Football Features

What happened next? Every player Man Utd have tried to and failed to sign since Sir Alex Ferguson retired

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 12:39, 19 March 2019

Manchester United’s shotgun approach to the transfer market since Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill left the club has resulted in a lot of players being linked with the club.

United have signed a fair few players since Ferguson’s 2013 retirement, but they’ve been linked with even more. And what’s even more amazing is the calibre of player that they’ve tried to sign; these are some of the world’s finest stars.

David Moyes has recently lifted the lid on his ill-fated first transfer window in charge of the club, claiming that his side (who ended up signing just Marouane Fellaini late in the day) were actually very close to a fair few elite players.

So we’ve had a look back and come up with the major names that United have been linked with since Sir Alex’s retirement to now and had a look at what happened with their signing and, indeed, what happened next.

Cesc Fabregas

From: Barcelona
In: 2013

What happened next: Well, in the end Fabregas rejected United and stayed one more season in Catalunya. It was a bad call as he ended up winning nothing under Tata Martino. David Moyes has since spoken about just how close United came to signing him: “the other one I came really close to getting was Cesc Fàbregas, who we thought we would get [from Barcelona] right up until the last minute.”

Of course, Cesc returned to England a year later, joining Chelsea where he won two league titles in four years before finally leaving in January for Monaco. That same summer Ander Herrera joined Manchester United and whilst he’s not exactly Cesc-levels of quality, United fans do adore him.

Gareth Bale

From: Spurs
In: 2013

What happened next: “I felt all along that Gareth Bale was a Manchester United player and I fought to get him right up until the last minute. We actually offered him a bigger deal than Real Madrid but Gareth had his mind made up on going to Madrid.” Moyes apparently was really keen on bringing Bale to Old Trafford, and it was a move that made sense. In the end, however, Bale chose Los Blancos.

And what a decision that was! The Welshman has since won four Champions Leagues in five years, scoring the winning goal in two finals. He’s not exactly loved at the Bernabeu but has created some incredible memories for himself in Spain. United have tried to sign him on a few occasions since 2013, and have yet to sign that superstar forward Ed Woodward craves.

Toni Kroos

From: Bayern Munich
In: 2014

What happened next: After failing to get Cesc, United were still targeting a midfield playmaker and thought they had their man. “Toni Kroos had agreed to come in the summer,” Moyes said. “I’d agreed it with Toni himself and his agent. It was a done deal.” Well, not so much done, as again Real Madrid swooped for the German – who like Bale has had tremendous success in Spain. Ander Herrera was a consolation for The Red Devils who had to wait two years to sign a world-star playmaker when they pinched Paul Pogba back.

Sergio Ramos

From: Real Madrid
In: 2015

What happened next: Sergio Ramos played everyone like a fiddle back in 2015. Upset at the state of his Real Madrid contract, the Spaniard allegedly had fallen out with Los Blancos brass and wanted to leave. United were desperate for a defensive leader and so looked to bring him on, but in the end Ramos signed his new deal and United were left without the world-class centre-back they craved to anchor their defence. In fact they’re still without one, whilst Ramos has won three consecutive Champions Leagues as captain.

Ivan Perisic

From: Inter
In: 2017

What happened next: United were in the market for an electric winger and looked to Croatian Ivan Perisic. First they went after him in 2017, only to have Inter quote a price so high no side would pay it. United went back the next year and hoped to lower the price, but Perisic’s excellent showing at the World Cup, as well as Perisic’s own decision, ended that. He said: “it’s true that an offer from Manchester United was on the table and I was close to leaving Inter, but I decided to stay.” Well, he’s still at Inter and United still don’t have an electric winger.

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From: PSG
In: 2018

What happened next: After a (relatively) poor first-season in Paris, Neymar was allegedly looking for a way out and Manchester United with their star forward fetish were happy to oblige. Turns out Neymar was just jockeying for position at PSG and never intended to move. He stayed there, dominating without testing himself and is currently regressing. Meanwhile United are doing fine without his toxicity, although Ed Woodward is still lamenting the lack of a star forward.

