The 2018 World Cup finished just over a week ago, and the aftermath will ensure that Europe’s biggest clubs scramble to pick up the stars of the tournament. Manchester United have been linked with a few, such as Mexican revelation Hirving Lozano and Croatian star AnteRebić. The latest one that the Red Devils are reportedly interested in is England defender Harry Maguire, currently playing for Leicester City.
All of these players were relatively unknown across Europe before Russia2018, and it will be interesting to see how their careers pan out; whether or not they come to Old Trafford. Many a career has been launched on the back of a major international tournament. Some live up to the hype, and go on to have stellar careers. In some cases, it is quite clear that the player in question just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
The list below looks at some past United players who were seemingly signed on the back of having a good international tournament. Some went on to become legends, whereas others made us wonder what all the fuss was about to start with.
A winger who caught the eye at Euro 96 for much than just his long flowing hair. His lob against Portugal was voted by many as Goal of the Tournament, as the Czech Republic surprised everybody at their first ever international tournament by making it all the way to the final – and only narrowly losing against Germany. His performances persuaded Alex Ferguson to pay Slavia Prague £3.5 million for his services that summer.
Poborský’s Old Trafford career never really took off, as he never really got a consistent run in the side. Despite some good early performances, including a superb goal against Leeds United at Elland Road, David Beckham’s form on the right of midfield meant that he was practically un-droppable. In December 1997, Poborský was sold to Benfica where he became a big favourite, and later played in Italy for Lazio. His international career went on until after the 2006 World Cup, and he retired from football the following year.
Another who was seemingly signed on the back of his performances at Euro 96, but being the son of football legend Johann Cruyff meant that his was a name that everyone had heard of. Ferguson had seen Jordi in action before, when United lost 4-0 to Barcelona in 1994, and he had terrorised the Reds defence that night. Like Poborsky, Cruyff never held down a first team spot at Old Trafford in the four years he was there. One problem was that he was more of a utility player, equally adept on the left wing, as second striker or a centre forward. The issue was the United were well stocked in all of those areas, and despite a goal in each of his first two home games he never managed a consistent run.
In his four years at the club, he made less than 60 appearances, and more than half of them were from the substitute’s bench. He even went on loan to Celta Vigo for the second half of the 1998-99 season, meaning he missed United’s Treble. When his contract expired in 2000, Cruyff was released and returned to Spain, joining Alavés.
It would be untrue to say that Ferguson signed Rio Ferdinand merely on the back of his performances at the 2002 World Cup. The Red Devils had been monitoring his progress since his days at West Ham, after all. Looking back, however, it seems that Ferdinand’s performances in Japan and South Korea triggered the United boss to finally make his move for the defender. There was also the fact that he hadn’t managed to successfully replace Jaap Stam since his controversial move to Lazio. In addition to this, Leeds United’s failure to qualify for the Champions League meant that they had to sell, and Ferdinand made a British record £29 million move across the Pennines.
After winning six Premier League titles, 3 League Cup medals, a Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup, Ferdinand left Old Trafford in 2014 as a United legend. He joined Queens Park Rangers, before retiring in 2015.
In 2003, Alex Ferguson signed World Cup winner Kléberson from Atlético Paranaense. The midfielder had been an integral part of the Brazil team that had won the 2002 tournament, and even though he didn’t move to Old Trafford until a year later, his signing was influenced by his World Cup performances.
Kléberson never settled in Manchester, and from a bit part player in his first season, he became a peripheral figure in his second. After just two years, he was transferred to Beşiktaş, although he remained a regular for his country until 2010. Kléberson last played in 2016 for Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the USA, following spells back in his native Brazil and India.
It’s fair to say that Wayne Rooney had been earmarked as a potential future signing by Alex Ferguson for some time. He had burst into the Everton side in 2002 at the age of 16, and made his England debut the following year. His performances at Euro 2004 brought a different spotlight down on him, and brought him to the attention of the rest of Europe. When Newcastle United made a bid for his services that summer, Ferguson knew he had to act fast to get his man before someone else did.
Rooney scored a hat trick on his debut against Fenerbahçe, and despite not becoming quite the future Balon d’Or winner that everyone expected, he became part of one of United’s greatest ever sides in the late 2000’s. When Rooney left in 2017, he did so as both United’s and England’s all-time top scorer, and an undisputed Old Trafford legend.
In a similar situation to the signing of Kléberson, Owen Hargreaves’ move to Old Trafford seem to be triggered by his performances at a tournament, but his transfer did not happen until the following year. Hargreaves was possibly England’s best player at the 2006 World Cup, and with United needing a ball-winning midfielder following Roy Keane’s exit the previous year, they turned their attentions to the Bayern Munich midfielder. The Bavarian club dug their heels in, not wanting to sell having already lost Michael Ballack that summer, and he didn’t make the move until 2007.
