Sir Alex Ferguson: 17 players the Man United legend was actually wrong about

  • Rob Swan
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Sir Alex Ferguson is widely regarded as the greatest football manager in history and deservedly so.

The legendary former Manchester United boss worked wonders with Aberdeen for eight years after joining the Scottish club from St Mirren in 1978.

The Red Devils came calling in 1986 and it was at Old Trafford over the next 26 years where Ferguson would cement his status as an undisputed managerial great.

Ferguson made some unbelievably good signings for Man Utd between 1986-2013 including Eric Cantona (£1.2 million from Leeds), Roy Keane (£3.75 million from Nottingham Forest), Peter Schmeichel (£530,000 from Brondby) and Cristiano Ronaldo (£12.25 million from Sporting Lisbon).

However, Fergie also had a few shockers in the transfer market. The likes of Manucho, Dong Fangzhuo, Eric Djemba-Djemba and the infamous Bebe immediately spring to mind when thinking of some of his worst signings as United manager.

There were also a handful of footballers who Ferguson, for one reason or another, didn’t rate particularly highly but went on to prove that they were excellent players.

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Yep, even the GOAT of football management made some questionable shouts along the way.

Here are the players that Ferguson was actually wrong about during his time as Man Utd manager:

Steven Gerrard

Although he never won a Premier League title, there’s surely no denying that Liverpool hero Steven Gerrard is one of the greatest midfielders that we’ve seen in English football over the past 30 years.

One man who disagrees with that opinion is Ferguson, who wrote in his controversial 2013 autobiography: “I’m one of the few who felt Gerrard was not a top, top player.”

Gerrard admitted he was “a bit gutted” to hear Ferguson’s comments but put it down to the fact that he rejected the chance to sign for United in the early-2000s.

What Ferguson would do to see a player of Gerrard’s quality in Man Utd’s current midfield…

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Frank Lampard

Ferguson is unsurprisingly Team Scholes when it comes to the age old Paul Scholes vs Steven Gerrard vs Frank Lampard debate.

As well as claiming that Gerrard wasn’t a ‘top, top player’, Fergie also dismissed the notion that Lampard was top-tier.

“Lampard, for me, was a marvellous servant for Chelsea,” he wrote in his aforementioned autobiography. “But I didn’t think of him as an elite international footballer.”

Let’s not forget that Lampard, one of the greatest midfielders in Premier League history, finished as runner-up in the voting for the 2005 Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards.

He also netted 29 goals in 106 games for England, which isn’t too shabby. After all, only nine players have scored more goals for the Three Lions in history.

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Eden Hazard

Look, Eden Hazard has undeniably been a bitter disappointment since completing his £100 million move to Real Madrid, but we mustn’t forget how special the Belgium international was during his seven-year spell with Chelsea.

Ferguson, though, had doubts over the £34 million that Chelsea paid Lille back in 2012.

“I see some values on players, like Hazard for instance. To me it was a lot of money,” Ferguson said after the transfer was completed. “He’s a good player, but £34m?”

He added: “In the Hazard deal, Chelsea paid the agent £6m. 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 (Shinji) Kagawa.”

Ah…

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Jordan Henderson

While Ferguson liked Jordan Henderson as a player when the midfielder was making a name for himself at Sunderland, he decided against making a bid due to concerns over the player’s unusual running style.

“We noticed that Henderson runs from his knees, with a straight back, while the modern footballer runs from his hips,” Ferguson said in his book. “We thought his gait might cause him problems later in his career.”

Fast-forward over a decade later and Henderson has gone on to captain Liverpool to Premier League and Champions League glory. The England international has also been a fantastic representative for the Merseyside-based football club both on and off the pitch.

Ferguson must now wish that he’d taken the gamble.

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Petr Cech

Man Utd struggled to replace Peter Schmeichel after the legendary Danish goalkeeper left Old Trafford in 1999. It wasn’t until 2005, when they signed Edwin van der Sar, that the Red Devils finally had a world-class shot-stopper again.

But Ferguson had the chance to sign Petr Cech, arguably the best ‘keeper of the Premier League era alongside Schmeichel, before Chelsea secured his services.

“I went to see him in 2003 for Rennes,” Ferguson revealed. “We thought Petr was a bit young for the bruisers in the Premier League.”

Chelsea signed the magnificent Czech Republic international one year later and the £7 million transfer fee was extraordinary value for money.

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Zinedine Zidane

Perhaps if Ferguson had known that Eric Cantona would suddenly retire in 1997 at the age of 30, things would have been different.

But the Man Utd boss rejected the chance to sign Zinedine Zidane, who was playing for Bordeaux at the time, one year earlier in 1996 because he was concerned that the French midfielder would have affected Cantona’s position at Old Trafford.

This is according to former United chairman Martin Edwards, who revealed in 2017: “When Zidane was at Bordeaux, Les Kershaw, the chief scout, was telling me we should be interested in him and I mentioned it to Alex.

“Alex said that Eric [Cantona] had also mentioned Zidane to him but Alex felt Zidane played in the same position as Eric.

“Having gone over to France to persuade Eric to re-sign for us, after the Crystal Palace incident [when Cantona was banned for eight months after clashing with a football fan at Selhurst Park in 1995], he felt that, if he had brought Zidane in, it may have affected Eric’s position, so he stuck with Eric.”

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Charlie Adam

After he failed to make an impact at Liverpool, Man Utd fans must be mightily relieved that Ferguson opted against bringing Charlie Adam to Old Trafford from Blackpool in 2011.

Ferguson admired Adam, though, and told reporters that his corner kicks alone were “worth £10 million”.

The Scotland international flopped at Anfield and Fergie never mentioned Adam’s corner taking abilities again.

