Football Features

Current Man Utd players who rejected or nearly joined Barcelona

By CJ Smith

Published: 13:46, 10 April 2019

Even after six years without a league title, few clubs in world football can go toe-to-toe with Manchester United in the transfer market.

In recent years, we’ve seen Nemanja Matic and Alexis Sanchez jump ship from London rivals to move to Old Trafford and while the Red Devils did have to surrender Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid back in 2009, they have fended off reported interest from Los Blancos in David de Gea for a number of years.

But what about Barcelona? Surely a European giant whose motto is ‘more than a club’, who have won seven La Liga titles and three Champions Leagues within the last decade, can oust little old United, who haven’t even appeared in Europe’s elite final since 2011, when Barca themselves defeated the 20-time Premier League champions.

You’d be surprised at what United’s long-standing reputation can achieve, though. Below, we’ve listed six current Manchester United players that almost signed for Barcelona in a set of career-defining decisions.

Those scouted or considered…

1. Juan Mata

Major honours with Man Utd: 2016 FA Cup, 2017 League Cup, 2017 Europa League

According to reports, Barcelona are looking to bring in Juan Mata on a free transfer at the end of the season to bolster their creative options and thicken out their squad.

But this is not the first time the Spanish champions have been linked with the little magician, with a number of sources claiming he was on the verge of a move back in 2010, while was still a Valencia player.

(Photo credit JOSE JORDAN/AFP/Getty Images)

While at Spain’s successful 2010 World Cup campaign, Mata denied knowledge of the rumour and remained at Valencia for one more season before moving to Chelsea in 2011 and, later, United in 2014.

But recently Pep Guardiola, now managing Manchester City, confirmed that Barcelona considered signing  Mata on multiple occasions. “We took an eye to try to bring him to Barcelona, but the problem was we had a lot of midfield players,” Guardiola admitted.

Mata, now 30, has won a raft of honours during his time in English football and now, with his playing years ticking down, may finally take the plunge and give it a shot at the Nou Camp this summer.

2. Diogo Dalot

Major honours with Man Utd: N/A

Slowly but surely, Diogo Dalot is starting to make his way at Man United. Whether as a functional right-winger, or in his preferred right-back spot, the Portuguese is giving Solskjaer something to think about in the summer window.

Reports suggest the Red Devils may move for Crystal Palace’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka to replace the ageing Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, but they may not even need to if Dalot continues his development.

Of course, it all could have been very different, as Dalot himself admitted he was aware of interest from both Real Madrid and Barcelona, before brushing it to the side and knuckling down on life in Manchester.

“I do not want to think about it but being watched by Real Madrid and Barcelona [makes me] proud and gives me motivation,” the Portuguese told Diario Record.

“[Training with the Porto first-team] made me grow because that’s the top and is where I want to be.”

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…and those who rejected Barca

3. Paul Pogba

Major honours with Man Utd: 2017 League Cup, 2017 Europa League

What sort of planet are we living on where £89m seems like quite a small sum to pay for a player of Paul Pogba’s quality? In any case, that quality is finally showing in a Man Utd shirt.

Within just two years of Pogba becoming the world’s most expensive footballer, he had been ousted by Ousmane Dembele (£97m) to Barca, Cristiano Ronaldo (£105.3) to Juventus, Philippe Coutinho (£106m) to Barca, Kylian Mbappe (£158m) to PSG and, of course, Neymar (£198m) from Barca to PSG.

Before all of that happened, though, the Blaugrana showed a real interest in Pogba, with club president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, recently revealing that United managed to price them out of a move for the Frenchman.

“In the summer of 2015 Paul Pogba was playing in Turin and we simply told Juve that, if one day they decide to sell the player, we would be interested,” Bartomeu said.

“When they sold the player, they told us what the offer would have to be and we couldn’t afford that amount of money at the time. So he went to United and he’s making them better as a team because he’s one of the stars of the world of football right now.”

Even if Barca had stumped up the cash, it would seem like Pogba had his heart set on an Old Trafford return all along.

“It is a big challenge. I could have gone to a club like Barcelona or Real Madrid, who were interested,” he told SFR Sport in January 2017.

“But I decided to come back here, because it was a feeling in my heart, a feeling inside me that pushed me to come here. I want to win with Manchester United. I have never won [something] with Manchester United.”

Maybe Barca were simply filling up their piggy bank for the Dembele and Coutinho deals, but given how the latter has regressed since arriving in Catalonia, and how Pogba has excelled this season, we would hazard a guess that they regret that choice now.

4. Eric Bailly

Major honours with Man Utd: 2017 League Cup, 2017 Europa League

He’s big, strong, good in the air and by no means a mug with the ball at his feet. So why things haven’t quite worked out for Eric Bailly at Manchester United up to this point is a complete mystery.

To compound his misery, it’s not like he didn’t have other options.

“Man City contacted my agent, Barcelona as well were talking to my agent, but they weren’t as interested in me as Mourinho. He really pushed for the move,” Bailly said following his switch from Villarreal to Old Trafford.

“Of course, the club is ­important when you sign, but the manager is so important. If a player feels like the manager wants you, wants to sign you, it gives you extra motivation.”

Sure, Bailly has won a couple of trophies with Man Utd, but given how things went for his beloved Mourinho, the form of Victor Lindelof under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and the fact that he already had extensive La Liga experience with Villarreal and Espanyol, one must wonder if he doesn’t now regret his choice?

5. Ander Herrera

Major honours with Man Utd: 2016 FA Cup, 2017 League Cup, 2017 Europa League

“When Zaragoza played Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, Pep and I talked about him as the sort of player they like at Barcelona — the style, the way he does the right things with the ball.”

These were the words of former Barcelona, Spurs and Zaragoza man Nayim, speaking about Ander Herrera back in 2016. The comment came at a point when the Spanish midfielder was winning his place in the United starting XI back from the likes of Marouane Fellaini and Nemanja Matic.

The 29-year-old also, according to the Times, rejected a reunion with Barca boss Ernesto Valverde – who worked with Herrera at Athletic Bilbao – in 2017 in favour of staying at Old Trafford.

Quite how Herrera only has two caps for Spain is beyond many of us but he has been an invaluable servant to the Red Devils over the years, providing leadership, tenacity and genuine quality in the middle. The only issue? His contract is once again up at the end of this season, and it looks like he’s going to PSG.