Manchester United may have to settle for the next best things to Frenkie De Jong and Antony. Sometimes in the past, it’s worked out for the best.
Here are five occasions when they missed out on their primary target and who they signed instead…
Who they wanted: Patrick Kluivert
Who they signed: Dwight Yorke
It was the summer of 1998 and United were reeling from losing the title to Double winners Arsenal. Sir Alex Ferguson wanted more firepower in his attack and he settled on Kluivert.
AC Milan entertained United’s interest and a £9million fee was agreed. But the Holland star didn’t fancy United or Manchester. Sound familiar?
“Maybe he doesn’t know how big a club Manchester United is,” Ferguson reflected at the time. “I’m surprised he didn’t give himself the opportunity to speak to us and now we hear he wants to go to London. If that is where he wants to live, there is nothing we can do about it.”
Kluivert made do with moving to Barcelona, leaving United to find another striker. Fergie focused on attention on Villa centre-forward Yorke, much to John Gregory’s chagrin.
Yorke was rather more eager to join United and once there, after a £12.6million deal had been done, the Trinidadian formed a lethal partnership with Andy Cole that fired the Red Devils to the Treble.
Fergie made sure to remind Kluivert what he could have won when he wrote his autobiography: ‘I had no trouble believing that he was likely to be the bigger loser than we were. As I write, there is a growing mountain of persuasive evidence that the Dutchman’s indifference indirectly did us a huge favour.’
Who they wanted: Eden Hazard
Who they signed: Shinji Kagawa
Ferguson speaking at the unveiling of Kagawa and Nick Powell in summer 2012…
“I see some values on players, like Hazard for instance. To me it was a lot of money. He’s a good player, but £34million?
“What we’re finding anyway, the climate for buying these top players – not just the transfer fees, the salaries, agents’ fees – is just getting ridiculous now. In the Hazard deal, Chelsea paid the agent £6million. The Nasri situation was the same. It’s all about what you think is value for a player.
“I am not envious of those deals at all. We placed a value on Hazard which was well below what they were talking about. So if it doesn’t work well we’re not worried about that. We think we’ve got good value in Kagawa.”
The United boss was trying to hide his disappointment at missing out on Hazard, who chose Chelsea after the Blues and Red Devils went head-to-head for the Belgian. When Hazard opted for Stamford Bridge, United signed Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund for less than half the price.
Both clubs got what they paid for. Hazard was brilliant for Chelsea and they sold him for around three times the price they paid Lille. Kagawa flopped hard at Old Trafford and was sold back to Dortmund two years later for less than half the price.
I'm signing for the champion's league winner.
— Eden Hazard (@hazardeden10) May 28, 2012
Who they wanted: Alan Shearer
Who they signed: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
‘When Alan Shearer, was f***ing dearer…’ goes the song at Old Trafford. But Solskjaer was never really an alternative to Shearer. Fergie wanted them both.
He REALLY wanted Shearer. The United boss spent the summer of ’96 trying to tease the Blackburn striker to Old Trafford when it became clear that he fancied Old Trafford and that Rovers might sell. Indeed, Jack Walker was open to selling his biggest asset. Just not to United.
Walker’s reluctance to do business with Ferguson and the allure of home saw Shearer return to his North-East roots for a fee of £15million. United, instead, added a decimal point and bought Solskjaer for £1.5million.
The intention, as Fergie wrote in ‘A Will To Win’, was for Solskjaer to ‘spend the season learning about how we play… a few games in the League Cup or the odd appearance here and there’. But the Norwegian dazzled in training and gave the manager little choice but to pick him. He finished the season as United’s top scorer with 19 goals as the Red Devils won another title. Two years later, Solskjaer sealed the Treble and helped bag Ferguson a knighthood.
Who they wanted: Ronaldinho
Who they signed: Cristiano Ronaldo
With David Beckham on his way in the summer of 2003, United wanted a buck-toothed Brazilian to fill the hole on their right flank. The only problem was that because Beckham chose Real Madrid over Barcelona, the Catalans had a void to be filled, too. And it’s sunnier in Spain…
“I want to be a big star and I have a better chance of being a big star with Barcelona,” said Ronaldinho after moving to the Nou Camp. “I will prefer the lifestyle in Barcelona, the way of life and the climate, too. It is not a good climate in Manchester.”
Ferguson reflected on the failure to land Ronaldinho in his autobiography: ‘I thought we’d clinched the deal, but when I flew to Paris to speak with him, the goalposts seemed to have moved somehow. His people complained that to me that it didn’t seem as though they were getting the same deal we’d previously agreed. The next thing I know, he was at Barcelona the following day.
‘It was a big disappointment at the time, but we signed Cristiano Ronaldo that very same summer and perhaps we wouldn’t have ended up with Ronaldo had we got Ronaldinho.’
Who they wanted: Toni Kroos
Who they signed: Marouane Fellaini
United shambled through the summer of 2013. David Moyes had just replaced Ferguson and Ed Woodward stepped up to replace David Gill as chief exec. It quickly became clear that both were out of their depth.
Woodward spent his first few months in the job flying around the world failing to sign big names. Despite Moyes lining some of the deals up for him.
“Toni Kroos had agreed to come to Manchester United with me,” David Moyes told Talksport in 2018. “I met him and his wife and we agreed it all when he was at Bayern Munich.”
Kroos later confirmed Moyes’ version of events to The Athletic, suggesting that after initially deciding to stay for another year at Bayern, he would make the move in 2014: “David Moyes had come to see me and the contract had basically been done but then Moyes was fired and Louis van Gaal came in, which complicated matters.”
Instead, United went after Cesc Fabregas, Sami Khedira and probably a few others, none of whom they signed. So on deadline day, Moyes went back to Everton and paid £27million for Fellaini, a few weeks after they could have saved millions thanks to a clause in his Toffees contract.
Fellaini was certainly no Kroos or Fabregas, but after a miserable start to life at Old Trafford, he eventually proved to be useful to United, if only because he tried.