Angel Di Maria’s wife thrust her husband back into British headlines last week as she remarked on the midfielder’s ill-fated spell at Manchester United in 2014-15.
Arriving for a club-record £60million from Real Madrid having just won the Champions League – where he was man of the match in the final – before reaching the World Cup final with Argentina, nobody doubted Di Maria would be well worth the outlay.
A year later, United took a £16m loss as they sold him to Paris Saint-Germain, with the Old Trafford spell still haunting the Di Marias six years on. The player’s wife Angelina last week called Manchester ‘s***’ and recalled of the city’s people: ‘You are walking and you don’t know if they are going to kill you or not.’
Angel Di Maria is unveiled at Old Trafford alongside then-Man United manager Louis van Gaal
Well, suffice to say that United fans don’t remember Di Maria too fondly either. Despite his obvious talent, he would go missing in games – and, in fact, for spells of the season.
His signing was symptomatic of a post-Sir Alex Ferguson era where United splashed the cash wildly on a host of players who flopped. It is a mark of just how bad United have been in the transfer market since Fergie left that in our list of United’s 10 worst transfer flops below, seven were signed after 2013.
United have bought some awful players over the years, for example French defender William Prunier in 1995. Scottish winger Ralph Milne in 1988 is often described as Ferguson’s worst signing although the legendary manager always defended him. But this isn’t a list of the worst players Manchester United have signed. If it was, you could expect to see the likes of Bebe, Eric Djemba-Djemba, Massimo Taibi and David Bellion here. No, the word flop implies an ungraceful fall from a great height, i.e. a player who arrived with a big reputation for a big fee, but failed to live up to either of those, as Di Maria did spectacularly.
So, here are Manchester United’s 10 worst-ever transfer flops, in descending order…
10 Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich, £6.5m, 2015)
Aged 30 when he signed for United, Schweinsteiger was in the latter stages of his career but should have had several seasons at the top level left in him, given his emergence as one of the best midfielders on the planet in the early 2010s and his key role in Germany’s World Cup triumph just a year earlier. But the fact Bayern were willing to let him go for a low fee – the only thing that saves him from a higher position in our top 10 – should have alarmed United and was an indicator of the injury problems that would dog his 18 months at Old Trafford. He played just 35 times and moved to Chicago Fire for a career swansong in 2017.
Bastian Schweinsteiger struggled with injury during his 18 months at Manchester United
9 Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton, £25m, 2015)
Signed to partner Schweinsteiger – in a double boost for the club’s shirt-letter printers – for Louis van Gaal’s second season in charge after emerging as one of the best midfielders outside the Big Six with Southampton. But the Frenchman shrank under the pressure of the Old Trafford stage and was sold by Jose Mourinho in early 2017, with United at least able to recoup most of their money from Everton, where he has also struggled.
Morgan Schneiderlin failed to recpature his Southampton form while at Manchester United
8 Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Borussia Dortmund, £30m, 2016)
United looked to have pulled off a coup when Mourinho sanctioned the signing of one of Europe’s best attacking midfielders, who was supposed to be entering his prime at 27. Like Schneiderlin though and many others before him, the Armenian wilted under the Old Trafford lights and was moved on 18 months later. Played a key role in the 2017 Europa League triumph, but struggled badly in the Premier League.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan arrived at Manchester United with high hopes expected of him
7 Diego Forlan (Independiente, £7m, 2002)
Ferguson thought he’d spotted a potential top-class talent when gambling to bring in an unknown 22-year-old Uruguayan striker for a fee that was, in 2002, high. He would be proved right, but only after Forlan left for LaLiga two years later to embark on successful spells at Villarreal and Atletico Madrid. At United, he had to wait a painful 27 matches for his first goal and would notch just 17 times in 98 matches in total.
