Manchester United: The 50 signings that 'got away' have been listed

  • Kat Lucas
(FILES) -  Picture taken 15 October 2003

Manchester United no longer possess the pulling power they once boasted. 

It's doubtful once again whether the Red Devils will be offering new signings the chance to play Champions League football next season and the prospect of competing for titles still looks a long way off. 

On top of that, the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis means even Europe's elite clubs will have to think very hard about the salaries they're dishing out going forward. 

Yet it's worth remembering that even at the peak of their powers under Sir Alex Ferguson, United still sometimes found themselves missing out on their desired signings. 

With that in mind, Sky Sports have listed 50 memorable occasions when the 20-time English champions either found themselves outbid, a deal fell through, or they were snubbed altogether. 

50. Nicolas Gaitan

It was during his time at Benfica that the rumour mill really went into overdrive. The Argentine's work permit was too much of a hurdle to overcome. 


49. Leighton Baines

Baines nearly followed in the footsteps of David Moyes and Marouane Fellaini in 2013. Everton would not accept a joint-bid so it was just the Belgian who sidestepped across the north-west. 


48. Alphonso Davies

Luke Shaw may be about as quick as Brexit, but United could have had a very different prospect at left-back. The 19-year-old had a trial two years ago and only cost Bayern Munich £18m. 

Crvena Zvezda v Bayern Muenchen: Group B - UEFA Champions League

47. David Hirst

A combination of fate, and Sheffield Wednesday's resolute 'no', meant it was Eric Cantona who was brought in to replace the injured Dion Dublin instead. 

David Hirst Sheffield Wednesday

46. Erling Braut Haaland

The Norwegian seemed set to link up with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Mino Raiola, as well as a wish to play in the Bundesliga, got in the way. It could still happen one day, especially with that low release clause. 


45. Cyrille Regis

A deal was agreed with Coventry and fell through when Regis injured his thigh. All's well that ends well as he became a true legend at West Brom. 

Cyrille Regis

44. Thiago Alcantara

Alcantara has simultaneously claimed that United never tried to sign him and it was all a lie circulated in the press, and that he came within a whisker of moving to the Theatre of Dreams. Who knows what to believe? 


43. Ivan Perisic

It was years ago but we're still bored of thinking about this rumour. Inter eventually made the Croatia international feel loved enough to stay at the San Siro. 


42. John Obi Mikel

But United *did* sign him, right? Mikel did a press conference holding up a red shirt. The trouble was, he'd also agreed to sign Chelsea, which was eventually where he ended up. At least United got £12m compensation. 

Nigerian soccer player John Obi Mikel sm

41. Kerry Dixon

Back in 1986, spending £2m on a player was ludicrous, even if they were a prolific goalscorer. Chelsea wanted to make Kerry Dixon the most expensive player in Britain so United laughed them out the room. 

Kerry Dixon of Chelsea

40. Paulo Dybala

When it became apparent that Romelu Lukaku wanted to move to Serie A, United saw it as a chance to pull off a swap deal with Juventus for Dybala. The Argentine wasn't interested and his image rights were the final nail in the coffin. 


39. Aaron Ramsey

Ferguson was furious when the young Welshman joined Arsenal from Cardiff, citing the Gunners' superior record when it came to developing young players. 

Middlesbrough v Cardiff City - FA Cup 6th Round

38. Les Ferdinand

QPR were so reliant on Ferdinand's goals that they refused to sell. It proved to be a huge miss for United as he became one of the Premier League's greatest goalscorers. 

Les Ferdinand of Queens Park Rangers

37. Matthijs De Ligt

Every club in Europe wanted the young Dutchman. Just one problem, two words: Mino Raiola. 


36. Neville Southall 

While Peter Schmeichel obviously turned out to be an astute signing, he might never have joined had United got their way and signed Everton's Welsh stopper. Talks fell through and he cemented his place as a legend at Goodison Park. 

Neville Southall Everton Goalkeeper 1989

35. Raphael Varane

There's no real reason *why* Varane would make that move now. It's easy to see why United want the Real Madrid defender, though. 


