With the start of the season approaching and the summer transfer merry-go-round now in full swing, we take a look at ten players who United could have signed down the years and what could have happened if the deals had gone through.
Ferenc Puskas – 1958
Jimmy Murphy tried to sign the Hungarian great in the aftermath of the Munich Air Disaster to help strengthen a squad that had been ravaged by the crash, however his attempt was blocked because of the FA’s rules regarding foreign players and the fact that Puskas couldn’t speak English.
Instead, Puskas was snapped up by Real Madrid where he went onto win three European Cups and five consecutive league titles. The Spanish club found their own way of helping United get back on their feet after the two clubs had become friendly after their European Cup semi-final tie in 1957. Santiago Bernabeu offered to loan Alfredo di Stefano, then considered the world’s best player to United for the 1958/59 season. This was again blocked by the FA who ruled that he would be taking the place of a British player.
So a series of friendlies were scheduled between the two sides over several years, the idea being for them to financially benefit United and to help the club’s players to reach the standard that was required for them to get back into Europe.
Geoff Hurst – 1967
United made a £200,000 bid for England’s World Cup winning hat-trick hero in 1967, the offer was quickly rebuffed by West Ham manager Ron Greenwood who sent Sir Matt Busby a telegram which simply read: ‘No, thank you’.
Had Hurst joined United he would undoubtedly become part of a formidable forward line that already included Best, Law and Charlton as they swept towards that famous European Cup win in 1968 and his goals could have helped to stop the club’s decline afterwards, as injuries to Denis Law became more frequent.
Hurst eventually left West Ham in 1972 after 13 years at the club as a senior player, he went onto have spells with Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion, Cork Celtic and in America before retiring in 1976.
Alan Ball – 1971
Frank O’ Farrell wanted to sign the fiery haired midfield maestro in 1971 to help supplement a United squad that was badly in need of rejuvenation. His request was turned down by the board who wouldn’t sanction the purchase. O’Farrell believed the reason to be that Busby was a big golfing partner of Willie Morgan, who Ball may have replaced in the team, another reason could be that Ball was one of George Best’s many drinking partners, something that Busby may have to been looking to discourage as he desperately tried to keep George on the straight and narrow.
As we all know, those attempts eventually proved in vain and George left United in 1974, had Alan signed for the club he would have brought some much needed creativity and flair into a team where it was badly needed. Ball would have been able to create chances for United’s forwards and with another couple of additions, could have helped United avoid their eventual relegation in 1974.
Ball signed for Arsenal instead from Everton where he had won the league title in 1970, at Highbury he joined another team on the decline as The Gunners couldn’t repeat their successes of the early 1970s, he was sold to Southampton in 1976 before going on to have spells in America and at Blackpool before retiring.
Peter Shilton – 1972 & 1976
United tried to sign the legendary goalkeeper twice under two different managers. The first attempt was made by Frank O’Farrell in the early seventies who didn’t rate Alex Stepney but the request was turned down by the board for similar reasons to the Alan Ball deal.
Tommy Docherty tried again in 1976 and managed to agree a £275,000 fee with Stoke City, but United could not agree to Shilton’s wage demands, which would have made him the highest paid player at the club.
Had the deal gone through, Shilton would have become an almost ever present and big favourite with the fans at Old Trafford. United struggled to find an established number one after Alex Stepney’s departure in 1978 and Shilton would more than have filled the great mans shoes, his performances in between the sticks may have brought United closer to that elusive league title in the early eighties under Ron Atkinson as well.
Instead he joined up with Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest where he won several trophies including back to back European Cups in 1979 and 1980. He later moved to Derby before having several spells with clubs in the Football League, eventually retiring in 1997. He is England’s all time record caps holder, having made 125 appearances.
Peter Beardsley – 1982
United actually did sign Beardsley in 1982 under Ron Atkinson from Vancouver Whitecaps and he merits inclusion in this list purely out of curiosity at what might have been. He played just one game for the club, a Milk Cup tie against Bournemouth before returning to Canada.
