Ronaldo at Juventus

Serie A & Manchester United: A Match Made in Hell

Manchester United’s transfers in recent years have not been spot-on. Regardless of which league they’ve turned to for new talent, a combination of poor squad planning, inaccurate player profiling, and a tendency to overpay have all contributed to the club’s unsuccessful transactions.

Yet, there’s a peculiar trend in their transfer history that dates back even before the start of the 21st century.

Tales of curses always exist in football, from jinxed stadiums and fixtures to entire teams supposedly bearing bad luck for their opponents. But have you ever encountered the notion of a whole league casting a shadow over a club’s fortunes?

Well, it appears Manchester United’s deals with Serie A clubs are shadowed by what some might call a curse.

Jesper Blomqvist – £4.4m – Parma – 1998

For four long years, Sir Alex Ferguson kept Blomqvist on his wishlist, finally securing him in the summer of 1998, just in time for the start of the iconic treble-winning season, with the Swedish left-midfielder being envisioned as a backup for United’s legend, Ryan Giggs.

In his debut season, Blomqvist clocked in 38 appearances, even taking part in the memorable ’99 Champions League final, playing enough to earn medals for every title United clinched.

Yet, what began as a dream first season quickly turned sour, as a knee injury sidelined him for two following seasons, leading Manchester United to decide against renewing his contract.

Mikaël Silvestre – £4m – Inter Milan – 1999

Among the few triumphs on this list stands the French defender, Mikaël Silvestre. Despite drawing interest from Liverpool, he chose to join the Red Devils from Inter Milan, making his debut in a memorable match against, you’ve guessed it, Liverpool at Anfield. You might need to look away, Liverpool fans, because this was the same game that saw Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher score two own goals.

Silvestre emerged as a valuable asset to Ferguson’s team. Initially signed as a central defender, the Frenchman quickly secured his spot in the starting lineup as a fullback, proving to be reliable in defence and effective in attack, tallying 10 goals and 20 assists throughout his tenure at United.

With 11 titles in nine seasons, including five Premier League titles and one Champions League, Silvestre is rightly counted among the few successes on this list.

Massimo Taibi – £4.5m – AC Venezia – 1999

The same praise can’t be extended to Massimo Taibi, the goalkeeper brought in from AC Venezia to fill in for the injured Mark Bosnich.

Taibi, just like Silvestre, made his United debut in that eventful match against Liverpool at Anfield. He had a shaky start, failing to secure a high cross, which led to Liverpool’s Hyypiä narrowing the score to 2-1 in favour of United. It was quite a memorable game, right?

Despite this, Taibi was named Man of the Match after a series of impressive saves that helped United clinch a 3-2 victory. While it might appear that the goalkeeper redeemed himself in this game, the rest of his tenure at United didn’t go as hoped.

In a match against Southampton that same season, he infamously let a soft shot from Matthew Le Tissier sneak through his legs, which earned him the unfortunate nickname “The Blind Venetian.”

Following this, the Italian made just one more appearance for United, a humiliating 5-0 loss to Chelsea in 1999. He was loaned back to Italy soon after, before United decided to offload him at a loss in 2000.

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Laurent Blanc – Free Transfer – Inter Milan – 2001

At the age of 35, it was widely thought that Blanc’s prime years were behind him, yet Sir Alex Ferguson viewed him as a stopgap solution to fill the defensive void left by Jaap Stam’s exit.

Transitioning to the fast pace of the Premier League proved challenging for the World and European champion, leading to widespread criticism for his lackluster performances. During a particularly tough stretch of the season, United suffered defeats in matches against Bolton Wanderers, Liverpool, Arsenal, Newcastle United, and Chelsea, with Blanc in the lineup and the season not even half over.

Despite these struggles, Blanc’s performances began to improve as he got more games under his belt, culminating in him winning the 2002-03 league title with the Red Devils before hanging up his boots.

However, these late improvements do not fully redeem his stint at United as a resounding success.

Juan Sebastián Verón – £28.1m– Lazio –2001

Juan Sebastián Verón stands out as the first blockbuster acquisition for Manchester United on this list, with the club shattering the British transfer record to bring him in from Lazio. The deal was greeted with huge excitement.

Verón initially dazzled, netting four times in his first eight appearances and snagging the Player of the Month Award for September.

Yet, the Argentinian found it challenging to maintain consistency in the Premier League’s demanding pace and physical battles. His fluctuating form caused disappointment among fans and critics, and despite showing sporadic brilliance in midfield, his tenure at United fell short of the high hopes placed upon him.

Viewed often as an extravagance in critical matches, his two-year stint was more a tale of what might have been than one of triumph, ending with a modest tally of 11 goals and 15 assists.

Matteo Darmian – £12.7m – Torino – 2015

The Verón deal was a tough pill to swallow for United, leading them to wait 14 years before they ventured back into Serie A for a player. This time, the need was for a right-back, as their options were limited to Antonio Valencia, a natural winger, and Rafael da Silva, who hadn’t secured Van Gaal’s confidence in the role. And so, Matteo Darmian was brought from Torino.

The Italian made an immediate impact, solidifying his place on the right flank and quickly becoming a fan favourite by winning the club’s Player of the Month Award. Even Gary Neville took to Twitter, posting pictures highlighting the similarity between himself and the new right-back.

Despite a promising start, maintaining a steady spot in the starting eleven became a struggle. Darmian’s time at United swung between being dependable and periods of underwhelming performances, ultimately not living up to the high expectations.

After four seasons marked by professionalism but a lack of significant contribution, his tenure at Old Trafford concluded with a transfer back to Serie A.

