The rise of round-the-clock media coverage and social media has led even the most decorated sporting teams to slip up on the publicity front every now and then. Manchester United is no different and has endured its fair share of embarrassing moments in recent years and further back.
For a club with a trophy cabinet the size of the Red Devils’, one would imagine most of their embarrassing moments would occur off the pitch. That’s correct, but only to a certain extent. During its 137-year history, Manchester United has been on the wrong end of a hammering or two and lost to teams the average football fan wouldn’t even have heard of.
The transfer market has also provided a source of blushes for the Old Trafford staff and supporters. While Sir Alex Ferguson steered the ship with authority both on and off the pitch for 27 years, even he got it wrong on the odd occasion. Whether forking out millions for a player who turns out to be average at best, or fending off rumors about tapping up stars of the future, United, like any other club, has made the headlines when they probably would’ve preferred otherwise.
As the 20-time Premier League champions have learned over an extensive period of success, a convincing win over a Premier League rival or a storming run to the latter stages of the Champions League can gloss over even the most mortifying of scenarios. But just as advancing technology, social media and the media have contributed to amplifying these sticky situations, they have also ensured they are nearly impossible to forget.
Manchester United is not alone in this respect, of course. Every club has a period or moment of history it wants to erase. But staying true to their status in the football world, the Red Devils are the subject of this article.
Here are the top 15 most embarrassing moments in Manchester United history.
15 Paul Pogba Free Transfer
Sir Alex Ferguson always had a pretty good eye for telling an average player from a potential world-beater, but his judgement failed him when he allowed Paul Pogba to leave Old Trafford just three years after signing him. Despite making only three Premier League appearances for the Red Devils, the Frenchman hit the ground running upon his arrival in Italy with Juventus. Within three seasons of top-flight football, Pogba has developed into one of the most complete midfielders in the world, leaving United fans wondering how Fergie so easily let him slip through the net.
14 Paul Pogba Tapping Up Scandal
Hindsight is a beautiful thing, it must be said. But if letting Paul Pogba go for free isn’t mortifying enough, the supposed manner in which Manchester United signed him certainly is. In 2009, Le Havre, Pogba’s junior club, accused the Red Devils of paying “very large” sums to the youngster’s parents in a bid to persuade him to see out the final year of his contract before moving to Old Trafford on a free transfer. Despite publicizing great displeasure of the Premier League giants’ alleged conduct, Le Havre lost its star 16-year-old to United without receiving a single penny of compensation.
13 Manchester United 0 – Liverpool 3
Forget about Manchester City, most Manchester United fans will tell you Liverpool is the club they love to beat most. Going into this traditional blockbuster in March 2014, David Moyes was on a roll by his standards having taken eight points from a possible 12. Victory over the Reds in front of the Old Trafford support might’ve seen the United boss hang on to his job a little while longer, but a 3-0 mauling sowed the seed of his departure a month later. The hosts were comprehensively outplayed by a Steven Gerrard-inspired Liverpool, who went on finish second behind Manchester City in the 2013-14 Premier League title race.
12 Manchester United 1 – Manchester City 6
It’s one of the most memorable Manchester derbies in recent history, and for all the wrong reasons in the red half of the city. On October 23rd 2011, Manchester City battered its hosts 6-1 at Old Trafford to record the Red Devils’ heaviest home defeat in 60 years and the first time they’d conceded six goals in their own backyard since 1930. Although three of City’s goals came in the last few minutes, the match was nothing short of a rout. Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko scored a brace each, while Sergio Aguero and David Silva added to United’s suffering with a strike apiece.
11 MK Dons 4-0 Manchester United
The spirit of knockout format competition seems to invigorate the small fry of English football, so giant killings are commonplace in the FA Cup. However, the 4-0 pounding MK Dons handed Manchester United in August 2014 was an unusual case. Although it was ‘just’ a second-round tie against a League One outfit, Louis van Gaal was in desperate need of a win in order to prove himself to the Old Trafford crowd. The match couldn’t have gone worse for the Dutchman and his side, who failed to register a shot on target until the 72nd minute before the final whistle blew with the score at 4-0 in favor of the hosts.
10 BSkyB Takeover Attempt
Given the astronomical surge in the financial power of sport organisations during the last two decades, takeovers are a relatively common occurrence in the modern game. However, in 1999 when Manchester United accepted a £623.4m offer to be acquired by UK satellite broadcaster BSkyB, the club’s supporters reacted with profound discontent. Football fans throughout the country were disappointed by United's willingness to go through with the deal, sparking protests against the Rupert Murdoch-controlled company seizing ownership of the proud English club. The UK Monopolies and Mergers Commission stepped in to scupper negotiations though, citing the potential for BSkyB to gain excessive market power as a result of the lucrative agreement.
