From Eric Cantona to Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United have made some brilliant signings over the years but they don’t always get it right in the transfer market.
Sir Alex Ferguson made some regrettable decisions during his tenure and United’s transfer strategy has been heavily criticised in the years following his retirement.
We’ve taken a look at 10 of the biggest mistakes United have made in the transfer market during the Premier League era.
Stam joined United in the summer of 1998 and made an immediate impact, helping the club win three successive league titles and the famous treble of 1999.
Despite being regarded as one of the best centre-backs in the world, he was surprisingly sold to Lazio in 2001 after Ferguson felt he had struggled to recover from an achilles injury.
The former Netherlands international proved Ferguson wrong and went on to have five successful seasons in Italy’s Serie A with Lazio and AC Milan before finishing his career with Ajax.
“Jaap Stam was the one. Without a question, I made a mistake there,” Ferguson admitted years later.
“He’d been out for months and, when he came back, Steve McClaren and I thought he had lost a yard of pace. We played Fulham and he didn’t have a good game, and at that moment Lazio come in and offer £16.5m.
“So then Jaap goes to Lazio and he played fantastic. So it was a bad decision. I should maybe have waited a bit longer.”
After joining United from Le Havre in 2009, Pogba established himself as one of the outstanding talents in the club’s academy and looked set for a big future at Old Trafford.
But he grew frustrated at a lack of first-team opportunities in the 2011-12 season and rejected United’s contract offer before joining Juventus on a free transfer.
“It was all down to Ferguson,” Pogba told The Times. “I didn’t want to sign a contract as Ferguson didn’t play me, even though there were no midfielders there.
“He obviously thought I didn’t deserve the contract I asked for and didn’t put me in the team even though he had no midfield players, it was his choice.”
The France international then proved he was ready for senior football and developed into one of the best midfielders in the world during his time in Turin.
Paul Pogba x2
Desperate to fix their mistake, United broke the world transfer record and spent £89m to bring Pogba back to Old Trafford in 2016.
He won the EFL Cup and Europa League with United in his first season back at the club but they were the only trophies he won in his second spell at Old Trafford.
While the midfielder provided flashes of brilliance, he struggled with injuries and inconsistency and never justified the price tag.
Paul Pogba x3
After losing Pogba for nothing in 2012, United failed to learn their lesson from the saga and found themselves in a similar situation in 2022.
During the midfielder’s second spell at Old Trafford, United refused to sell him but also failed to negotiate any extension on his original contract.
He left on a free transfer once again at the end of 2021-22 and United weren’t able to recoup a single penny of the £89m they invested in him.
Ferguson decided to sign two relatively unknown forwards in the summer of 2010, bringing in Javier Hernandez from Guadalajara and Bebe from Vitoria de Guimaraes.
While Hernandez made an immediate impact and become a United hero, Bebe was clearly out of his depth and made just seven appearances for the club.
It later transpired that Ferguson had signed the winger without ever watching him play and the manager wouldn’t make that mistake again.
Peter Schmeichel is widely regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers to have ever played in the Premier League – so replacing him was always going to be difficult.
United initially signed Mark Bosnich following Schmeichel’s departure in 1999 and then decided to spend £4.5m on Taibi as well.
Despite producing a man-of-the-match performance against Liverpool on his debut, he became a figure of ridicule after allowing a weak Matt Le Tissier shot to roll through his legs in a 3-3 draw against Southampton.
The goalkeeper then conceded five goals against Chelsea in his fourth and final appearance for the club and returned to his native Italy in January 2000.
United didn’t find a worthy replacement for Schmeichel until they signed Edwin van der Sar from Fulham in 2005.
🤭 #OnThisDay in 1999: Matt Le Tissier lined one up from the edge of the box at Old Trafford.
— The Sportsman (@TheSportsman) September 25, 2020
Angel Di Maria
Having produced a man-of-the-match performance for Real Madrid in the 2014 Champions League final, expectations were high when Di Maria joined United.
The Argentina international hit the ground running and scored three goals in his first five appearances for the club, including an audacious chip over Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
But things quickly turned sour as he failed to settle in Manchester and also had a poor relationship with Louis van Gaal.
“My problem at Manchester was the coach,” Di Maria told TyC Sports in 2021. “Van Gaal was the worst of my career.
“I would score, assist, and the next day he would show me my misplaced passes. He displaced me from one day to the other, he didn’t like players being more than him.”
After failing to live up to expectations during his one and only season at United, the winger was allowed to leave the club for a substantial loss in 2015.
After starring for Arsenal, Sanchez joined United in January 2018 in a swap deal that saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan move in the opposite direction.
The Chile international never came close to reproducing his Arsenal form whilst at Old Trafford, managing just five goals in 45 appearances in all competitions.
United were so desperate to get his £500,000-a-week wages off the books that they allowed him to join Inter Milan on a free transfer in 2020.
Despite being highly regarded at United, Pique couldn’t break up the incredible centre-back partnership between Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand and made just 23 first-team appearances.
The centre-back also struggled with the physicality of English football and was allowed to return to boyhood club Barcelona in a £5m deal in 2008.
He’s since won a plethora of major honours at Camp Nou and even helped his current side beat United in the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals.
Eyebrows were raised when United spent £80m on Maguire in 2019, making him the most expensive defender of all time.
In his first two seasons at Old Trafford, the centre-back was largely steady and helped United to third and second-placed finishes in the Premier League.
But his form nosedived following England Euro 2020 final defeat, and he is regularly berated by fans and pundits due to his tendency for calamitous mistakes.
The club captain now finds himself sat on the United bench while Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez form a promising centre-back partnership.