Manchester United failed with a bid of “three or four million” for Gareth Bale when the Welshman was making waves at Southampton, says George Burley, with the sale of Theo Walcott to Arsenal leaving the Red Devils frustrated.
Sir Alex Ferguson was forever in the market for top young talent during his iconic reign at Old Trafford, with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney snapped up when still in their teens.
A similar deal was sought for Bale, who burst onto the scene at Southampton to quickly register on the radar of leading sides in the Premier League.
United were eager to buy into that potential – several years before returning for the same player - but saw their efforts to add another exciting prospect to the ranks at Old Trafford come to nothing.
Former Saints boss Burley told The Athletic of a player he handed a senior debut to at the age of 16: “He was like a winger playing at full-back.
“Manchester United were interested in him. I remember going to a hotel and speaking to Sir Alex and his chief executive.
“We'd already sold Theo Walcott for £12 million and they offered three or four million so we said ‘no way’.
“I think they were a little bit worried about his defensive side of the game, which we were working at, but he could handle that.”
Walcott left Southampton for Arsenal in January 2006, three months prior to Bale making his competitive bow.
The Welshman would get his move in 2007, as Tottenham swept in to secure his signature, and Burley says he was never in any doubt that a man now on the books at Real Madrid would reach the very top.
He added: “I was always a manager who looked towards young players and the academy.
“Southampton had a multitude of good, young promising players. Theo Walcott was the young player people were always speaking about when I initially took over as manager, and Gareth was another player that showed a lot of promise.
“Gareth from day one showed tremendous ability. He was a young player I enjoyed working with. There’s no doubt there were a number of young players there and Gareth was probably the pick of the bunch.
“I had every confidence in Gareth. I was a full-back myself, an attacking full-back and so for me I really enjoyed him.”
Bale became the most expensive player on the planet when joining Real in 2013, but is now being linked with a move away from Spain after struggling for form and fitness over recent seasons.