Former Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards has revealed Sir Alex Ferguson once passed on Zinedine Zidane – and the France legend is far from the only big name the Scot decided against signing.
Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t get too many things wrong during his 27-year reign at Old Trafford. But as as several inspired decisions among around 100 signings, there were also a few duds.
Among his regrets feature the players he didn’t sign as well as the ones he wished he hadn’t. Here are some of the biggest names Ferguson decided he could do without…
No United fan would criticise Ferguson for putting Eric Cantona above any potetial new recruit, but the prospect of Zidane at Old Trafford is too tantilising not to regret.
Edwards, in his book, lifted the lid on Ferguson’s thinking when it was put to him that United should be signing the Frenchman from Bordeaux in 1996: “Alex said that Eric had also mentioned Zidane to him but Alex felt Zidane played in the same position as Eric.
“Having gone over to France to persuade Eric to re-sign for us, after the Crystal Palace incident, he felt that, if he had brought Zidane in, it may have affected Eric’s position, so he stuck with Eric.”
As it turned out, Cantona retired just one season after Zidane left Bordeaux for Juventus.
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Liverpool don’t have much to thank Ferguson for, but passing up the chance to sign John Barnes from Watford in 1987 is certainly one reason to be grateful.
Edwards explains in his new autobiography, Red Glory: ”Graham Taylor rang Alex Ferguson to see if he wanted to take him before he signed for Liverpool.
“Alex passed on him because it was his first season at United, he had Jesper Olsen in his squad and he wanted to see whether Jesper would make it.”
Olsen showed glimpses, but the Denmark winger had nothing even remotely like the impact Barnes made on Liverpool.
Even the staunchest City-hating United fan will admit – privately, at least – that it is impossible to find any reason not to love David Silva.
But Ferguson managed it.
Before the Spanish genius joined Manchester City in 2010 for £24million, United had their eye on him.
“We watched Silva a lot when he was at Valencia,” said Ferguson. “My problem with that was you have to be very, very good to play in that position, because there’s no defensive duties for them.
“So if you’re wanting to be be really successful, everyone has to do their turn, has to work, you know?”
Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini and Pep Guardiola have all managed to get Silva to do the dirty work. Maybe all you had to do was ask?
United haven’t wanted for decent midfielders over the years. Bryan Robson, Roy Keane and Paul Scholes were all a bit handy with an eye for goal. But Ferguson also saw that in Frank Lampard before he moved to Chelsea in 2001, and the ex-United boss acknowledges he might have made a mistake by not following through his initial interest.
“Lampard has been unbelievable,” said Ferguson. “I don’t think a midfield player will be able to do that figure again. It’s quite phenomenal.
“Like Bryan Robson, he has had a great knack of timing his runs into the box at the right time. John Wark was another one at Ipswich.
“The guy has had a great career. I must say we looked at him when he was at West Ham as a young player and I maybe regret not having done it.
“Where else could I get 200 goals?”
Not from Juan Sebastian Veron, who moved to Old Trafford at the same time Lampard went to Chelsea, that’s for certain.
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Despite signing Peter Schmeichel, Edwin van der Sar and David de Gea during his reign at Old Trafford, Ferguson occasionally had a blind spot when it came to goalkeepers. Replacing Schmeichel took six years, and during that time, Petr Cech was making a very positive impression in the Ligue 1.
“I went to see him in 2003 for Rennes. We thought Petr was a bit young for the bruisers in the Premier League.”
So he persisted with Tim Howard and Roy Carroll passing the gloves between them and all-too-often dropping them. Cech went to Chelsea instead in 2004, where he had over a decade of success, but Van der Sar arrived a year later, and he didn’t do too badly either.
Cech wasn’t the only Chelsea legend who Ferguson dithered over. Didier Drogba was also catching the eye in France with Marseille, but the United boss’s uncertainty allowed the Blues almost a free run.
“We went to check him out [at Marseille] but the club wanted £25million and Chelsea moved in for the kill before we had made up our minds.”
A month later, Ferguson splashed £27million on Wayne Rooney, and that worked out okay in the end…
“His agent was demanding a price we were not prepared to pay,” said Ferguson about United’s interest in Sergio Aguero.
Whatever amount it was, it would almost certainly have been worth it.
Less than a year after Aguero joined Manchester City for what turned out to a total of £31.5million, the Argentina striker scored the last-gasp goal that denied Ferguson and United the title in 2012. A total of 176 goals so far also screams ‘value’.
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Just 45 minutes was all it took for Ferguson to decide that Franck Ribery wasn’t good enough for Manchester United.
Alistair Campbell, the former Labour party spokesman, tells the story of when he accompanied Ferguson to watch Bolton play Marseille, featuring a 22-year-old Ribery.
“Alex was watching Franck Ribery, the Marseille winger but decided by half-time that he was not good enough for United.”
Not good enough for United, but Bayern Munich reckoned otherwise and it seems they were right.
Raúl was 33 when United had the chance to sign him, after he left Real Madrid, but given Ferguson opted against doing so because he had Michael Owen on his books, he may regret his decision.
“Bringing in Raúl would have been similar to when we managed to get Henrik Larsson for a short time,” Ferguson said back in 2011.
“We spoke to his agent about a possible move but we already had Javier Hernández by then and, with Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen available, we thought we could afford to let the chance pass.
“If we hadn’t had Michael at the club at the time I might well have signed him.”
Owen scored two goals in just one start and 10 substitute appearances in the Premier League that season. Raúl scored 13 in 34 games for Schalke in the Bundesliga.
Neuer has single-handedly revolutionised goalkeeping, according to some people, but Ferguson was convinced to climb off the Germany star’s bandwagon when he was considered for the role of replacing Van der Sar in 2011.
“Eric Steele had been scouting David De Gea for quite a while, but then Neuer came on the scene at Schalke. And I think Schalke would have been happy if we’d have gone and taken him.
“So, my problem was Eric because he was adamant that we must take De Gea. I said ‘Eric, the boy Neuer is the complete unit; he’s mature, his physique is unbelievable,’ and he says ‘yeah, but in three years’ time, De Gea will be better.’ I said ‘that’s a statement.’”
Ferguson, in this instance was right to trust his goalkeeper coach. After a ropey start, De Gea indeed became every bit as good as Neuer, who was more suited to the job at Bayern Munich, especially under Pep Guardiola, than he would have been at Old Trafford.
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