clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

List of the Week: Manchester United’s top 8 transfer bargains

With transfer rumours reaching fever pich, this week’s list focusses on the finest bargain acquisitions in Manchester United’s history.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of Manchester United

This is very much the time of year when football fans -- and Manchester United supporters in particular -- get all giddy about their club making acquisitions in the transfer market.

Whether splashing the cash on the latest superstar from the continent, or even a fresh-faced youngster from a lower division, new signings bring new hope, as we dare to dream of what glories may await.

This week, news has broken that United are poised to complete the signings of both Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, while the club continues to pursue Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba; exciting times indeed.

So let’s take a pause from all of the current transfer rumours to look back at some of the club’s greatest ever purchases.

8. Bryan Robson - £1.5 million from West Bromich Albion in 1981

European Cup Winners Cup Quarter-Final Second Leg: Manchester United v Barcelona Photo by Trevor Jones/Getty Images

Bryan Robson’s £1.5 milion transfer from West Bromich Albion to United was considered an expensive deal at the time — after all, it broke the British transfer record. But ‘Captain Marvel’ soon set about proving his price-tag to have been an absolute bargain.

In 13 years at Old Trafford, Robson made 461 appearances and scored 99 goals, winning two Premier League titles, three FA Cups and the European Cup Winners’ Cup along the way.

7. Denis Irwin - £650,000 from Oldham Athletic in 1990

Dennis Irwin of Manchester United

After knocking Oldham Athletic out of the 1990 FA Cup at the semi-final stage, Alex Ferguson went and took their impressive full-back from them that summer too.

Denis Irwin became a United player for £650,000. The Republic of Ireland left-back was a tremendous servant to the club, making 529 appearances over his 11 years in Manchester, and was a key member of the 1999 Treble-winning team.

6. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - £1.5 million from Molde in 1996

Ole Ginnar Solskjaer

One of the great cult heroes of Old Trafford, Solskjaer joined United for £1.5 million from Norwegian side Molde in 1996. Costing exaclty a tenth of the world record fee that Newcastle United would pay for Alan Shearer that year, Solskjaer was somewhat of an unknown quantity.

But the ‘Baby-Faced Assassin’ soon became a household name. He was United’s top-scorer in his first season, and will be forever remembered for his part in the last-gasp Champions League victory over Bayern Munich in 1999, scoring the winning goal in stoppage time.

5. Ruud van Nistelrooy - £19 million from PSV Eindhoven in 2001

Barclays Premiership - Manchester United v Chelsea Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The most expensive player to make this list, van Nistelrooy was signed from PSV Eindhoven for £19 million in the summer of 2001 — one year after United had initially tried to sign the player, only for him to fail a medical and subsequently suffer an ACL tear.

Perhaps van Nistelrooy’s fee seems all-the-more of a bargain because he was signed during that same summer that Juan Sebastian Veron was brought in from Parma for £28.1 million, in a move which never really worked out.

But van Nistelrooy’s incredible record of 150 goals in 219 appearances make him one of former United boss Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest ever buys.

4. Roy Keane - £3.75 million from Nottingham Forest in 1993

Roy Keane of Manchester United and Phil Babb of Liverpool

Roy Keane’s £3.75 million transfer fee may not seem like much by modern standards but, just as with Robson’s £1.5 million sum, it set a new British transfer record at the time.

United were already Premier League champions when Keane signed, but the driving force that the Irishman added to the midfield became the bedrock of the decade of success which followed.

The inspirational captain of the ‘99 Treble-winners, Keane was the finest box-to-box midfielder on the planet around the turn of the millennium. Keane departed Old Trafford accrimoniously in 2005, but he is remembered as one of the club’s greatest ever captains.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo - £12.24 million from Sporting CP in 2003

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur - FA Cup 4th Round Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Signed as an 18-year-old for £12.24 million from Sporting CP in 2003, Ronaldo’s immense potential was immediately evident; the silver-booted step-over wizard thrilled in his debut against Bolton on the opening day on the 2003-04 season.

Yet the teenager was at times frustrating, as his decision-making skills did not match those of his twinkle toes. But by the time he’d hit his early twenties, Ronaldo was close to unplayable, and in the Premier League and Champions League winning season of 2007-08, the Portuguese was the best player in the world, netting 42 goals.

Sold to Real Madrid for a then-world record fee of £80 million in 2009, Ronaldo’s sale represents one of the largest profits ever made on a player by any club.

2. Peter Schmeichel - £500,000 from Brondby in 1991

Champs League SF Peter Schmeichel

Sir Alex Ferguson has himself described the capture of Peter Schmeichel for £500,000 from Brondby in 1991 as "the signing of the century", and it’s hard to disagree.

During his eight years at the club, the Denmark international was widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world; the perfect blend of physicality, agility and the goalkeeping x-factor of presence.

Schmeichel made 393 appearances for United — even scoring once in a UEFA cup tie against Rotor Volgograd in 1995 -- and won five Premier League titles, three FA Cups and the Champions League.

1. Eric Cantona - £1.2 million from Leeds United in 1992

Eric Cantona of Manchester United

The famous story around Cantona’s signing goes that, in 1992, Alex Ferguson was in the market for a new striker after being knocked back in moves for David Hirst, Matt Le Tissier and Brian Deane. So when Leeds United chairman Bill Fotherby called his United counterpart, Martin Edwards, to enquire about the availablility of Denis Irwin, the United manager spotted an opportunity.

Ferguson, who was in the room with Edwards at the time, told his chairman that the full-back was not for sale, but asked that he enquire about Leeds’ French striker, Eric Cantona.

Fotherby advised that he’d have to consult with Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson first. Wilkinson agreed to part ways with the capricious forward, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Cantona became the catalyst for ending United’s 26-year title drought and was a key figure in the club’s domestic dominance in the mid-nineties, before unexpectedly retiring in 1997 at the age of 30.