United did resuscitate the season, Brian McClair scoring twice in a 3-0 victory, but the manager remained unconvinced that he had the firepower needed to end the agonising wait for league glory. The following week, he got his man in a move that sent shockwaves reverberating around the football world.
Many had viewed Alan Shearer as the ideal striker signing for United but the Southampton youngster had instead joined ambitious Blackburn for a record £3.3million fee. The Geordie goal-grabber was long touted for a switch to Old Trafford and was already proving his class at his new club. As fate would have it, the England hitman would rupture his knee ligaments a month later but he’d bagged 12 goals in his first 11 games and it was always going to be a case of the one who got away.
“Shearer did not convince us he necessarily wanted to play for United,” chairman Martin Edwards explained at a shareholders meeting, and the club was forced to look elsewhere. Sheffield Wednesday boss Trevor Francis had gone public about a £3.5million bid for David Hirst that had been flatly rejected. The Owls’ all-action centre-forward was tied to a four-year contract and the Yorkshire outfit were simply in no mood to do business.
Cynthia Bateman pondered in The Guardian that “money should have gone to buy a striker but you can’t get much for under £3million these days”. It seemed a fair point but, in the days before transfer windows, there was still hope. Who would answer United’s clarion call?
Darko Pancev was a poacher long admired by the boss, the Golden Boot winner a year earlier had been deadly in front of goal for Red Star Belgrade. Although his move to Inter Milan was clearly not working out, as he struggled to find a place in Osvaldo Bagnoli’s side, leaving the Serie A side a mere few months after signing for several million pounds did not appear a realistic option.