Man Utd’s €190m Neymar ‘conversations’, Mbappe, Ronaldo and other failed world-record moves

Matt Stead
Former Man Utd targets Neymar and Kylian Mbappe
Neymar and Kylian Mbappe have been the subjects of world-record bids

Kylian Mbappe is the subject of a £259m bid from Al-Hilal which could be doomed to fail. But world-record moves have crashed before, as Man Utd well know.


10) Andriy Shevchenko to Chelsea
Roman Abramovich eventually got his man – and was soon made to deeply regret it – but there was a time when Andriy Shevchenko was out of reach to even the sweeping former Chelsea owner.

The Blues were entirely unperturbed by Shevchenko turning in a disastrous Champions League final performance against Liverpool, pushing ahead with plans to sign the Milan forward in summer 2005. After plenty of grandstanding over the cost of Kakha Kaladze, the two clubs got down to the real business of the Ukrainian’s future.

Chelsea put £48.9m on the table, which represented a world-record fee in itself surpassing the £47m Real Madrid spent on Zinedine Zidane in 2001. But Hernan Crespo, valued at £8m, was also offered in an ambitious package that included a £150,000-a-week contract lasting four years.

The figures were ridiculous for the time – and so was Milan rejecting all that for a player soon to turn 29, long past his best and irreparably broken by Jerzy Dudek.

Adriano Galliani, Milan vice-president at the time, said: “Chelsea have asked us for Shevchenko but we have told them ‘No’. Sheva is not for sale. He is unsellable.”

He was sold to Chelsea a year later, at the knockdown price of £30m.


9) Thomas Muller to Man Utd
That the only one of four ‘fantasy’ signings Ed Woodward was desperate to deliver to Man Utd ultimately and inevitably ended in tears is fully and hilariously on-brand. He was not the only individual to pat himself on the back for the deal to bring Cristiano Ronaldo back to Old Trafford, but he was one of the many who ignored the footballing issues inherent in that transfer because the ego stroke was too enticing.

Woodward had a thoroughly rough time trying to secure those other three names. Gareth Bale was consistently linked with Man Utd long after he left the Premier League, but that helicopter was kept on permanent standby. Thomas Muller always felt like less of a natural superstar yet, eager to appease a managerial powerhouse in Louis van Gaal, typically ridiculous financial packages were offered to bring the German to Old Trafford.

“I tried to bring Muller to Manchester both in the 2014/2015 season and in the 2015/2016 season,” Van Gaal has since said. Bayern chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge confirmed the receipt of “a mad offer from Manchester United” in 2015, from which “we could have secured a world-record transfer fee”. And Muller himself said that the money involved – reported by Bild as an £84m fee and £300,000-a-week wage – was “insane”. But a combination of the Bundesliga giants not wanting to lose a homegrown star and a reluctance to uproot family meant Muller was cornered into staying.


8) Neymar to Man Utd
The final member of that faux-Galactico quartet was Neymar, who Woodward pushed intensely to sign in summer 2015. Van Gaal had just achieved Champions League qualification in his first season in charge, but trying to sign a player who had just scored in that same competition’s final for a Treble-winning Barcelona was characteristically reserved, modest and not at all a completely ridiculous waste of everyone’s time.

Neymar also had three years remaining on a contract with a reportedly gargantuan release clause, but Woodward is an eternal optimist.

The Man Utd executive known to have been travelling back and forth to Barcelona throughout that August, but the trips were thought to be centered around Chelsea-bound Pedro. Instead, there were “conversations” with Neymar and his representatives but, according to the Brazilian, “nothing concrete” ever reached him personally.

With Papa Neymar later confirming “Manchester United were the side that offered €190million” for his son, Man Utd’s audacious plans were laid bare. They did complete a world-record move that summer, but only to make Anthony Martial the most expensive teenage footballer in history.

READ: Can Rasmus Hojlund diverge from massive Man Utd parallels with Anthony Martial?


7) Lionel Messi to Inter
The subject of many a doomed approach – most often from those ambitious folk over at Manchester City – Messi long seemed impossible to procure from Barcelona. It required years of meticulous financial incompetence from the Catalans to eventually push him out for nothing, with Paris Saint-Germain similarly receiving no fee when he left after two mutually unsatisfying years in France.

Messi has already established himself as Inter Miami’s greatest ever player – a competitive field, for sure – but the Italian namesake of the MLS franchise could perhaps have had him far sooner.

“He always had offers: in 2006 Moratti gave me 250 million and I said no, there I saw the esteem of Messi and his family for Barcelona,” Joan Laporta claimed when announcing his candidacy for a second run as Nou Camp president in 2020.

Messi was still a teenager and yet to properly entrench himself in the Barca starting line-up but Inter, whose transfer record remains the £73.9m spent on Romelu Lukaku in 2019, definitely offered more than three times that almost two decades ago in a deal which would still be the most expensive ever now. And Laporta certainly wasn’t trying to boost his political campaign and make himself look great.


6) David Beckham to Barcelona
There can be some understandable doubt over the legitimacy of Messi’s record-breaking transfer, but there is little reason to disbelieve any element of his new biggest fan’s own earth-shattering potential moves.

At the end of Beckham’s breakout season with Man Utd in May 1997, there were reports of an imminent offer from Milan at least matching the worth of Alan Shearer’s £15m switch to Newcastle the prior summer.

