The Manchester United Perennial Transfer Targets XI

For certain players, being linked with Manchester United has become a semi-annual tradition. Some players have been on the verge of joining United for so many years that you wonder whether media outlets merely have templates that they trot out every few months where they just fill in the name and price.

In fact, you can make a pretty good team with all of the players that Manchester United have been linked with in the transfer market over the last few years. Some ground rules: I looked at longevity of the rumors and gave preference to players who are still currently linked to the club (sorry Cesc). Also, I disqualified Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Pogba and Gerard Pique and other ex-United players because it’s only natural for them to be linked to their former team.

Without further ado, here’s the list:

Goalkeeper: Asmir Begovic. The long-time Stoke keeper has been linked with the club ever since 2011, when he emerged as a (dark horse) potential replacement for the retiring Edwin van der Sar. The rumor mill flared up two years later after David de Gea struggled to adapt to English football, causing a supposedly-frustrated Sir Alex Ferguson to decide to move on. Stoke even fanned the flames by signing English wunderkind Jack Butland that year, seemingly clearing the way for Begovic to head to Old Trafford. Now that de Gea could be on his way out the door, Begovic, once again, is being touted as a potential #1 at United. Could the third time be the charm?

Right Back: Dani Alves. This is actually the hardest position to find long-term transfer rumors about because United have been, more or less, set at right back for a long time. Gary Neville held down the job for 15 years before Rafael took over. Starting this year, however, Rafael’s stock has plummeted worse than Krispy Kreme’s, opening the door to all sorts of potential replacements. Out of all the names, Alves is the one that has generated the most twists and turns. He was, supposedly, on Sir Alex’s shopping list as far back as 2007, when Neville suffered a serious ankle injury against Bolton. In the ensuing years, he was linked more to Man City and Chelsea, and seemingly used those two clubs as leverage in 2010 to negotiate a new deal with Barcelona. Things died down until October 2014, when Alves suddenly announced that he would leave Barcelona after his contract expired in 2015. Within a couple of weeks, it was reported that he had signed a pre-contract with United, although Alves later denied it. Earlier this month, he held an incredibly awkward press conference where he criticized the Barca board for not appreciating him. Chances are, we won’t know his actual destination until after Barcelona plays in the Champions League Final. [Update: He stayed at Barca until 2016, before returning for one last season in 2021]

Center Back: Ezequiel Garay. It wouldn’t be a transfer window without the obligatory “Garay-to-Manchester-United” rumor. Currently plying his trade for Zenit St. Petersburg, Garay has been on the verge of joining United for several years now. In 2013, Ferguson reportedly told Garay’s then-parent club, Benfica, to name its price for the defender. A deal seemed imminent even after Ferguson turned the reins over to David Moyes – Garay was even reported house-hunting in Manchester. However, the deal never materialized and Garay blamed Moyes. The rumors died down after Garay moved to Zenit in June 2014. But like a bad rash that just won’t go away, Garay is still being linked with United with a February 2015 story reporting that the club was close to finalizing a transfer. Metro recently rated him at £18.5 million, making him much more affordable than…

Center Back: Mats Hummels. The German ace has been a target since at least 2011. This Daily Mail story from December of that year had United bidding £15 million for him (he’ll cost United at least twice that amount now). The following year, he was linked once again as Ferguson, reportedly, tried to get him, Shinji Kagawa and Robert Lewandowski in the kind of audacious triple-swoop that always looks great in theory but almost never happens in real life. Hummels was, supposedly, on the way last summer (with Skybet slashing the odds on his arrival to 1/6), only to stay at Dortmund and assume the captaincy. This summer, the rumors persist that he’s on the verge of joining United— despite reports that he has decided to stay at Dortmund for another year. This one won’t be going away anytime soon.

Left Back: Fabio Coentrão. Out of all the people on this list, Coentrão came the closest to actually joining United. The Real Madrid fullback had agreed to go on loan to Old Trafford for the 2013-14 season after falling down the pecking order at the Bernabéu. However, in a miscue that summed up the general incompetence of the first post-David Gill transfer window at United, the paperwork wasn’t completed in time, leaving United fans dismayed and Coentrão in tears. Since then, Coentrão has been constantly linked with the club. Even this summer, with United experiencing a log-jam at left back, Coentrão’s name is still being bandied about- most recently as a makeweight in a potential de Gea transfer.