Hargreaves is still a sore point for most United fans, as they only got to see one season from him, albeit a very successful one which culminated with a Premier League and Champions League double. After playing in the first few games of the 2008-09 season, the Canadian born midfielder succumbed to a bout of tendinitis, and it dogged him for the rest of his career. The main cause of disappointment was that he was exactly the type of midfielder the club seemed to be missing. He had been fantastic during the 2007-08 season, and one of United’s best players in the Champions League Final against Chelsea.
Over the next three years, he made just two appearances for United before being released in 2011 when his contract expired. He crossed town to join Manchester City, and made just 4 appearances for them before retiring at the end of the 2011-12.
The Argentine defender was signed by Louis van Gaal immediately after the Dutchman took over at Old Trafford in 2014. The new United manager said he had been ‘enchanted’ by Rojo’s performances in that summer’s World Cup, and signed him from Sporting Lisbon, despite initial resistance from the Portuguese club.
The clubs high profile search for a central defender over the summer seems to indicate that Rojo is far from first choice, and he has never particularly impressed when deployed at left back. Having made over 100 appearances in his four years at Old Trafford, it remains to be seen how much longer he will be there.
There are several other players who have arrived at Old Trafford on the back of a World Cup or European Championship over the years. Fabien Barthez (Euro 2000), Jaap Stam (World Cup 1998) and Javier Hernández (World Cup 2010) played for their respective countries prior to joining the club, however, all three of those deals were set in place before those tournaments took place.
Michael Carrick was another who signed for United after the 2006 World Cup. Given that he only played in one of England’s five games in Germany, it’s most likely that he was signed on the back of his performances for Tottenham.
Signing a player purely on the back of one good tournament is never a good idea, as any player can have a purple patch at some point in their career. It could be that, as was clearly the case with Kléberson, they were just in the right team at the right time; probably one that played to all of their strengths. It can be a different story when you are trying to fit that player into a system that might not suit him.
The main problem with this method of recruiting is that they haven’t been properly scouted, over a certain period of time and judged on how they react in certain types of game. Instead they are being judged on how they have performed over four or five games. It cannot be a coincidence that Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney remain the only players United have signed due to their performances at international tournaments who have gone on to have unquestionably successful careers at Old Trafford. In both instances, they were already used to Premier League, and United had scouted them for the majority of their careers so they knew what they were signing.
If José Mourinho is planning on signing any players who performed well at Russia 2018, one would hope he has done his due diligence prior to this summer’s World Cup. History shows that players signed on the back of one tournament are often a waste of time and money.
In a lot of cases, there is a reason why most people never heard of them previously.
The Champions League Final in Kiev brought down the curtain on the 2017-18 season, a largely forgettable campaign for Manchester United fans, despite their best Premier League campaign since Sir Alex Ferguson left. The match itself saw reported United target Gareth Bale provide the main talking points, with not only his match winning double, but his post-match comments.
The Welsh international refused to commit his future to Real Madrid, sparking rumours of a potential transfer. United have cast flirtatious glances towards Bale for over a decade, and he has turned down a move to Old Trafford on more than one occasion. There is no question that he is a player that CEO Ed Woodward covets highly, and from a marketing point of view he would see it as money well spent. The issue remains, however, as to whether his signing would be a good option for the club in the short and long term.
History with United
The interest in Bale from M16 goes back over a decade, when he was a teenager at Southampton, having come through their academy. Despite Ferguson registering his interest, Bale moved to Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2007 for an initial £5 million, plus add-ons. A paltry fee considering his worth today. Despite an indifferent start, including a bizarre period where Tottenham didn’t win while Bale was playing, he eventually developed into one of the best players in the Premier League.
Spurs knew they were never going to keep hold of Bale for his entire career, and an eventual move seemed inevitable. In the summer of 2013, the world and his wife knew that Bale had his heart set on a move to the Bernabéu; everyone except Ed Woodward it seems. Following the departures of Ferguson and David Gill, United reportedly offered than the £86 million world record fee that Real paid for his services. Bale wasn’t interested and once again rejected United’s advances in favour of La Liga.
Since moving to Spain, Bale has won every club honour available to him, and broken several records such as being the highest ever British goalscorer in Spain; no mean achievement considering both Mark Hughes and Gary Lineker both played there during their careers. Other than his post-match interview in Kiev, he has never given any indication that he wants to leave the Bernabéu. He wouldn’t be the first Real Madrid player to court interest from United in order to get themselves an improved contract.
In 2014, new United manager Louis van Gaal bought Argentina international Ángel Di María from Real Madrid form a then British record £59.7 million transfer. Like Bale, he had just been named Man of the Match in a Champions League Final victory, was also an attacking, pacey forward whose place in the Madrid squad was far from assured following the arrival of James Rodríguez.