Thomas Muller

From: Bayern Munich
In: 2018

What happened next: United have been looking to the Bundesliga and misfit striker Thomas Muller for an age. They tried in 2016, 2017 but made their most concerted effort in 2018 when they hoped they’d be able to lure him to the Premier League as he was struggling without Pep Guardiola’s coaching. Muller poured flames on the rumours when he said: “Another task would certainly be interesting and attractive,” but in the end, he decided to stay in Germany. Since then he has never really regained the form he had under Guardiola whilst Jesse Lingard has developed to offer a lot of what Muller would have been able to with loads more smiles and fun.

Alex Sandro

From: Juventus
In: 2018

What happened next: With Luke Shaw looking like a total bust, Manchester United entered the market for a left-back. Their primary target was Brazilian Alex Sandro. “Juventus don’t actively want to sell Alex Sandro but they are prepared to sell the player because they see the price is so high that they can cash in,” said Duncan Castles, but in the end no move materialised and Alex Sandro has since signed a new deal with Juventus and looks to be set in Turin for the near-future. Meanwhile for United, Luke Shaw has had a resurgence and looks a quality left-back again, which is both a tremendous feelgood story and objectively useful for United.


From: Chelsea
In: 2018

What happened next: Having failed to get Ivan Perisic, Manchester United their attention to another winger: Willian. The Brazilian was a player coach José Mourinho had worked with before – and the Portuguese was someone Willian wanted to play for again. So… what happened? Well, Chelsea got greedy and began demanding absurd sums for their winger and Manchester United simply peaced out. Now they still don’t have an elite winger whilst Willian is finding himself further from Chelsea’s starting XI.

Samuel Umtiti

From: Barcelona
In: 2018

What happened next: Manchester United’s pursuit of a centre-back hit fever-pitch in 2018. The fall of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof’s year-long adaptation made a new signing necessary and a number of top names were looked at. The first of those was Samuel Umtiti, the world-class centre-back for Barcelona. However the Frenchman seemed to be toying with The Red Devils to ensure he got a new contract at the Camp Nou with a big pay bump, and that’s exactly what happened after he won the World Cup. Of course he’s struggled with injury since then, and United’s centre-back search goes on.

Jerome Boateng

From: Barcelona
In: 2018

What happened next: Having failed with Umtiti, United approached Jerome Boateng, a player on the decline but still in possession of a good reputation – the German sensibly ended up rather politely backing out, saying: “I called Jose Mourinho. I told him that his interest was an honour for me and thanked him for trying so hard for me. I explained to Jose that it’s difficult to leave Bayern.” He has since been moved out of the first XI at Bayern and Germany whilst United are still looking for their defensive leader.

Kalidou Koulibaly

From: Napoli
In: 2018

What happened next: José Mourinho’s desire for a stud centre-back was so strong that he made Marcos Rojo give up the no. 5 shirt just to ensure it was free. His next target was the imperious Kalidou Koulibaly, and according to Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis: “Mourinho wanted him, we rejected £95 million.” Rejecting a world record fee for a defender doesn’t seem like something De Laurentiis would do, but nevertheless Koulibaly stayed in Italy whilst United continued their long and winding search for a centre-back.

Toby Alderweireld

From: Spurs
In: 2018

What happened next: With Boateng, Koulibaly and Umtiti ruled out, Manchester United’s centre-back search moved to North London where they set their sights on Toby Alderweireld. A world-class centre-back who would be out of contract soon, the perfect defensive organiser. Allegedly “Alderweireld was offered to United for £30m and they still said ‘nah, we’ll come back for you next season’,” meaning that they were hoping to pick the Belgian up for free in 2019. Except he signed an extension at Spurs which activates a £25m buyout clause this summer. Essentially, United (who didn’t sign a stud centre-back) wasted an entire season of having Alderweireld as their player to potentially save £5m. That doesn’t make much sense but the vast majority of this list is full of transfers that don’t, well, make sense.

Raphael Varane

From: Real Madrid
In: 2019

What happened next: Despite courting several centre-backs and coming up empty-handed, the one that Manchester United have really wanted all along was Raphael Varane. The titanic World Cup winner is viewed by Ed Woodward as worthy of £100m and former centre-back Wes Brown reckoned him “the dream defender for United.” Still, no bid has been forthcoming and with the return of Zinedine Zidane to Real Madrid the likelyhood of United convincing Varane to leave is very, very low.