Haaland, Benzema and the superstars Man Utd tried and failed to sign

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Erling Haaland Man CityGetty Images

Darwin Nunez's move to Liverpool has seen Manchester United miss out on their top striker target this summer, leaving new manager Erik ten Hag to consider alternatives.

But he is not the only United boss to taste disappointment in the market, with Sir Alex Ferguson repeatedly failing to land the players he was convinced would become Old Trafford icons.

With that in mind, GOAL has chosen 10 of the standout players who the Red Devils wanted, but never managed to bring to Old Trafford...

  • On This Day Alan Shearer Newcastle SunderlandGetty Images

    Alan Shearer

    The ultimate one that got away for Sir Alex Ferguson.

    As all-conquering as Ferguson’s United were, how much better would they have been with Shearer at the point of their attack?

    Would Blackburn Rovers have beaten them to the Premier League title in 1995 without Shearer banging in the goals?

    And just how lethal would he have been on the end of David Beckham’s service?

    Twice Ferguson missed out on signing the Premier League’s all-time leading goal-scorer – but it was the failure to lure him to Old Trafford in the summer of 1996 that felt most costly.

    Even with Eric Cantona’s ailing powers and a misfiring Andy Cole, United still reached the Champions League semi finals, only to waste a glut of glorious chances against Borussia Dortmund to exit the competition.

    It is hard to imagine Shearer not making the difference in that European campaign.

  • Sadio Mane, Jordan Henderson, Liverpool away 2021-22Getty

    Sadio Mane

    Louis van Gaal has had a lot to say about United’s failure to deliver in the transfer market during his tenure at the club, and perhaps Mane is the standout example of the targets that Ed Woodward missed on during the Dutchman's reign.

    When United’s interest in the then-Southampton forward emerged in 2015, it was seen as a surprise move – even if the Senegal international had impressed at St Mary’s.

    And even when Mane signed for Liverpool for £34m the following summer, few expected him to develop into one of the finest attackers in the world.

    Mane’s proposed move to Bayern Munich this summer will bring to an end a spectacular six years on Merseyside where he has won the lot while United have barely tasted any success.

  • John Barnes LiverpoolGetty Images

    John Barnes

    Ferguson only had himself to blame for failing to beat Liverpool to the signature of Barnes when he left Watford in 1987.

    While the United manager was a huge fan of the England winger, he believed he was already well-covered in that department with Jesper Olsen.

    Olsen, though, failed to live up to expectations at Old Trafford and did not last long under Ferguson.

    Barnes, meanwhile, won two league titles and two FA Cups with Liverpool, was named PFA Player of the Year in 1988 and twice won the Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year award, in 1988 and 1990.

  • Toni Kroos Real MadridGetty

    Toni Kroos

    Real Madrid and Germany legend Kroos is one of a stellar cast of midfielders David Moyes missed out on during his eight months in charge at Old Trafford.

    Moyes believed he had a deal for Kroos lined up ahead of what would have been his second summer transfer window, placing the then-Bayern Munich star at the heart of his planne rebuild.

    But the Scot didn’t even make it to the end of his first season at helm, with the Glazers pulling the plug on his tenure after a disastrous campaign saw United miss out on Champions League qualification.

    Perhaps it would have been different had he landed either of his midfield targets the previous summer - Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas.

    We will never know.

  • Peter Beardsley - Liverpool 1990Getty

    Peter Beardsley

    United were quoted £3m by Newcastle when Ferguson wanted to make Beardsley part of his great rebuild in the summer 1987.

    The England international, though, ended up joining rivals Liverpool for just £1.9m before becoming a key part of Kenny Dalglish’s unstoppable title-winners the following season.

  • Jordan Henderson Liverpool Villarreal Champions League 2021-22Getty

    Jordan Henderson

    Ferguson freely admits that he was a huge fan of Henderson's when he was emerging into the first-team picture at Sunderland, and thought he would be an ideal fit for United.

    But at the point he was preparing to make a bid for the midfielder, he was advised against a move because of Henderson's running style. Apparently, the club’s medical department feared it would lead to injuries.

    "We loved him as a player and he has proved that now, he has been fantastic and all the stories I am being told, it tells me I missed out on a really good person," Ferguson later said of a man who has lifted all four major trophies as captain of Liverpool in recent years.

  • Mick Harford Luton TownGetty Images

    Mick Harford

    Okay, so Mick wasn't a superstar but before Eric Cantona's arrival, and before the twice-failed pursuit of Shearer, there was Harford – the veteran Luton Town striker, who at 33, was the unlikeliest of transfer targets for a title-chasing team in 1992.

    Though there was interest, Ferguson never actually made a formal offer for the target man – and came to regret it.

    He believed Harford would have added another dimension to a United team that had become too predictable in the closing stages of the season and were suddenly struggling for goals.

    Harford, he thought, would be United's answer to Lee Chapman, the spearhead of title rivals Leeds, who would go on to be crowned champions.

    Ferguson was so convinced that Leeds’ greater aerial presence had been the key difference that he went and signed Dion Dublin the following summer.

  • Erling Haaland Manchester City 2022-23Getty Images

    Erling Haaland

    As if missing out on one of the finest talents in the world wasn't bad enough, United are now going to have to watch on as Haaland spearheads Manchester City’s attack.

    The Red Devils were never serious contenders to sign the Haaland this summer, but back in the winter of 2019, they were well in the hunt for the prodigious Norway striker.

    And they had a unique advantage in the form of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Not only was he a legend in Norway, but he was also Haaland’s mentor at Molde.

    The chance to reunite at Old Trafford was surely too good to resist?

    Instead, Haaland signed for Dortmund in a bargain £18m deal, as United went onto claim that the buyout clause that the player's management insisted be inserted into his contract was a deal breaker.

    Either way, United missed out on an absolute goal machine.

  • Paul Gascoigne | TottenhamGetty

    Paul Gascoigne

    No one will ever know if Ferguson could have tamed Gascoigne’s wild side and inspired him to reach his full potential. but in the summer of 1988, he was certain he had convinced the playmaker to join his United revolution.

    Instead, while relaxing on holiday, Ferguson heard his name called out over the hotel loud speaker.

    Then-United chairman Martin Edwards was on the line. He had bad news: Gascoigne was joining Tottenham.

  • Karim Benzema Real Madrid 2021-22Getty Images

    Karim Benzema

    When Ferguson reluctantly agreed to sell Cristiano Ronaldo at the end of the 2009 season, he had a plan as to how to fill the void left by the best player in the world leaving Old Trafford.

    That plan was Karim Benzema.

    There was one problem, though. While Real Madrid might have been committing to spend a world-record £80m on Ronaldo, they had enough in reserve to also pay the £25m required to land Benzema from Lyon.

    It says everything that while Ronaldo is now back at Old Trafford but past his best, Benzema has just fired Madrid to their 14th European Cup and is the odds-on favourite to win the Ballon d'Or.