Manchester United: See who Sir Alex Ferguson nearly signed instead of Cantona

Sir Alex Ferguson

Would England striker have earned the legendary status the mercurial Frenchman currently holds at Old Trafford?

It was 1992: the days before Manchester United had embarked on a resurgence that would yield thirteen championships; the days when a recently injured Dion Dublin was a promising young striker at Manchester United; and the days before Eric Cantona.

Sir Alex Ferguson has recently disclosed that in November 1992, just weeks after Dublin had suffered a broken leg that would would end up ruling him out most for the season, the striker search that landed him Eric Cantona for £1.2 million from Leeds United may never have happened.

That's because Everton's Peter Beardsley was the player he implored his chairman to sign.

Newcastle-born Beardsley, at that point one of England's first choice strikers, had enjoyed several strong seasons in the 1980's and early 90's, first at Newcastle Utd, and then Liverpool and Everton. He had even been on the books at Old Trafford as a 21-year-old, where he failed to make an much of impact. Like Cantona in the sense that he was less of an out-and-out goalscorer while more than capable of orchestrating attacking play for the entire team, Beardsley had been the subject of a £3million bid from Man Utd in 1987 when he was in the process of leaving Newcastle. Beardsley ended up signing for Liverpool, then the dominant force in the country, and Ferguson, still on the look out for a frontman, had to settle for Brian McClair.

Five years later, Beardsley was again available for transfer, after two years at a mid-table Everton. So Ferguson headed to chairman Martin Edwards office to suggest the England international as a signing, triggering a chain of events that ended up with a very different player heading to Manchester.

Ferguson picks up the story in his autobiography:

'When I was in there [Edward's office] the phone went, it was Bill Fotherby from Leeds asking if we’d sell Dennis Irwin.

‘During the call I wrote Cantona’s name on his pad.

‘They said they would come back to us in half an hour. Half an hour to discuss a player like Cantona? Something like that should have taken five days.

‘I knew there was something up and they came back to us and said they’d sell him for £1million.

‘We signed him the next day’.

Cantona scored 82 goals in 195 games for the Red Devils, being voted their best ever player by the official club magazine after his early retirement.

Beardsley went on to rejoin hometown club Newcastle United a year later as captain, where Kevin Keegan had initiated an attacking philosophy that made his team one of the most enjoyable to watch in the mid-90's. The Geordie frontman finally wound up turning out for a Manchester club, albeit United's fierce rivals City, for a short loan spell in his twilight years, and has been at Newcastle in a coaching capacity since 2009.

King Peter doesn't quite have the same ring to it does it?

Were there any other 'almost' signings your club were involved in that you wish would have come off?

image: © marcel sigg

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