Alexis Sanchez’s time at Manchester United is over, for the time being at least, after securing a loan deal to Inter Milan for the season ahead. The Chilean is following Romelu Lukaku through the exit door to Serie A after failing to make anything like the impact the fans thought he would have, particularly when considering how much he was being paid.
The decision to sanction such a huge salary has thrown a spanner in the works behind the scenes at United, with Ander Herrera leaving on a free after being offered a fraction of what Sanchez was earning, while David de Gea still hasn’t signed the huge contract he has been presented by the club.
Different criteria will be used to decide who the biggest flops of all time are. How much did they cost? What was expected from them when they signed? What did they produce on the pitch? What impact did they have on the club?
For some, Sanchez will go down as United’s biggest flop, largely thanks to the disruption his wage caused and how much money he earned to produce very little. His highlights reel is short.
Although there were a few good moments in there – it’s easy to see why some would happily label Sanchez the biggest flop. So who would challenge him for that title?
Sir Alex Ferguson claimed it was Ralph Milne, while William Prunier, Eric Djemba-Djemba and Kleberson were always popular names when discussing the legendary manager’s biggest transfer mistakes.
Over recent years, it’s more difficult to name signings that have been a success,compared to the long list of disappointing transfers, from Fred to Nemanja Matic, or Bastian Schweinsteiger to Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Radamel Falcao.
Taking Sanchez out of the equation, who have been United’s biggest transfer flops?
1. Angel Di Maria
There aren’t many transfer stories that have excited the fans as much as the Argentinian from Real Madrid. A couple of months after winning the Champions League with the Spanish giants, where he was named Man of the Match for his performance in the 4-1 demolition of rivals Atletico Madrid, Di Maria was unveiled as a United player.
There had been talk of him signing for PSG but United got their man and there was hope that he could bring a bit of flair and excitement to Louis van Gaal’s side.
While there were fleeting moments of brilliance he failed to have much of an impact on the team, with him too often going missing when it mattered. It’s probably unfair to only blame the player for this, with Van Gaal not using him properly and eventually their relationship breaking down.
But fans were frustrated with how easily he gave up on making it at United, downing tools as soon as things got hard and then refusing to return to pre-season training so he could force a transfer to PSG.
United hadn’t been too accustomed to big name signings so to finally get one and see how little interest he had in playing for the club was so disappointing.
However, there were plenty of United fans who took great satisfaction in seeing Di Maria’s crumpled face after Marcus Rashford’s injury time penalty against PSG last season.
2. Juan Sebastian Veron
Argentinians haven’t had the best time at Old Trafford and it was no different for Veron. This was supposed to be the signing that saw United move from a team that dominated England to one that bossed all of Europe. Already possessing one of the best midfields going, Veron was supposed to bring that added class that would allow Ferguson’s team to move it up a gear.
He got plenty of playing time, featuring in over 40 games in the two seasons he was at the club, and left as a champion, but it never quite worked out for him.
It didn’t matter that Ferguson thought he was “a f**king great player” and that the journalists saying otherwise were “all f**king idiots”, because the British record breaking signing didn’t have the impact everyone had been hoping for, Fergie included. And maybe the manager has to shoulder some of the blame.
Veron started off so well, particularly in Europe, with Nicky Butt claiming he thought he’d never play for the team again after watching his performances in the opening couple of months. But Ferguson kept chopping and changing his formation, Veron couldn’t get settled in the team, got injured, and the manager failed to find a way to make him fit.
In terms of the worst performers in a United shirt, Veron comes nowhere near the worst offenders, but when it comes to failing to meet (arguably unfair) expectations, he flopped.
The circus behind the scenes at Old Trafford is so familiar now thanks to the Glazers’ unyielding faith in Ed Woodward that it’s not so easy to remember a time when it was rare for United to be the butt of the joke. However, the signing of Bebe was a time when the club got it wildly wrong and were left with egg on their face.
Bebe was playing in the Portuguese third division a couple of months before signing for United, and then signed for a first division club, Vitória, five weeks before being unveiled at Old Trafford as a £7.2 million player. To add context to that figure, Javier Hernandez joined United for £6 million that same summer.
Ferguson revealed that he hadn’t watched Bebe, a Jorge Mendes client, play before sanctioning the transfer, and that quickly became evident. He was awful, with staff at Carrington reportedly claiming he looked like a competition winner when training with the first team.
Bebe had the time of his life on the bus that trawled through town when United won the league at the end of his first season though, grabbing the mic off his teammates and starting chants with the fans below. He made just two appearances in the league, seven in all competitions, managing two goals. He never played for United again.
4. Massimo Taibi
Having said goodbye to Peter Schmeichel at the end of the 1998-99 season, United started the following campaign with Mark Bosnich as first choice. However, with him getting injured, and Ferguson wanting some competition for back-up goalie Raimond Van der Gouw, Taibi was signed for £4.5m.
He was thrown in at the deep end, making his debut against Liverpool at Anfield, but came away with the Man of the Match award after United won 3-2, having gone down to 10 men with 20 minutes left to play.
Then came the game he is best remembered for, when United drew 3-3 against Southampton, and he was made to look a mug when faced with Matt Le Tissier. From some distance, the Southampton striker directed a tame shot straight at the goalkeeper, yet somehow he managed to drop the ball and watch it trickle between his legs and over the line.
Ferguson gave him another go the following week but United got hammered 5-0 by Chelsea. He came out to claim the ball and missed it for Chelsea’s first, just 28 seconds in to the game, and the mistakes continued. That was his last appearance for United and he left the club four months after signing for them.