The one that slipped the net: Players Manchester United missed out on
Regarded as one of the finest players England ever produced and the most exciting talent of the time having just won the Barclays young player of the year award for 87/88, Sir Alex went away on holiday to Malta in the summer of 1988 thinking he had agreed a deal to sign the young Geordie who had promised Sir Alex he would become a United player.
You can only imagine Sir Alex’s shock when he got a call from Martin Edwards whilst on holiday to say that Gazza had then reneged on his promise and signed for Tottenham, who to sweeten the deal, bought a house for Gascoigne’s parents.
Gazza would go on to make a name for himself at clubs like Spurs, Rangers, Lazio amongst others but nothing like he would have had he joined United (Martin won’t like this but I think it’s true!) and problems with his mental health and alcohol have plagued his life. Gazza himself has expressed his regret at not joining United,
“Maybe if I had stayed at Man U I might have been still there, I don’t know, you just look at these players and the squad of young kids that play, young Rooney that’s there, the Neville Brothers and Becks, the way he (Ferguson) just brought them on and there are so many.
I got invited to the academy and it is a magnificent place and you can see the way he treats his players, he treats them with respect but he also makes men out of boys.
It took me six years to get back talking to Sir Alex, I called him from Lazio and asked him would he re-sign us. He was with Eric Cantona and he said he would see what Eric Cantona was going to do but I think everyone knows if you do something to Sir Alex Ferguson the way I did you don’t get a second chance.”
Just as interestingly as Gazza’s take on the situation is Sir Alex’s who claimed his biggest regret as United manager was not signing Gascoigne and claimed he could have saved him:
“We had Bryan Robson, a Geordie. Steve Bruce, a Geordie. Gary Pallister, from Middlesbrough… we had a structure of players who could have helped him and it could have given him some discipline.”
Probably the one that stands out in recent memory more than any other is how Ronaldinho slipped through our fingers (again another thank you to Peter Kenyon).
In 2003 having just sold David Beckham to Real Madrid, we were in the market for another star player and the buck toothed Brazilian fitted the bill. A brilliant footballer with that touch of something else about him it looked like he would become the first Brazilian to wear United’s red but Peter Kenyon had other ideas.
There are numerous versions of how the deal didn’t come to fruition and this one from Jethro Soutar, biographer of Ronaldinho will make you seethe!
United had agreed a fee of £20m with £2m in add ons after Kenyon negotiated a deal in Lyon out biding Sandro Rosell of Barcelona who would not go beyond £18.3m and official confirmation of the bid would be sent to PSG when Kenyon returned to Manchester. But when Kenyon caught wind that Barca would not bid more than that he cheekily faxed over an offer of £19m.
PSG chief Francis Graille was incensed accusing United and Kenyon of breaking their side of the agreement and the deal was off. Kenyon quickly tried to make ammends by saying the £20m deal was fine but Graille had called Rosell and accepted their £18.3m bid. Graille felt it was a matter of principle and that Barca had acted more honourably throughout the whole episode starting with a bid of £10.8m much higher than United’s initial bid.
The whole episode ruined Sir Alex’s relationship with Kenyon and Kenyon left the club 2 months later to take a position with Chelsea. Ronaldinho would go on to return Barca to the top of the footballing pile winning the league twice with Barca as well as the Champions League whilst the first Brazilian to pull on a United kit ended up being Kleberson… moving swiftly on it wasn’t all doom and gloom though, that summer we signed a spotty Portuguese teenager from Sporting Lisbon for a total fee of £12.4m. You might of heard of him Cristiano Ronaldo, I was told he went on to do big things at the club.
There are a load of other players that could have made this list Paulo Di Canio, Patrick Kluivert, Matt Le Tissier, John Obi Mikel and even Marcel Desailly recently came out saying that he agreed a pre contract with United only to end up at Stamford Bridge. All in all it’s quite a list isn’t it but even more remarkably is that despite missing out on these names some of the biggest to have played the game we have done brilliantly. Just adds weight to the claim no player is bigger than the club Manchester United!