34. Peter Beardsley

Beardsley had an odd relationship with United, signing for them briefly and playing just one game. Later, when he was at Newcastle, they tried to sign him again but this time he learned his lesson and joined Liverpool. The rest is history. 

Peter Beardsley Newcastle United May 1996

33. Michael Ballack

All the top clubs wanted the German in 2006 and ironically, he chose Chelsea because he thought they had a better chance of winning the Champions League. Two years later, of course, they lost to United in the final. 

Germany's Michael Ballack takes part in

32. Jordan Henderson 

United had an advantage over Liverpool when Henderson was at Sunderland: The Black Cats were managed by Steve Bruce, who told his old employers they should make a move. Ferguson declined, citing his strange running style as what put him off. 

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Liverpool FC - Premier League

31. Pedro

Jose Mourinho (then at Chelsea) loved lauding it over United that he'd signed one of Barcelona's prolific assisters. Louis van Gaal then pulled the 'didn't want him anyway' card. 


30. Paolo Di Canio

For all his volatility, Di Canio would have been a great signing. The Italian reportedly demanded too much money. 

Paolo Di Canio of West Ham United

29. Michael Essien

As a teenager, Essien had a trial at Carrington in which he was so overwhelmed he wouldn't speak to any United players. Work permits also got in the way. 

Michael Essien(L) of Chelsea vies for th

28. Toni Kroos

Kroos had a gentleman's agreement to join United but things changed when David Moyes was sacked. The World Cup winner signed for Real Madrid days after his triumph with Germany. 


27. Terry Butcher

It would have cost United £750,000 - a considerable sum in those days - to sign Butcher but they had already allocated that money towards the Manchester United museum. 

Terry Butcher

26. Cesc Fabregas

As a youngster, Fabregas chose Arsenal and later, in 2013, it was Barcelona who turned United down. 

Panathinaikos v Arsenal

25. Trevor Francis

The board were too concerned by his injury record to allow Ron Atkinson his wish. 

Trevor Francis

24. Manuel Neuer 

Neuer put in one of his best ever performances in goal for Schalke against United in the Champions League. That put him in their thinking when they went to replace Edwin van der Sar but they ultimately chose David de Gea. 


23. Stuart Pearce

Psycho remained at Nottingham Forest thanks to the sheer bloody-mindedness of Brian Clough. When Ferguson rocked up to speak to them about signing the Englishman, Cloughie pretended he wasn't there - even though his car was parked outside. 

Stuart Pearce of Nottingham Forest

22. Raheem Sterling 

When he was just 15 and playing for QPR, academy director Brian McClair went to watch Sterling in an U18 game. Unfortunately, Liverpool got there first. 

Liverpool v Southend United - FA Youth Cup

21. Arjen Robben

Before joining Chelsea, Robben held tentative talks with United and visited the training ground. The club can't have been that interested as he never received the phone call. 

Chelsea v Everton

20. John Terry

Oh, surely not. 'JT' was a United fan as a child and was invited to their training ground before he signed his first professional deal at Chelsea. Growing up, he must have dreamed of winning United the Champions League and he finally managed it in Moscow in 2008... 

Chelsea v Arsenal

19. Gareth Bale 

Southampton stopped the move when he was a teenager and the Welshman headed for Spurs instead. Not that United have ever quite given up... 

FA Cup 4th Round: Manchester City v Southampton

18. Wesley Sneijder

When Sneijder was at his best, particularly after the 2010 World Cup, rumours swirled out of control that he would be joining United. It proved to be one of the most tiresome transfer sagas in recent memory, especially as it never even happened. 

Netherlands v Peru - International Friendly

17. Sergio Ramos 

A rumour that's never quite gone away, but Ramos somehow always ends up staying with Madrid. 

Real Madrid CF v FC Barcelona  - La Liga

16. John Barnes

Barnes was a phenomenon when he got to Liverpool in 1987 but the recently-installed United manager, Ferguson, later admitted he should have signed him then and there. Instead, United stuck with Danish winger Jesper Olsen. 

