There’s a certain amount of emotional protection required during the transfer window when you’re a Manchester United fan. Not that we’re the only club to be spuriously and recklessly linked with the latest prodigal talent for the sake of extra clicks, but over the years, United fans have seen so many potential deals fall through, seen the club’s name used by so many agents to drum up interest and been the go-to name to drop when a player wants a nice new contract that it’s hard not to be even a little sceptical about almost every single player that the club is linked with.
But of course, such is the excitement of the transfer window that we put ourselves through this emotional battery every year, hanging on the words of Italian papers that we never normally read (“Tuttosport said we aren’t in for him but he didn’t look that reporter in the eye on Brazilian TV when asked about United!”) and arguing amongst ourselves when we don’t sign a player that we probably weren’t interested in to begin with. It’s tough separating fact from fiction during the transfer window, purely because of the smoke and mirrors that outlets, agents, clubs and players all choose to employ, but there’s no denying that we’ve been led up the garden path more than most when it comes to potential deals. So, with that in mind, here’s my Top 5 Failed Manchester United Transfer Tales.
Honourable mentions: Wesley Sneijder, Freddy Guarin, Nico Gaitan, Ezequiel Garay, Lucas Moura, James Rodriguez, Gareth Bale, Arturo Vidal, Renato Sanches, Thiago Alcantara, Pedro, Ronaldinho, Toni Kroos, Aaron Ramsey…
5) Sergio Ramos
My word, we wanted this to happen. Spanish-based journalists Sid Lowe and Graham Hunter reported what they were being told in the summer of 2015; that Sergio Ramos wanted to leave the Spanish capital after a falling out with Florentino Perez and United was his preferred destination. Bids happened, discussions were held, and Ramos was still minded to head for Manchester until he eventually met with the club’s president at the start of pre-season, and ol’ FloPe smoothed things over whilst simultaneously engorging his weekly wages. One comically oversized shirt with the year of Ramos’ extension later, and that was it. Poof. Dream over.
It would have been a wonderful transfer; Ramos’ defensive capabilities are matched only by his penchant for being an utter bastard on the pitch, with dives, elbows and red cards aplenty. He’s led Real to two successive Champions League titles since his dalliance with United, but what a fun signing this would have been.
If you wanted an idea of how close Ronaldinho was to joining United in the summer of 2003, his own words on his proposed transfer from Paris Saint Germain were “I was on the brink.” David Beckham had left that same year for Real Madrid after a famous falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson, and the Brazilian would have been a marvellous tonic for the loss of one of the club’s biggest stars. The transfer was almost done; just a few minor details to iron out, in fact.
Until Barcelona stepped in.
The former AC Milan man explained that he’d already agreed to play for Barca if Sandro Rossell won that year’s presidential election, so when news arrived of that impending victory, Ronaldinho hopped and skipped on his merry old way to Catalonia, and the rest is history. Still, given that in those days, most transfer news was confined to Ceefax, then at least we were spared what would have been a spectacular social media meltdown.
3) Ander Herrera
Ahh, the summer of 2013. United, fresh from their 20th league title, spent the transfer window talking up potential deals with Gareth Bale and Cesc Fabregas, and ended up with signing Marouane Fellaini on deadline day. Moyes that.
Before that 11th hour deal for the towering Belgian, however, was the botched saga of Ander Herrera. Athetlic Bilbao’s famous policy of only playing Basque natives meant that any deal to purchase a player of theirs was notoriously difficult, as United found to their peril.
The presence of that famous trio of lawyers hired by the club to push the deal through with the clock ticking down on deadline day was to no avail, and Herrera was apparently distraught about his failed move for some time after that to the point that it affected his performances and training. But here’s one story that has a happy ending, at least, with the player paying his £30m+ release clause himself to Bilbao the following year(after United spotted him the cash, presumably), and after an up-and-down three years at United, he’s a heavy favourite to be the club’s next captain, and beloved by all.
…Except fans and players of any other club, obviously. God bless you, Ander.
2) Keylor Navas
The Costa Rican keeper is included purely for the farcical way in which his transfer to United fell apart on that infamous deadline day two years ago. We can all recall the circumstances; Real Madrid had been chasing David De Gea all summer long, and whilst our no.1 had kept his counsel during the off-season, a frosty relationship with Louis van Gaal and the obvious pull of a return to Spain with the country’s biggest club was enough to convince De Gea that his future lay at the Bernabeu.
Several months of flirting later, with De Gea having started the season on the bench due to Real’s head-turning interest, they reportedly finally tabled a bid on deadline day, and a deal was hastily arranged to send Navas in the opposite direction. So close was he to moving to United that evening that he was on a private jet chartered awaiting departure for Manchester before the infamous fax machine kerfuffle meant that paper work to facilitate the swap wasn’t processed in time, meaning both players stayed at their respective clubs. No harm done, in the end; Navas went on to become Real’s first-choice shot-stopper whilst Dave signed a big contract extension and has seemingly batted away speculation on his future for another year. Whilst a return to De Gea’s homeland at some stage feels inevitable, the way in which this particular move fell apart remains one of the most ridiculous pieces of transfer business in United’s history. And that’s really saying something.
1) Cristiano Ronaldo
The Granddaddy of them all.
Truly, the Citizen Kane of United-related transfer sagas.
If it had its own subtitle, then it’d be The Neverending Story. And in this instance, that is not a positive.
Ronaldo’s oft-touted return to United is a story that just will not do the decent thing and scuttle off to a nice quiet retirement home, and it’s also one that isn’t likely to fully go away until the best-paid player in world football hangs up his boots. The big problem here is that whenever Ronaldo doesn’t feel the right level of love that he demands at Real Madrid, whether that’s as a result of a lack of support from the club to help him win the Ballon D’or, whether that’s not getting passed the ball enough or even those rare occasions when his apples aren’t sliced to his exact requirements (skin off, 0.50cm wide), he is happy for his entourage to encourage speculation that he is deeply unsettled, and wants to leave. And when that happens, like clockwork, United get dragged into the conversation.
That’s partly down to the player himself, who seemingly loves to exacerbate that interest. He promised the club that’d he’d return in 2013, but presumably baulked at the idea of playing under David Moyes and eventually signed an extension at the Bernabeu (and frankly, who can blame him?). He also sparked interest a few years back with a simple claim of being ‘sad’, and there must be few instances in the history of this planet where so many column inches have been dedicated to a sportsperson purely due to such a short public utterance. And, of course, this summer, we were hit with the carefully leaked news that Ronaldo wanted to leave Real again, a decision described as ‘irreversible’ after he was accused of tax evasion, and United were immediately touted as a potential destination.
I’m sure that Ronaldo still holds a deep affection for United after his six years at Old Trafford, and that’s certainly mirrored by the club and its fanbase. In that sense, it’s easy to get swept up in the romanticism of this fabled ‘return home’, but in many ways, he’s already at the club that suits him best; the weather, the prestige, the self-absorption married with a relentless desire for success…Real Madrid really is his ideal place to play, in those respects. This time, at least, it seems as if United have learned their lesson as they were quoted as being ‘cautious’ of being led astray when this latest interest was reported. But the story continues to rumble on, and as mentioned, there’s a sense that it won’t truly end until Ronaldo’s playing career is done. So, given his incredible ability and physical condition at the age of 32, that should be in…what, five years? Hurrah…