Di María had a good start, with 3 goals in his first five games, but it soon became clear that he had never particularly wanted to move to Manchester. Paris Saint-Germain had wanted to sign him that summer, but doing so would have seen them breach Financial Fair Play regulations. Towards the end of the 2014-15 season, Di María started making noises that he was unhappy at the club, blaming a burglary, and getting himself ridiculously sent off against Arsenal. The look on van Gaal’s face as he limped off “injured” in the final game of the season against Hull City said it all.
Bale has never shown any more enthusiasm to come to United than Di María did. And since when do Madrid ever sell players they really want to keep?
Would he Improve the Squad?
There can be no doubt that Bale would add an extra dimension to United’s attack.The right wing is an area that United have struggled with ever since Antonio Valencia moved to full back. Over the last four years, several players such as Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard have been tried in that position. None of them have excelled and apart from Mata’s double at Anfield in 2015, it’s hard to remember a memorable performance in that position over that period. Nobody has made it their own.
In Marcus Rashford, Alexis Sánchez and Anthony Martial (assuming he is still at the club next season), United have a plethora of attacking options for the left flank. Bales performance on Saturday in Kiev showed an attacking element that José Mourinho doesn’t currently have; a left-footed player who can play on the right, can cut inside at pace and cause opponents considerable damage. Bale can play on either flank, as well as through the middle, and is probably faster than anyone in the current United squad. A fit Gareth Bale would be an asset to any squad in world football. If he stayed fit, and played as the world knows he can, he could help make United a real force again, both domestically and in Europe.
From a marketing aspect, signing the Welshman would definitely have a positive impact. His name on the back of a red shirt would generate millions of pounds in shirt sales, and other merchandise. It probably wouldn’t do their share price on the New York Stock Exchange any harm either.
One of the definite cons of any potential deal is what it would actually cost to bring Bale to Old Trafford, a player who will be 29 by the start of next season. Despite being a favourite of Madrid president Florentino Pérez, one of the reasons he is said to be contemplating a move is that he found his playing time rather limited this season. Far from an automatic choice, the fact that he became the first substitute to score twice in a Champions League Final highlights this. This may change following manager Zinedine Zidane’s shock resignation. He may be central to the plans of whoever replaces him.
Some sources say that Real Madrid would want a transfer fee of somewhere around twice the £86 million they paid for him, maybe even a world record transfer fee. That’s before his wages, image rights and agents fees are taken into account. His salary alone would probably make him the top earner at the club, and for that money they are hardly likely to sign him on a short term deal. At his age there would be little resell value if the move didn’t work out.
Another aspect to be taken into account is the large amount of time he has spent in the physio’s room since moving to Madrid. According to his profile on Transfermarkt.com, Bale has had suffered twelve fairly serious injuries since arriving in the Spanish capital, in addition to the meniscal laceration he was already carrying when he signed. This means that since joining Real Madrid, Bale has spent approximately 320 days, totalling around 60 games, where he has been unavailable for selection. That’s pretty much an entire season out of the five he has been there.
It’s not as though he had one or two serious injuries that kept him out for long periods of time. Only one of them kept him out of action for more than two months. These injuries are regular occurrences and whatever fee Madrid would want for him is likely to be a lot of money for someone who cannot be relied upon to stay fit. Especially when the man who signs the cheque already knows about that particular risk. Who knows? The next injury could finish him.
One major factor, especially where the fans are concerned, is the thought of the club potentially breaking the world transfer record for someone who has never shown any real interest in moving to Manchester. He has had plenty of opportunities in the past. Another issue to consider is that Bale’s post-match comments about his future were made with the fact that he has not been an automatic choice this season. How he fits in under the next manager’s regime is anybody’s guess at this point.
United may not be the dominant force in English football at the moment, but they are still the biggest club in the country. Big enough that anybody who moves to Old Trafford should do so because they genuinely want to play there, not just because their club doesn’t want them anymore. Why pay all that money for someone who isn’t 100% committed?
Does Mourinho even want him?
The most burning issue from the manager’s point of view, however, is how much of his transfer budget would a move for Gareth Bale use up? Rumours in the Sun suggest that he has told Woodward that he doesn’t want any of his budget that he has earmarked for other players being used in any deal. How true this is cannot be ascertained, but it’s not hard to see where he is coming from.
Mourinho has stated in the past that he was not planning on making any attacking signings for the summer, following Sánchez’s arrival earlier this year. This makes sense as the defence and midfield clearly need some surgery. Once Mourinho has got a solid back line, more specifically, one that he trusts, he may relieve some of his attacking players of the tracking back that has been expected of them. United fans would love to see them throw off the shackles, letting them off the leash more than the current way of playing allows.