John Aldrige, John Barnes and Steve McMahon of Liverpool

15. Petr Cech

Back in 2003, Fergie went to watch the young Czech goalkeeper in person at Rennes but decided he was too young to make the United first team at that time. 

Czech Republic Keeper Petr Cech celebrates after saving France's final penalty

14. Patrick Kluivert

United actually agreed a fee with AC Milan but were told Kluivert would only play for one English club: Arsenal. (That wasn't strictly true, as he later signed for Newcastle). It all ended well though, as United turned their attentions to Dwight Yorke. 

Patrick Kluivert of Barcelona chasing the ball

13. Gary Lineker

In the late 1980s, Lineker thought Spurs were the greater force in English football. United also couldn't afford to sanction a move after signing Mark Hughes. 

Gary Lineker

12. Antoine Griezmann

Back in 2017, United wanted to trigger Griezmann's £87m release clause. The Frenchman felt too guilty about leaving Atletico Madrid while they were under a transfer embargo and wouldn't be able to replace him, so he signed a new deal. 


11. Virgil van Dijk

Mourinho was adamant that United needed a new centre-back and had a three-man list; Michael Keane, Victor Lindelof and Virgil van Dijk. It was the Swede who arrived from Benfica, six months before Liverpool snapped up the Dutchman. 

Watford FC v Liverpool FC - Premier League

10. Alan Shearer 

If you've been to a United game over the past two decades, you'll likely have heard some unfriendly chants aimed at the legendary striker. That's because he snubbed United not once, but twice, in 1992 and 1996. The Geordie local chose his dream of playing for Newcastle. 

Newcastle United v Aston Villa

9. Eden Hazard

Ferguson was unsure about paying £32m for the Belgian from Lille, despite the fact Tottenham and Manchester City were also very keen. Hazard's agent further complicated matters by demanding £6m, while the player himself insists he always wanted to sign for Chelsea after meeting Didier Drogba and Joe Cole. 

Lille's Belgian forward Eden Hazard cont

8. Robert Lewandowski

When Lewandowski helped Borussia Dortmund to the Bundesliga title under a certain Jurgen Klopp in 2012, United sounded him out about ditching German football. The Polish international wasn't allowed to leave until Bayern Munich later came calling. 


7. Patrick Vieira

How history could have been different. A year before guiding Arsenal to their 'Invincible' season, Vieira held talks with United. Instead, he ended up signing a new deal at Highbury. 

Liverpool v Arsenal

6. Rivaldo

United were keen on the 1999 Ballon d'or winner and hoped to exploit his strained relationship with van Gaal (sound familiar?). Barcelona were having none of it. 


5. Gabriel Batistuta

Batistuta was at home in Serie A and spent years with Fiorentina rather than making the switch to a bigger club, before eventually signing for Roma. 

Gabriel Batistuta of Fiorentina celebrates

4. Paul Gascoigne

Ferguson described missing out on Gazza as "the biggest disappointment of all". Spurs won the hearts-and-minds battle by buying the midfield wizard's family a house in the north-east and by sending Terry Venables to talk him into moving to White Hart Lane instead of Old Trafford. 

Paul Gascoigne of Tottenham Hotspur

3. Ronaldinho

The Brazilian sensation was leaving PSG in 2003 but ended up at Barcelona in a €30m deal. United would have had the money too, having sold David Beckham to Real Madrid. 

FC Barcelona Brazilian Ronaldinho gestur

2. Zinedine Zidane

It was Ferguson himself who thought Zizou wasn't right for United when he left Bordeaux, much to the frustration of compatriot Eric Cantona, who knew exactly what he could do. 

Bordeaux's Zinedine Zidane (R) struggles to keep M

1. Ronaldo 

United baulked at PSV Eindhoven's asking price of £20m in 1996. Even as they went on to win the treble three years later, they were left kicking themselves as the Brazilian became one of the best strikers of all time. 

Ronaldo of Real Madrid stock
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