Manchester United’s dream of an historic 19th title is only one point away from becoming a reality.
Only 20 years ago the idea of United “knocking Liverpool off their perch” would have seemed about as likely as 14 years of a Labour government happening in our lifetime.
Yet before Tony Blair could say “New Labour” Sir Alex Ferguson went about taking step after step towards the unthinkable target. Now as we sit back and wait for the final chapter in the 19 titles to be written, it all could have been very different were it not for some rather good fortune- although some may call it fate- when it comes to some of United’s most successful signings of the past 20 years.
Eric Cantona to Liverpool.
It all started with an upturned collar as a Gallic legend strolled over the Pennines bringing the league title from his past employers with him and dumping it on Sir Alex’s desk where it was destined to spend most of it’s life.
Yet the signing of Eric Cantona- or to give him his correct moniker “Dieu” could well have been made by the enemy from down the M62 and no doubt converted their 18 titles into at least a few more and possibly left United still searching for our first since 1967.
Michel Platini advised then Liverpool boss Graeme Sounness to sign Cantona in 1992, even coming to his dressing room after a UEFA cup game with Auxerre to convince the Scot. Sounness was wary of Cantona’s reputation and didn’t want to upset the Liverpool dressing room, instead choosing to upset the whole of Liverpool as Cantona ended up at Leeds and United via a weeks trial at Sheffield Wednesday, where he duly delivered title after title as Liverpool floundered.
Roy Keane to Blackburn.
United’s most influential player-arguably of all time- was the man who drove the team to unparalleled success after the groundwork had been laid down by a certain Frenchman. Yet it was all nearly a very different story for United’s long time Captain. Keane had actually agreed to sign for Blackburn after Kenny Daglish had convinced him that the future was bright at Ewood Park. The reason Ferguson hadn’t contacted the Irishman was an agreement he had with Forest manager Frank Clark to wait until he was given permission. Keane even went to Ewood to sign his contract but rather bizarrely no one was there to deal with him so he returned home.
In the mean time Sir Alex read about the Blackburn deal and duly phone Keane who was eager to sign for United, but simply thought they hadn’t been interested.
Keane said in his autobiography :
“From that moment (Ferguson’s phone call) I was never going to sign for any other club.”
Reneging on his deal with King Kenny, caused the Blackburn boss to phone him and state: “Nobody does this to me, nobody does this to Kenny Daglish” trouble is Roy Keane isn’t nobody.
Cristiano Ronaldo to Liverpool
I’m not making this up, that Liverpool could have had not one but two of United’s greatest ever players but Ronaldo was actually spotted by Gerard Houllier before United had ever laid eyes on him.
Houllier explains: “I saw him [Ronaldo] in the Toulon Under-21 tournament and we went for him, but we had a wage scale and we weren’t paying the sort of salary he wanted.
“Then Manchester United played a friendly against Sporting Lisbon and all their boys said to Sir Alex Ferguson, ‘You have to sign him’. But I agreed with not breaking the wage structure. I thought it would cause problems in our dressing room.
“I know some of the signings were not as sharp as they could have been. Maybe we would have won the title with Ronaldo, but we had Harry Kewell, who was outstanding at the time and was very hungry but got a bad injury. After that, he never had the same confidence, the same appetite.”
Maybe you ‘could have won the title with Ronaldo’, but instead United won three with him.
Nemanja Vidic to Fiorentina
Another United legendary skipper, and almost another that slipped through the Old Trafford net. Vidic had been getting rave reviews for his performances for both Spartak Moscow and Serbia and Montenegro. Fiorentina did a deal to take Vidic’s murderous ability to Florence but there was a slight problem due to a lack of non-EU player spots in their squad. Thankfully United had no such problems and no qualms about swooping in to grab Vidic before someone else did- with Liverpool rumoured to be interested.