Steve Bruce.

The lowdown on United's Christmas signings

Monday 20 December 2021 09:00

Manchester United have made several signings over the festive period in the past, before the current transfer windows were introduced.

Although the fans always sing the '12 Cantonas' song around this time of year, the Frenchman made his famous switch from Leeds United in November and a number of deals were done closer to Christmas Day.

It is also worth pointing out that, although the announcement of a fee being agreed with Spartak Moscow came on 25 December 2005, Nemanja Vidic did not seal his transfer until the early part of 2006.

Twenty years before Vidic, another centre-back, Mark Higgins, signed for the club in December 1985 after a trial spell as a non-contract player. However, the exact date of the registration has been difficult to confirm.

Relive the amazing comeback over Sheffield Wednesday - thanks to Steve Bruce's headers.

One man who definitely joined in the build-up to the special day was much-loved skipper Steve Bruce.

There was much wrangling with Norwich City over the deal and it was only confirmed on 17 December, 1987, with the registration processed even before Bruce's medical.

The Canaries were keen to wrap up the arrival of striker Robert Fleck before parting with their defender but an £825,000 transfer was completed in time for the new Reds centre-back to make his debut against Portsmouth.

"It's been a very frustrating fortnight for me," admitted Bruce. "But I'm glad it's all over and I am finally a United player.

"I desperately wanted to come here and there was only one team for me after they had shown their interest. I am a very relieved person to have got it over with.

"Near the end, things went a little sour but I had three good years at Norwich and I am not going to bear any grudges. I wish them well for the rest of the season."

Of course, he went on to become a stalwart under Sir Alex Ferguson, winning three Premier Leagues, three FA Cups, a League Cup, Super Cup and the European Cup Winners' Cup. His two late goals against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993 are forever embedded into our folklore as they took us a huge step closer to ending the long wait for the title.

Legendary goalkeeper Harry Gregg.

If we edge a couple of days closer to Christmas, Harry Gregg is another big-name Red who joined with preparations for the festivities in full swing.

On Thursday 19 December 1957, United paid a world-record fee for a goalkeeper to sign the Northern Ireland international from Doncaster Rovers. Genoa and Sheffield Wednesday had also been interested in the 23-year-old but the player's determination to join Matt Busby's men proved decisive.

"I'm the happiest man in the world," said Gregg. "The only reason I wanted to leave Doncaster is to better myself and provide more security for my wife and daughter."

Harry obviously needs no introduction to United fans after helping save lives during the Munich Air Disaster and staying at Old Trafford for a decade.

William Prunier made two appearances for the Reds after a trial spell.

In 2007, a move for Manucho was confirmed on 21 December, although the Angola international did still require some red tape to be resolved. The striker had impressed on trial from Petro Luana after being recommended by coach Carlos Quieroz. There was a determination to seal the deal before the Africa Cup of Nations. "We hope he does well in the tournament," said Ferguson. "Because, as it is at the moment, he has to play enough games to qualify for a work permit. It is up to the boy himself with how he adapts to the change and commits to the learning part."

Leaving things even tighter before the big day, William Prunier earned a short-term contract after also undergoing a trial in 1995. The French defender actually signed on 23 December so he could be an option to play against Newcastle United, four days later. An injury to Gary Pallister convinced Ferguson to act, and the Scot said: "He did really well in the Reserves and has plenty of experience. I could put Roy Keane in at the back but I can play Prunier if I want to."

The former Bordeaux man did not feature in the vital win against the Magpies but did appear twice soon afterwards, against QPR and Tottenham.

George Graham with Sir Alex Ferguson.

When it comes to swooping in the wake of Christmas Day, Tommy Docherty did just that with his first buys for the club, soon after taking over the reins, back in 1972.

George Graham had played under 'The Doc' at Chelsea and was transfer-listed at Arsenal as he wanted more first-team action. With United at the foot of the table, the experienced midfielder was snapped up for £120,000. Secret talks involving the pair, Busby and Arsenal pair Bertie Mee and Bob Wall took place over dinner in London. 

"As soon as I asked if he would join United, he jumped at the chance," said Docherty. "He is a great midfielder, an arrogant man who inspires confidence in those around him. United have always had great players - George Graham is a great player."

Graham commented: "It's a great move for me. The contract Tommy Docherty offered me was almost too good to be true."

A day later (28 December), Partick Thistle full-back Alex Forsyth also signed, a mere 35 minutes before the transfer deadline. "The first thing I knew about the deal was this morning, when I reported for training," said the Scotsman. "When I heard about the move, I just couldn't believe it."

Docherty was in the market again, exactly a year later, when raiding Brentford for another of his former players in Stewart Houston. "This is a marvellous move for me," said the defender. "The chance of a lifetime.

"I know that things are not going too well for United and they are in danger of going down, but that makes no difference and I have to think about bettering myself. And what could be better than joining United, one of the greatest clubs in the world?"