“What I’ve been told from a couple of sources up in the north west today is United also have another centre-back they’re looking at. And whilst they might have more money to spend on Maguire than maybe Manchester City, and that’s been said to me as well, they’re not convinced they’re going to spend it there. And if the price keeps going up, they may walk away from the deal” – Rob Dorsett, Sky Sports, summer of 2019.
‘With suggestions abounding that Wan-Bissaka, who is under contract until 2022, has agreed terms on an £80,000-a-week deal with United, Palace made clear their frustrations going into the weekend and effectively challenged Woodward to match their asking price or walk away’ – Dominic Fifield, The Guardian, summer of 2019.
‘Manchester United are prepared to walk away from a deal for Bruno Fernandes unless Sporting Lisbon drop their demands, sources have told ESPN’ – Rob Dawson, ESPN, January 2020.
This is nothing new, this public dance of Manchester United pretending they will not pay the asking price – or very close – for their transfer targets, before eventually paying the asking price – or very close – for their transfer targets. Last summer was a blur of public threats, leaks of alternative options, take-it-or-leave-it offers that became okay-if-you-don’t-take-it-we-will-be-back-shortly-with-more offers for Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Bruno Fernandes, who would eventually join in January for about thruppence less than they could have paid in August. His performances in a red shirt suggest that United would not currently be in fifth had they done that deal.
Their latest – and this one is truly ridiculous – attempt at driving down a price is their carefully placed story on Sky Sports that they ‘will not pay more than £50m for Jadon Sancho’, a player valued at more than £100m by his club after a season which has reaped 17 Bundesliga goals and 17 Bundesliga assists. That season was punctuated by reams of stories that he is United’s number one target before a pandemic struck and suddenly there were reams of stories citing any number of cheaper ‘alternatives’. And now this: the ludicrous valuation. The tactic is as obvious as it is utterly doomed, the equivalent of the red-faced Englishman insisting on ‘bartering’ for a rug in Marrakech and starting with a 100 dirham note pulled from a fat roll.
Imagine thinking Jadon Sancho is only worth £50m, the same price as two (non-Premier Seating) tickets at the Odeon, a Tango Ice Blast and 100g of pick & mix.
— Jonny Sharples (@JonnyGabriel) July 1, 2020
This move makes previous attempts at driving down prices look (even more) amateurish. They surely know that Borussia Dortmund will not sell for £50m nor anywhere close; even without Sancho signing a new deal, that figure would not be adequate compensation for losing the next two years of one of the most exciting wingers in world football. While the German club unequivocally rules out a “coronavirus discount”, United are trying to argue that the pandemic has rendered Sancho to be worth no more than a Fred. A penny for the thoughts of Sancho on receiving a flurry of WhatsApp messages about that particular valuation on Tuesday afternoon.
Despite the narrative of a resurgent United, this team is still fifth and can only barely see Liverpool in the distance; their lure may still be strong to those unwanted by Europe’s biggest clubs at fancy prices, but Sancho does not fit into that bracket. Dortmund may be kidding themselves that anyone will pay £100m for any footballer this summer, but there will be plenty willing to pay over £80m. Leaking a story to Sky Sports will not take that figure down below £60m but will instead only serve to incense both club and player. “I’m not sure you can bully clubs like Borussia Dortmund,” said Gary Neville, No. And nor can you seduce players like Jadon Sancho with an opening gambit that values them so miserably. Does negging work on young men in 2020?
Contrast this tactic with Liverpool, identifying and then waiting for their chosen targets and paying fees that look like bargains rather than ransoms in the rear-view mirror.
Sancho had reached a level of performance where he was too good to sign for anybody but Manchester United, with his £100m-plus price tag taking him out of reach of other Premier League clubs. The minute that price drops to a more sensible number, other clubs become an option. As a boyhood Chelsea fan watching the signings of Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech from afar, that might sound like a far more attractive option for £80-90m than the club who declared that they would pay no more than £50m. ‘Senior sources’ at United might regard this as the first move in a chess match, but both Dortmund and Sancho might tip the table before they get a chance to play another.