’It is about quality — and it is going to cost money to get in players who are better than the ones we already have.’
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s words yesterday could almost be interpreted as a plea to the club’s owners to put their hands in their pockets and spend money and the Norwegian could certainly be forgiven for making such a demand.
As the dust settles on the events surrounding United’s attempts to sign Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund, the simple facts remain: there was never enough money available to come close to the €120 million (£108m) that the German club were demanding.
You do not walk into a Mercedes showroom with only enough money to buy a Ford Focus and hope to haggle.
United have tried to blame Dortmund for the collapsed negotiations by saying that the Germans’ insistence on using intermediaries slowed down the negotiations, but this is nonsense.
The simple fact is that Dortmund said they had a deadline of August 10th and United never submitted a single bid by that date. They could simply have put in an offer, even a low one, to start the process, but in their desperation to drive down the price, they wanted to play hardball and call Dortmund’s bluff on the deadline by doing nothing.
They miscalculated badly.
In an article about the 15th anniversary of the Glazers’ takeover of the club, we quote a source of The Athletic – an agent – who said ‘That’s why it all takes so long to sign players or offer new contracts. It’s no coincidence numerous players have got down to the final year of their deals. It goes from Matt to Ed to Joel to Ed to Matt. It’s excruciating. And in that time, Liverpool have signed a player.’
It was not the use of intermediaries that slowed the process. You know it, I know it. United’s process is notoriously and painfully slow.
But The Athletic also recently reported that ‘Some sources were told of a £50 million net spend outlined at United, but that was before the riches that come with Champions League qualification were confirmed.’
How does this tally with Woodward’s 2014 statement that ‘We can do things in the transfer market that other clubs can only dream of. Watch this space’?
Unless the ‘other clubs’ he is talking about are Bolton Wanderers and Grimsby Town, of course.
There was big talk during lockdown that United’s corporate model, with its emphasis on sponsorship and commercial activity, insured the club better than any other against the financial impacts of the pandemic.
In April, Solskjaer said ‘Who knows which clubs need to sell players? There might be just a situation there where you can exploit, and I know that we at Man Utd we are one of the biggest, and the biggest, financially well-off.’
Was he aware at that stage that he would only be allowed a £50 million net spend?
Whether that £50 million has increased due to Champions League qualification we do not know, but even if it has doubled, it is still not enough to buy Sancho, let alone strengthen in other areas to improve a squad that has proven to have very little strength in depth.
Putting everything together, it would appear that Woodward and Judge had hoped to negotiate a Sancho deal in the region of £80-£90 million spread over a couple of years. This would have left perhaps £15-£25 million for other transfers which they hoped to boost by the sale of the likes of Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and perhaps Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira.
Smalling could have been sold to Roma already for £12 million but Woodward and Judge are holding out for more.
It is a pretty lame scenario compared to the one that United fans were led to believe, in which Sancho, Jack Grealish and at least one other player would be wearing a red jersey come September 12th.
There are four weeks to go until the start of next season, with another three before the transfer window closes. At United’s negotiating speed, we should not expect more than two sales and one new signing by then, and it will almost certainly not be a marquee signing.
It’s shaping up to be a Marouane Fellaini kind of transfer window.
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