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Man Utd's forgotten 'ghost transfer' caused 'psychological shock' to the 'next Kaka'

Joe Adams

| Last updated 

Man Utd's forgotten 'ghost transfer' caused 'psychological shock' to the 'next Kaka'

Very few 17-year-old's can claim they were personally headhunted by Sir Alex Ferguson himself.

But that was the case for Serbia’s Adem Ljajic, who was intermittently attending Carrington training sessions while still playing for his club in Serbia.

However, with the world at his feet, and his sights set on Old Trafford, it all came crashing down.

This is the heartbreaking tale of Ljajic and Manchester United's 'ghost transfer'.


Cast your minds back to October 2008. The Red Devils agreed a deal with Serbian side Partizan Belgrade to sign Ljajic after impressing Old Trafford scouts during a trial at United.


The teenager was to spend the remainder of 2009 in Belgrade before making the switch to England the following year.

Meanwhile, club teammate Zoran Tosic had made the immediate move to United, taking over the No.14 jersey.


Tosic failed to live up to the billing in the Premier League, but Ljajic had all the hallmarks of becoming a star, or so it seemed.

The attacking-midfielder originally caught United's attention when he was just 16 after making his first-team debut for Partizan.

His performances earned him a trial, before a £9m deal was organised. Although Ferguson was adamant that he would continue his immediate development in his home country.

United legend Nemanja Vidic was influential in the move and took both Ljajic and Tosic out for dinner before they officially joined.


"It is good for Serbia and for me to have them around. I hope they enjoy it," Vidic said at the time.

"I did not need to convince them to come to Manchester United. This is the best team in the world. Everyone wants to be part of this squad. They are having a dream. I know how they feel. I found it very difficult when I first came here but I am here to help."

Ljajic was understandably overwhelmed by the prospect of the transfer, exclaiming: "It has all happened so fast for me," he said.

"I am only 17 and have had some dreams in the past but can now have one more: the United shirt... however, I will spend the next year learning more at Partizan and I will be ready for Old Trafford next January."


The Serbia Under-21 international - dubbed ‘the next Kaka’ - continued to shine for Partizan, helping them lift the domestic title.

It wasn't long before he was invited to train with the United first team squad at Carrington, with the player discussing Ferguson's fast-paced coaching style.

"The quality in England is very high because you are training with such great players, but the main difference is it's much quicker," he admitted..

"I really enjoyed it and training with such top players can only help me improve. Coming over to England allowed me to see how things worked so I know what to expect when I come here permanently. I hope that when I join in January I will be involved with the first team from the start."


With everything seemingly finalised, Ljajic left Carrington after his final pre-transfer training session in November 2009.

Little did he know that was to be his last ever visit to United, as his whole world came crashing down.

The club had subsequently decided to pull out of the deal less than a month after his latest trip.

Explaining the decision, a United spokesperson said: "We had an option to buy the player but, having closely monitored his development over the past 12 months, and taken into consideration the young players emerging through the ranks at the club, we have not chosen to pursue the transfer."

It seemed a strange decision. Ljajic had scored his first goal in the Europa League and netted four more in the league, as he continued to demonstrate his talent.

However, former United coach Mike Phelan cast aside such comments when he admitted: "I don't think money is an issue.

"We made a tentative approach to getting a work permit and the word we got back from the Home Office was we couldn't get that through in time to get Adem signed in January.

"We have a platform that allows young players to develop and get into the first-team - we looked at Adem and he has the potential to do that.

"But sometimes you cannot fight these things. Sometimes you can get work permits, other times you can't. Adem fell into the latter category, which is why we made the decision."

After the dust had settled on his failed transfer, Ljajic branded Phelan's words "nonsense" in a brutal assessment, claiming it was all to do with the fact he couldn't get a work permit.

"Stories about stagnation in my football development are nonsense," he said.

“If Manchester United were really not satisfied with how much I've progressed in this year, I would not have been with Ferguson two months ago at the end of my last cycle of mandatory training at the club before moving to England.”

He added: "The reason for the transfer not happening is that I couldn't get a business licence [work permit]. Who knows what I will do next? I have heard already that clubs are interested and that Partizan want to sell me. We'll see."

Ljajic ended up leaving Partizan for Fiorentina, for whom he played 88 games, racking up 16 goals and 14 assists.

His form earned him a call-up to the Serbia senior national team. Although this too, wasn't the smoothest of rides after was exiled for two years for not singing the national anthem for personal reasons against Spain in 2012.

He later returned to the fold in 2014 and featured in all three group matches for his country at the 2018 World Cup. Indeed, a career not to be sniffed at.

After his failed transfer to United, Partizan's head coach Goran Stevanovic revealed that Ljajic had to overcome a mental barrier to return to his best and hailed the player for how he handled the "psychological shock" at such a young age.

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Featured Image Credit: Getty

Topics: Manchester United, Nemanja Vidic, Sir Alex Ferguson, Football

Joe Adams
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