Five players Manchester United let go too soon

By Dan Fitch
diego forlan
The one that got away? Diego Forlán has impressed since leaving Old Trafford

diego forlan

Manchester United tied Wayne Rooney up to a new five-year contract last week and in doing so ensured that they would not be forced to sell him to the highest bidder come January.

Over the years however, there have been several players that United could only wish that they still had on their books after letting them slip through the net. We have a look at five United players that were allowed to leave too soon.

5. Diego Forlán
It is questionable whether Diego Forlán was given ample opportunity to prove he had what it takes to be a United player. But what is unarguable is that he has subsequently proved himself to be a player of the finest quality.

In 98 games for United between 2002 and 2004, Forlan scored 17 goals, having taken 27 matches to score his first. The Uruguayan was sold to Villarreal after a row with Ferguson over Forlán’s refusal to wear long studs in a fixture against Chelsea.

Spain was where Forlán blossomed, scoring 59 goals in 128 games for Villarreal, before being transferred to Atlético Madrid, where he has so far notched 89 goals in 165 games. His crowning achievement was at this summer’s World Cup where he was named the best player of the tournament after helping Uruguay reach the semi-finals.

4. Paul McGrath
Another arguable selection, as part of the reason Sir Alex Ferguson let McGrath go was in an effort to curb the drinking culture at the club. In achieving that aim, United let go of one of the most gifted defenders ever seen in English football.

McGrath was actually offered £100,000 and a testimonial to retire from the game, before being sold to Aston Villa in 1989. At Villa, McGrath would go on to make another 321 appearances, despite suffering from alcoholism and injury problems.

The Ireland international was named as the PFA Player of the Year in 1993-94 and is still hero-worshipped by the Aston Villa fans who called him ‘God’.

3. David Platt
Platt was on United’s books as a teenager, only to be released by the club. He joined Crewe Alexandra where his exceptional goalscoring record from midfield caught the attention of Aston Villa.

At Villa Park Platt continued to score freely and in the 1989-90 season he was voted PFA Player of the Year and broke into the England squad. Having played a key role for his country at Italia 90, Platt moved to Bari in 1991, before enjoying spells at Juventus and Sampdoria.

Platt returned to England when he moved to Arsenal in 1995 and scored the crucial winning goal when the Gunners beat United 3-2 in the season that the North London club won the league and cup double.

2. Jaap Stam
Manchester United’s modern history is littered with players who took on Sir Alex Ferguson and paid the price. Jaap Stam was sold to Lazio for £16.5million in 2001 after displeasing his manager by alleging in his autobiography that Ferguson’s approach to buy him was done without the permission of PSV.

Though the fee seemed sizable for a 29-year-old, United struggled to replace Stam and years later, Ferguson admitted some regret at his decision.

He said: “At the time he had just come back from an achilles injury and we thought he had just lost a little bit. We got the offer from Lazio, £16.5m for a centre-back who was 29. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. But in playing terms it was a mistake.”

1. Peter Beardsley
Ron Atkinson obviously didn’t think too much of the young Peter Beardsley. Having signed him from the Vancouver Whitecaps for £250,000 in 1982, Big Ron sent him back to the Canadian club on a free transfer within a year. In that time, Beardsley had made just one appearance in a United shirt – against Bournemouth in the League Cup.

Beardsley was soon brought back to England, when his hometown club Newcastle swooped for the forward. He was an instant hit at St James’ Park, helping them gain promotion before playing a vital part in the Magpies’ attempt to re-establish themselves in the top flight.

Having formed a lethal strike partnership with Gary Lineker for England at the 1986 World Cup, Beardsley was hot property. Ferguson revealed in his autobiography that United bid £2million to bring Beardsley back to Old Trafford, only to be told by the Newcastle manager Willie McFaul that they wouldn’t sell him for £3million.

One can imagine then, that Fergie was not best pleased when Liverpool were allowed to buy Beardsley for £1.9m in 1987. The striker would go on to play at the top level for another decade. What could have been Atkinson’s best value signing, ended up being the one that got away.

Reproduced with permission from © The Sporting Exchange Limited

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