“Manchester United can’t promise titles to Sancho straight away but they can promise him to be the leading star in a new team that is emerging and from what I’ve been told that is quite appealing to him,” said German football expert Raphael Honigstein, playing nicely into the narrative of United’s brave young team emerging from the shadows of seven years of relative underachievement to hurtle towards inevitable triumph.
Perhaps what he should have said was that “Manchester United can’t promise titles to Sancho straight away but they can promise him that they can pay his £100m-plus transfer fee and from what I’ve been told that is quite appealing to him”. As seductive as the idea of becoming an iconic No. 7 at an iconic club might be to the 20-year-old, the truth is that no other club in England would pay his asking price. As soon as he decided he would like to return to England, he pretty much decided he would join Manchester United. That any other Premier League club would break the £100m signing barrier seems almost absurd.
Manchester City may amass net spend totals far beyond those of any other Premier League club but they absolutely would not spend over £100m on any one player, even if they did not have bitter history with this one. Elsewhere, it’s been almost ten years since Chelsea last broke the British transfer record, while Liverpool’s position of on-pitch strength has not come from off-pitch largesse. Meanwhile, Manchester United break transfer records and then sack managers who struggle to extract performances out of those record-breakers. It has become their norm.
We wrote in February that Sancho ‘ticked every Man United box but one‘ as they had not had to fight for any of their recent signings; nobody else was willing to pay that kind of money for Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Daniel James or even Bruno Fernandes. But that argument dissipated as soon as news began to emerge that Sancho wanted to return to England. If only Premier League clubs are in the race then it automatically becomes a one-horse race. Not the best horse, not the fastest horse, but the horse with the shiniest coat.
Which is how we arrive at the seemingly ridiculous juncture where Sancho has become too brilliant – and thus too valuable – to join any of the top four clubs in the Premier League. His 14 Bundesliga goals and 16 Bundesliga assists this season have made him the most valuable player in Germany and perhaps the most valuable player anywhere under the age of 21. He is too expensive for all but a handful of elite clubs even before you consider the wages he will command as British football’s most expensive star.
There are those who theorise that no club will pay £100m for any player after the forced correction of football finances, but that is to underestimate the sport’s power to transcend real life and still spend Monopoly money. As Ole Gunnar Solskjaer himself blithely said last week: “Who knows how the market is going to react to this? 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 United we are one of the biggest, and the biggest, financially well-off.”
That’s not to say that Dortmund will be ripe for exploitation – early indications are they will not provide low-hanging fruit – but that United are certainly the best-placed English club to break a record they set first with the signing of Angel di Maria and then again for Paul Pogba. By some measures, they are still in a league of their own.
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