Woodward dithering leaves Man United in Sancho limbo

Ian Watson

Only one thing this summer seems to have dragged on for longer than England’s recent international break and while sympathy may be in short supply, poor Jadon Sancho has been prominent in both rigmaroles. At least his Three Lions obligations – performances suggest these games were a burden – are now fulfilled. Now Sancho returns to the daily grind of waiting for Manchester United to do something. Anything.

United’s desire to sign Sancho is no secret. Primary among their recruitment requirements is a right-sided attacker and the Dortmund star ticks all Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s boxes. While United may welcome links with the 427 supposed alternatives from a negotiation standpoint, they apparently remain absolutely determined to sign Sancho.

That determination is going to be crucial in the coming 25 days because the longer Ed Woodward drags out his pursuit of Solskjaer’s top target, the less he can afford to walk away.

Woodward is perhaps already past that point of no return. Failure to land Sancho will see the blame fall squarely at his feet, no matter how he might brief otherwise. And regardless of whether United opt for one of the many alternatives, Solskjaer would again be tasked with taking the club back to where they feel they belong with a squad shorter on strength than it intended or ought to be.

United fans cannot be blamed for being sceptical over the prospects of landing Sancho, given Woodward’s history. His seven-year tenure as executive vice-chairman and the Glazers’ lackey is littered with fruitless pursuits and failed chases. More recent history may offer some encouragement, even if it is tempered by Woodward’s refusal to work at anything other than snail’s pace.

Of late, United have landed their targets but the pattern is the same; Woodward refuses to pay the ‘United tax’ while spending weeks and months in stand-offs with clubs far less motivated to fold than the Red Devils. With Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes, two players United were crying out for, Woodward played hardball before eventually caving and coughing up the fee that had been set all along.

The feeling remains that will once again be the case with Sancho. Everything appears to be in place but the transfer fee and in that respect, Dortmund are in a commanding position. Especially since they have been the scourge of Woodward over the past year having beaten United to both Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham. Woodward is hardly Dortmund’s bitch, but they certainly have him on a lead with Sancho just out of reach.

He does not have to beg but he has little choice but to be a good boy and obey their commands. And Dortmund’s demands are not unreasonable. Sancho’s talent, age, profile and contract status mean it is fair to ask United to pay their highest-ever fee to land a player who will almost certainly prove better value in the long run than their current record signing. While Sancho refuses to agitate for a move – why should he? – the Germans’ stance won’t waiver and time is a greater ally to them than United.

The suggestion has been that United could wait a year but the risks will not subside. Indeed, the opposite is true. Save for a loss of form or fitness, Sancho is unlikely to get any cheaper – his price will only rise if he continues to churn out ridiculous numbers in Dortmund’s attack before showcasing his obvious talents at the European Championships. And next summer, United won’t be the only bidders in the room. As it is, they have a free run at Sancho whereas next year, more attractive options may present themselves to the 20-year-old.

Woodward’s big deals in recent windows have been closed just before the window shuts, and a seemingly-inevitable repeat will see Sancho miss United’s opening three games of the Premier League season. Given how small the margins are and the efficient recruitment of some of their rivals, Solskjaer could be significantly hampered by his board dragging their feet to get Sancho through the door while pinching a few pennies.

Perhaps we have got Woodward wrong. Maybe now England have burst their bubble and the Nations League is no longer a distraction we will see swift and genuine progress in United’s pursuit. But history suggests that would be a bigger shock than Sancho remaining at Dortmund come October 6.

As it is, it seems Sancho and Solskjaer appear destined to remain in limbo for a while longer. But the more Woodward makes both wait, the less he can afford to bungle his biggest deal.

Ian Watson