Sergio Romero – Free Transfer – Sampdoria – 2015

Arriving in the same transfer window as Matteo Darmian, Sergio Romero was signed on a free transfer, primarily seen as a backup to David de Gea, a role he filled to a tee.

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The Argentine keeper, with his cool presence and adeptness at stopping shots, emerged as an exceptionally dependable second-choice goalkeeper.

Called upon, Romero showcased his skills, playing a key role in the team’s domestic and European successes under Mourinho. His professionalism and steady displays during his stint at United won him the respect and affection of both fans and fellow players.

With 39 clean sheets and only 27 goals allowed across 61 appearances for the Red Devils, Romero clearly stands out as the second success story on this list.

Paul Pogba – £89m – Juventus – 2016

Paul Pogba’s return to Manchester United arguably set the stage for the club’s trend of shelling out huge sums for players. The deal proved a success in every aspect except, perhaps, the most critical one—the football itself.

The Pogba transfer was seen more as a commercial coup, and though the French midfielder clinched three trophies in his first season back under Jose Mourinho, he fell short of reaching the lofty expectations set for him.

Despite occasional flashes of brilliance, Pogba’s five-year stay at Old Trafford was plagued by inconsistency, injuries, and controversies, culminating in his departure back to Juventus on a free transfer for the second time.

Now, he is among the list of players to receive doping bans in football. How times change…

Amad Diallo – £37m – Atalanta – 2021

Amad Diallo was once hailed as the next big thing in Italian football due to his performances with Atalanta BC in the youth league. Yes, Amad actually played just 59 minutes for the senior team when he was making headlines. But this didn’t deter Manchester United from investing £37 million in the young Ivorian.

In the two years since joining United, Amad has only made 10 appearances for the club. The player even struggled for regular minutes under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer despite the crucial goal he scored in the Europa League against AC Milan.

Amad spent most of his time on loan at Rangers and Sunderland. But even after an impressive stint in the Championship, he is still finding it tough to break into ten Hag’s plans.

Initially sidelined with a knee injury during pre-season, he has since been limited to just 63 minutes of play this season by the Dutch manager’s decision.

Cristiano Ronaldo – £12m – Juventus – 2021

Ever since Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Real Madrid in 2009, Manchester United fans have been dreaming about his return to the club.

In 2021, this dream came true with the club bringing back their legendary number seven after rumours of him being eager to move to their local rivals, Manchester City.

On paper, Ronaldo’s stint of a year and a half at Old Trafford looks successful, with 28 goals in 54 matches across all competitions, impressive for a 36-year-old. Individually, Ronaldo did shine, but his presence seemed to unsettle the whole squad rather than strengthen it.

His return led to instability within Solskjaer’s setup, contributing to poor performances and eventually the Norwegian’s dismissal. However, the issues didn’t stop there.

Under Erik ten Hag, Ronaldo made headlines for leaving the stadium early twice, the first during a preseason friendly and the second after refusing to come off the bench against Spurs.

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The situation reached a boiling point with his explosive interview with Piers Morgan, effectively ending his second spell with the Red Devils in the worst way imaginable.

Sofyan Amrabat – £8.5m Loan – Fiorentina – 2023

The loan signing of Sofyan Amrabat from Fiorentina was met with optimism by United fans, who hoped he’d be the answer to their midfield problems. His performance at the 2022 World Cup certainly turned heads. Everyone saw that clip of him tackling Kylian Mbappé in the semifinals, right?

However, as the season is nearing its end, there’s growing concern from Fiorentina that this loan stint might be diminishing Amrabat’s market value.

Outside of his initial appearance in the EFL Cup against Crystal Palace, Amrabat hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, putting in average to below-average performances.

Manchester United’s season hasn’t been stellar overall, but Amrabat’s entry in the final eight minutes of the Manchester Derby, where he made a mistake giving away the third goal, certainly hasn’t done his reputation any favours.

André Onana – £47.2m – Inter – 2023

Onana finds himself with more critics than supporters this season, particularly after his errors played a significant part in Manchester United’s premature exit from the Champions League. He has allowed 39 goals in the league, which is just four fewer than United allowed in the entire previous season.

However, pinning all the blame on Onana might not be entirely fair. United has faced a barrage of 441 shots, more than every other team except Sheffield United and West Ham in the league. They’re also exposed to the seventh-highest expected goals against in the league, at 45.8 xGA. However, it’s worth noting that Onana has secured the third-highest number of clean sheets in the league, with seven, and ranks sixth for the most saves, totaling 97. So is he really to blame for United’s defensive struggles this season?

Rasmus Højlund – £72m – Atalanta – 2023

Amad Diallo wasn’t the only young player Atalanta BC managed to sell to United for a hefty price. With Manchester United signing Rasmus Højlund for £72 million, expectations were sky-high for the forward.

With 13 goals in 30 appearances, including five in the Champions League group stages alone, things look promising, right? In reality, Rasmus’s journey hasn’t been smooth.

He missed the preseason and the first three games due to a back injury, then had to wait 14 matches to score his first Premier League goal. And just as he began to make his mark in the league, a muscular injury forced him out for three matches, missing critical games against Fulham and Manchester City.

Since 1998, Manchester United has signed 13 players from Serie A, and it’s fair to say that most haven’t left a lasting positive impact on the club’s history, with the exception of Onana and Højlund, whose tenures are still too fresh for final judgments but who are also finding it difficult in their first season with the club.

Does this pattern suggest a curse in the club-league relationship? We’ll let you decide.

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