Transfer Tales: Gabriel Heinze

Sunday 11 June 2023 07:00

While the Manchester United fans regularly chant 'Ar-gen-tina' in tribute to Lisandro Martinez, there was another tough-tackling defender who enjoyed similar recognition a couple of decades ago.

On this day in 2004, Sir Alex Ferguson completed the signing of the Paris Saint-Germain man for a fee reportedly in the region of £6.9 million.

The boss had been on the lookout for a new left-back and was keen to strengthen his squad, after a third-placed finish in the Premier League, even if the FA Cup triumph, beating Millwall in the final, had secured some silverware.

A move was sealed quickly with PSG, with star signing Wayne Rooney not following until late in the window, on the back of Alan Smith and youngsters Gerard Pique and Giuseppe Rossi also joining the club.

Watch one of Heinze's strikes for United - against Reading.

The abrasive Argentina international had not spoken face-to-face with Ferguson before agreeing to the switch, although there was some debate over whether he would be deployed on the left or in the middle of the defence.

“My dream is coming true by joining United,” said the South American, after signing a five-year contract. "We have not yet discussed which position I will play. I don't know whether it will be in central defence or left-back. All they said is that they wanted me.

"They have shown great motivation to secure my services, even though I did not talk directly with Sir Alex Ferguson."

There was no need for a work permit because of the defender’s German passport and the chief competition for his signature appeared to come from Valencia.

“We’ve been monitoring Gabriel for a long time and he demonstrates all the qualities of the top Argentinian defenders – strength, speed and excellent technical ability,” commented Sir Alex.

PSG coach Vahid Halilhodzic appeared less happy with Heinze, claiming: “I didn’t appreciate his behaviour at training, his provocative manner and his play-acting."

Yet the spiky character quickly endeared himself to the United faithful, even scoring on his debut against Bolton Wanderers. Remarkably, his impact was so big that he won the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award at the end of his first campaign.

A long-term injury in 2005 proved a huge blow to the full-back, and Patrice Evra arrived to nail down the left-sided slot in the defence.

Gabriel Heinze poses with the United no.4 shirt.

Although he captained the team on a couple of occasions towards the end of the 2006/07 term, he was determined to move on in order to obtain regular first-team football again and was apparently keen on a transfer to arch-rivals Liverpool.

Sir Alex was never going to entertain that particular idea and, instead, in the August, Heinze moved to Real Madrid, and would later represent Marseille, Roma and Newell's Old Boys.