By IAN LADYMAN Last updated at 22:38pm on 13th December 2007
Look through Sir Alex Ferguson's 21 years at Manchester United and you will uncover a host of A-list footballers who could have moved to Old Trafford had circumstances been different.
Had they chosen United when the chance was theirs, Alan Shearer would have won more trophies, Paul Gascoigne may have aged more gracefully and Stuart Pearce would probably have won the FA Cup winners' medal he craved.
United manager Ferguson meets another elusive footballer at Anfield on Sunday when Liverpool forward Fernando Torres lines up against his multitalented side.
Still only 23, the Spain striker might have signed for United from Atletico Madrid two summers ago had the current Barclays Premier League champions not balked at the price.
Torres signed for Liverpool in a £26.5million deal last summer and United have not had cause to rue their decision yet. By the end of the weekend, it is just possible they may begin to wonder.
Torres is one reason why United No 2 Carlos Queiroz says: 'I have been in England for five years and I have never seen a Liverpool side looking so strong in the League at this point of the season. Torres is doing really well and I am impressed with him.
'He is already going some way to making the difference for Liverpool this season.
'He is like an eagle — he can see short spaces that others can't and he has the ability to penetrate these areas, with the ball or without the ball.
'He can beat a player, he can create space, he can make time. He is making a great contribution to Liverpool's season.'
One of the reasons United chose not to see their lengthy pursuit of Torres through was a nagging doubt within Ferguson's circle of staff about the quality of his finishing.
With 12 goals to his name already this season, Torres may claim to have put that issue to bed.
He has not always been consistent in front of goal — he missed three good chances in the November win at Newcastle, for example — but has scored enough important goals already to suggest that he will represent the biggest danger to United's chances on Merseyside.
Queiroz added: 'I think he's a good finisher and he's a player who gives Liverpool something completely different. Certainly we will have to be careful of him because he is dangerous. 'We are always confident in what we can do and we will not worry too much. But we do recognise his quality.'
As United's season has recovered from a slow start to progress relatively serenely, that of their neighbours has already contained enough drama to fill a series of Brookside.
But beneath the speculation over coach Rafael Benitez's future and the club's peculiar Champions League campaign, United have sensed improvement in Liverpool.
Queiroz said: 'The current side have better balance than previous seasons, their consistency is much better and they have had some very good results. They are strong, well balanced, with good organisation and very good defensively, as always with Benitez.
'They also have players who are showing they have a lot of ability and skill.
'After everything Rafa has done for Liverpool he doesn't deserve to be under this kind of pressure. I've known him for a long time and he is a great coach and a great man.
'But I think the bad things of Continental football are arriving in England.
'It is really strange because in the last five years there has been a definite change.
'I don't know the exact data but there are definitely more coaches under pressure than at any other time I can remember. This is not a good thing. It is a bad thing.'
One senses that Liverpool — and Benitez — have more to lose than their great rivals this Sunday lunchtime but defeat for either side will hurt deeply.
United's recent record at Anfield is good and despite Liverpool scoring 26 goals in their last eight games, Ferguson does not expect to lose.
The United manager said: 'I am happy with where we are and how we are playing. We are confident.
'December is traditionally a big month and one when we tend to do well. If you look at teams like Arsenal, who play something like 10 times in December, then our programme is not so bad. We have players coming back and we are happy.