The Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, refused to compete with Chelsea to sign Damien Duff during the summer because he did not think the Irish winger "was worth it", the club's chief executive, David Gill, revealed at yesterday's annual meeting.
Gill admitted that United had been in contact with Blackburn Rovers about the Republic of Ireland international while he stalled over his move to Stamford Bridge. However, Ferguson decided to drop his interest in Duff, who subsequently joined Chelsea for £17m.
Gill told United shareholders: "We discussed it and were interested. We asked for the value of the player and we knew his personal terms, we had discussions with his agent. The manager assesses what the player would be worth against other players and the assessment of the manager was that Duff was not worth that money. He felt he had sufficient cover."
There were cries of "what a mistake" from the meeting at Old Trafford and the admission will come as news to Duff's advisors, who held out for several days before committing to Chelsea. Duff had been willing to take less wages from United than Chelsea had offered, but he was left with no choice at the end and has since been a highlight of Claudio Ranieri's team.
Ferguson later bought the Brazilian midfielder, Kleberson, and the Portuguese winger, Cristiano Ronaldo, for a combined fee of around £16m, but neither have made much impact.
The United board was criticised for giving Martin Edwards the position of honorary president - or as one shareholder shouted "dishonorable president" - following his decision to stand down as club chairman.
Gill was also asked about how much agents - and in particular Ferguson's son, Jason - make in commissions from transfers. There were calls for more transparency in the accounts to avoid any worries about a conflict of interest in the huge sums paid to Ferguson's company, Elite Sports, from United deals.
Gill replied: "Jason Ferguson works for Elite, who we do use for certain transactions, and they have certain players who are on our books and we use them for certain players coming in.
"Jason is more on the corporate side of the business, I have not actually sat in on business where he has been involved. We do not believe that there has been any conflict of interest or will be."Reuse content