Ferguson’s ‘worst ever signing’ bought himself out of his contract for Man Utd

William Prunier played just twice for Manchester United – and yet he has gone down in history as a memorable footnote in the career of Sir Alex Ferguson.

A glance over his career tells the story of a decent defender, who retired in 2004 having played nearly 500 games for clubs like Auxerre, Marseille, Bordeaux, Napoli and Toulouse. But a Google search of Prunier’s name will give you a very different picture indeed.

Ferguson describes him as “a disaster” in his 2015 autobiography, whileJOEand many other outlets question whether he deserves the title of the legendary United manager’s worst ever signing. If that is the case, then Eric Cantona should shoulder some of the burden, given he was instrumental in Prunier’s arrival at Old Trafford in 1995.

Catona came through the Auxerre academy with Prunier and when, in December 1995, United were in the midst of an injury crisis, the Frenchman suggested they turn to his mate. With Gary Pallister, Steve Bruce and David May on the sidelines, Ferguson was desperate. Enter Prunier, who was then playing for Bordeaux.

Prunier jumped at the opportunity, buying himself out of his Bordeaux contract to move to United on a trial basis. Ferguson wanted to have a look at the 28-year-old Frenchman on the training ground, but he didn’t get such a luxury. Another injury – this time to Denis Irwin – meant Prunier was thrown in at the deep end, in a Premier League match against QPR.

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It went well. Prunier helped United to a 2-1 win on debut and even chipped in with an assist for Andrew Cole’s goal and hit the bar with a long range shot. The Independent’s match report described him as ‘an instant hero of the Old Trafford hordes’, but Ferguson was much more circumspect.

“There is always that thing about European defenders and how quickly they can pick up the pace,” Ferguson said after the game. “It’s a far quicker tempo here.” He knew a trip to White Hart Lane was coming and Prunier would be tested more in north London.

That is exactly what transpired as Prunier had a nightmare game in a 4-1 defeat by Spurs. With Paul Scholes out ill and Peter Schmeichel limping around after pulling his calf in the pre-match warm-up, United were on the receiving end of a thrashing – and ultimately that did for Prunier.

Reports at the time stated that Ferguson was not convinced, so decided to offer him an extended trial period at Old Trafford. That did not suit Prunier, so he left in search of a new club.

That version of events has since been disputed by the man himself, who gave his side of the story in an interview withThe Telegraphin 2019. “I was offered a three-year deal,” he said. “But there were a lot of protagonists involved and they couldn't find an agreement.”

Nevertheless, he will probably always be known as Ferguson’s “disaster” and one of the manager’s worst ever signings – not that it bothers Prunier. “Everyone thinks what they want,” he said. “It was a very enriching experience, a dream and an honour, and I don’t regret it.”

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