9 Southampton 6-3 Manchester United
Less than a week after suffering a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Newcastle United, the Red Devils succumbed to another devastating loss on the road, this time a 6-3 thumping by Southampton. The massacre was full of lowlights for the travelling Manchester United supporters: an Egil Ostenstad hat-trick, a Roy Keane red card and a cheeky Matthew Le Tissier chip over the head of Peter Schmeichel. However, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men recovered from this shattering October defeat and went on to claim their second consecutive Premier League crown.
8 Chelsea 5-0 Manchester United
Manchester United came into this fixture unbeaten in 29 matches, but its proud record came crashing down within 27 seconds as Gus Poyet slotted home the first of five unanswered goals. The opener was a gift from the error-prone goalkeeper Massimo Taibi, who came off his line to punch the ball away and missed, giving the Uruguayan a chance he could hardly miss. The embarrassing affair was all but wrapped up 10 minutes into the second half with the score at 4-0, but Jody Morris tucked away a fifth in the 81st to bring the Red Devils’ streak to a miserable end.
7 Wayne Rooney To Manchester City Rumors
Wayne Rooney should consider himself lucky the Manchester United faithful remain fond of the England striker. His October 2010 decision to inform the club he wanted to leave for the affluent pastures of Manchester City at the end of his contract can only be described as bitter and spiteful. As when Carlos Tevez made the treacherous move across Manchester, the Old Trafford crowd didn’t take kindly to the rancorous demand. Rooney dismissed claims his intention to jump ship was motivated by money and although he signed a five-year extension just two days after his shock announcement, the saga has permanently stained his reputation in the eyes of many.
6 Rio Ferdinand Drugs Test
Rio Ferdinand was due to undergo a drugs test at Manchester United’s Carrington headquarters on September 23rd 2003, but the appointment slipped the England international’s mind and he left to go shopping after training. The Manchester United defender was subsequently banned for eight months and fined £50,000 by the English FA after he was found guilty of misconduct by an independent tribunal. Although United appealed the verdict, the original punishment was upheld and took affect from January the following year, preventing Ferdinand from partaking in much of the 2003-04 club season and Euro 2004 with the England national team.
5 2013-14 Premier League Finish
The 2013-14 season marked the beginning of life without Sir Alex Ferguson for Manchester United. David Moyes, his hand-picked successor, faced an enormous task trying to fill the void left by the legendary manager. The former Everton boss got off to a slow start and never managed to kick his side into top gear despite embarking on a few intermittent runs of positive results. Inconsistency proved Moyes’ downfall and he was replaced by Ryan Giggs on an interim basis in April. Following a disappointing campaign on all fronts, United finished the Premier League season in seventh place with no silverware.
4 David De Gea to Real Madrid Transfer Blunder
Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea appeared destined to join Real Madrid during the 2015-16 summer transfer window. Although both clubs laid their cards on the table in the early stages of the window, the deal dragged out until the final few hours before the transfer deadline. In general, the deal is said to have fallen through because the required paperwork wasn’t submitted in time. Some reports hold the Red Devils responsible for delaying the submission of the documents, others suggest the Spaniards received the files in a format their computers couldn’t open. Whatever went wrong in transfer cyberspace, De Gea is stuck at Old Trafford for the time being, though he just signed a new contract with the club.
3 David Beckham Boot Incident
With tension building between David Beckham and Sir Alex Ferguson throughout the 2002-03 campaign, Manchester United had little choice but to show ‘Goldenballs' the door after his passion to play for the club had obviously declined. This fallout culminated in a bizarre incident that occurred behind closed doors in the United dressing room following an FA Cup defeat in 2003. Beckham cursed in frustration; Ferguson moved towards him and kicked a boot that hit the midfielder slightly above his right eye. Beckham rose to confront his manager only to be held back by his teammates. The cut on on Becks’ face caused a stir among the press and sparked widespread reports of a bust-up between the pair.
2 Ryan Giggs Affair
Unlike the average person, a modern footballer is virtually incapable of separating personal matters from their work life. The concept of being under constant surveillance usually brings one to feel a hint of pity for high-profile athletes, but perhaps not in the case of Ryan Giggs. The Manchester United winger had an eight-year affair with Natasha Giggs, the wife of his brother, Rhodri. His brother, a father of two, is yet to receive an apology from his older sibling despite the fling tearing the family apart. Everyone makes mistakes in life, but this one will hang over Ryan Giggs’ head and his legacy at Old Trafford for a long time yet.
1 Nazi Swastika Email Incident
There are few symbols capable of causing more grief and sadness than the Nazi swastika; so who knows what the Manchester United media team was thinking when it incorporated a strikingly similar logo in an email newsletter to its fans in October 2013. The ‘United Uncovered’ issue also included the Nazi Germany affiliated phrase ‘new order’ alongside the tasteless graphic, supposedly in reference to a feature about the club’s new cohort of promising young players. Following severe public backlash on Twitter, United issued a statement claiming any offence caused by the references was “entirely unintended” and “unreservedly apologizes” for its error of judgement.