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26th Jun 2017

The story of how Manchester United missed out on Ronaldinho has become more bizarre

It's one of the most famous transfers to never happen

Robert Redmond

It’s one of the most famous transfers to never happen.

Ronaldinho was close to signing for Manchester United in the summer of 2003.

The Brazilian forward was 23 at the time, playing for Paris Saint-Germain and on his way to becoming one of the best players in the world.

Ronaldinho had appeared to be on the verge of signing for United, who sold David Beckham to Real Madrid for £30m that summer, before joining Barcelona for £25m.

Paul Scholes would later say that the club were “very close” to getting him, and Sir Alex Ferguson would later pin the blame for losing Ronaldinho to Barcelona on United’s chief executive at the time, Peter Kenyon.

“There was a problem with his brother, who was his agent, but Peter Kenyon, who was chief executive then, didn’t get the job done,” the former United manager said.

It turns out that United were possibly closer to signing him than they realised at the time, as Ronaldinho was Barcelona’s second choice to sign, behind Beckham.

Joan Laporta was campaigning to be Barcelona president at the time, and had pledged to sign Beckham is he was elected.

However, Madrid also wanted Beckham and it appeared a deal had already been agreed between the parties. The England captain was to become the latest Galactico, and reportedly didn’t like being used as a “political pawn” by Laporta.

“It was between Beckham, Ronaldinho or [Thierry] Henry,” Laporta told Marca, before revealing he had agreed a transfer in principle with United for Beckham, but not with the player himself.

“But they used us and in the end he signed for Madrid. We met at Heathrow Airport and signed a document which said that they would sell him to us if we struck an agreement with the agent. However, we didn’t manage to do that. We went to Nice and stayed with him and he said he would think about it. We got fed up of waiting on an answer, so we signed Ronaldinho instead.”

Considering Ronaldinho would go on to become the best player in the world, and help Barcelona win league titles and the Champions League, it’s bizarre to think he was merely a fall-back option if they lost out on Beckham.

The midfielder was a very good player, but wouldn’t come close to matching Ronaldinho’s impact on Spanish football.

Strangely, the episode worked out well for each club involved. Barcelona got one of the best players in the world, Madrid got the most marketable player in the world at the time, and United would replace Beckham with Cristiano Ronaldo.