Three years later, more self-serving, grandiose Barcelona presidency nonsense saw Man Utd approached with a £45m bid which would have eclipsed Christian Vieri’s £32m Inter move in 1999. Jaume Llaorado was deemed by many as simply trying to boost his profile with the Catalan club’s members but former Barcelona director, coach and manager Llorenc Serra Ferrer did later reveal, in a haze of needing to replace Luis Figo: “I said that we should try and buy Beckham, he would have adapted perfectly to the style of Barcelona.”

READ MORE: Portrait of an icon: David Beckham

Man Utd player David Beckham
David Beckham was a target for Barcelona


5) Thierry Henry to Spain
“We turned down world-record deals for Thierry from two Spanish clubs – and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out who they were,” David Dein said in May 2006, publicly divulging the extravagant plans of a presumably furious Osasuna and Extremadura.

“The two clubs in question don’t like to be outbid by each other. They were ready to go for it,” he added, placing a magnifying glass on the wide-open lines between which it was impossible not to read the words ‘Real Madrid’ and ‘Barcelona’.

Arsenal somehow persuaded the Frenchman to stay regardless. Defeat to Barca in the Champions League final strengthened their case rather than weakening it, and a four-year deal was signed two days later to dispel speculation of a £50m move.

“The game reassured me of one thing I wanted to know – how far I can go with that team,” Henry said at the time. “I’ve never played in Spain and never will. This is my last contract.”

He joined Barca 12 months later.


4) Raul to Chelsea
Oh, that first summer of Chelsea having literally all of the money. Numerous clubs have tried to recapture that magic since – and a literal entire country has been desperate to channel such an energy all summer – but the ludicrously eclectic shopping list produced directly after Abramovich’s Stamford Bridge takeover will never be beaten.

Any and every player of note was linked. Jurgen Macho was signed. And a 26-year-old Raul was offered double his Real Madrid wage to come and join Claudio Ranieri’s house of fun.

The Italian manager summed the situation up neatly. “One hundred million euros, is that all?” he said of a £71m Chelsea bid confirmed by the player’s agent. “Raul tonight, tomorrow it is Rivaldo.”

Raul stayed, Chelsea signed Adrian Mutu for rather less instead, and no-one got sued for £15.2m after testing positive for a banned substance.


3) Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester City
It is a deep shame that Dr Sulaiman Al-Fahim no longer seems to be tied to the Manchester City operation. The owner of Portsmouth for six weeks in 2009 – a phrase which describes most of the global population – was once the frontman for the Abu Dhabi United Group takeover, but found himself quickly moved aside for reasons which will become clear in a couple of paragraphs.

“Ronaldo has said he wants to play for the biggest club in the world, so we will see in January if he is serious,” our man said in the week of the 2008 Manchester City purchase. “Real Madrid were estimating his value at $160m (£90m) but for a player like that, to actually get him, will cost a lot more; I would think $240m (£135m).”

Henry, Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas, David Villa and O Fenômeno Ronaldo were all also named by Al-Fahim as targets in the quest to build a “dream team” and anger executives at almost every top club.

The brash and wholly unslick Al-Fahim, likened to both Sir Alan Sugar and Donald Trump and there can be no greater compliment, was shuffled quietly into the background thereafter, sentenced to five years in prison for stealing £5m from his wife to fund that Portsmouth takeover, and is conspicuous by his absence in the Manchester City success story. They had bank notes printed with his face on and everything.


2) Kaka to Manchester City
The Ronaldo stuff was just bluster and posturing. A move for Kaka was anything but.

Manchester City had some ostentatious targets for their first full transfer window of unlimited investment in January 2009. Villa, Henry and Gianluigi Buffon were all on the shortlist but proved difficult to extract from their clubs.

“We’re not anybody’s fool,” said then-executive chairman Garry Cook, hopefully not via email, with just over a week before the deadline. “We’ve turned down negotiations for three different players because we felt the demands both from the club and, in essence, the players have been ludicrous.”

An approach for Kaka was pushed considerably further down the line. A £100m bid was made, Manchester City assistant manger Mark Bowen suggested “the deal is very close” and the thought of £500,000 a week had understandably tempted the Brazilian.

But the pull of playing for Mark Hughes was just not enough. Kaka formally rejected the proposal but still received his world-record move, joining Real for £56m that summer. Cook took it predictably well, saying: “The player was clearly for sale. We had entered into a confidentiality agreement weeks ago but, in my personal opinion, they bottled it.”


1) Kylian Mbappe to Real Madrid
As much as the infinitely talented but fundamentally unserious footballer and boundlessly cosmic but constitutionally unlikeable football club were essentially constructed specifically for one another, Mbappe and Real Madrid remain star-crossed lovers fluttering perennial eyelashes across the room.

They will surely work things out eventually and be united in the summer of 2024, whether by means of a ridiculous €1bn stop-off in Saudi Arabia or a season on the PSG bench, but the ships of Mbappe and Real keep passing in the night for now.

The closest they came was in summer 2017, when Monaco rejected an offer of £103m (Daily Telegraph) before Real ‘reached an agreement in principle’ worth £161m to sign the 18-year-old (Marca), something the Ligue Un champions subsequently denied was ever put in place.

Mbappe instead moved to PSG but cannot possibly be kept from the Bernabeu for much longer. Unless Tottenham firm up their reported interest, of course.