Manchester United: The Big Name Transfer Targets Who Got Away

Real Madrid footballer Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale of Real Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, May 4, 2016. The Welshman was a transfer target for Manchester United in the summer of 2013. David Ramos/Getty

Jose Mourinho reports swirl around Old Trafford, picking up speed and turning endless circles with last night's chip paper.

In a bunker in the northwest of England, Ed Woodward, the Manchester United executive vice chairman, prepares to explain to investors just why the club looks set to miss Champions League football for the second time in three seasons.

Perhaps, in his idler moments, the chartered accountant might consider the constituent parts of United's demise.

And he might then come to reflect on just why such an inordinate number of big-name transfer targets have slipped through United's buttery fingers in the past few seasons.

Cesc Fabregas

United made a bid for the former Arsenal midfielder in 2013, believed to be around £25 million ($36 million). Fabregas was relatively happy at Barcelona, but he wanted more first-team football. United thought it could lure the Spaniard with a pretty package of wages.

But Fabregas, after initially batting his lashes in the direction of Old Trafford, demurred, eventually moving to Chelsea the next summer.

Not entirely United's fault—but definitely, one who got away.

Gareth Bale

Another one who wriggled away, and is still wriggling, temptingly, on the end of the line. United and Real Madrid were Bale's two suitors in the summer of 2013, throwing confetti money at the Welshman who was leaving Tottenham Hotspur.

Jonathan Barnett, Bale's agent then and now, told AS, the Spanish newspaper, in 2014 that United had actually bid more for the player than Madrid did—which was upwards of £80 million to start with.

So why is Bale not a United player? Well, Madrid had always been the Welshman's dream destination, and in the end, Bale simply felt more loved and desired in the Spanish capital. And we all, in the end, gravitate towards a place of greater love.

Almost three years on, though, United's desire has hardly abated.

Thiago Alcantara

This was messy. Sir Alex Ferguson had wanted the stylish midfielder before the great Scot retired at the end of the 2012-13 season; that wish was passed on to the next, unfortunate occupant of the United hotseat, David Moyes.

United spent much of the summer of 2013 trying to convince Thiago to come to Old Trafford, yet despite the clear desire, the Spaniard revealed in December 2015 that there had never been any "firm proposal" made by the Premier League club. He moved to Bayern Munich in the summer of 2013.

Renato Sanches

This could include Mats Hummels, the former Borussia Dortmund defender who moved to Bayern Munich this week. But Sanches, the teenager, was meant to be one of the crown jewels in this summer's rebuilding plan. Instead, he has gone from Benfica to Bayern Munich for far less than the price United was quoted, though add-ons may eventually make up most of the deal.

The 18-year-old has been watched by United's scouts since January; as an all-action box-to-box midfielder, he might have been exactly what the club wanted if it wanted to replace Michael Carrick this summer.

Instead, Sanches became the latest in this long line of targets to slink away.