Manchester United’s leaked transfer list from 2004 offers a fascinating insight into Sir Alex Ferguson's method of identifying targets and setting aside “excess” squad players at Old Trafford.
The list, which was first leaked on social media several years after Ferguson stepped down as manager in 2013, features the name of every United player from that time.
Ferguson categorised his Red Devils stars by position and value to his squad, with key men such as Rio Ferdinand, Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs placed in the “squad” section.
However, players who had been deemed surplus to requirements by the Scot found themselves in the “excess” section.
Nicky Butt and Diego Forlan were the highest-profile names in that category, along with outcasts Luke Chadwick and Michael Stewart.
The third column contained “youth potential” and names such as Kieran Richardson, Phil Bardsley and Chris Eagles.
Yet the fourth and final section is certainly the most interesting, as it shows Ferguson’s top transfer targets ahead of the 2004/05 season.
After failing to retain their Premier League title in the 2003/04 campaign, United were on a mission to win back their crown and drew up a list of five potential recruits who could boost their chances of doing so.
Four of those targets came at centre-back, despite Ferguson not placing any of his current defenders in the dreaded “excess” section.
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Gabriel Heinze, Philippe Mexes, Vincent Kompany and Gerard Pique were the quarter of centre-backs on United’s shortlist, while Leeds striker Alan Smith was also wanted.
In the end Ferguson added Heinze, Pique and Smith to his squad, deciding against moves for future Manchester City captain Kompany and Serie A hero Mexes.
Unfortunately, the trio failed to help United reclaim their crown that year.
Heinze got off to an impressive start, scooping United’s Player of the Year award in his debut season, before making 22 appearances when they finally got their hands back on the title in 2006/07.
Smith, too, hit the ground running and scored 10 goals in his first 42 games, but after breaking his leg towards the end of the 2005/06 campaign he failed to rediscover his best form and was a peripheral figure by the time United were champions again.
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As for Pique, the Spanish defender was only granted 10 appearances by Ferguson before being sent out on loan to Real Zaragosa that season. Two years later he sealed a move to Barcelona and the rest is history.
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