Friday 3 July ~
He was an experienced international striker with an outstanding goals-per-game ratio, but signing him still represented a gamble for Man Utd's wily Scottish manager. He might come off the bench to score against Hull but a young reserve striker could do that. In the event, 32-year-old Welsh forward Ron Davies didn't find the net in United's 2-0 win over the Tigers or in any of his other eight appearances in the club's Division Two season of 1974-75. But that scarcely mattered – United clinched the title with several weeks to spare. Davies, signed on a free transfer from Portsmouth, left the same way for Millwall in November 1975.
Davies had scored goals at Old Trafford before, notably in August 1969 when he got all of Southampton's goals in a 4-1 win. "The Hampshire club would have little difficulty in finding a buyer willing to pay £200,000 for him," said the following season's Rothman’s yearbook. Southampton were able to resist bids for their star striker, however, while Man Utd shopped elsewhere, with Ted MacDougall from Bournemouth and Davies's Welsh namesake Wyn among the forwards who failed to make an impact with a declining team.
The signing of Michael Owen, who is about to arrive on a free transfer from Newcastle, is said to represent the biggest gamble of Sir Alex Ferguson's career. Some even say that it is a sign of his declining judgment, alongside the £30 million spent on Dimitar Berbatov a year ago.
But all Ferguson has done is to acquire a squad player on a free transfer, just as Tommy Docherty did with Davies in 1974. United have banked £80m from the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo and while it's not clear how much of that they will have to spend, it's inconceivable that Owen will be the only forward they bring in this summer.
Changes to the UK tax laws and the decline in the value of sterling relative to the euro will hamper their attempts to sign top players, but that also applies to the other members of the Premier League's big four. In the meantime they have acquired a proven goalscorer – and Owen is much less of a gamble for Man Utd than he would have been for clubs such as Hull or Stoke who would have relied on him starting every week. Rob Weston