Everyone loves transfer rumours, right?

Well, okay, perhaps not everyone. For some people they mean that the pain of the summer without football is doubled by the idle speculation about which big names will be rocking up at Old Trafford in a brand new Chevy that they would otherwise not be seen dead in.

One of the reasons that transfer rumours are difficult for those of us who are not fans of the process is the pain of the near miss. For every Eric Cantona (which went from rumour to done in the blink of an eye), there’s a Gabriel Batistuta—years of speculation and no end product.

Last summer was an anomaly, the first year of Glazer ownership in which the spend on players outstripped the spend on servicing an ill-gotten debt burden. Finally, some of the amazing super-hero status players we were linked with actually arrived.

But what of the ones that never did (or at least haven’t yet, for there is still time for a couple of them)?

Here are the top five ones-that-got-away, ranked by a completely subjective blend of how exciting a prospect they seemed at the time, how much we needed them, and how relentlessly we were linked with them.

Number Five – Edwin van der Sar

Van der Sar vs Chelsea

Cheating! Right out of the box! Van Der Sar, of course, eventually signed on the dotted line, and in doing so finally put to rest Fergie’s long search for an adequate replacement for Peter Schmeichel. But the man left Juventus in 2001. To go to Fulham. Fulham!

This ice-cool Champions League winner spent four long years in the Craven Cottage wilderness (pretty civilised as wildernesses go, but still). It’s not like we weren’t linked with him when he left Juve—we were—but his time there had been far from an unqualified success, and Fergie opted to stick with the erratic excellence of Fabien Barthez rather than capture his rumoured target.

Down at number five, because, of course, we eventually did get him, and it was beautiful, he spent several years looking like he really had got away. We’re glad you didn’t, Edwin.

Number Four – Arturo Vidal


Sticking ol’ Arturo on this list feels a bit like that time that Robbie Williams’ Angels was voted really high up in the top 100 songs of the 20th century in some poll or other. It’s too fresh to be given its proper historical context. But I’m pretty sure it belongs, because in long forgotten days of the balmy summer of 2014 you could not move for Vidal chat.

Anyone with a passing familiarity with stuff about United on the internet (which presumably includes you unless someone’s printed this off and handed it to you) will know what I’m talking about. Poor old @ManUtd couldn’t sneeze without 4000 people replying to them with some combination of the words “sign” and “Vidal”.

The funny thing is, no one knows if we really wanted him. We all assume there must have been some fire behind that much smoke, but in the mid 10s, who knows?

The contemporary transfer rumour can easily become a self-perpetuating force, eternally built upon by a combination of enthusiasm and the knowledge amongst those who write about this kind of stuff that the words “Vidal” and “Manchester United” are likely to turn up in a good number of search engines.

Anyway, we could really have done with him this season, assuming his knees still work. I wouldn’t know. I lost all interest in him the moment the window slammed shut.

Number Three – Gabriel Batistuta

Gabriel Batistuta

In June 1998 an article in the Independent stated that rumours of Batistuta heading to United had been going on for 2 years. I’m still waiting and I’m almost 100% certain that he’s retired. 

Batistuta was a bona-fide international superstar, of the seemingly unattainable variety. But we were told, over and over again, that he was not unattainable. Batistuta himself said Fiorentina couldn’t sell him, because the fans would have been too angry. Given that a bunch of angry Fiorentina fans could have done some real damage to some of Europe’s greatest art, it’s perhaps the best for the sake of civilisation as a whole that Batigol never arrived at Old Trafford.

But for those of us of a certain age, it’s a dull ache we know we have to live with.

Number Two – Wesley Sneijder


We’re still being linked with him. Seriously. It’s incredible. At this point it MUST be a bet on sports’ desks around the land. “Go on, link United to Sneijder again.” “Come on, don’t be ridiculous, they’ll never fall for it this time, he’s really old and they’ve got far too many brilliant-but-perhaps-slightly-past-their-best-and-a-bit-slow attacking players now.” “Yes, but their manager is Dutch!”

At this point, it’s been going on for so long that the lad basically qualifies for a testimonial at Old Trafford. It was the summer of 2009, when he left Real for Inter that the first rumours piped up, and they intensified until they reached boiling point in the summer of 2011. He, weirdly, thanked United fans on twitter, saying “I respect all Man Utd fans who supported me the whole transfer window.”

That’s really odd, when you think about it. The idea of fans supporting another club’s player for the duration of the transfer window. Still, it happened, and for that reason,  and because the rumour has been going on for so long that I can spell Sneijder without looking it up, Wes is number two on the list. For the sake of longevity, he should have a shot at the number one spot, but nothing can compete with the heartbreak of…

Number One – Ronaldinho


I don’t want to talk about it.

We came within a Peter-Kenyon’s-Incompetence of signing Ronaldinho. The actual one.

He went to Barcelona instead, became the world’s best player for a couple of seasons, did some of the best things ever done on a football pitch and won all manner of stuff. We ended up with Ronaldo instead, so that worked out okay, but still. The idea of Ronaldinho in a United shirt was a beautiful dream, and it is hard to conscience just how close it was to happening.

It is easily the greatest transfer “if only” of my life time and for that reason, he easily belongs in the number one spot. I mean. Just look at him.