United are reportedly in advanced talks with Brazilian midfielder Fred, as well as Porto right-back Diogo Dalot. These are two of the areas that need addressing, especially when you consider that Valencia is well into his thirties, Michael Carrick has retired and Marouane Fellaini will most likely be plying his trade elsewhere next season. The right wing does need freshening up, but spending something like £200 million on an injury prone 29 year old, however brilliant he may be, does not make any sense.
That money could be used to strengthen other areas of the team, which is probably what Mourinho has earmarked it for. If you can do this and get Bale with whatever the manager’s transfer kitty amounts to, then fair enough. Doesn’t seem very likely though, unless this summer’s budget is unlimited.
While it would be great to see a world class player like Gareth Bale in the red of United, especially if he can remain injury free, there are so many reasons not to buy him. The cons definitely outweigh the pros, and the club must look at the bigger picture.
He has never shown any interest in joining United before, so why should they go for him now when it is possible that all he wants is an escape route, or a new contract and promises about his role in the team, from his present employers? Now that Zidane has departed, he may not need any of them. It also has to be said that Real Madrid don’t sell players unless they are done with them. They rarely sell players that are central to their plans. After the Di María fiasco, do United really want another Bernabéu reject?
In spite of the balance he would bring to the attack, so would a lot of players who are less injury prone, and wouldn’t use up the bulk of the clubs transfer budget. Like Willian, who United are rumoured to be interested in. Either way, it will take more than one player to close the gap on Manchester City.
The worrying thing is that all of these concerns have probably already been taken into account by Ed Woodward. Despite this, the rumours linking Bale to Old Trafford persist, giving the impression that if he did become available, the United CEO would probably be first in the queue to get his dream signing.
It has been reported this week that Cristiano Ronaldo is interested in re-joining Manchester United. This is not exactly a new trend, as he has been linked with a return to the Red Devils in practically every transfer window since he left.
While it would create a buzz of excitement to see probably the greatest United player of the Premier League era pull on the famous red shirt once again, it is also a move that doesn’t make much sense for either party.
It’s almost nine years since Ronaldo left Manchester to fulfil his boyhood dream of playing for Real Madrid. It was a move which United fans knew was inevitable, but dared to hope would never happen; especially after declaring he would stay following United’s Champions League Final victory in 2008.
Ronaldo has won every trophy on offer during his time in the Spanish capital since moving there in 2009. Following the win over Juventus last May, his third Champions League triumph since joining Real, he claims that club president Florentino Pérez promised him a new contract. The deal would have put him back in pole position at the head of the world’s best players. So far it hasn’t happened, and it has apparently led to a very disgruntled Ronaldo.
Madrid’s season so far has been nothing short of a disaster. They have less chance of retaining their La Liga title than United do of overhauling Manchester City at the top of the Premier League. They are actually closer to the relegation zone than they are to Barcelona, and currently sit 4th. In addition to this they have drawn one of the favourites, Paris Saint-Germain, in the knockout round of the Champions League. Just to make matters worse, Ronaldo has only netted four league goals, although he does have nine in Europe. This is a paltry return in comparison with recent seasons, and seems to point to where Real’s problems are.
There have been rumours that Ronaldo is unsettled at the Bernabéu for some time, but they have intensified in recent months. First of all, he was unhappy that Madrid showed insufficient support over him being investigated for tax evasion by the Spanish authorities. He apparently pointed to the backing Lionel Messi received from Barcelona over similar charges. Now it is apparent that talk has gone quiet in the boardroom regarding Ronaldo’s new deal, amid constant reports that Pérez is preparing a summer bid for Neymar, despite him only joining PSG last summer.
For the first time in well over a decade, Ronaldo finds himself in a situation where he doesn’t hold all the cards. He will be 33 next months, and is having his worst season, in terms of goals scored, since 2005-06. It hardly leaves him in the best bargaining position.
One possible dampener on a potential deal is that Ronaldo has worked with United manager José Mourinho before, and it ended acrimoniously. It is rumoured that Ronaldo was one of the reasons why his fellow countryman loss the Madrid dressing room. The Portuguese manager is now in the job he has always wanted, so if those rumours are true, it seems unlikely he will use a massive part of his transfer budget to bring in someone who has undermined him before. That would just be asking for trouble.
There is an issue which probably wouldn’t come into any transfer negotiations, but is still worth a mention. Ronaldo has had plenty of opportunities to come ‘home’ over the years, and it’s never happened. The picture is starting to look pretty clear in the sense that, while he was the undisputed King of the Bernabéu, he wasn’t going anywhere. Unfortuately for him, his crown is starting to look anything but stable. Combine his indifferent form, advancing years, Madrid’s hesitance to offer an improved deal and their interest in Neymar, and it adds up to a picture that suggests Ronaldo’s previously untouchable position in Madrid is far from secure.
To go back to Old Trafford where he was, and still is, worshipped by the fans in a way that he never has been in Spain is probably very appealing right now. In a way, however, this is kind of an insult to the club he professes to love. He’s given his best years to Madrid, and now that he is seemingly on the decline he wants to come back to the club that made him the player that Real paid a world record fee for.
