Manchester United

Manchester United

Premier League • England

Top seven Man Utd transfer losses: Van De Beek fifth, Martial second…

Ryan Baldi
Man Utd flops Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Donny van de Beek

Plenty of top stars have flopped at Man Utd

In 2023, a report by the CIES Football Observatory found that Manchester United had the largest negative net spend on transfers dating back to 2014 of any club major club.

A propensity to spend huge sums on new signings while often struggling to generate sizeable fees for players sold put Manchester United’s transfer spending a whopping €1.4billion in the red.

And the 20-time champions’ lack of market savvy has been brought under fresh scrutiny recently with the sale of Donny van de Beek. The Dutch midfielder was signed from Ajax for £40m in 2020 and has now been sold to Spanish side Girona for a reported initial fee of just £430,000.

But, shockingly, the discrepancy between what Manchester United paid for Van de Beek and the fee they sold him for does not represent United’s biggest transfer loss. Here are the Red Devils’ top seven.

7: Juan Mata – £37.1m

A club-record signing in January 2014, United spent big to sign Juan Mata from Chelsea mid-season in an effort to kick-start David Moyes’ tenure in charge at Old Trafford.

Moyes didn’t last, of course, but Mata did. The Spanish attacking midfielder made 285 appearances across eight and a half years with the club, scoring 51 goals and providing 43 assists.

And while he never quite recaptured the kind of form that had twice seen him named Chelsea’s Player of the Year previously, Mata was a fan favourite at Old Trafford for his reliable endeavour, his technical quality and his part in FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League triumphs. He left on a free at the expiry of his contract in the summer of 2022.

6: Fred – £38m

United fended off rival interest from Manchester City to sign Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2018, paying £47m after the Brazilian midfielder had impressed with the Ukrainian club in the Champions League.

But while Fred remained a dependable squad option throughout his five years with the Red Devils, he was never the transformative midfield talent his initial price tag had suggested he could be. One half of a partnership with Scott McTominay nicknamed “McFred” by fans, the former Internacional player settled into a role as a hard-working, hard-running midfielder lacking the elements of flair and creativity he’d once shown at Shakhtar.

After 213 appearances and 14 goals for United, the 31-year-old Brazil international was sold to Galatasaray last summer for just £9m.

5: Donny van de Beek – £39.57m

There were few doubting voices when United signed Van de Beek from Ajax in the summer of 2020. The Netherlands international had risen to continental acclaim for his part in a run to the Champions League semi-finals under Erik ten Hag in the 2018-19 season. The £40m the Red Devils paid to sign the Dutchman was lauded as good business.

Yet four years on Van de Beek has made almost no impact at Old Trafford, with his time at the club hampered by injuries and poor performances. It was hoped a reunion with Ten Hag could rejuvenate the midfielder’s flagging United career, but the 27-year-old made just eight Premier League appearances under the Dutch boss.

Van de Beek fared no better in loans to Everton and Eintracht Frankfurt. The minimal initial fee Girona have paid for his services is a stark indication of how badly his time at United fell flat.

4: Nemanja Matic – £40m

Nemanja Matic was signed from Chelsea in 2017 with the aim of balancing out United’s midfield. The experienced Serbia star was joining up with former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho – with whom he’d won a title at Stamford Bridge – and was slated to partner Paul Pogba in the middle of the park, complementing the Frenchman’s free-spirited flair with his physicality and defensive discipline.

And Matic started brightly at United, impressing in his first six months in Manchester by demonstrating a degree of mobility that had seemed to be fading over his final season at Chelsea, justifying the Red Devils’ £40m outlay on a player who turned 29 shortly after arriving.

But Matic’s form tailed off and that once-surprising mobility swiftly faded. He never started more than half of United’s Premier League fixtures over his final three seasons at Old Trafford and left to play under Mourinho again, this time at Roma, when his contract expired in the summer of 2022.

3: Raphael Varane – £41m

Another in a long list of big-name stars United have signed in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era whose arrival seemed to signal great progress but who ultimately failed to deliver. Raphael Varane came with the pedigree of three La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues and a World Cup winners’ medal when he arrived at Old Trafford from Real Madrid in a £41m deal in 2021.

And the experienced centre-back consistently showed his class when out on the pitch. The issue was that he was not on the pitch as often as hoped, with injuries a recurrent theme, limiting the Frenchman to just 58 Premier League starts in three seasons.

Varane left as a free agent at the end of the 2023-24 season, but not before rolling back the years to put in a stellar performance at Wembley as United upset City in the FA Cup final.

2: Anthony Martial – £44m

Unlike fellow Frenchman Varane, Anthony Martial was something of an unknown quantity when United signed him from Monaco on the final day of the 2015 summer transfer window. The £36m the Red Devils paid for the then-19-year-old – which would eventually rise to £44m after performance-related add-ons were triggered – made him the most expensive teenager in football history.

And Martial quickly announced himself to the Old Trafford faithful, scoring a stunning solo goal against Liverpool on his debut. The versatile forward’s skill and vast potential were never in doubt and his nine-year spell at United was highlighted by flashes of magic – such as a superb winning goal against Everton in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley and a career-best 23-goal return for the 2019-20 season.

But on the whole, Martial fell some way short of delivering on his immense promise. Injuries, underperformance and an apparent lack of motivation meant his departure as a free agent this summer left few United fans mourning his exit.

1: Paul Pogba – £89m

United smashed the world transfer record when they re-signed Paul Pogba from Juventus in 2016, bringing the gifted French midfielder back to the club after he’d left on a free as a teenager four years earlier.

In doing so, United were not only acquiring one of the most skilled and creative young footballers on the planet; they were also making a statement of intent as they sought to re-establish themselves as the Premier League’s dominant force, teaming up the France star with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jose Mourinho who’d arrived the same summer.

But his second spell at Old Trafford will be remembered for the inconsistency of his performances and a failure to live up to his high billing. At his best, Pogba was one of the finest creative midfielders in Europe, shining brightest in a Europa League triumph and a comeback victory over City at the Etihad in 2018. His best was not seen regularly enough, though, and he left to join Juventus on a free for a second time when his contract expired in 2022.