Sir Alex Ferguson unveils Uruguayan frontman Diego Forlan in January 2002
6 Kleberson (Atletico Paranaense, £6.5m, 2003)
The early 2000s were United’s least successful Premier League period under Fergie and the host of flops who pulled on the red jersey in that time are testament to that. Few arrived with greater expectations than Kleberson though, who had impressed as a water-carrier in the flair-filled Brazilian World Cup-winning side of 2002. He endured a miserable time at Old Trafford though, playing just 30 times in two seasons and leaving United fans genuinely wondering if they’d signed the same player.
Kleberson (left) was signed alongside Cristiano Ronaldo – who would enjoy far more success
5 Radamel Falcao (Monaco, £6m loan fee, 2014)
Continuing the South American theme, we return to Van Gaal’s first season. Having just led Holland to third place in the World Cup, taking the United reins with little time before the start of the season and for simply not being David Moyes, United’s board were willing to give Van Gaal whatever he wanted to return the glory days. This culminated in the frenzied, deadline-day loan signing of Colombian striker Falcao on astronomical wages of £265,000 a week. There were injury doubts over him after a hampered season at Monaco, but if he could reproduce his Atletico Madrid form then United would surely pay the £44m extra to make his £6m loan permanent. He couldn’t – netting just four times – and they didn’t.
Radamel Falcao failed to live up to his billing as one of the world’s best strikers
4 Juan Sebastian Veron (Lazio, £28m, 2001)
Frustrated at failing to land another Champions League crown after their success in 1999, despite winning three titles in a row, Ferguson brought in cultured Argentinian playmaker Veron to take United to the next level. Back when £28m was the equivalent of £80m-plus today, the idea was to flood the midfield with Veron joining Roy Keane and Paul Scholes in a 4-5-1. Despite demonstrating his obvious class, the very expensive gamble did not pay off for United and Veron was on his way to Chelsea just two years later, with Keane and Scholes unbudged.
Juan Sebastian Veron lasted just two seasons at Old Trafford after struggling to settle
3 Memphis Depay (PSV, £25m, 2015)
Optimism was high at Old Trafford heading into Van Gaal’s second season. Champions League football was back, Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin were in to improve the midfield, Anthony Martial looked full of promise and in Memphis Depay they had a potentially world-class forward ready to deliver right now. The £25m fee would soon look cheap if the player’s own pledge of becoming one the world’s best was fulfilled – but it quickly looked like more money wasted. Used to being the main man at PSV, Depay didn’t seem willing to put in the extra work to make the step up and first Van Gaal and then Mourinho grew frustrated. He was sold to Lyon in early 2017 as Mourinho dismantled Van Gaal’s team.
Memphis Depay is unveiled by Van Gaal – who coached him for Holland – in 2015
2 Angel Di Maria (Real Madrid, £60m, 2014)
Much like his countryman Veron, Di Maria didn’t look like a bad footballer as he failed at United, more there was no integration of team and player and the end results were, ultimately, very poor. Di Maria showed his enduring class with a brilliant goal against Leicester in 2014, but grew frustrated with Van Gaal’s tactics as he was asked to play in a number of positions and formations.
Di Maria and Van Gaal fell out over tactics, with the Argentine used in a number of positions
1 Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal, swap worth £20m, 2018)
The only player still officially at United on our list of shame pips Di Maria to the No 1 slot. Sanchez’s case displays all the flop factors we have seen so far – a player who was brilliant at their previous club struggling to cope with the pressure of playing for United, allied with the added pressure of the astronomical figures thrown about by a post-Fergie club who are struggling to win trophies. It is thought Sanchez – who scored just five times in 45 matches for United before being loaned out to Inter Milan this season – earns in excess of £500,000 a week, but ‘only’ £350,000 of that is paid by Manchester United. That still equates to £18.2m a year, the majority of which United are still paying while he is out on loan. And he still has two years left on the deal. There is no bigger transfer flop than Sanchez, at United or any club.
Alexis Sanchez is proving to be United’s most costly transfer flop after signing in 2018