Manchester United are known for throwing their weight around in the transfer market, but it hasn’t always gone well for them.
The Red Devils have pulled off a couple of the best relative bargain buys in Premier League history in the form of Eric Cantona and Nemanja Vidić, while even some of their bigger purchases – Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Cristiano Ronaldo, to name but three – quickly proved good value even if the initial fees seemed steep at the time.
However, for every smart acquisition there have been a few which looked great at the time but soon began to look like expensive mistakes. We’ve picked out a few of the stand-outs.
When United paid a combined £30million for Anderson and Nani in 2007, they were supposed to be getting two of the biggest talents in world football, both of whom would play a big part for the club for years to come. The Brazilian had longevity, but not in the way the club might have hoped.
The Guardian predicted the arrival of the Anderson, the younger of the pair, would ease the strain on Paul Scholes. Across the next six seasons, Anderson would play more league games than the England midfielder only once – in the 2012-13 campaign, during which Scholes came out of retirement halfway through the season and still racked up just one fewer appearance than his team-mate.
When Anderson left in 2005, he had played a grand total of 105 league games. The star of the 2005 Under-17 World Cup averaged 13 games and 11 shots per season while in Manchester.
Still, at least Nani fared better.
It turns out footballing dynasties aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. Jordi Cruyff had played a fair few games under Barcelona, so he had to be good, right? Well, most of those games came when his dad Johan was in charge, and with all due respect, Jordi was no Johan.
The Dutch international arrived after playing all four games for his country at Euro 96, but he wasn’t able to build on that after moving to Old Trafford. Two goals in his first three games marked a promising start, but he never really recovered from injuries in his first season and ended his three-year contract with just 15 league starts to his name
He did at least play his part in the Treble season, if you count three sub appearances in the Champions League group stage as playing your part.
We all thought this one would work out. Memphis was exactly the sort of player who was supposed to thrive at United, especially under compatriot Louis van Gaal, while his arrival was a statement of intent from the club that they were still the ideal destination for young talents.
“I have no doubt that he has the potential to become a great footballer for this club and he is at the right club to continue the good work he has done so far,” Van Gaal said of the man who made an impact for him at the 2014 World Cup, though he warned the youngster might need time to get used to the Premier League.
Sadly, that time never arrived – Van Gaal made way for José Mourinho after just one season, and from there on out the relationship was only going to go in one direction.
Di María is another who suggested early on that he was worth the hype, We all remember that chip against Leicester City.
Sadly, off-field matters meant he got out much earlier than any £59million signing should, giving José Mourinho the trump card of claiming he would have kept the Argentine as soon as things first started to look bad for him.
Of course, given Mourinho’s track record with exciting attacking players at United, there’s no guarantee he wouldn’t have ruined Di María anyway.
Dublin was never United’s first choice when he arrived in 1992, with most looking at the Cambridge United striker as a consolation prize after the club failed to snare Alan Shearer, but the £1million fee they paid was still a decent outlay for a second-tier player.
He scored United’s first ever winning goal in the Premier League, but the fast start didn’t last (we sense a pattern here) as a broken leg stopped him in his tracks.
With Dublin sidelined for the season, United needed to invest in another forward, and Eric Cantona was that man. Suppose you could say everything turned out alright in the end.
Arriving in the same window as Di María on an expensive loan, Falcao joined after recovering from an injury that had forced him to miss the 2014 World Cup, and it turned out he was lacking a little in match sharpness.
The Colombian said after his arrival that he hoped to stay at the club for “many seasons”, but the one year he spent in Manchester felt like it had gone on forever.
Rumours even circulated (admittedly in jest) that the club had signed the ‘wrong’ Falcao, though these were put to bed when he somehow contrived to be an even worse fit at Chelsea.
Forlán might have eventually become a United cult hero, but he had to work hard to even reach that point after the initial hype proved to be misjudged.
Alex Ferguson was so desperate for the Uruguayan that he intercepted Middlesbrough’s approach for the striker, but a return of no goals in his first 20+ games probably doesn’t count as ‘fulfilling potential’.
He had no trouble scoring elsewhere, mind you, scoring a belter for Uruguay at the 2002 World Cup and taking just 28 games to score as many goals for Villarreal as he managed in two-and-a-half seasons at Old Trafford. Call it the United curse.
When United fans base a chant about a player on the fact that he’s better than you, it’s not a great sign. When that player is Anderson, well…
Perhaps United should have taken the hint after still being able to sign Kléberson from Atlético Paranaense a full year after the World Cup, but he was still a member of Brazil’s victorious 2002 squad (admittedly only playing after Emerson dislocated his shoulder goofing around in goal) and that was enough to get people at least a bit excited.
He scored twice in his first 10 games… and then never again. That’s not great, is it? Even the first part isn’t much to write home about.
That chip against Portugal was great, but Poborský couldn’t replicate his Czech form with United.
It probably didn’t help that the winger was up against David Beckham, and that Beckham progressed much more quickly than anyone anticipated, but the Euro 96 star underwhelmed in his 18 months in England.
His struggles at United didn’t stop hip continuing to thrive at international level, though, earning more than 100 Czech caps and playing a prominent role in his country’s run to the Euro 2004 semi-finals.
It’s just been one embarrassment after another for United. Specifically, Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s second season, followed by Alexis Sánchez’s first season, followed by… you get the picture.
Three league goals in a season and a half would be a poor return for an academy player, let alone someone on a bajillion pounds a week, and United will be lucky to get him off their hands for any price.
Still, the piano video was nice.
Perhaps there was a reason Bayern were happy to part ways with their former captain. Perhaps that reason was ‘his body has given up on him’.
Still, it’s not like post-Fergie United to trade on a player’s past reputation by handing over altogether too much money.
Hold on a second, we’re hearing it’s exactly like post-Fergie United to do that.
Before every post-Schmeichel United keeper was considered a stopgap at best, United had hope. Then they had Massimo Taibi.
The Italian arrived with a high reputation after impressing for Venezia in Serie A, but four games – including a howler in a 3-3 draw with Southampton – were enough to convince United they needed another new number one within a year.
If only they’d managed to sign Francesco Toldo instead.
Verón was the archetype of failing to deliver on promise, and it wasn’t really his fault.
“I think I’ve always searched for this. I never thought I’d spend this much money on a footballer,” Ferguson said of the record signing, who set the club back £28.1million back in 2001.
The Argentine had some good games for the club, but failed to properly establish himself in a midfield packed with English talent. Ultimately, United were probably lucky to even get back half of what they paid when he moved to newly-minted Chelsea in 2003.