The Telegraph’s James Ducker is normally one of the best reporters on Manchester United, but you can’t help but think, whether knowingly or not, he’s been CEO Ed Woodward’s mouthpiece this week. On Saturday, Ducker excitedly leaked an internal email to staff from Woodward, stating “Despite the inflated nature of the transfer market and constant speculation and stories, which can be misleading, the recruitment team – in conjunction with the manager … are working calmly behind the scenes to bring in other exciting players…”
Internal email from Ed Woodward reveals #MUFC plans to sign more “exciting” players who fit club's “long-term vision”. Recognition they’re operating in an “inflated” market but says club are working “calmly” behind scenes amid all the talk https://t.co/IQZrHpYo3k
— James Ducker (@TelegraphDucker) June 29, 2019
At first, I felt excited and reassured. United fans on Twitter seemed to be feeling the same. The groundswell of #glazersout outrage immediately started to subside, replaced by the childlike optimism of an eight-year-old hanging out his stocking on Christmas Eve. And then it hit me – did Woodward deliberately leak the email to get the fans off his back? Maybe he’s not that dumb after all. Maybe he suckered us. So let’s just stop and look at where we’re at right now.
Yes, United have put in a £70m bid for Harry Maguire, yes, it shows intent and determination, and yet it divides the fans. Many see him as the strong, Premier league-proven quality centre back we’ve needed for years, others see him as a mere upgrade on Jones and Smalling, but falling way short of world class and lacking the leadership qualities that United need at the heart of their defence. And everyone is asking, why are United willing to buy him today for a price today that they weren’t willing to buy him for a year ago? And it’s still not a done deal, we do not know whether United will be willing to meet Leicester at the £80m they are likely to hold out for.
And yes, it’s great we got our No.1 right back target in Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and yes, it’s true, we didn’t have to forfeit our 25% sell on clause for Wilfred Zaha to get him and yes, we managed to pay under £50 million for him. But the fact remains that in a summer window where we’ve repeatedly read that Olé Solskjaer wants the majority of the signings – expected to be around 5 – completed before the pre-season tour, the fact that it took United’s negotiators until the 29th June to secure a young right back for an inflated value has to be questioned. Why did the negotiations take so long? Why did Woodward and Judge go in at a ridiculous £30 million in a negotiation that was always going to come down to a figure of between £45 and £55? United had a free run at Wan-Bissaka, there was no bidding war, the player, a childhood United fan, wanted to come to Old Trafford. There just seems to have been no need for it to have taken so long.
Manchester United saving the best until last?
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) July 4, 2019
Meanwhile, the distractions with these English defenders left Woodward having to ask Sporting, and Bruno Fernandes’ agent, to wait a couple of weeks to start negotiations for the Portuguese midfielder. Fortunately, they did, but it was a risky strategy with Liverpool having already bid for the player, and it now puts United back at the start of another, potentially more complicated, negotiation just a few days before the pre-season tour – Solskjaer’s deadline – begins.
Still buoyed by the “leaked” memo and the Maguire bid, though, United fans seem confident that the Fernandes deal will be wrapped up quickly and that a deal for the next “exciting player” – probably Newcastle’s Sean Longstaff – will also be tied up within days. The fans feel relaxed, we’re mentally lying on sun loungers looking at the Caribbean sea, sipping mojitos and drawing up our likely starting XIs for next season, purring at the fact that they have an average age of 22.
But read the latest reports of the Fernandes negotiations and it’s like having a bucket of cold ice water thrown over your fantasy. According to the Sun, “United are believed to have already tabled an offer of £31m – but Sporting are holding out for at least £54m.”
— utdreport (@utdreport) July 3, 2019
Here we go again. What is the point of such a low offer for a player for whom Liverpool have already reportedly bid £40m?
The Sun goes on to claim that Sporting’s attempts to create a bidding war have backfired, with Liverpool and Spurs cooling their interest and that “United are aware of this and will continue to play hardball by refusing to pay over-the-odds … they believe their patient approach could result in them bringing him to Old Trafford for a fee similar to their original offer.”
No it won’t. It’s just going to frustrate everyone, waste more time and potentially risk losing the player altogether. It’s not like Liverpool have signed a similar player instead, so why wouldn’t they say yes if Sporting picked up the phone and say “OK guys, give us £42m and you’ve got a deal”? Likewise, why wouldn’t Tottenham, another team that can offer the player Champions League football and who will probably need to replace Christian Eriksen, swoop in with a £40m+ offer?
You can just see it rumbling along until deadline day, when we triumphantly sign the player for £51m, can’t you? When we could have come in at this stage and dealt a killer blow.
It’s unlikely that negotiations for Longstaff – who surely won’t be walking into the first team and is more of a long-term investment – will be easy either. Newcastle have repeatedly said they don’t want to sell the player and will no doubt slap on a ridiculous £30m or so price tag, which Ed and Matt will spend weeks trying to haggle down to £15m, until a deal is reached at £23 plus add-ons.
This still leaves United needing to sign a forward – which will become essential if Inter raise the funds to sign Romelu Lukaku – and needing to close the Maguire deal. The clock’s a-ticking. And there’s still the possibility that Pogba will leave and need to be replaced. How on earth will our incompetent negotiators be able to handle that lot? And with Milan holding out for €50m for Gigi Donnarumma, PSG might still come knocking at David De Gea’s door … but let’s not even go there.
I hope I’m wrong, and that the Fernandes and Maguire deals are tied up by the time you’re reading this. But it isn’t Christmas, boys and girls, and I don’t see Santa coming any time soon. In the meantime, just continue to put one thing on your wish list: #glazersout