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Phil Jones

Arguably Ferguson’s worst ever shout, he genuinely and inexplicably predicted that Phil Jones could become Manchester United’s greatest ever player. Phil Jones!

“Jones, arguably the way he is looking, could be our best ever player,” Ferguson said during an infamous interview towards the end of his managerial career. “I think Jones may be one of the best players we have ever had, no matter where we play him. At 21 years of age, he is going to be a phenomenal player. I think he can play anywhere on the pitch.”

Sure, Jones looked quality early on thanks to his marauding runs from defence, but to predict that he would surpass the likes of George Best, Sir Bobby Charlton, Cristiano Ronaldo and countless other club legends was fanciful in the extreme.

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Jaap Stam

Ferguson surprisingly admitted that he made a mistake selling Jaap Stam, the world-class centre-back who was outstanding during his three seasons at Old Trafford.

He said: “At the time he had just come back from an achilles injury and we thought he had just lost a little bit. We got the offer from Lazio, £16.5m for a centre-back who was 29. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

Of course, a big part of Ferguson’s decision to sell Stam was because of some controversial comments the Dutch defender made in his autobiography.

But the decision to offload Stam was still a big mistake and Ferguson acknowledged as much in 2006, telling reporters: “In playing terms it was a mistake. He is still playing for Ajax at a really good level.”

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Sergio Aguero

Man Utd failed to sign Sergio Aguero, one of the greatest strikers in Premier League history, because of the demands of the player’s agent.

“His agent was demanding a price we were not prepared to pay,” Fergie revealed.

Whatever the agent was asking for, United should have coughed up the cash because the Argentina international would have been worth every penny.

Only three players in history have scored more Premier League goals than Aguero, who was sadly forced to retire in December 2021.

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Ravel Morrison

Did Ferguson go a little overboard with his assessment of a teenage Ravel Morrison?

When Morrison was 14 years old, Ferguson called Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney over in training to watch the gifted young playmaker.

Speaking in 2019, Ferdinand revealed: “Sir Alex Ferguson, I remember, he called me and Wazza [Wayne Rooney] over one day and said: ‘look at this kid, he’s better than you, Rooney when you were a kid, he’s better than you, Rio, better than Ryan Giggs when you were kids. This is the best kid you will ever see.’”

Morrison may have looked like a potential world beater at the time, but better than a 14-year-old Rooney? Rooney was an animal throughout his formative years and made his Everton first-team debut at 16.

And while Rooney went on to become a global superstar, Morrison has unfortunately achieved very little of note during his topsy-turvy career.

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David Beckham

“He was never a problem until he got married,” Ferguson was quoted as saying by the Independent in 2007. “He used to go into work with the academy coaches at night time, he was a fantastic young lad.

“Getting married into that entertainment scene was a difficult thing – from that moment his life was never going to be the same. He is such a big celebrity, football is only a small part. The big part is his persona.”

Getting married to Posh Spice never affected David Beckham’s work ethic in matches or on the training ground. He continued to lead by example for club and country.

But Fergie wasn’t happy with Becks becoming the biggest celebrity on the planet and the relationship between the two eventually broke down, leading to the former England captain moving to Real Madrid in 2003.

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Bebe

We’ve already mentioned Bebe but we have to include him on this list. Carlos Queiroz may have been the person who recommended signing the Portuguese winger but Ferguson always had the final say and gave the green light.

“When I arrived I went into the room and saw Ferguson was looking at me,” Bebe said in 2013. “He told me to cut my hair, it will look better. So I cut it the same day. In the next training session he didn’t recognise me. I went past him many times and he didn’t know me.

“He didn’t speak much but I didn’t understand much. He has a difficult accent, so I understood nothing. He called me ‘Baby’. After I told him it wasn’t like that.”

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Carlos Tevez

Man Utd fans had a clear message for Ferguson at the end of the 2008-09 season: “Fergie, Sign him up! Fergie, Fergie, Sign him up!”

They were desperate for the hardworking Carlos Tevez to stay at Old Trafford as his two-year ‘loan’ spell came to an end, but Ferguson didn’t appear to be overly convinced and his hesitancy allowed Manchester City to pounce.

Tevez went on to score 73 goals in 148 games for City, winning the Premier League and the FA Cup in the process.

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Franck Ribery

“Alex was watching Franck Ribery, the Marseille winger but decided by half-time that he was not good enough for United.”

The words of Alistair Campbell, the former Labour Party spokesman, who accompanied Ferguson to watch Bolton Wanderers play Marseille in 2006.

Fergie was clearly too hasty with his decision making that night because Ribery blossomed into an exceptional winger.

Bayern Munich saw the France international had incredible talent and ended up getting 12 incredible seasons of service out of him after signing him in 2007.

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Gabriel Obertan

Ferguson hoped that Gabriel Obertan could help fill the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer of 2009.

But the £3 million signing from Bordeaux was well out of his depth at the Theatre of Dreams.

“Goals always help players of course, and when they are forwards in particular. There is a goal in Gabby, there is no question of that,” Ferguson said.

He was spot on: there was a goal in Obertan. In 28 appearances for the Red Devils, the French winger scored a grand total of one goal.

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Kleberson

A similar Brazilian midfielder to Fred, but arguably worse, Kleberson was a huge disappointment at Man Utd.

Signed to bolster United’s midfield in 2003 after Beckham and Juan Sebastian Veron were both sold, the World Cup-winning Kleberson ended up making just 30 appearances for United, scoring two goals.

“He is young and we certainly think he is one of the most progressive young players in Brazil at the moment,” Ferguson told reporters after signing the South American. “He is athletic, creative and quick.”

United fans, though, were left completely underwhelmed.

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We’d be here all day talking about the players Ferguson was right about.

But it just goes to show that every manager makes the odd bad shout – even the greatest of them all.

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