Ronaldo left a legacy, and right now he is considered an icon at Old Trafford. If he does come back, and is nowhere near the level that he was when he left, which looks like huge possibility right now, that legacy could be forever tainted.
The Root of All Evil
The main issue, as is always the case in football, particularly in this day and age, is the cost. He isn’t going to get better at this age, yet any transfer would involve an astronomical fee. United would be paying a king’s ransom for a player in the autumn years of his career. They would also be expected to make him the highest paid player at the club, probably the world, and with that much money being laid out, it is hardly likely to be on a twelve month contract.
No doubt United would make a mint from merchandising, but for how long? If he is struggling on the fields of La Liga, against defenders who don’t kick players half as much as in England, how long is he going to take to readjust to the Premier League? If he doesn’t hit the ground running, and keep up the same level of performance, how long are people going to be buying shirts with his name on the back? It could leave the club with a huge hole in their finances, paying for someone who isn’t justifying their investment either on the pitch or off it. It’s not as though he’ll have a huge sell-on value, is it?
There are few positives from Ronaldo returning to Manchester United. The only people who are guaranteed to gain from such a deal are Real Madrid. They’ll get a huge fee for someone whose importance is waning month on month, which is money they can put towards their next Galáctico. This is money United should be putting towards finding one of their own.
Real Madrid are probably the only club in world football that can realistically claim to be bigger than United. Barcelona may have something to say about that, but they aren’t even the biggest in the country they want independence from. Madrid don’t get rid of players unless they are done with them – United should have learnt that with Ángel Di María.
As great as it would be to see Ronaldo once again running down the wing, that is just from a sentimental point of view. He has had plenty of chances to return over the years and he hasn’t taken them. A move for Ronaldo would have made sense five years ago, or even three years ago, it would have been worth whatever it cost. But given how much he would cost, how long he has left at the very top and how it could affect how he is remembered by the Old Trafford fans in years to come, it doesn’t make sense at all.
There is a possibility that he could come to United, and that no longer being at a club whose fans jeer him if he doesn’t score a hat trick every week, lifts him up to the point that he gets back to his very best. But it’s a very big ‘if’, which equals a risk to both club and player.
With Alexis Sanchez having been left out of Arsenal’s squad to face Bournemouth, the rumour mill on social media has gone into overdrive over what seems like an imminent departure from the Emirates. It seems like it will a straight fight between the two Manchester clubs for his signature, with some reports claiming that Cityare ready to walk away.
If Sanchez does move to Old Trafford, he will be the eleventh player to transfer directly between the two clubs. Despite a healthy, and sometimes unhealthy, rivalry between the two sides down the years, it has clearly never affected negotiations when it came to transfers.
ARSENAL TO UNITED
The first player to move directly between the two clubs was David Herd, in 1961. As Matt Busby continued his rebuilding of Manchester United following the Munich Air Disaster, a fee of £35,000 was agreed for the Scottish international centre-forward. After an initial bedding-in period, Herd became a hit with the Old Trafford faithful, and when Busby signed Denis Law a year later, they would form one of the most fearful strike partnerships in England.
Herd scored 145 goals in 265 games for United over a period of seven years, which included two goals in the 1963 F.A. Cup Final against Leicester City. At the time of writing, he is at number thirteen on the club’s all-time top scorers list. He died in October 2016, aged 82.
As the only major signing made by Matt Busby’s successor, Wilf McGuinness, Ian Ure became a parody of how mismanaged the club was following the great man’s retirement. Although he had been a good defender in his days at Dundee, and his first season at Arsenal, by August 1969 he was approaching the age of 30, with a chequered injury record.
He played two seasons at Old Trafford following an £80,000, making 47 appearances, before returning north of the border to join St. Mirren in 1971. His luck with injuries didn’t improve as he made just three appearances in two years, before retiring completely.
A man more famous for his exploits as a manager, George Graham was also a more than half-decent player. Equally adept as either an attacking midfielder or centre-forward, he had won numerous trophies at Arsenal, including being an integral part of their 1971 League and Cup Double. As Tommy Docherty tried to find the right blend to stop United’s inevitable slump towards the Second Division, he spent £120,000 to add Graham to his squad in December 1972.
Graham left United in 1974 following their relegation, but it was at Old Trafford that he was reunited with former Chelsea teammate Stewart Houston, who was United’s left-back at the time. Houston would later become Graham’s assistant manager at Highbury during the early 1990’s.
In a situation that is slightly reminiscent of the Paul Pogba scenario, Republic of Ireland striker Frank Stapleton had been on United’s as a teenager, but was released at the age of 17. He subsequently joined Arsenal, making his debut in 1975. He came back to bite United in the 1979 F.A. Cup Final, scoring Arsenal’s second goal in a 3-2 win.
