winking towards his bench in the aftermath was never really forgotten.
It led to almost constant media speculation, with Ronaldo himself admitting “I think I should get out of Manchester”. Valencia were regularly linked with a move, but it was the speculation coming from Real Madrid that turned heads as always.
United staved off the attention and Ronaldo stayed, with his first 20-goal season and the Premier League title his reward. Real’s interest merely intensified further however, with the club reportedly preparing a then-world record £54m deal.
Again Ronaldo remained a United player heading into the 2007/08 season, and even signed a new contract in April. This time he fired United to a Premier League and Champions League double.
Ronaldo was then prepared to leave on a high after that season, before Ferguson intervened and promised him he could depart the following summer. After adding another Premier League trophy to his cabinet, Ronaldo finally secured his move to Real in 2009 after a three-year chase.
Matt Stead – follow him on Twitter