Right Midfielder: Arjen Robben. After Coentrão, Robben is, arguably, the one on this list that came closest to actually suiting up for United. In 2004, the club rolled out the red carpet for him and his family, and Ferguson even gave him a personal tour of Old Trafford and Carrington. Everyone assumed the deal was done or at least a fait accompli. Peter Kenyon, who had served as United’s former chief executive before taking the same role with Chelsea in 2003, had different ideas. Chelsea swooped in and signed Robben from under Ferguson’s nose. Robben’s name still pops up from time to time. Most recently, journalists actually tried to convince readers that Robben would leave Bayern Munich (one of the best teams in the world) for a rebuilding United (that didn’t have Champions League football) – all because Robben got along with Louis van Gaal during the World Cup. With the recent upheaval at Bayern, the Robben rumors have started up again – although they’ve taken a back seat to those involving his teammates.

Center Midfielder: Arturo Vidal. Last year’s white whale. The Juventus midfielder was first linked with United in early 2014, when David Moyes was spotted in Turin on a scouting mission. That turned into a Daily Mail exclusive report of Moyes meeting with Juve brass to discuss a Paul Pogba/Vidal double swoop. When van Gaal took over, he made his admiration for Vidal known and noted that he “always wanted to buy” the Chilean dynamo – only to turn around and put the kibosh on a deal, citing financial reasons. That wasn’t the end of it, obviously. Vidal autographed a United shirt, sending social media into a tizzy. He also, supposedly, passed a medical for United in July and even agreed to personal terms. Lately, the United links have cooled a bit and Arsenal have gotten involved. Could he be joining his countryman, Alexis Sanchez?

Center Midfielder: Wesley Sneijder. The mother of them all. Click here for a brief history of the various twists-and-turns of the Sneijder-to-United saga.

Left Midfielder: Nicolas Gaitan. The poor man’s Sneijder — at least when it comes to transfer rumors. Gaitan is another one of those guys who have signed for United so many times they might as well sell his shirt on the club website. The rumors started in 2011 with a talk of a £40 million fee, but cooled down considerably a year later when Ferguson, reportedly, put Luka Modric and Eden Hazard at the top of his shopping list. Gaitan was back on the radar last summer, after it was reported that his parent club, Benfica, was strapped for cash and willing to sell their prized asset for less than market price. Gaitan stayed put, but widespread reports in the last few days have him all but signed, sealed and delivered to United. We’ll see if those rumors pan out this time.

Forward: Gareth Bale. The Welsh Wizard was one of the ones that got away. Ferguson tried to sign him as a teenager, only to lose out to Spurs. United actually outbid Real Madrid in the summer of 2013, however Bale’s heart was set on the Bernabéu. The United links have continued to follow him, with numerous papers speculating that a move to Old Trafford was in the cards. The speculation only grew after Marca more-or-less declared war on him and hit a fever pitch after a poor showing against Juventus in the Champions League semifinals. He’s declared that he’s staying at Madrid, and incoming manager Rafa Benitez seems intent on building the team around him (I’m sure Cristiano Ronaldo will have something to say about that). So that means the Manchester United rumors will only increase, right?

Forward: Karim Benzema. The summer that Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez left Manchester United, Ferguson thought he could make up most of those goals by signing Benzema from Lyon. The rumors actually started the year before, in 2008, when Ferguson causally dropped Benzema’s name during an interview prior to a Champions League tie between Lyon and United. Benzema, seemingly, had no interest then as he maintained that he’d only leave his boyhood club for Spain or Italy. That wasn’t enough to deter United, as Ferguson lined him up the following year, despite his admission that Real Madrid was his dream destination. The Daily Mail even reported that Benzema gave a list of his preferred destinations to Lyon, and United wasn’t on it. Sure enough, Benzema joined Real that summer and United had to make due with Michael Owen. Being told “no” over and over has seemingly made United want him more, though. This summer, United is, supposedly, back in for Benzema. Will the answer still be no?

Bench: Igor Akinfeev, Lassana Diarra, Leighton Baines, Cesc FabregasSteven DefourThomas Mueller, Klaas Jan-Huntelaar.