Manchester United narrowly missed out on signing Gareth Bale for 10 times less than his current value in 2007 despite actually tabling a superior offer to Tottenham Hotspur.
The Telegraph can reveal that United – currently weighing up a possible £100million move for the Wales international – made a £10 million bid, cash up front, to Southampton for Bale when he was only 17 in the January transfer window of 2007.
• 11 reasons why Bale will join United
Sir Alex Ferguson was so determined to buy Bale that he even offered to loan him back to Southampton for a further 18 months as part of the proposed deal.
Rupert Lowe had been ousted as Southampton chairman the previous summer and, according to club sources, the new board, led by Michael Wilde, were unwilling to do business in January due to concern that they would be perceived as a selling club.
The decision was the source of some disagreement inside Southampton given that Bale had only 18 months remaining on his contract.
With Bale not renewing his contract, his departure became an increasing financial necessity by the summer of 2007 and Southampton actually accepted an offer of £5 million rising to a possible £10 million for their star academy graduate and a player who would go on to become the most expensive in world football.
Amid increasing financial difficulties, Southampton were then forced to agree an early settlement fee with Tottenham for Bale in 2008 that meant they never even subsquently received the full £10 million fee that United had been offering.
• Why Bale is a United player in waiting
A sell-on clause was also bought out by Tottenham, meaning they only received £2 million rather than around £10 million from his subsequent record transfer to Real Madrid for £85 million.
Losing out to Tottenham for Bale – especially given the more generous offer they made – remains a subject of some frustration to United.
Ferguson was never given the opportunity to speak directly to Bale and was disappointed that Southampton then did a deal with Spurs without first coming back to him. United now have the funds to again bid for Bale this summer although they did also fail with a £100 million counter-offer when he joined Real Madrid in 2013.