When Ron Atkinson took over from Dave Sexton in 1981, Stapleton was out of contract at Highbury. In the days before the Bosman ruling, free agents still commanded a fee for any transfer. With United and Arsenal unable to agree terms, a tribunal set the fee at £900,000. Although it proved to be good value for a player who led United’s attack for six years, the Red Devils could have had him for nothing a decade earlier. He left United to join Ajax in 1987.
Alex Ferguson first opened the United chequebook in the summer of 1987, and once again it was for an out of contract Arsenal player. Right-back Viv Anderson, previously a League title and double European Cup winner with Nottingham Forest, seemed like exactly the sort of experienced head United needed in the dressing room. Despite being a few weeks short of his 31st birthday, the fee was set at £250,000, and initially it seemed like good value as Anderson made the right-back berth his own.
Although he made 38 appearances in his first season, as United finished runners-up to Liverpool, he made less than that over the next three years. Having been practically injury-free for his entire career, most of his time at Old Trafford was spent on the treatment table. Ironically, after leaving United in 1991, he barely missed a game during the final three years of his career during spells with Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley.
Robin van Persie
After Viv Anderson’s transfer, it took 25 years before United bought another player from Arsenal, who had now moved to the Emirates. But what a transfer. Dutch striker Robin van Persie was the hottest property in the Premier League when he announced that he would not be renewing his contract with the North London club. In 2012, Ferguson made him the last of a long line of high profile strikers that he had signed during his time as United boss. Van Persie’s impact at Old Trafford was immediate, as the 20th league title United won ensured that the initial fee of £22.5 million rose to £24 million, based on the terms of the transfer agreement. Thirty goals in his first season ensured that the Premier League title returned to the red side of Manchester.
Following Ferguson’s retirement, it all went a bit flat for the Dutchman. Rumours were that new manager David Moyes had disregarded the carefully prepared training regime that had kept van Persie injury free for over two years. In spite of missing around a third of the season, he still contributed 18 goals. Louis van Gaal’s appointment in 2014 was anticipated by fans to get van Persie firing again, as the two had worked so well together at that summer’s World Cup. It didn’t work out that way, however, and following another injury-hit campaign which saw him register just ten goals, van Gaal decided a clear-out of Old Trafford was required. Van Persie was sold, along with Nani, to Turkish giants Fenerbahçe in 2015.
UNITED TO ARSENAL
If you weren’t a regular on the Stretford End in the 1970’s, there’s a good chance you won’t be familiar with the name Jimmy Rimmer, but he actually had a very successful career. He was the goalkeeper who came through Manchester United’s academy, but spent most of his time at the club as understudy to Alex Stepney. He did, however, win a European Cup medal as he was United’s named substitute during their 1968 victory over Benfica at Wembley.
He played just 46 times for United, before Arsenal bought him for £40,000 in 1974 to replace the retiring club legend Bob Wilson. After three seasons as undisputed number one at Highbury, Rimmer transferred to Aston Villa, where he won a League title and another European Cup.
Another academy product, a born and bred Mancunian, the young striker wrote his name into United folklore by scoring in the 1968 European Cup Final against Benfica, which happened to be on his 19th birthday. In terms of trophies, this was as good as it got for Kidd, as United went into an alarming decline over the next six years, which culminated with their relegation in 1974. Following their demotion, United sold Kidd to Arsenal for £110,000.
Following a three year spell at Highbury, his career took him to Manchester City, Everton, Bolton Wanderers, and several teams in the USA. Kidd later returned to Old Trafford as part of the coaching staff. He became Alex Ferguson’s assistant in 1991 and remained in the position until taking the manager’s job at Blackburn Rovers in 1998. It later transpired that Kidd and Ferguson had fallen out towards the end of their working relationship, and it was United who relegated Kidd’s Blackburn side in 1999. Brian Kidd is now part of the coaching staff at cross-town rivals City, and it almost feels like he has forgotten the affinity he has with United.
Following United’s Champions League triumph over Chelsea in 2008, Mikaël Silvestre left Old Trafford after nine years and 361 appearances. He had been a regular in that period, at both left-back and centre-half, but had found his playing time restricted following the success of Nemanja Vidić and Patrice Evra in those positions. It was something of a surprise when Arsenal snapped up the French international for a cut-price fee of £750,000, making him the first United player to join the Gunners for 34 years.
Silvestre played for two seasons at the Emirates, playing 43 games in total, and even scoring against Tottenham in his first North London derby. He later joined Werder Bremen, and had spells in the USA and India before hanging up his boots in 2014.
A popular figure at Old Trafford, having come through United’s academy to become a first team squad player, Danny Welbeck was deemed surplus to requirements by new manager Louis van Gaal upon his arrival. Following United’s loan move for Colombian striker Radamel Falcao, Welbeck joined Arsenal in a £16 million move on 2nd September 2014, as the transfer deadline was about to close.
