The Red Devils have been linked to some of the greatest players but not all the stories came to fruition.
Manchester United have been the dream of many budding footballers in the past, with their dominance over England and popularity playing a big part in attracting big stars. Despite falling off the grid in recent seasons, they remain an ambitious destination for many up-and-coming youngsters and world-class footballers.
While United have made some blockbuster signings over the years, they’ve also missed out on some illustrious targets. Whether it is because of the club not being convinced with their ability to thrive under the pressure or some financial setbacks, the Red Devils made some bad decisions in not pursuing extremely talented stars who could’ve elevated their standards.
Here we look at the top 10 targets missed out by Manchester United in the transfer market.
10. Nicolas Gaitan
The Argentine midfielder’s heroics for Benfica had caught United’s eye in 2012 when they were looking for budding midfield options. Gaitan’s creativity and dynamic style earned plaudits from all around after he managed 17 assists (in all competitions) in the 2011-12 season for Benfica.
The Red Devils pushed hard for his signing in 2012 and had even agreed on all terms of a deal, but a last-minute snag pulled the rug out from under their feet. Paperwork issues relating to Gaitan’s nationality caused the deal to breakdown, stripping the feisty midfielder of a dream move to Old Trafford.
9. Raul Gonzalez
Raul Gonzalez found interest from Manchester United after his iconic career at Real Madrid was nearing an end. Sir Alex Ferguson even spoke to his agent about a particular move in 2010, showing interest in the then 33-year-old striker. However, too many strikers in his side meant that United had to put down any interest in making the impressive signing.
Sir Alex stated that if Michael Owen wasn’t at United, he probably would’ve signed the Spanish striker. Raul instead went onto join Schalke 04 in 2010, scoring 28 league goals in 66 appearances for them.
8. Michael Essien
Before he became a mainstay in Chelsea’s midfield, Essien almost became Manchester United player many years before arriving at Stamford Bridge. The hard-working Ghanaian midfielder had a trial with United when he was 17, but was not signed by the club then.
The Red Devils also reportedly showed interest in him as he started to emerge as a midfield powerhouse at Lyon, but too many options in midfield convinced them not to go through with a move. Chelsea ended up signing him in 2005 and he enjoyed a decorated career with them, making more than 250 appearances and winning the Premier League twice.
7. Wesley Sneijder
Now, this was a transfer chase which will be remembered by many United fans. Sneijder’s amazing work for Inter Milan under Jose Mourinho caught the Red Devils attention. So when he became available in 2011, the entire summer transfer window was sprayed with speculation of his arrival at Old Trafford.
Sneijder later revealed that a deal was ‘close’ after a fee had apparently been agreed between United and Inter as well. However, disruptions over his salary demands and other things eventually resulted in United being unable to make the signing and ending the 2011 summer window on a sour note.
6. Eden Hazard
Eden Hazard’s exceptional rise at Lille saw interest from many top European clubs vying for his services. United were among those in the race to sign him and Sir Alex had also praised him in 2012. Hazard was tempted at the prospect of working under Sir Alex, but ultimately chose to join Chelsea.
He called the Blues as having the ‘best project’ because of why he joined them. United went onto sign Shinji Kagawa as an alternative to them, which didn’t do so good as Kagawa had a forgettable stint at Old Trafford while Hazard went onto become one of Europe’s most menacing wingers at Chelsea.
5. Alan Shearer
The Newcastle United legend is perhaps among the greatest strikers to have played in the Premier League. He scored 260 Premier League goals, which still keeps him as the league’s highest-ever scorer. Just when he started to reach his peak, Shearer had an offer to join United in 1996 and was very tempted to join them.
Yet, his allegiances to Newcastle United made him opt for the black and white strips. United did manage to sign up Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke as his alternatives later on and their success in the late 90s and early 2000s meant they didn’t really regret on missing out on Shearer.
4. Erling Braut Haaland
The most recent player United missed out on was teenage sensation Erling Braut Haaland, who was in the radar of many clubs after his heroics for RB Salzburg. Manchester United were heavily interested in signing him, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ed Woodward personally holding talks to convince him.
However, United reportedly didn’t want to meet his huge financial demands and couldn’t guarantee him a regular role. Borussia Dortmund ended up signing him for a very low fee. The Norwegian goal-machine has already scored 10 goals in 11 Bundesliga games for them, making United regret not going the extra mile to sign him.
3. Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale was in United’s radar well before he became one of the most recognizable superstars in world football. As he started to impress at Southampton, United held talks with the Welsh winger in the mid-2000s. Yet, their offer for him was too low for Southampton to accept and they weren’t sure about his defensive qualities either.
Tottenham Hotspur ended up signing him in 2007, transforming him into a sensational winger who later moved to Real Madrid and won four Champions League titles with them. United lost out on a generational talent and someone who would’ve elevated their game in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.
2. Toni Kroos
Another Real Madrid player the Red Devils missed out on was Toni Kroos, who emerged on their radar before he moved to the Santiago Bernabeu. Kroos’ excellent work at Bayern Munich, where he proved himself an efficient, creative and influential midfielder convinced United to push hard for him.
David Moyes even personally spoke to the German midfielder and reportedly agreed a deal with him before getting sacked. Louis van Gaal didn’t want the German midfielder after his arrival, giving Madrid the opportunity to swoop him up. Kroos evolved as one of the best midfielders in world football at the Bernabeu, with United left to rue their decision to go against signing him.
Ronaldinho is perhaps the biggest player Manchester United have missed out on in the 21st century, as the Red Devils were agonizingly close to sign him in the summer of 2003. After David Beckham left for Real Madrid, United wanted to sign Ronaldinho after watching his brilliance for Brazil and Paris Saint Germain.
They went quite far ahead with almost agreeing on a deal but the Red Devils’ chief executive Peter Kenyon couldn’t get the deal sealed. As a result, Barcelona swooped him from beyond their reach, leaving United to rue missing out on a big star. The Red Devils eventually signed Cristiano Ronaldo who filled Beckham’s void, but even so one can imagine how dominant they could’ve been with the exceptional Brazilian winger.