The Red Devils were routinely linked with the Colombia international but a deal was never done for a player they will now need to contain on Saturday
On Saturday, Manchester United visit Everton knowing that if they are to avoid a third straight defeat, then keeping James Rodriguez quiet will be key.
The Colombia playmaker has made a superb start to life at Goodison Park, scoring three goals and assisting three more in his first six Premier League appearances for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
He now prepares to face a United team who even this past summer were being linked with a move for the 29-year-old, who was desperate to bring an end to his disappointing spell at Real Madrid.
And though he eventually landed in Merseyside rather than Manchester, it was not the first time that he had been tipped to move to Old Trafford.
But just how close did United come to signing James? And have they missed a trick by not acquiring him, given his impressive start to life in England?
He first appeared on the club’s radar as a teenager in 2010 when he was playing for Banfield.
“United’s scout in Argentina, Jose Mayorga, was a big fan of James,” Marcelo Teixeira, who worked for the club across South America between 2008-2011, told The Telegraph.
“Mayorga always included James’ name in his reports, but the evaluation from the club was that his playing style didn’t suit the Premier League.”
Of course, early signs suggest that that may have been a misdiagnosis, in light of his form at Everton.
Regardless, despite United’s interest, James instead moved to Porto, where he continued to be monitored by Sir Alex Ferguson himself, with the legendary coach looking for a new No.10 to build his attack around.
Having failed to sign Eden Hazard from Lille in 2012, the decision was made to begin negotiations over a move for James. However, the Colombia international turn them down in favour of joining Monaco.
“There was some kind of talk there,” James told Rio Ferdinand’s YouTube show ‘The Locker Room’ of United’s interest in his services eight years ago. “My agent (Jorge Mendes) has a great relationship with the club.
“We always dreamed of getting to a big club, and since I was a child, I always admired Manchester. I always saw those teams with Rio together with [Ryan] Giggs and [Paul] Scholes. There were a lot of prodigious players and I wanted to get there in that year. But it didn’t happen.
“I thought I had to play for a club that wasn’t so big. So, I went to France just before the World Cup and my plan was to go to the World Cup, have a great tournament, score goals, reach a good level and then play for a big club.”
If that truly was James’ plan, then it could not have gone better for him. He proved to be the star of the show in Brazil, winning the World Cup’s Golden Boot as Colombia reached the quarter-finals before completing an €80 million (£63m/$107m) move to Real Madrid later that summer.
Though he enjoyed a strong first season at Santiago Bernabeu, injuries limited his game time thereafter and by the time he joined Bayern Munich on loan in 2017, it was clear that his time as a starter in Madrid was likely up.
Unsurprisingly, given their transfer strategy at the time revolved around signing the biggest names they could get their hands on, United were linked with his signature during almost every transfer window.
Though the majority of the stories were just rumours, Goal can confirm that United were offered one last shot at signing him during the summer of 2019.
With Madrid desperate to acquire Paul Pogba, the Spanish giants offered a cash-plus-player deal to United that would have seen James move to Manchester.
United, though, had no interest.
They were willing to sanction Pogba’s sale but would not accept anything less than £150m ($198m) for the France international. In addition, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had about rebuilding his squad with young, British players. With James having just turned 29, he did not fit the bill.
Ultimately, United instead moved for Bruno Fernandes, who was 25 when he belatedly arrived at Old Trafford during the January transfer window. Given the Portuguese’s impact, Solskjaer will feel the club made the right call.
James, of course, was offered to all of Europe’s biggest clubs again during the summer, having been deemed surplus to requirements by Zinedine Zidane, but even after their failure to land Jadon Sancho, United never considered submitting a bid.
In the end, James has ended up at Everton, and those at United who doubted he could cut it in the Premier League a decade ago may now be eating their words.
That said, United have no regrets about how things turned out. But you can be sure that everyone at the club will be hoping that their decision to pass on the chance to sign James doesn’t come back to haunt them at lunchtime on Saturday afternoon.