Within a month of moving to the Emirates, Welbeck scored the first hat-trick of his career, in a Champions League game against Galatasaray. Later that season, he scored the goal that knocked his old club out of the F.A. Cup, which Arsenal went on to win. Unfortunately for Welbeck, the injury curse that has dogged much of his Arsenal career meant that he missed the final itself. Although he started in the Wembley showpiece last season, in which the Gunners beat Chelsea, he is now one of several players that are down to the last eighteen months of their contract. This is a problem which has seen Arsenal pretty much resigned to losing Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil, and looks like it will be an issue next year
There are two others who deserve a mention, one of them being goalkeeper Jim Leighton. Following his exclusion from the 1990 F.A. Cup Final Replay, his replacement Les Sealey became the number one goalkeeper at Old Trafford. During the 1990-91 season, Leighton was loaned to Arsenal as cover, but never actually played a game for the Gunners.
The other one is a centre-back called Matt Wicks, who started as a youth player at Arsenal, before moving to United in 1995 at the age of 16. A year later, he returned to Arsenal who released him in 1998. It wasn’t until he joined Crewe Alexandra that he finally made his first senior appearance. Despite being a very promising player, he retired at the age of 25 after a career in the lower leagues at clubs such as Peterborough United, Brighton & Hove Albion and Hull City.
Romelu Lukaku’s recently confirmed transfer from Everton to Manchester United has created a buzz of excitement around Old Trafford. There are some fans, however, who seem underwhelmed by the deal. The belief among some supporters (and it is only a small minority) that the Belgian isn’t the man to lead United’s attack, and that his presence is hardly going to strike fear into Europe’s best defences.
Fans who believe this to be true should cast their minds back to the summer of 1998. Given some of the strikers that Manchester United had been linked with, Aston Villa’s Dwight Yorke seemed like a consolation prize at the time. How wrong we were!
Arsenal at the Double
The 1997-98 season had proved a frustrating one for United’s fans. After leading the premier League table for much of the campaign, having played some of the most scintillating football seen under Sir Alex Ferguson, they ultimately finished second. Arsenal overtook them to claim the title, and added the F.A. Cup to make it a double, just for good measure. While United did suffer a horrendous injury pile-up towards the end of that season, nothing should be taken away from Arsène Wenger’s side. They were magnificent, and probably rank as one of the best runners-up in Premier League history when United won the title back the following season.
In spite of the fact that Andy Cole finally discovered his scoring touch at Old Trafford, and both Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjær weren’t exactly goal-shy, Ferguson decided he needed more firepower. One world class striker who was constantly linked to Old Trafford in the late 1990’s was Gabriel Batistuta. Ferguson even admitted that transfer would probably have happened, had the board not vetoed the move, claiming it would “shatter the wage structure”.
One transfer target who was a genuine possibility, or so it seemed, was Dutch striker Patrick Kluivert. Despite starring for his country at the 1998 World Cup, he was deemed surplus to requirements by A.C. Milan. This was before the days of social media, and the press were reporting that a deal was imminent. He eventually joined Barcelona, and admitted in an interview that the only English club he considered joining was Arsenal.
Most United fans were excited at the prospect of seeing Kluivert at Old Trafford. Having come up short in the Champions League, this was exactly the sort of player who would seemingly propel the club to that next level. Kluivert was the rising star of Dutch football, having scored the winning goal for Ajax in the 1995 Champions League Final, at the tender age of 18. His performances for Holland at the 1998 World Cup saw his country miss the final only because of a penalty shootout.
Dwight Yorke was another striker on Ferguson’s list, and he certainly had a fine pedigree at Premier League level. In the three seasons prior to his transfer to Old Trafford, he scored more than 60 league goals. He scored twice on his home debut, but there were still plenty who were unconvinced. He had never played at either Champions League or World Cup level, and therefore an unknown quantity.
Despite a return of 120 goals from 255 matches in a six year spell at Barcelona, Kluivert never quite lived up to the expectations placed on him. He won just one trophy at the Nou Camp, the La Liga title, in his first season. He also never topped 20 league goals in a single season, and it’s fair to say that Rivaldo was the real star of that side. He did become Holland’s all-time top scorer, but even that has since been eclipsed by Robin van Persie. After leaving Barcelona, he played four more seasons, at four different clubs; Newcastle, Valencia, PSV Eindhoven and Lille. While there can be no doubting his qualities as a player, he never became the heir apparent to Marco van Basten, as he had been touted to be.
On the other hand, United’s “consolation prize” turned out to be exactly the player United had needed all along. His first Champions League match was against Barcelona, who were, ironically, without Kluivert due to late registration. While Yorke didn’t score in that game, he produced a superb overhead kick, the rebound from which was tucked away by Paul Scholes. In the second group game, away to Bayern Munich, he scored a superb diving header to level the scores for United.
