Manchester United are seemingly linked with every player under the sun during the transfer window, but through history the club has come inches away from signing some of the top stars in world football only to miss out on them.
Some massive deals have either collapsed at the last second or the club have opted not to pursue certain names. In 2008, Aaron Ramsey came so close to joining the club as a youngster that United published the story on their website after agreeing a fee with Cardiff, before he decided to join Arsenal.
Meanwhile, former Inter Milan star Wesley Sneijder claimed he held ‘unofficial talks’ to sign for the club in 2011 and even spoke with future boss Jose Mourinho about another move in 2016.
More recently it has been revealed that Bayern youngster Alphonso Davies was invited to Carrington for a three-week trial before the German side pounced, and this week former United scout Jorge Alvial said the club rejected his pleas to sign now-Chelsea starlet Christian Pulisic.
With those aforementioned names just a few of some world-class talents that United never got to sign, Sportsmail has assembled a whole team of the best players the club failed to get deals over the line for.
The Red Devils have never been short on quality goalkeepers when you remember greats like Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar.
But they could have had another quality man in the sticks after Sir Alex Ferguson went on a scouting mission to see the Czech star in action for Rennes – only for the Scot to deem him too young.
‘I went to see him in 2003 for Rennes,’ Sir Alex said in his autobiography Leading. ‘We thought Petr was a bit young for the bruisers of the Premier League. He was 19 at the time and I said to myself, “He’s too young”.
‘So age doesn’t matter when you have the ability of a goalkeeper like Petr Cech or, we know, David de Gea has.’
He ended up signing American Tim Howard instead, who failed to nail down that No 1 spot and soon van der Sar arrived from Fulham to snatch it himself.
Meanwhile, Cech went on to join Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2004 where he played 494 games and established himself as a club legend and one of the best Premier League keepers ever. Fergie may regret that one.
The legendary Spaniard is another name that is always floating around in United transfer rumours, and speculation was rife that Ramos would be wearing the red shirt in 2015 as Louis van Gaal plotted some big name signings.
But the World Cup winner revealed there was genuine interest with the club making a bid for him.
Ramos considered the switch but ended up staying loyal to Real Madrid.
He told Spanish radio station COPE in 2016: ‘There was a firm offer [from United], on paper.
‘For a moment I thought about a change of scene, but Real Madrid was always my priority. I felt disappointed, but not due to economic problems like people said.’
Ramos, club captain at the Bernabeu, has often been linked with a move away from the club before pledging his future. He has played 650 times for the club and has won everything possible during his career with the Spanish giants – lifting the LaLiga title for the fifth time this season.
He is one of the stars of Liverpool’s title-winning season who is probably the hottest centre back in world football right now. The Dutchman was tipped to win the Ballon D’or before it was scrapped and his rise to prominence has been a special story.
Former United coach Rene Meulensteen has claimed the club were looking at van Dijk while he was a Southampton player in 2018 – when the club passed up the opportunity to sign him.
‘To be fairly honest, I also do know in the time before, when Van Dijk was still at Southampton, there were questions of Manchester United bringing Van Dijk in,’ Meulensteen told Stadium Astro.
‘They never really took the punt but Liverpool did because they could see the potential that he had but also the speed Van Dijk had, the strength and everything.’
The Reds certainly did take the punt on him – splashing out £75million to snare him from St Marys, which was a world record for a defender at the time. United since broke that by securing Harry Maguire, but it looks like Liverpool got the better deal.
Captain, leader, legend is the tag for the Chelsea icon after retiring from duty having amassed 717 appearances in 2017. But had his dad had it his way, that title could have been seen on a banner inside Old Trafford.
Terry was a boyhood Manchester United fan and was invited to the club’s training ground before he eventually chose Chelsea in 1998, admitting ‘it just felt right’, despite his father’s pleas for him to join Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.
‘I had the option between Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United and to be fair all of them went above and beyond,’ he told the Footballer’s Guide to Football podcast this summer.
‘The moment I walked into Chelsea, it just felt right. I know that’s going to sound really bizarre. Again, my dad never wanted me to sign for Chelsea. Signing my schoolboy form at the club, my dad refused to go on the pitch with me.
