It would take someone even bolder to do so having already signed a contract and attended a press conference to confirm your imminent arrival. And yet that is what a 17-year-old John Obi Mikel did back in 2005, snubbing Ferguson and Old Trafford for Stamford Bridge and Chelsea.
Mikel was plying his trade in Norway at the time, starring for Oslo-based side Lyn as the dominant central midfielder he would grow to become at the highest level. He only played six times for his first club but also impressed with Nigeria&aposs youth setup, progressing through the age groups at a rapid rate.
And it was after just one game in Norway that United made their move, sending representatives to Oslo in a bid to win the race for this promising teenager. Having spent a few months training with the Reds in the past, Mikel liked the idea of returning on a permanent basis and the midfielder signed a pre-contract agreement, meaning he would join up just as soon as he turned 18.
“It [Manchester] was a special place for me as well because I was there for two or three months,” Mikel recently told talkSPORT. “I know the place. I know the likes of Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt. We used to train together. The gaffer was like, &aposOh you need to sign this, you need to sign the contract, because we want you back at the club&apos.
“I was like, &aposYou know what, I think I&aposm going to sign this&apos. So I signed the pre-contract with Manchester United.
“I was sent to Lyn Oslo by Chelsea, so Chelsea were looking out for me and my family back then so the United coaches found out where I was and they sent someone down with the contract and they were like, &aposOkay we need to snatch you now, we need to make sure you sign for United&apos.
“So I spoke to the club and it was like &aposyou have a contract here, Chelsea haven&apost got a contract for you so you better sign this contract&apos. Then we had a discussion for an hour or two and then finally I signed for United.”
Knowing of interest elsewhere and keen to flex their muscle, United even arranged a press conference in which they confirmed Mikel&aposs signing. The Nigerian was present and sporting the famous red shirt. Job done – or so everyone thought.
“I did the press conference and it was everywhere,” Mikel added. “Then Roman [Abramovich], everybody at Chelsea saw it and were like, &aposWhat&aposs going on here? We&aposve been looking out for this player for two or three years now, what&aposs happening here?&apos
“Then they sent my agent down to Lyn in Oslo and he came to Norway. Then for a couple of hours, I went missing. So he took me out from my apartment where I used to live with a couple of my friends. He took me out of there and was like, &aposListen we need to go back to London. I need to get you out of Norway right now because what you&aposve done right now, we are in so much, so much trouble with Chelsea and Roman is not happy.&apos
“So my agent took me to a hotel and then the next morning we flew down to London and then the rest was history. It took me about a year so I couldn&apost play for either United or Chelsea because FIFA were like, &aposWe need to resolve this&apos.
“I went to FIFA and was like, &aposI didn&apost mean to sign for United, the pen slipped!&apos”
Such was the complexity of the transfer that the Football Association decided to get involved, mediating a meeting between Ferguson and Mikel at their London headquarters. The midfielder was set on joining Chelsea but such were the fears of Ferguson&aposs power of persuasion, that his agent warned of &aposbrainwashing&apos techniques.
An intense one-on-one meeting took place, with Ferguson using every trick in his armoury to try and persuade Mikel that United were the team to join. But his attempts were fruitless. The decision had been made, and after a lengthy process, Chelsea got their man in the summer of 2006.
After accepting defeat, Ferguson rallied to bring some kind of benefit to United. The Scot argued that having signed a pre-contract agreement, Mikel was a United player and his side were owed significant compensation.
Mikel has revealed himself that Chelsea paid 18million for his signature, 14m of which went to Old Trafford with just 4m going to Lyn. Ferguson might count himself to have done pretty well from the saga, with that money contributing a massive portion of the 18.6m they spent on another central midfielder, Michael Carrick, that same summer.
Mikel was a slow burner at Chelsea, gradually growing in influence as Claude Makelele aged before eventually joining Paris Saint-Germain in 2008. The Nigerian grew a reputation as a no-nonsense defensive midfielder who did the dirty work for those ahead of him and was afraid of no one on the pitch – although a certain opposition manager did leave him flapping.
“I saw him one time, it was Manchester United against Chelsea,” Mikel told The Debrief Podcast. “I was coming out of the dressing room and as I was coming out of the door at the corner he was coming out and I just s*** myself.
“I can&apost remember what happened, I think I tripped up on the stairs, he looked at me and he just walked out. He started chewing his gum and just walked out. He didn&apost say a word.