After scoring in both games against Brøndby, he played one of the best matches of his career in the 3-3 draw with Barcelona at the Nou Camp. His first goal, a superbly drilled shot from outside the box, was followed by a fantastic link up to set up Cole for United’s second. Yorke got another one in that game, a near post header, and from then on, there was no doubting his quality. It had taken five matches for the Trinidad & Tobago striker to convince United fans he deserved their faith.
The rest, as they say, is history. Yorke scored twice against Inter Milan, and once against Juventus to propel United to the Champions League Final. He linked up with Andy Cole to form one of the most feared striker partnerships in Europe. Their goals helped United win the Treble in his first season, and a further two successive Premier League title wins.
Yorke’s love of the party lifestyle, plus the arrival of Ruud van Nistelrooy, meant that Yorke only spent four years at Old Trafford. But what a legacy he left, certainly not bad for someone who didn’t appear to be United’s first choice.
Lukaku Deal Similarities
In many ways, the Lukaku deal is quite similar to the Yorke one. Just like back then, there is evidence to suggest that maybe he wasn’t José Mourinho’s first choice striker target. Álvaro Morata of Real Madrid was most people’s choice to replace last season’s top goalscorer, Zlatan Ibrahimović. Having played in three Champions League finals, for one of the world’s top clubs, and the same age as Lukaku, many believed that he was exactly the man to lead United’s line in the coming years. Just as they believed Kluivert, also at one of the best teams in Europe at the time, was the man to take them forward in 1998.
The last time Lukaku featured in Europe’s top competition was as an unused substitute when Chelsea won the trophy in 2012. Where it comes to experience on that stage, Morata certainly has the edge on him. This, however, doesn’t mean he will fail at that level. Yorke took to the Champions League like a duck to water, and Lukaku has all of the tools in his arsenal – pace, power and aerial ability – to do exactly the same. The only European football Yorke had experienced before moving to United was in the very same trophy United lifted in May. This didn’t exactly faze him, and it seemed that the bigger the opposition, the more Yorke liked it. Goals against Bayern Munich, Juventus, Barcelona, Liverpool, Chelsea and Inter Milan are testament to that.
There is also a similarity in the fees paid for both Yorke and Lukaku, in that neither were a British record transfer fee, but both of them weren’t far off it. In 1998, Alan Shearer at £15 million was still the country’s most expensive player, with Yorke’s £12.6 million fee just short of this. Paul Pogba is still the world’s most expensive at the time of writing. Given today’s inflated market the difference between the £89 million United paid for him, and the £75 million they paid upfront for the Belgian is probably what the difference between the Yorke and Shearer transfers would have been, had they taken place in today’s day and age.
There is also the accusation that Lukaku only seems to score against the mid-table and bottom half clubs. While there is some substance to these allegations, there were several times last season when United failed to do just that. Home draws against the likes of Stoke, Swansea, Burnley and Hull were crucial factors in Mourinho needing to win the Europa League to get the club back to Europe’s top table. Maybe if they’d had Lukaku in the side, they might have done just that.
A similar accusation could be levelled at Yorke. Other than a hat trick against Newcastle, who were actually a decent team back then, a lot of his goals for Villa were against mid-table sides. There was a few against Liverpool as well, but they hardly set the Premier League alight in the 1990’s. Prior to moving to Old Trafford, his only goal against United had been from the penalty spot.
There are plenty of reasons why you could say that Romelu Lukaku isn’t the man to lead United’s front line. A lot of these same reasons could have been an excuse not to buy Dwight Yorke, who is now regarded as some as a United legend, despite only really playing for three full seasons at United.
Although Dwight Yorke’s story came to an end probably earlier than it should have done, what he achieved in his brief stay at Old Trafford will never be forgotten. He was one of the most vital parts of the most incredible season in Manchester United’s history. A prime example of the fact that you don’t actually have to be at a club long enough to earn a testimonial to be regarded as a club legend by the fans.
Romelu Lukaku still has much to learn, of that there is no doubt. A common joke regarding him is that his first touch is so bad that his second one is a tackle. But his raw pace and power, plus his finishing ability seem tailor made for the team Mourinho is trying to put together, with the onus on breaking fast. The stage is all set for Lukaku to go and emulate a certain Trinidad and Tobago striker whose goals, and smile lit up Old Trafford around the turn of the century.
To summarise, neither Yorke nor Lukaku seemed to be United’s first choice. Both joined the club for high transfer fees, with questions of whether they were the right man to spearhead United’s attack, and if they could cut it at the highest level. Neither had any Champions League experience to speak of, and both were moving from a club with a much lower level of expectation.
Yorke proved he could hack it. Over to you, Romelu…..