The Perils of Signing a World Cup WonderAdded by Philip Meese on 24 Jul 2018 20:47
A look at some of the players Manchester United signed due to their performances at an international tournament.
By Philip Meese, Chief Editor
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 Ante Rebić. 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 Russia 2018, 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.