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Manchester United transfers that never were

Some of the most exciting moves that we can only wonder “what if?” about...

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Manchester United v Real Madrid - International Champions Cup 2018 Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Indulge us a bit as we reminisce some near misses in Manchester United’s

Colin: Ronaldinho

AC Milan v Manchester United Photo by John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

This is going a bit far back, but the superstar Brazilian of the 2000s nearly made the move to Old Trafford in 2003 rather than Camp Nou, and the diverging timelines from that moment of his decision is truly mesmerizing.

Ronaldinho was the undisputed face of the beautiful game around the world for at least the mid-2000s. Between Ronaldo Nazario’s prime and the rise of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho was the premier player in the world. He wowed crowds with his ability, playmaking, and goal scoring, and his face was on every major football advert and video game in that time as well. He certainly began to fall off a bit by the time of his move to Milan, but remained a crowd pleaser and fascinating creator.

How things would have gone for him at United is a truly interesting idea. His brilliance was without question, but he probably would have been the true replacement of David Beckham, who departed for Real Madrid that summer. This likely means no Cristiano Ronaldo, and potentially no Wayne Rooney the next summer, but that one seems more likely to still happen considering his position up top and status as the next top English talent.

Just imagine that, Ronaldinho, Rooney, and Ruud van Nistelrooy in some sort of attacking shape. That would certainly change the development of Sir Alex Ferguson’s next great team, and certainly Ronaldo wouldn’t have had the same path to greatness that he did. Maybe he even goes to Arsenal, a scary thought, but for Ronaldinho’s best years it’s a trade off you at least think about.

Colin Bonus: Karim Benzema

There’s enough Real Madrid options out there, and I know this one wasn’t as close to being a reality as some of the others, I’m just thinking about Rooney and Benzema playing together for a sec...

Suwaid: Gareth Bale


When I whittle down what I like seeing on a football pitch, everything goes back to the Manchester United side from 2006/07 to 2008/09.

I like midfielders that maybe aren’t the best at covering a lot of ground or fit that midfield general tag but (buzzwords alert) ‘control the tempo of a game’ because that’s what Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes did.

That got me thinking of Toni Kroos and Thiago Alcantara.

I like centre-forwards who are selfless. Those who are gifted enough to be the team’s main source of goals but are willing to put that to the side because that’s what Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez did.

That got me thinking of Edinson Cavani. Perhaps the only player in the post-Fergie era that I’ve truly loved. It’s a real shame about this season but it was nice to see someone I’d admired for a while wear the red strip.

I LOVE wingers who can go down the touchline and beat a man with speed, strength or skill. I’ve done a lot of myth-busting when writing for The Busby Babe but the flying winger is one United tradition I’ll always get behind.

My love affair with Gareth Bale started long before the hat-trick at the San Siro. The volley against Stoke City felt like confirmation for what I’d been telling my friends for a while.

I think you form a special bond with a player when you see something in them before the world does. At the time, it was just not that common for British players to move away from the island. If ever there was a player that fit the United sides I grew up with, it was this guy and I felt like it was a matter of time before we picked him up.

Sir Alex always spoke about pace, power and penetration. Gary Neville always speaks of United under Sir Alex buying the best British talent in the market. United have a history of Welsh wizards that go back to the days of Billy Meredith. United also had a history of picking up Tottenham Hotspur’s best player. It was all there.

David Moyes has gone on record multiple times saying Gareth Bale was his primary target when he got the hot-seat at Old Trafford. By then, Bale was more than a touchline winger. He was capable of playing across the front line. We were ready to pay more than what Real Madrid were offering and why not? That’s the kind talent that could’ve even kept Moyes in the job for the length of his contract. But that’s not what Gareth Bale set out to do and good for him. He was made for greater days.

Whatever you think of Moyes, I think it’s obvious that he wasn’t helped during his time at United and Ed Woodward has admitted to it in many recent reports. A player like Bale would’ve jolted the players in the dressing room and excited the crowd.

We needed that after losing Sir Alex. United might not have been the best team going into that season but a fit Bale — as he’s shown multiple times for Wales — can carry you. As much as I admire Toni Kroos and Thiago Alcantara, I don’t think they can do that and don't think anyone should expect them to.

A player as terrifying as Bale would’ve helped maintain that aura with most of the United greats on their last legs and David Moyes not really having one for a stage like Old Trafford. Like many a player who seemed perfect for the post-Fergie era, he lingered in our collective imagination but was never ours.

Chris: Toni Kroos

Real Madrid v Manchester United: UEFA Super Cup Photo by Boris Streubel - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

What could have been one of Manchester United’s most important signings of the last 10 years, Toni Kroos was set to sign a contract with the Red Devils in 2014 before Real Madrid secured the German’s signature amid a cloud of confusion in Manchester.

Kroos, who was a 24-year-old treble winner at the time of United’s interest, was already cementing himself as one of the game’s best center midfielders at Bayern Munich. Known for playing in a box-to-box and defensive midfield role, his vision and ability to ping a ball to any teammate across the field caught the eye of David Moyes in his first season as manager of the reigning Premier League champions.

The German midfielder confirmed in an interview with The Athletic’s Raphael Honigstein in 2020 that a contract with the Premier League club “had basically been done” before Moyes was fired in April 2014.

“David Moyes had come to see me and the contract had basically been done, but then Moyes was fired and Louis van Gaal came in, which complicated matters,” Kroos said. “Louis wanted time to build his own project. I didn’t hear anything from United for a while and started having doubts.”

After Kroos helped Germany win the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final in Brazil against Argentina, Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti called Kroos and convinced him to sign for Los Blancos instead of the Red Devils.

“That was it,” Kroos said, who signed a contract with the Spanish giants for around £20 million.

Van Gaal signed Daley Blind, Angel Di Maria, Ander Herrera, Marcos Rojo, and Luke Shaw instead of the World Cup winner that summer, with Herrera being the only midfielder in that group. Shaw is the only player still with the club today.

The following summer’s recruitment included Kroos’ treble and World Cup winning center midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger on a free transfer from Bayern, but he was signed unfortunately a couple years too late to make the impact fans had hoped. It also included Morgan Schneiderlin, who left two years later after failing to consistently impress in the midfield.

Kroos, now 32, has since went on to record 25 goals and 83 assists in 354 matches and win two LaLiga titles, three UEFA Champions League titles, three UEFA Super Cups, three Supercopa de España titles, and four FIFA Club World Cups since moving to Madrid. He is still one of the engines of a Madrid side that sits on top of the LaLiga table and is in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

The German maestro could have been the long-term midfield solution that United have been searching for over the last ten years, and it is easy to see in hindsight what a significant impact Kroos would have had on the Premier League club.