Manchester United sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009 for a world-record fee of £80million, but they did not use the funds wisely to sign reinforcements
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Replacing a player of Cristiano Ronaldo’s talent back in the summer of 2009 was never going to be easy for Manchester United, but they did have one large advantage in the form of £80million.
Ronaldo was just 24 at the time yet was already a fully-fledged superstar, having scored 118 goals in 292 appearances for United, and his world-record transfer to Real sent shockwaves through European football. United were losing the best young player in the world, but they had the benefit of time, as well as money.
United accepted Real’s colossal bid – one which Uefa president Michel Platini described as “excessive” – on June 11, leaving them plenty of time left before the 2009/10 season started. The problem, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s eyes at least, was the state of the transfer market. United had the funds, but not the inclination to spend them.
Ferguson was very open on his views of the system. He described the way the transfer market had escalated over the summer as “stupid” and said United would be “sensible” in refusing to pay over the odds. That was despite United’s unpopular owners, the Glazer family, going public to reassure fans they were happy to back Ferguson in the transfer market.
The Glazer family’s spokesman Tehsin Nayani told assembled journalists that, although United had lost £44.8m in the previous year, their booming turnover and operating profit meant £60m was available to spend. “The manager has a significant amount of money to invest if he wants to,” Nayani said. “The delay [in signing anybody] is because the manager has not been able to locate the players that he believes fit the Manchester United mindset. We are talking about a net amount of about £60m, and that is cash that can be reinvested in the squad, doing up the toilets or new carpets.”
In the end, United signed four players that summer once Ronaldo’s departure had been confirmed. They paid £16m to land winger Antonio Valencia from Wigan and brought in three other players – none of whom made an impact. This is the story of those three – and the three United either missed out on, or decided were overpriced.
Man Utd’s 3 flops
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“Michael is a world-class forward with a proven goalscoring record at the highest level,” Ferguson said after signing the 29-year-old striker on a free transfer. Owen’s contract had expired at Newcastle and Ferguson saw his arrival as a sensible addition on a pay-as-you-play basis, despite his history of groin, ankle, thigh, hernia, metatarsal and knee ligament problems.
United had lost Carlos Tevez as well as Ronaldo and needed goals. Owen scored 17 of them in 52 appearances across, but just five of those came in the Premier League. He also added hamstring to his long list of injury problems, requiring surgery, while his previous affiliation with Liverpool meant he was not popular with fans.
Obertan joined United on a four-year contract for a fee of around £3m in July 2009. The 20-year-old winger arrived from Bordeaux, was highly rated and had been linked with Inter Milan and AC Milan, but failed to live up to the hype. In the end the Frenchman stayed for just two years before leaving for Newcastle – at least making their money back.
Obertan managed just one goal and four assists in 27 appearances for United and is forever associated with being a post-Ronaldo flop. Now 33, he was last seen playing for Charlotte Independence in the third tier of the US league system.
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Mame Biram Diouf
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Diouf was signed from Molde in the summer of 2009, but was immediately loaned back to the Norwegian side, meaning he did not actually arrive in Manchester until January 2010. The young striker was hardly meant as a replacement for Tevez, but he did take his No32 shirt, and made a promising start with a goal – from a Valencia cross – after coming off the bench against Burnley. Diouf did a backflip celebration and pointed to the name on the back of his shirt. It was his first – and as it turned out – last goal for the club.
Diouf made just nine appearances for the first team and was loaned to Blackburn before a permanent move to Hannover was arranged in 2012.
Man Utd’s 3 misses
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All of the reports from the time say Ribery was one of United’s primary transfer targets from the summer of 2009. The problem was that Bayern Munich did not want to sell the French winger, who had only been with the club for two years.
Big-spenders Real Madrid, who had splashed out for Ronaldo and paid £59m for Kaka were also interested but president Florentino Perez explained the issue. “Ribery belongs to Bayern and Bayern do not want to sell,” he said. “I have to respect that. If they change their minds, it will be a different matter.”
Nevertheless, The Guardian reported that United tried their luck anyway by making an offer of about £62.5m (€70m) for his services, before Ronaldo had even left. Bayern dug their heels in to ward off United, Chelsea, Real and others and they had to move on to other targets.
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Benzema was still at Lyon in the summer of 2009, but it was clear he wouldn’t be for long. Lyon president Jean Michel Aulas knew his star player would leave but was keen to extract the biggest fee possible. He publicly stated that he would not leave for anything less than £68m (€80m), but nobody was fooled.
Real ended up signing the Frenchman – but only after United tried their best. “We tried to spend [the Ronaldo money] on Karim Benzema as, at 21, I felt that there would be an improvement there,” Ferguson admitted later that summer.
“He is tough, [has a] good physique, a good goal scoring record, so it was worth going a wee bit extra for him because of his age. But when it went to £42m, it was beyond his value. We went to £35m and I think that was fair.”
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With options running out, and prices too high for Ferguson’s liking, United looked further afield. Villa was starring for Valencia at the time and looked ripe for a move to a higher level. Barcelona were favourites for the Spain striker, but AS reported that United were willing to pay €47m for his services.
United’s interest was based on red-hot form in front of goal. Overall Villa scored 43 goals in 54 games across all competitions for both Spain and Valencia in 2009 – the most of any player in the top European leagues. United did not get their man, however, and after hanging on for another season, Valencia were forced to sell to Barca for a £34.2m (€47m) fee. The Spain striker turned out to be another one who got away.