Manchester United nearly XI: The players who Sir Alex Ferguson could have signed at Old Trafford including Zidane and Ronaldinho

8 Feb

Sir Alex Ferguson brought a number of the world’s best players to Manchester United during his near 27-year spell as manager.

United were consistently one of the best teams in Europe throughout that period so it was natural there would be a number of players he chose to snub who would go on to great things.

Here at we have taken a look back at all those players Ferguson nearly signed for the Red Devils and put together a pretty decent starting XI.

The players who Alex Ferguson could have signed at United


Petr Cech

United went through a succession of goalkeepers before signing Edwin van der Sar from Fulham but they so nearly could have signed Petr Cech.

“I went to see him in 2003 for Rennes. We thought Petr was a bit young for the bruisers in the Premier League.”

The following year he signed for Chelsea and the rest is history.

Petr Cech is retiring from football at the end of the season


Roberto Carlos

“It is true that Manchester United want me. But at the moment that is not important.

“I have a contract and I am happy in the city and at Real Madrid. I do not know if the clubs are talking. If Real Madrid and Manchester want to, they can sit down to speak about a transfer that could happen. I am not going to put up any obstacles.

“When they come to an agreement, I will join in. Manchester United have been making inquiries about me for two years. Sir Alex Ferguson has spoken to me on occasions and I am aware that I am a player he likes.” Carlos said in 2002 while at Real Madrid.

Alex Ferguson wanted to sign Roberto Carlos in 2002

Raphael Varane

Fergie really wanted France and Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane, then of Lens as he revealed in his book.

“In 2011, I hurtled down on the train from Euston to Lille to sign the young French defender Raphael Varane.

“David Gill was getting into the finer points of the contract with Lens, Varane’s club, when [Real Madrid ambassador] Zinedine Zidane got wind of this and somehow scooped him up for Real Madrid from under our noses.

“I don’t think Jose Mourinho, who was managing Real Madrid, had even seen Varane play.”

Raphael Varane has gone on to be a star of Madrid

Paolo Maldini

Ferguson revealed, despite his best efforts, he didn’t stand a chance in trying to sign AC Milan hero Maldini.

“I did try but, when I met his father (Cesare), he was quite formidable,” Sir Alex said. “I got a shake of the head and that was all. He said ‘my grandfather is Milan, my father is Milan, I am Milan and my son is Milan… forget it!”

Paolo Maldini spent his whole career at Milan

Javier Zanetti

This one is a bit of a stretch but Zanetti was heavily rumoured to be close to joining United but the deal never materialised.

“I once saw Alex Ferguson in an airport while I was in England with my wife,” Zanetti said after he retired.

“We talked a bit about football, but I was always centred on my idea of staying with Inter, even in those complicated years, and it would have been difficult for me to go under any circumstances.

“It wasn’t just Manchester United, there were other big clubs as well, but my love for Inter always tipped the scales.”



United pipped to the signing of Ronaldinho by Barcelona – it almost happened in 2003 when Ronadinho was leaving Paris Saint-Germain.

“It was a matter of 48 hours,” he told FourFourTwo when asked how close he was to joining United.

“But Sandro Rosell had told me way before I got the offer: ‘If I become Barca president, will you come?’ I said yes.

“It was only a matter of details with United when Rosell called to say he was going to win the elections there. And I had promised to him that I’d play for Barca. It was a quick negotiation.”

Ronaldinho was a star at Barcelona

Michael Essien

The Red Devils had the chance to sign Essien eight years before Chelsea did in 2005 when the Ghanaian was still at FC Bastia.

Zinedine Zidane

Fergie chose to put re-signing Eric Cantona in 1996 above signing fellow Frenchman Zidane.

Martin Edwards, in his book, lifted the lid on Ferguson’s thinking when it was put to him that United should be signing the Frenchman from Bordeaux: “Alex said that Eric had also mentioned Zidane to him, but Alex felt Zidane played in the same position as Eric.

“Having gone over to France to persuade Eric to re-sign for us, after the Crystal Palace incident, he felt that, if he had brought Zidane in, it may have affected Eric’s position, so he stuck with Eric.”

United could have signed Zidane in 1996

Gareth Bale

United had the chance to sign a young Gareth Bale while he was a left-back at Southampton but Spurs came in with a bid of £5million plus add-ons and Ferguson thought that was too much.



Sir Alex Ferguson revealed the club tried to sign one of the greatest strikers in the history of football. “We wanted to sign the Brazilian striker from Cruzeiro in 1994, but we could not get a work permit and he went to PSV Eindhoven.” Oh, what might have been.

Ronaldo was one of the best strikers in the world


Ferguson tried to sign Kaka, and his brother Digao, while they were youth prospects at Milan.

“Once he wanted to sign me and my brother whilst we were at Milan,” Kaka said about Ferguson, “but we chose to stay.”

Subtitutes: Raul, Paul Gascoigne, Didier Drogba, Sergio Aguero, Thomas Muller, Alan Shearer, Frank Lampard.