We should have known better when widespread reports from Portugal on Friday claimed that Sporting Lisbon’s Bruno Fernandes could be a Manchester United player within a couple of days. This is executive vice chairman Ed Woodward and head of corporate development Matt Judge we’re talking about after all.
Let’s look at the facts as we know them.
Fernandes was Europe’s hottest property in the summer transfer window, having scored an incredible 32 goals and registering 18 assists in 53 games last season. The selling price of €100 million (around £80 million at the time) seemed very negotiable. Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs came close to an agreement and personal terms had been settled, but a deal could not could not quite be reached and Fernandes stayed at Sporting.
According to reports at the time, United did not make a bid amidst concerns that Fernandes gives the ball away too often. The price was never an issue.
Now it seems the Old Trafford club have had a change of heart over the 25-year-old and Sporting, due to a debt crisis, have slashed the asking price by 25% to €75 million (around £64 million). The player is keen to come to Old Trafford. Gazzetta dello Sport’s Nicolo Schira claims that personal terms have been agreed, which The Sun has also reported.
Meanwhile, the Red Devils’ main competition for Fernandes’ signature, Spurs, sacked Pochettino and replaced him with José Mourinho, who is not interested in signing the Sporting star and is closing in on a deal for Benfica’s Gedson Fernandes instead.
So there we are: cut price deal, player keen, no competition for his signature and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer desperate for a quick deal to be struck to ease United’s midfield crisis through the busy January period.
No brainer, right? Sign on the dotted line and Fernandes could be in the squad for the Liverpool game.
Enter Woodward and Judge.
Correio de Manha reports that despite ongoing negotiations, United have not even submitted a formal bid for the player.
The Times reports that both sides ‘failed to come to an agreement’ in their talks in London on Friday, with United merely ‘expected to hold further talks’ and ‘remaining keen’ on the player.
The fact seems to be that Dumb and Dumber – sorry, Woodward and Judge – are complicating the negotiations ridiculously and unnecessarily.
The duo clearly see the deal as an opportunity to get rid of some deadwood from the club. So, rather than simply offer the £64 million that Sporting require, reports claim that they are only prepared to offer in the region of £50 million plus bonuses and a United player.
According to A Bola, Four players’ names have been proposed: Joel Pereira, Marcos Rojo, Andreas Pereira and Angel Gomes. The first two are understood to potentially be permanent moves and the latter two loan deals.
Sporting have said they are not interested in signing Pereira, and it is believed that Rojo is not keen on a move to Portugal. The Telegraph reports that the Argentinian’s representatives have been contacted about the move, but nothing more has happened. Gomes is also reported to be refusing a move. Andreas is the subject of growing speculation on social media, but it seems highly unlikely that Solskjaer would allow the Brazilian to leave.
However, suggestion Sporting have 'strategy' to delay transfer and keep player for Benfica match.
— Sport Witness (@Sport_Witness) January 14, 2020
What should have been a simple transfer is becoming an absolute mess.
Woodward and Judge probably think they hold all the aces in these negotiations because no other club is interested in buying the Portuguese international, but they have made this kind of mistake a number of times before and just simply don’t seem to ever learn their lesson.
First, the closer it gets to January 31st, the less time United have to move to a plan B, so the stronger Sporting’s negotiating position becomes.
Second, the longer they take to negotiate the deal, the more matches United have to play with their decimated midfield and the more points potentially lost that could have secured Champions League football for the Red Devils next season.
Third, the longer they remain embroiled in negotiations, the less time there is to attempt to make other signings in this window.
Fourth, whilst all this dithering is going on, another club could join the fray at any time and steal Fernandes from under United’s noses.
Woodward tried to penny pinch in the Marouane Fellaini transfer and ended up paying more than the Belgian’s buyout clause. He and Judge tried to penny pinch over £80 million Harry Maguire and ended up paying £85 million a year later. They watched Chelsea steal Pedro from under their noses as they dithered and haggled over a transfer from Barcelona. They missed out on Erling Braut Haaland after failed negotiations with the player’s agent and intermediary Mino Raiola.
Bruno Fernandes is being handed to Manchester United on a silver platter. Woodward and Judge should just pay the £64 million now and get the deal done. If they mess this one up, it will represent new depths of incompetence and humiliation for Manchester United and leave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer totally unequipped for the rest of the season.