Manchester United's 10 Worst Summer Transfer Deals of All Time
Manchester United have used the transfer market to bring in some wonderful players in their time, but not all of them can be winners.
The transfer market is a tricky thing. Sometimes a signing looks good on paper but is not able to do the business. Sometimes your high-profile signing gets injured. Sometimes they do not like the Manchester weather.
Some of the transfers on this list were actually sensible gambles, which did not work out. Some appeared doomed from the start. Some burned brightly and then faded away, some never caught fire to start with.
All of these signings come from the last 20 years, as it is very difficult to assess the quality or value of older signings without having seen them play.
There are a plethora of options for honourable mentions. Sir Alex Ferguson was fond of a gamble, and they do not always pay off. Michael Owen and Liam Miller escape the top 10 by virtue of being free (and Owen by virtue of *that* goal against City). Kleberson could have a good claim to a spot.
There would even be those who would argue Dimitar Berbatov belongs on the list. They, however, clearly do not appreciate the finer things in life. The hat-trick against Liverpool was almost worth the price of his transfer alone.
Without further ado, here are 10 players whose transfers to United have just not worked out.
All transfer values, except slide 3, per Jack Gaughan in the Manchester Evening News.
10. Owen Hargreaves
Owen Hargreaves sneaks onto the list at 10. It may be slightly harsh to include him given how much of a contribution he made in his first season; however, he is worthy of a place because of how short-lived his effectiveness was.
After helping United to the 2008 Champions League title, Hargreaves was afflicted by injury after injury until he eventually left the club.
Signed from Bayern Munich for £17 million, his prior injuries were a warning of what was to come.
In spite of the trophies he won, the years that followed have condemned his acquisition to the status of an unsuccessful transfer. He is spared a higher berth on the list because he would have been a perfect fit for the club had he stayed healthy.
9. Marouane Fellaini
Everything about the arrival of Marouane Fellaini at United seemed wrong.
The fee was more than it would have been if United had acted sooner, as Bleacher Report's Ben Blackmore explains here.
The player did not appear to be of the calibre required.
The move came after a summer where United had been linked with Cesc Fabregas, Thiago Alacantara and even Cristiano Ronaldo. Instead of a glamorous new arrival, the sense of "Evertonisation" that had begun with the appointment of David Moyes and the arrival of his back-room staff was compounded.
Fellaini is not higher up this list because his time at United has not yet come to an end, and the possibility exists of him becoming a useful member of Louis van Gaal’s side.
That seems a long shot, and he had been linked this summer with a move away from the club; injury looks to have put paid to that move, per Ian Herbert of the Independent.
Fellaini’s transfer is likely to be remembered as one which only really benefited novelty wig sellers. And possibly Everton, considering the £27.5 million cost, per the link above.
8. Karel Poborsky
Never sign a player on the back of a good international tournament, goes the old footballing cliche. Even worse, presumably, is to sign a player on the back of one good goal at a tournament. Karel Poborsky was signed for £3.5 million from Slavia Prague after Euro '96.
During that tournament he had scored a remarkable goal, a scooped lob that remains an all-time classic.
Of course, Sir Alex did not just sign him on the basis of that goal, but there were times when it felt like it.
His signing was not an out-and-out disaster, but it personifies a certain brand of instinctive signings of which Ferguson was fond. Some worked well; some did not. Poborsky, sadly, falls into the latter category.
7. Massimo Taibi
Massimo Taibi was signed for £4.5 million in 1999, played four times for United and conceded 11 goals. His name has become a byword for goalkeeping instability at United.
He would be higher up in the list but for the fact that in two of those games he actually played quite well, and there was every reason to suspect he could have been a good signing. His confidence took a hit in those early games and never got a chance to recover.
6. Alexander Buttner
Alexander Buttner was signed for an undisclosed fee in Sir Alex’s last summer transfer window.
He had a couple of good games for United, notably the home leg of last season’s Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich.