‘I’m in the tunnel, the players are coming off the pitch and I’m waiting in the tunnel, Glenn Hoddle goes past and my dad’s going, “You’re not signing for this football club, we should sign for Manchester United”.
‘Again, me being me at the time I’m going, “I’m 100 per cent I’m signing here, if you don’t come out with me I’m going out to sign”.
Terry will have no regrets about his decision, enjoying a tremendously successful time with the Blues during his career.
The Welsh wizard has been touted for a move to United for nearly his entire career.
Manchester United were front runners for his signature when he was a Southampton youth star in 2007, but Tottenham landed a coup as they signed him for around £10m, with Bale understood to be eyeing more first team football at White Hart Lane.
But Sir Alex claims the Saints were the reason they didn’t secure the signing of Bale after previously having bids rejected for the teenage sensation.
‘It was not the boy who turned us down, it was Southampton, then a few weeks later he signed for Tottenham Hotspur,’ he said in 2013 after Bale won the PFA Player of the Year Award.
After initial struggles in north London, Bale emerged as one of the most talented footballers on the planet and joined Real Madrid in a then-world record fee of £85m the year after picking up the gong.
He has won the Champions League four times and LaLiga twice as well as the Spanish Super Cup and Club World Cup.
But his future has become gloomy at the Bernabeu and to this day continues to be earmarked as a possible United signing. The 31-year-old was linked with a move to Old Trafford last summer but any chances of them reviving their interest seem slim. Bale earns an eye-watering £650k-a-week salary at Madrid and the Red Devils have other transfer priorities.
This one will sting quite a bit for United fans.
The deal was done and dusted to take the world class midfielder from Bayern Munich, before the club seemingly KO’d their own deal.
United were attempting to rebuild following the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson and his successor David Moyes was on the verge of landing a massive deal.
‘Toni Kroos had agreed to come to Manchester United with me,’ Moyes told TalkSport last year. ‘I met him and his wife and we agreed it all when he was at Bayern Munich.’
From the German World Cup winner’s end, he was ready to confirm the move, before Moyes was dismissed in April 2014 – throwing negotiations into uncertainty before he was persuaded to join Real Madrid.
‘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 told The Athletic.
‘Louis wanted time to build his own project. I didn’t hear anything from United for a while and started having doubts. Then the World Cup started and Carlo Ancelotti called. And that was it.’
A boyhood United fan who idolised Roy Keane and even had a trial with the club. Sounds like the perfect fit, right?
Everything seemed in place for the Ghanaian to link up with his dream team after impressing Ferguson’s coaching staff as a 17-year-old, but the club couldn’t sort out a work permit.
Instead, he picked French outfit Bastia as his first club and eventually moved to Lyon before Chelsea and again United were vying for his signature in 2005. But it appeared their paths just weren’t meant to cross – with then-Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho persuading him to come to Stamford Bridge in a £26m deal.
He said in May: ‘My second year at Lyon, when we finished the season, I came back to start pre-season with them and I came back very happy to start pre-season.
‘That’s when the other teams started coming in like Chelsea and Manchester United. At that point I’d have loved to have joined United.
‘But I was speaking with Jose every other day and he made it clear, very straight to me, that he wanted me to join Chelsea and there was only Chelsea that could pay the transfer fee at that time.’ Essien proved to be a huge success in England before leaving in 2014. Another one that got away.
An eye-catching youngster at Dortmund and football’s worst-kept secret, the American had been on the list of many top clubs over the last couple of years before he signed for Chelsea last summer.
And former United scout Jorge Alvial confirmed that he went to watch the winger and recommended him to Old Trafford officials ‘many times’ after being wowed by his development, only for them to snub his suggestions.
‘I knew how well he was developing in Dortmund and he was just going to keep coming up, and become a superstar because he was doing very well,’ he told Manchester Evening News this week.
‘I have always believed in him, I have always kept close contact with his father, and I called him to say I was recommending him to Manchester United.
‘Highly, highly recommended for them to sign him. It wasn’t a case of “look at this kid”, it was “sign this kid”.’
The 21-year-old took a little time to adjust to his surroundings at the Bridge but has now become a star man under Frank Lampard and scored ten goals in 33 appearances last season.
United, on the other hand, opted to sign Swansea’s winger Daniel James last year – who enjoyed an electric start to his career before recently falling out of favour.
