Sir Alex Ferguson’s failure to bring Karim Benzema to Manchester United is one of the great manager’s “worst regrets,” according to Rio Ferdinand.
When it came to transferring negotiations, Ferguson was almost always correct. Across three decades, the Scot has created title-winning teams using a combination of academy graduates and astute recruitment.
But, in addition to some high-profile misses (cue Kleberson, Eric Djemba Djemba, and Bebe), Ferguson was left regretting some of the transactions he never quite managed to close. Ferdinand remembers Ferguson telling his central defender that he would sign Benzema after the Lyon striker had given him the runaround, only for Real Madrid to beat them to it.
Not quite in the league of his former foe Arsene Wenger, Benzema is the most recent addition to Fergie’s list of names that may still cause him sleepless nights.
1. Alan Shearer
Alan Shearer, arguably Ferguson’s most famous near-miss during his nearly 30-year tenure in charge, acknowledges that he planned to join Manchester United after leaving Blackburn. The England international, on his way to becoming the best Premier League striker of all time, had also visited with Newcastle.
Ferguson, on the other hand, was convinced that he would get his man. After all, that’s what he’s always done. The United manager had already missed out on him before he joined Rovers and had no intention of doing so again. “I’d really done a deal in terms of Alan Shearer’s contract, we’d come to a settlement,” the club’s former chairman Martin Edwards admitted.
Fergie had offered Shearer the No.9 shirt and believed it was only a matter of time until he signed the dotted line. After three days, Shearer’s representative revealed his client’s intention to sign with his beloved Newcastle. “In any case, there was clearly an unspoken goal, and one day I’ll find out what really happened,” an enraged Fergie later remarked.
Shearer’s career came to an end with the lone title he won at Blackburn, and the promise of him scoring goals at Old Trafford remains untapped.
2. Paul Gascoigne
According to him, failing to sign the outspoken midfielder was the worst disappointment of his managing career.
Ferguson, like Shearer, believed that United was in pole position to sign Gascoigne as he sought to leave Newcastle. “Paul Gascoigne was the most disappointing to me.” He was the best player of his generation, a breath of fresh air because he always played with a smile,” he later revealed.
“We chatted with him, and the night before I left for vacation, he said, ‘Go and enjoy yourself, Mr. Ferguson, I’ll be signing for Manchester United.'”
“So I went on vacation, but Martin Edwards (then chairman) called and said, ‘I’ve got some awful news – he’s signed for Tottenham.'” They bought a house in the northeast for his mother and father, and that swung it.’ “I believe that was a mistake, and Paul accepts it.”
So close, yet so remote. After selling David Beckham to Real Madrid in the summer of 2003, Manchester United realized they needed a high-profile signing to fill the void. Ronaldinho suited the profile, coming off a year of shattering English hearts in the World Cup and a season of breaking ankles in Ligue 1 with PSG.
“There was an issue with his brother, who was his agent, but Peter Kenyon, who was the CEO at the time, didn’t get the job done,” the former United boss explained. Ironically, if Beckham had gone camping Nou, the Red Devils would have had unrestricted access to Ronaldinho.
Instead, they had to settle for a Portuguese youth player from Sporting…
I’m curious how he got along.
4. Eden Hazard
Lille was preparing to cash in on one of the most gifted players in club history, and United was strongly in the running to sign the tricky Belgian winger. Along with interest from Old Trafford, Manchester City and Chelsea have expressed a desire to sign him.
Hazard ended up signing for £34 million at Stamford Bridge. And what about United? They eventually signed Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund, a deal Fergie felt was greater value for money.
“There is a borderline in terms of what you would consider a decent signing for United,” Ferguson said at Kagawa’s unveiling. “I see some value on players, such as Hazard. It was a lot of money for me. He’s a good player, but £34 million is a lot of money. …Ooft.
5. Aaron Ramsey
They may be commonplace nowadays, but there was a period when United was well-known for its lack of public relations disasters. That wasn’t the case with their failed chase of a young Ramsey in 2008, when they plastered the news on their official website that they had agreed on a deal to sign him, only to lose out.
“United have agreed on a fee with Cardiff City to bring brilliant teenager Aaron Ramsey to Old Trafford,” the club said in a statement. It was confirmed at the bottom of the announcement that three other clubs had agreed on a fee; no concerns, right?
Of course, not until the Welshman chose Arsenal. “At the time, I had to make a decision.” “I flew over to see the boss [Wenger] and I knew right immediately that this was where I wanted to be, I wanted to be involved in his ideas, and I was just humming,” he later recalled.
6. Jaap Stam
Ferguson’s regret derives from letting a player depart rather than not signing them in the first place, making him an outlier on this list. Stam had established himself as one of the top central defenders in the world, but he was fired after making disparaging remarks about the manager in his book in 2001.
“I can say we accepted a bid from Lazio, and the rest is up to the player,” he stated after leaving him out of the game against Aston Villa. “We know Wes Brown is going to be a fantastic player; in my opinion, he’s going to be the best center-half in the country, and he’s got his chance now.”
And, while Brown had a perfectly serviceable career, he never reached the heights of Stam, and in the years following his departure, United experienced a somewhat barren few seasons in Fergie’s reign.
In 2013, he commented, “When I think of disappointments, certainly Jaap Stam was always a disappointment to me.” “I made a mistake there.”