Sir Alex Ferguson shocked Manchester United supporters back in 2001 when he sanctioned the sale of the club’s best centre-back.
In three seasons at Old Trafford, Jaap Stam won the treble and United won the Premier League three times on the bounce.
But Ferguson believed Stam, who was returning from an achilles injury, wasn’t able to play at the same level, and sold the Holland defender to Lazio.
Stam would play at the highest level for a further five seasons, and spent time at AC Milan and Ajax after leaving the Stadio Olimpico.
Ferguson later admitted that he’d made an error in judgment. In 2007 he said:
“At the time he had just come back from an achilles injury and we thought he had just lost a little bit. We got the offer from Lazio, £16.5m for a centre-back who was 29. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. But in playing terms it was a mistake. He is still playing for Ajax at a really good level.”
Stam, who currently manages Championship side Reading, has never spoken to Ferguson about his departure from Old Trafford, but echoed the Scot’s regret when speaking ahead of his side’s FA Cup clash with United.
“Well, of course it was a mistake,” Stam said. “I’m not going to deny that. I knew myself how I felt as a player at the time.
“And at that time you’re not happy with it. But you know as well when you go into management that sometimes you have to make certain decisions.”
“It happened and you have to go on with your life and you try to succeed somewhere else,” Stam told the Daily Mail.
“He had the confidence in me to take me over and let me play and I’ve learned from him as a manager as well now. I’d have loved to spend a couple of years extra over there, but that’s how it was.”