The club’s rift with agent Mino Raiola reached new heights after the Norwegian starlet chose Borussia Dortmund in January. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had made Haaland, who he worked with at Molde, his priority signing in January after he smashed in 29 goals for Red Bull Salzburg.
United have had a frosty relationship with super-agent Raiola, who also represents Paul Pogba, for some time and Sportsmail revealed they tried to cut him out of negotiations with the teenager, instead speaking with his father, former Leeds midfielder Alf Inge Haaland.
But they failed to pull off the deal and pulled out after failing to meet the demands of Raiola, with Dortmund given a clear shot paying his £18m release clause at Salzburg to bring him to Signal Iduna Park.
As part of the deal, Dortmund agreed to give Raiola and Haaland Snr a significant share of the future sales value, allowing the agent to control Haaland’s next transfer — something United were not prepared to sanction.
United’s strike force of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial has looked formidable since the restart but there is no doubt Solskjaer will have loved to have added Haaland into the mix following his glut of goals for Dortmund already.
The Premier League’s all-time leading goalscorer insists he has no regrets about turning United down in 1996 to sign for Newcastle.
The former striker had two chances to become a Red Devil – first before joining Blackburn Rovers and then before he joined the Magpies. While he won the title at Ewood Park, his 206 goals for Newcastle wasn’t enough to win them a trophy.
He admitted he was tempted to sign for United, but was ultimately swayed by the possibility of playing for his boyhood team after holding talks with both Sir Alex and Newcastle boss Kevin Keegan on the same day.
‘I had to go and make a decision,’ he told the BBC in April.
‘At one point, I was going to Manchester United. But then, I sat down and I got a call from Kevin who asked to see me a day or two later. And I thought: “You know what, I’m going to go back to Newcastle. It was the club I always supported and wanted to play for”. ‘I’ve got no regrets, I’d do the same again.’
But he revealed that Sir Alex Ferguson told him that he wouldn’t be given penalty duties if he did join the club despite being so prolific at Blackburn.
He said: ‘I asked if I could take the penalties. His response to me was: “Eric’s on them!”‘
From having a shirt number allocated by the club to being kicked by Manchester United stars after U-turning on his decision to sign. It was quite the downfall for the former Barcelona superstar.
The Brazilian looked nailed on to join from PSG and was inches away from being announced during their pre-season tour of the US in 2003. Paul Scholes summed up the agonising story best in May.
Speaking to Robbie Savage on his Savage Social podcast, he said: ‘We were away at pre-season and I think they were as close as announcing him and giving him the number, but he ended up changing his mind last minute and he signed for Barcelona.’
Scholes said the squad believed he would ‘bring something special’ to the team – in a similar manner to the arrival of Eric Cantona – and ended up ‘kicking him’ when he played against Barcelona on the tour.
‘It’s strange really because that pre-season tour we were playing against Barcelona, so we were all excited. We thought he was going to bring something special, almost like what (Eric) Cantona brought to the team.
‘Then three days later we’re playing against him in Seattle, so everyone’s trying to kick him! We were trying to beat him because he didn’t sign for us.’
Instead, all we can do is imagine what it would have been like seeing Ronaldinho in his prime in the Premier League.
In 1999 the club announced the signing of goalkeeper in a £4m deal after Peter Schmeichel’s departure, and his first performances made fans clamour for the Dane’s return.
He only played four times and has become infamous for a horrendous clanger against Southampton when he allowed Matt Le Tissier’s shot to squirm underneath his grasp. He didn’t last long and was sold to Reggina in 2000.
There was no Ronaldinho in 2003 but and came instead that summer. The former joined in a £5.9m deal from Atletico Paranaense after being involved in Brazil’s 2002 World Cup win, but he played just 20 times across two seasons and was sold to Besiktas.
Meanwhile, Djemba-Djemba, hailed as ‘so good they named him twice’, turned out to be a let down as he failed to find a way into centre midfield. Like Kleberson, he lasted just two years before being turfed out to Aston Villa.
Portuguese winger is probably one of the most memorable signings at Old Trafford – and for all the wrong reasons. His arrival from Vitoria Guimaraes in 2010 seemed like a fairytale after competing at the Homeless World Cup but he played just seven times, being sent out on three loan spells and eventually leaving for Benfica in 2014.