Exclusive Fergie interview: Selling Jaap Stam was my biggest mistake as Man United boss
Published 08:31 23/04/10 By David McDonnell
Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted his biggest mistake as Manchester United boss - selling defender Jaap Stam at the peak of his powers.
In an exclusive interview released to MirrorFootball, Fergie admitted the sale of Stam to Lazio in 2001 for £16.5million was one of the rare blunders in his glittering Old Trafford reign.
And although Fergie has since made his peace with Stam, who was sold against the backdrop of Old Trafford dressing-room revelations in his autobiography, the United boss admitted he is still troubled by selling the big Dutchman.
"It was one of the mistakes I made – hopefully I haven't made too many – but that was one," said Fergie.
"I got this offer from Lazio for £18.5million. Was it £18.5million? No, £16.5million I think it was, and I says, "Can't turn it down. He's 30 years of age.
"I thought if we could get Laurent Blanc for a year or so and bring the young ones through – like Wes Brown and John O'Shea - but it backfired.
"Jaap and I have got on well together. We spoke the last time we were over in Holland at the Ajax Tournament. I spoke to him for a long time there and everything’s fine."
Stam, who is returning to Old Trafford on May 1 for a charity fundraising event, said he was no longer bitter at being forced out of United.
"I'd really enjoyed myself at the club and thought I'd been doing well up to that point so it was hard at the time I left," said Stam.
"It all happened very quickly because of the Champions League deadline – Lazio needed to register me as their player.
"It wasn't an easy moment, but that's what happens in football - players come and go and unfortunately it was me who had to go then.
"I had a great time at United – I met some great people and I had a good relationship with everybody at the club – the boss, players, staff and fans.
"I'm really looking forward to coming back. It's been a while since I was at Old Trafford, especially as a player and it’ll be great to see some old friends.
"I loved my time at United and I’m sure I’ll get that same buzz when I pull on the red shirt.
"I still remember how it felt when you stepped out of the tunnel and you saw the crowd and it was always a great feeling. It’ll be a thrill to be back there.
"I've played in some great teams but the Treble side is the best I’ve been involved with. There was a great balance to the team and we always believed in ourselves.
Stam is one of six heroes from United's 1999 Treble-winning side taking part in a charity match to raise money for the Manchester United Foundation.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Andy Cole, Denis Irwin, Ronny Johnsen and Dwight Yorke will join Stam against a side containing former Liverpool trio Ian Rush, Peter Beardsley and John Barnes as well as celebrities, including Ronan Keating.
"I wonder what they're doing after," joked Fergie when asked about Cole and Yorke.
"Keep an eye on the two of them. But, seriously, they were a fantastic partnership that year with I think it was 52 goals between them.
"I think they were the best in Europe, they were unbelievable. It was a partnership that just took off immediately.
"I don't know why, the chemistry or something just clicked between the two of them but it developed into an unbelievable partnership.
"So much so that I found difficulty, great difficulty, in keeping Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer warm and happy, that's how effective Cole and Yorke were.
"I was very fortunate to have four great strikers like that when you think about it, really fortunate.
"And yes, it created headaches at time, you know, picking the right two but that season Cole and Yorke were unbelievable.
"For most of the time Cole and Yorke's form dictated exactly who we were going to be playing all the time."
Speaking ahead of the charity match, Fergie said: "I'm starting the game and then rushing off to Sunderland. I'm looking forward to it and I just hope there's a good turn-out.
"The players who will be showing up deserve that recognition because their place in the club's history is a firm one.
"And it's for a great cause. Half of the money is going to the Manchester United Foundation.
"The club does fantastic work through the foundation, through their work with various charities and their great connection with UNICEF."
*Fergie was speaking ahead of United Relief Live: The Big Red Family Day Out, which is being held at Old Trafford on May 1.
Tickets are priced from £15 for adults, £5 for children (£20 and £7.50 in exec lounge areas) and are on sale now at www.manutd.com/unitedrelief or 0161 868 8000.