Leaked Man Utd transfer list had four key targets and five stars dubbed ‘excess’

Elite football clubs have evolved to become billion-pound empires with countless moving parts – but it wasn't always so complicated.

Just ask Manchester United icon Sir Alex Ferguson, whose staff were accustomed to getting transfer business done via simple means. As is shown by an old document illustrating the club's list of wants and want-nots ahead of the 2004/05 campaign.

Ferguson, 81, included a snapshot of the recruitment blueprint in his 2015 book, Leading, which showed his squad divided into three groups: the mainstays, youth prospects and those considered 'excess'. But the document also had a fourth column showing United's transfer targets at the time, with five names singled out for pursuit.

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Of those, the Red Devils went on to sign three in the summer of 2004: Gerard Pique (from Barcelona), Gabriel Heinze (Paris Saint-Germain) and Alan Smith (Leeds). But some might be surprised to see future Manchester City legend Vincent Kompany also make the cut alongside Auxerre' Philippe Mexes (who went on to join Roma).

Kompany was still a teenager fresh out of the Anderlecht academy at the time, but Ferguson was clearly keen on defensive reinforcements following Rio Ferdinand's eight-month ban for missing a drugs test in January 2004. Kompany would go on to join rivals City in 2006 and spark the greatest era in the club's history, but Ferguson nearly snagged another potential great.

Who's the one realistic signing who should top Man United's list next summer? Let us know in the comments section below.

"When I went to the Celtic v Anderlecht Champions League tie in Glasgow in November 2003, it was to watch the Belgian defender Vincent Kompany," the Scot revealed in 2018. "However, my attention soon gravitated to Celtic’s energetic young midfielder, slight of stature but with an assured, calm way about him.

"What I witnessed was a player with a tremendous set of midfield fundamentals – his movement off the ball, his penetration of the Anderlecht midfield. I came away smitten by his performance, not least the timing of his runs. Leaving Parkhead I was totally determined to get [the late] Liam Miller to Manchester United."

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As for whom United were happy to discard that year, goalkeeper flop Ricardo, Class of 92 member Nicky Butt, Luke Chadwick and Diego Forlan each made the cut. Youth signing Michael Stewart was also named on the list, but his departure was delayed until 2005 when he joined Hibernian.

Forlan, 44, was perhaps the biggest regret of that bunch after the Uruguayan went on to become a hit with Villarreal and Atletico Madrid, though one can understand the decision given he had Ruud van Nistelrooy, Louis Saha and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for competition. The same may not be said for French forward David Bellion, however, who failed to live up to his potential after scoring just eight times in 40 appearances prior to leaving Old Trafford in 2006.

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