However, few were surprised when he left the club this summer. Before he arrived at United, Buttner had been close to a move to Southampton, but that had fallen through under confusing circumstances, per the Daily Mail.
He had not attracted a great deal of attention from Europe’s elite clubs. This article from the Guardian from just before the Southampton deal collapsed cited Fulham, Queens Park Rangers and Werder Bremen as the teams interested in his services.
It felt very odd when he arrived at United, and nothing in his performances changed that feeling very much.
So, in spite of his moments of promise, he belongs midway up this list as a transfer that felt very unlikely to work out, and it didn't.
5. David Bellion
David Bellion cost Manchester United £2 million in the summer of 2003. According to this article by Chris Bevan of BBC Sport, he was once regarded as the heir apparent to Thierry Henry in the French national side.
It turns out he was not said heir apparent. His time at United was a fairly spectacular flop, as he started just five league games in three years.
He was bought for his potential and was not able to live up to it. If proof were needed that gambling on young players does some times pay off, though, during the same summer, Manchester United took a punt on a promising Portuguese winger, called Cristiano Ronaldo.
4. Gabriel Obertan
Unlike Bellion, Gabriel Obertan’s signing was a reasonably clear-cut error. Obertan had not been spectacularly impressive in his run in the first team at Bordeaux, from whom United signed him for an undisclosed fee.
Obertan possessed plenty of pace, but he rarely contributed much beyond that. Unlike Bellion, there was less evidence of raw talent, and the Obertan transfer seemed doomed from the start.
He has been unable to make much of an impression even at a lower level in the Premier League at Newcastle United, playing just three times in the league last season.
Unquestionably one of Sir Alex’s worst transfer errors, Obertan never looked like he had the quality to be a success at United, and indeed, it turned out he did not.
3. Eric Djemba-Djemba
Eric Djemba-Djemba was such an unsuccessful signing at United that Gary Neville uses his name as shorthand for a fallow period in Sir Alex’s career, calling the mid-2000s the "Djemba-Djemba years," as reported by ESPN FC.
Signed in an attempt to improve United’s midfield (a familiar theme ever since), Djemba-Djemba arrived for a fee of £3.5 million, but he did not represent good value.
If your career at a club means that your name becomes a defining term for its failings, you know you have been an unsuccessful signing.
There may be an argument to suggest that, say, Bellion or Obertan belong above Djemba-Djemba, but since no one calls them the "Obertan years" Djemba-Djemba earns this unwanted honour.
Anderson should have been a great signing. As a youngster, he was a skilled attacking midfielder with bags full of tricks. However, his time at the club has seen his standing diminish season upon season.
Much like Owen Hargreaves, Anderson's first season at the club was impressive, but since then he has only flattered to deceive.
He is so high on the list because the club have had so much difficulty getting rid of him, and he has contributed so little in recent seasons.
It has been six years since he was a consistently top-level performer at United, and yet he has continued to be part of the squad.
Ultimately, £20 million has not been recouped by his performances, and he has become a byword for deadwood in United's squad. One excellent season does not make up for that, and he has earned his place so close to the top of this list.
In December 2011, David Conn of the Guardian wrote an article looking at the mechanics behind this truly bizarre transfer.
In it, he says: "Shortly after Bebe joined United, Ferguson lambasted as 'vicious' reports that Bebe was too raw a footballer amid the polished skills exhibited by the senior players at Old Trafford."
However, it did indeed come to pass, that Bebe was too raw a footballer to succeed at United.
Conn returned to the subject in 2012, once Portuguese police had said they were investigating the transfer.
It was a shocking deal, a player almost no one had heard of arriving at Old Trafford for a hefty fee.
The fairytale aspect of it—a man who had lived in a care home, and been homeless, arriving on the biggest stage—was extremely appealing.
Sadly, there was no happily ever after, and having hardly played a game for the club, the curious case of the £7.4 million purchase of Bebe goes down as the worst transfer in United's history.