Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Almost Red Devils

Let's cut to the chase - over the decades we missed out on some legendary players. At times it was bad planning, at times it was bad luck and at times the players were just darn daft. Some players were more than adequately replaced with the ones who went on to become eternal United legends. A few who slipped the net marched on to create records and add medals to their repertoire. 

A few days back, United Banter discussed in detail about the Gazza Saga and how in the long-run he regretted not having taken the opportunity to move to Old Trafford. Likewise, we also looked at the Michael Owen 1994 story.

So here's a list of some other Almost Red Devils:

Ferenc Puskas

Mostly a forgotten tale by now - one of the greatest ever footballers to have graced the game; the man who was an integral part of the record-breaking Real Madrid team of the 1950s, the Original Galacticos. Ferenc Puskas is also revered as the lynch pin of the great Hungarian national team, The Mighty Magyars that terrorized the whole of football world with their ferocious on-field displays; some say there's never been a better team in the history of football. Having scored 84 goals in 85 games for his country against the who's who of international football, Puskas fell victim to the calamitous political unrest in Hungary which disparaged their football team like everything else - a shock of such proportion that their football is yet to regain those heights even after 55 years. 

It was at that time that Puskas refused to stay in Hungary and shifted his base to Western Europe, mainly Spain and Italy, as a result of which he received a two year ban from UEFA. Approaching his 31st year, as the ban ended, major European clubs like AC Milan and Juventus who had coveted his signature in the past were now in a quandary as they felt that he wasn't the same player anymore. This coincided with the greatest tragedy in United's history - The Munich Crash. As Sir Matt was recuperating from the calamity, his assistant and caretaker manager, Jimmy Murphy tried to rebuild the team. Slightly off topic, but there are a few notable points here that, especially younger United fans must know - this was a tragic time for the club and we MUST always remember those who stood by us at that time of grief. Blackpool and Aston Villa let us buy their key players unconditionally and almost for free; they were Ernie Taylor and Stan Crowther. I know these days a lot of United fans indulge in banter and sometimes heated arguments with Madrid fans, but 1958 was a time when Madrid truly showed their class - firstly, they offered us a player on loan who is considered by Madridistas as the greatest footballer of all-time - Alfredo Di Stefano and secondly after winning a 3rd consecutive European Cup at the end of that season, Madrid proposed that the trophy be given to Manchester United. However, in both cases, neither of the proposals materialized. United, in a complete financial mess, didn't take up Madrid on the Di Stefano loan option and UEFA didn't take up Madrid on their suggestion to award the European Cup to us. The third act of Madrid's generosity can be ascertained by Sir Matt Busby's words:

Alfredo Di Stefano

‘As the city grieved, one or two things were comforting. Real Madrid offered us all a free holiday in Spain, to help us recover. I think one or two of the fellows took them up on this.'

Coming back to Puskas, his move to United was stalled by the daftest of reasons - the English league rules at the time stipulated that any foreign player joining an English club needed to have adequate knowledge of the English language. Unfortunately Puskas English vocabulary was restricted to 'vhisky' and 'jiggy-jigg', the two words which had little use to serve the purpose of human interaction.

Fittingly, Puskas joined a club the same season that had been a true friend to us - Real Madrid. Along with Senor Di Stefano, Puskas broke records one after the other well into his thirties and thus immortalized himself in the Madrid folklore. Puskas' non-chalant attitude about his own greatness can be assessed in the words of Sir Bobby Charlton:

"I remember when Pele scored his 1000th goal. The pictures went round the world and I mentioned it to Puskas. He replied, 'I scored my 1000th goal five years ago' - and he wasn't being boastful."  

By all means, a true legend we would all have been honored to have adorned our red shirt. 

Peter Shilton

An England legend, who served as the national team's No. 1 not for years but decades. His was truly an unfulfilled saga with United. As early as 1971, United's manager, Frank O' Farrell desired to replace Alex Stepney with Shilton. However, Sir Matt who by then was serving on the Board of Directors vetoed the move due to his loyalty for Stepney. 