Peter was later snapped up by Newcastle United and became a hero on Tyneside over two spells, he also won two First Division titles and an FA Cup with Liverpool as well as having a spell at Everton. He appeared in two World Cups and won a total of 59 caps for England.
Beardsley could have gone on to become a United legend had he stayed at Old Trafford for the next decade, although it has to be said that competition for places up front in the early eighties was fierce, with Frank Stapleton, Norman Whiteside and a young Mark Hughes among those vying for a spot. This meant that United’s loss turned out to be their rivals gain, win some, lose some.
Paul Gascoigne – 1988
The most talented English player of his generation, Sir Alex Ferguson tried to sign Gazza from Newcastle United in 1988. Gascoigne apparently promised Ferguson that he would sign for the club when he returned from holiday, only to sign for Spurs instead.
At White Hart Lane he was part of the side that won the FA Cup in 1991 before an injury laden spell in Italy with Lazio severely hindered his progress and his career petered out with a host of other clubs.
Both Ferguson and Gascoigne have both expressed their regret that the deal didn’t go through and Gazza would most likely have been part of the United side that won so much during the nineties. The passion and flair he demonstrated so many times in an England shirt would have made him a favourite with the United faithful. His off the field problems would have been dealt with by the manager allowing him to concentrate on his football, with good management Gascoigne could have become one of the world’s greatest players, instead we’re all left wondering what could have been.
Alan Shearer – 1992 & 1996
Ferguson first tried to sign Shearer in 1992 when the player was at Southampton, however the lure of Jack Walker’s millions saw the striker move to Ewood Park where his goals helped Blackburn pip United to the Premiership title in 1995.
United tried again in 1996 when it began to look likely that Shearer would leave Rovers and agreed a fee with Blackburn, as did Newcastle United. However Shearer opted to return to the North East club, managed by his boyhood hero Kevin Keegan. In his first Autobiography Ferguson cited Shearer’s awkwardness as one of the reasons the transfer didn’t go through.
Shearer went on to become an icon on Tyneside but despite coming close he never added to the Premier League medal he won at Blackburn, something he would have done had he chose to sign for United.
Patrick Kluivert – 1998
Sir Alex Ferguson was very keen on signing Kluivert after the 1998 World Cup and said in his first autobiography that the Dutchman was keen on a deal but went cold on the idea when he heard of Barcelona’s interest and ended up signing for them.
If the deal had gone through it could have changed the course of history and the historic treble season, United signed Dwight Yorke and if Kluivert had joined the club as well it could have meant the end for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. United went onto to win the treble with those two playing a starring role so perhaps no regrets will be had on this one.
Kluivert spent six years at the Nou Camp before an unsuccessful spell at Newcastle and then seeing out his career with Valencia, PSV and Lille.
Ronaldinho – 2003
United were supposedly 48 hours away from completing a deal for the Brazilian legend in 2003 but Barcelona stepped in to hijack the deal and like Kluivert he chose the Nou Camp over Old Trafford. Ronaldinho has since said in interviews he has no regrets over the deal.
For the sake of two days, the Brazilian would have become a legend at United and his creativity and skill could have given The Red Devils more chances of overcoming the domestic dominance of Arsenal and Chelsea between 2003 and 2007, the so called ‘Djemba Djemba years’.
Ronaldinho went onto become the best player in the world at Barcelona, winning the Ballon d’Or in 2005 and the Champions League in 2006. After leaving the Catalan giants he moved to AC Milan and has since had spells with several clubs in his native Brazil.
Cesc Fabregas – 2013/14
United courted Fabregas over two summers in 2013/14, both times without success. The first attempt was made by David Moyes during a disaster of a transfer window when United reportedly made two bids but the player decided to remain at Barcelona. Rumours circulated of another attempt a year later but the midfielder ended up signing for Chelsea.
Had he signed the former Arsenal man would have added some much needed class to a United midfield that was very average under David Moyes, however it is debatable as to whether his impact would be more significant than that of Ander Herrera who has become very popular with the fans since arriving in 2014. United also signed a signed a bloke called Paul Pogba last summer.
Fabregas hasn’t done too bad whilst at Chelsea, winning two Premier League titles. Something United will have their sights firmly set on doing this season.