Since it’s official introduction eleven years ago, the January transfer window has become a constant source of joy, wonder, shock, and disappointment for Premier League fans.
An intrinsically different challenge to it’s summer counterpart, the January window is often one of unsatisfying compromise – clubs don’t want to sell their best players mid-season and if they’re to be forced to, it will come at a huge price for potential suitors.
So with that magical time of year upon us once again, we at Football Fancast have chosen to celebrate it by looking back at Manchester United’s worst ever January window signings.
Diego Forlan will be remembered as one of the better strikers of his generation, blending power, elegance and technical mastery – not to mention the stunning looks of a 1970s Italian pin-up model – to bring relative success to Villarreal and Atletico Madrid, in addition to winning the Golden Ball at the 2010 World Cup and becoming Uruguay’s all-time leading goalscorer a year later, until surpassed by Luis Suarez in 2013.
His Manchester United tenure however, starting in January 2002 – technically, a year before the Premier League’s first official January transfer window – wasn’t quite so fruitful. Then just 22 years of age, the £7.5million acquisition failed to score in his first season for United, with his near-misses and woodwork chips becoming almost comical in their regularity, and eventually left Old Trafford three years later – January 2005 – with just 17 goals in 98 appearances, ten coming in the Premier League.
Forlan’s talent was never in doubt, even during his many dry spells for the Red Devils, but he makes this list for one simple reason; failing to translate his enormous hype and then rather expensive transfer fee into goals.
Whether Manchester United ever saw something genuine in Chinese striker Dong Fangzhou or simply the opportunity to raise their profile in Asia remains open to debate.
The Red Devils coughed up £500k for the 6 foot forward in January 2004, making him the first East Asian player to ever sign for United, a fee that could have eventually risen to £3.5million if his move to the Premier League proved successful.
Needless to say, it did not, despite Sir Alex Ferguson waiting over three years for Fangzhuo to gain a British work permit, which resultantly saw him rack up a rather tidy 37 goals in 76 appearances on loan to affiliate club Royal Antwerp.
Fangzhuo eventually made his first Premier League appearance for United in May 2007, but that, in addition to a League Cup and Champions League outing in the following campaign, constituting his only competitive appearances for the Carrington club, was enough to convince Ferguson that the China international wasn’t up to standard.
In 2008 he left by mutual consent. His career since, spanning spells with former club Dalian Shide, Legia Warsaw, Portimonense (Portuguese second division), FC Mika (Armenian top flight), Hunan Billows and Hebei Zhongji (both Chinese second division) has consisted of just 18 goals in 109 appearances.
Another January front-man that failed to deliver on Manchester United’s faith, Sir Alex Ferguson issued Angolan striker Manucho a three-year contract in 2008 after impressing on trail with the Red Devils, set up by then-assistant manager Carlos Quieroz, having previously amassed 34 goals in 78 league appearances at former club Petro Atletico.
He was immediately sent out on loan to Panathinaikos to gain first team experience whilst the Old Trafford outfit sorted the finer details of his work permit, and left the Greek club with a respectable return of four goals in ten outings.
During the 2008/09 season, after gaining his work permit during the summer, the 6 foot 2 striker made his Premier League debut against Stoke City but his involvement in Manchester United’s first team, barring a run-out in the League Cup’s third round, ended there.
He then joined Hull City on loan in January 2009, but after scoring just twice in 13 appearances, was sold to Valladolid in the subsequent summer, where he prophesised scoring 40 goals in his first season for the club. He left with just 14 in 57 appearances, instead spending much of his tenure on loan to Turkish sides Bucaspor and Manisaspor, before signing a one-year deal with Rayo Vallecano last summer.
With both Manchester clubs now perennial battlers at the Premier League’s summit, you might expect a move from the Etihad to Old Trafford, such as Freddie Veseli’s in January 2012, to kick up a bit of a stink.
But that certainly wasn’t the case for the junior Switzerland international whom, despite once being included on a Roberto Mancini bench in a League Cup tie against West Brom in September 2010, claimed to have switched his Mancunian allegiances due to better opportunities for first team football.
The young defender was certainly a talented prospect, having made 57 appearances for Switzerland across the youth levels and captained them to U17 World Cup glory in 2009, but he failed to make a single competitive appearance for Manchester United and was released upon the expiration of his contract just 18 months later.
Veseli then joined Championship side Ipswich Town, but left them this January – on Wednesday this week, to be precise – with just a single first team outing in the Capital One Cup to his name. He’s now with Port Vale in League One after impressing on loan.
Being the last official signing of the Sir Alex Ferguson era, Wilfried Zaha was tipped for huge things when Manchester United completed a £10million deal for the Crystal Palace winger, potentially rising to £15million, in January 2013.
He’d come through the Palace youth system and emerged as a major fixture of their 2012/13 Championship promotion bid, staying at Selhurst Park on loan until the end of the season to record a brace against Brighton in the play-off semi-final and win the penalty at Wembley that got the Eagles into the top flight. The youngster’s blend of robust pace, tricky and fire-power even caught Roy Hodgson’s attention, earning him England caps in 2012 and 2013.
He’d clearly gained a fan in Ferguson but David Moyes didn’t seem quite so convinced, issuing Zaha just half an hour’s worth of Premier League football before sending him packing to relegation-bound Cardiff City in January 2014.
After having limited impact for the Bluebirds and failing to turn Louis van Gaal’s head in pre-season, the winger-forward returned to Crystal Palace on loan at the start of the season. So in two years of being an official Manchester United player, Zaha has represented them for just 30 minutes in the league, costing the Red Devils £334k every sixty seconds.