Next in line was our notoriously charismatic manager Tommy Docherty who attempted to sign Shilton on two occasions. The first time the transfer broke down due to financial disagreements. At the time, we weren't the best paymasters in the business and as legend goes we expected footballers to play for the love of our club rather than money. Shilton, of course, didn't have that kinda love for United. Docherty almost orchestrated the move again in 1977 after he had won the FA Cup for us, but before Shilton could move to OT, the gaffer was sacked for shagging the club physio's Missus. That's another saga altogether.

Big Ron was next in line - after taking over as United manager in 1981, he made Shilton a priority signing, but miscalculated the funds available to him, as bringing Bryan Robson to the club was more lucrative and cost him GBP 2 Million, 'cause WBA made it conditional to buy Remi Moses as part of the deal. Hence, Shilton never played for United.

A top keeper, no arguing that, but in my personal opinion, I could never see Shilts as a United character. His playing ability aside, his integrity was a bit short on what's necessary for a United man. As a 16 year old trainee for Leicester City, he was spotted by Leicester and England Number 1, Gordon Banks who strongly persuaded his manager to move him up the ranks. Shilton shone for Leicester in a few games and the club quickly recognized his enormous playing potential; however Shilton showed his gratitude to Banks by giving Leicester an ultimatum that if he wasn't made the first-choice keeper, he would leave the club. Gordon Banks was sold as a result. Not at all the kind of character I would've been proud of to have worn the United colors.

John Barnes

Bad miss - that's all one can sigh in retrospect. This was in late 1986, when Sir Alex had just taken over as manager of the club. John Barnes, who had already had a great World Cup in Mexico would later go on to mesmerize fans with his dazzling displays for years. His influence can be judged from the fact that he's Giggsy's footballing hero and who he's self-admittedly modeled himself on.Fergie at the time was new to English football and was still learning the ropes. Jesper Olsen, the United winger was a bit of concern for him, as he'd already been involved in a horrible brawl with Remi Moses and his on-field displays hadn't exactly sent the gaffer into a frenzy of admiration. Looking out actively for replacements, John Barnes was offered to him on a platter by Watford for GBP 900,000 but according to Fergie, the United staff let him stall on the move rather a bit longer than required.

Also, Fergie was concentrating more on bringing Peter Beardsley back to Old Trafford, but the club couldn't afford his transfer fee. As a result, Beardsley moved to Liverpool. Soon he was joined at Anfield by another genius - John Barnes.

He may have worn the enemy colors, but I have had tremendous admiration for Barnes' craft. A bit of a tardy slip, eh Gaffer?

Alan Shearer

For me, he's still the best ever finisher of the Premier League era, as evidenced by his record 260 goals, but what a twat! 

Listen to Bryan Robson:

"The boss decided we needed another option up front, preferably someone who could provide more of a physical presence and goal threat. The player he targeted was Alan Shearer, the young Southampton striker who had been terrorising defences. He had the lot - power, pace, fierce shot, great in the air and brave as a lion. He was made in the classic centre-forward mould and he was a Geordie. Yet instead of joining the biggest club in the country, Alan went to Blackburn Rovers, a decision that has baffled me to this day. Even though he had a fantastic career with England and a good career with Blackburn and Newcastle, his cabinet would have been full of all kinds of trophies and medals if he had gone to Old Trafford. I think Alan, deep down, will probably regret that he never joined United."

Alan Shearer's move to United didn't happen twice - first in 1992, but looking back we don't mind at all - we signed Eric Cantona once Shearer joined Blackburn. Then again in 1996, when he joined his hometown club, Newcastle United, we can look back at it with no regret whatsoever - we bought Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer instead.

In fact, I'm right now wishing that Alan Shearer was still playing, so we could attempt a third unsuccessful move for him -  the lucky omen he's been for United, we just may land up with a third eternal legend.

Peter Kenyon In Silhouette

Of course in recent years we've missed out on gems like Ronaldinho and Arjen Robben, the reason for which can be summed up in five words - Peter Kenyon is a cunt!


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