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Manchester United reporter notebook: Jadon Sancho pursuit brings frustration but still Deadline Day positives

There’s an argument that Manchester United fans would have complained whatever the club managed to do in the latest window but, in one sense, their frustrations are understandable.

Jadon Sancho didn’t arrive at Old Trafford and there was no remedy to the issue of perceived frailty within the heart of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s defence. In fact, Chris Smalling’s departure seems to have weakened his options rather than strengthen them.

As the clock struck 11pm on Monday night, there was a feeling that United had done business that has added strength and certainly some exciting young options, but is it enough to improve on last season’s upturn in form and progress? Do they in fact deserve some credit for not being held to ransom by Borussia Dortmund?

Ultimately, the recent transfer window dances with the likes of Leicester and Sporting Lisbon secured Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes, impressive and important signings, but the tactics and structure of the negotiations over Jadon Sancho were very different.

The discussions over Sancho were complicated by an insistence from Dortmund that they were to be carried out via intermediaries.

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Clearly there was a deal to be done as wages and agents’ fees were sorted out weeks ago. I’m told there were people within the Sancho camp who still expected Manchester United to make their move even as late as Monday afternoon.

But the reality is that neither side buckled when it came to the crunch. United wouldn’t increase an offer which could have seen the fee, including add-ons, reach £93.1m. Dortmund stuck to their guns in asking for £108m.

From the very start, I was told that Manchester United would never write a cheque for £100m for Sancho and I’m also under the impression that those negotiating the deal were aware of just how far they were prepared to go too, with Ed Woodward even emphasising where the club stood financially in his programme notes ahead of the opening game of the season.

The “uncertain economic environment” has almost become a stick with which to beat those at Old Trafford with as Premier League rivals seem to have shopped more successfully around them.

I’m not going to get into the politics of what’s right and wrong in the world of COVID-19, but matchday revenues bring in over £100m every season for Manchester United. Since March, they’ve been making huge losses with every game staged at Old Trafford.

Would a deal for Sancho that would have cost well in excess of £200m, including wages, have been prudent or responsible?

Perhaps that doesn’t matter to some but the facts are that in the past three transfer windows, when it comes to net spend, Manchester United have been the market-leaders in Europe at more than £200m.

Centre-back situation is a concern

I do share the surprise of many that a centre-back didn’t arrive.

I’ve often championed Chris Smalling as a possible solution. I’m aware of the counter-argument that time out of the side, for whatever reason, can make players look exponentially better. But allowing him to leave now seems dangerous.

Smalling wanted to get away after 10 years at the club and it would have taken some work to rebuild relationships after a lengthy spell of training on his own.

But the events of Sunday evening and that defeat to Spurs seemed to throw up more worrying defensive questions than were ever asked on Deadline Day.

For what it’s worth, Smalling is delighted to be back in Italy at a club where he feels valued and will play regularly. He was desperate to continue his career with Roma and is looking forward to the next four years there.

But it leaves United to find solutions from within.

Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof will vie for the centre-back spot alongside Harry Maguire, although many inside the club also point to young academy prodigy Teden Mengi. His potential is clear but so too is the value in really knowing when to push him into the spotlight.

Cavani, Telles deals make sense

So, let’s have a look at the business that Manchester United did get done on Deadline Day remembering, of course, that they had already brought in Donny van de Beek and that Bruno Fernandes’ signing was an acquisition earmarked for the summer that they brought forward to January.

One of the most encouraging aspects of Edinson Cavani’s arrival was his choice of words. “Work, work, work,” is what he promised in the press release we received.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also spoke of his belief that the Uruguayan will deliver goals, which hints at a more central involvement for the striker rather than just providing another option from the bench.

Cavani is 33 but his CV is impressive, with a record of 341 goals across 556 appearances, and he possesses attributes that make him different to Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood, though his role in their continued development is also considered to be valuable.

The hope is that ‘El Matador’ will follow a path laid down by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was two years older when he arrived, and Henrik Larsson, who was 36, and that he’ll be a catalyst and a leader inside Solskjaer’s dressing room.

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However, Manchester United’s recent record with South Americans in Angel Di Maria and Alexis Sanchez raises doubts over how easily Cavani might settle, but they will be encouraged by his eagerness to work hard.

All in all, it seems like a free transfer that was an opportunity worth taking.

The deal for Alex Telles seems like another good bit of business and means Solskjaer has now brought in three players who will probably comprise the majority of his back four with the Brazil international set to take his place alongside Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

Telles is a more physical presence at left-back. He gets up and down well and is a scorer and a creator of goals. In his final full season at Porto, he came up with 13 goals and 12 assists.

Manchester United stood their ground on their valuation of a player they believe to be the best left-back in Portugal and in his prime at 27.

Solskjaer was clearly concerned by his options on the left side of his defence. Many wanted him to look at his central options with the same degree of concern, but intriguingly he wasn’t prepared to let Brandon Williams leave on loan despite Premier League interest in the youngster.

Diallo, Pellistri offer hope for future

So, that’s the senior signings taken care of, the tried and tested, if you like. Some Manchester United fans might ask where Cavani and Telles sat in the recruitment pecking order, but few could deny their pedigree as players and their potential to improve the squad if they acclimatise to life at Old Trafford as well as the overwhelming majority of Solskjaer’s signings have done.

The two young wingers also snapped up on Deadline Day occupy different territory, particularly in light of the Sancho deal not materialising and talks with other clubs about loans for Ousmane Dembele or Ismaila Sarr coming to nothing.

Dembele and Sarr were just two of the many potential targets considered for permanent or temporary deals. But one of the cold, hard facts about Monday October 5, 2020, is that no one arrived who would be able to step into Solskjaer’s team straight away on the right wing, leaving a priority position as an unsolved dilemma.

I know that sounds dramatic, and in reality Greenwood has shown he can thrive on the right, scoring 17 goals from the position last season, but if we suppose that Cavani is being lined up for a central role, the battle to play on the right will be an interesting one. United were also unwilling to entertain any sort of departure for Daniel James.

When Manchester United fans consider the window that was, it will always be remembered for the long and ultimately unsuccessful pursuit of the club’s number one target, Jadon Sancho.

But what those behind the scenes are hoping is that it will also be remembered as the moment two exciting 18 year olds were recruited, though in Amad Diallo’s case that entrance might not be until the early stages of 2021 due to work permit issues.

What Diallo and young Uruguayan Facundo Pellistri represent is years of monitoring and scouting in Italy and South America which highlighted the pair as two of the most exciting prospects in world football.

United scouts first became aware of Diallo when he played in an U15s game in 2016 and while Pellistri was developed at Penarol by their manager and Old Trafford favourite Diego Forlan, he’s been on the radar for more than three years too.

Diallo will to continue to play for Atalanta in the meantime, subject to his citizenship issues being successfully navigated before January, but Pellistri will be assessed by Solskjaer and could be fast-tracked into the first team squad following his £9m move.

There are two ways of looking at this Deadline Day.

Manchester United did spend and did bring in talented additions while also loaning out some of their fringe players to trim the first-team squad. But, at the same time, it is fair to say it did not deliver what the club set out to do or what the fans expected.

The performance in the 6-1 loss to Tottenham also put their recruitment efforts into sharper focus.

We’ll never know if Sancho would have been the signing to elevate this squad into genuine challengers at home and abroad, but what we will soon be able to assess is whether the business they have done allows them to take a step forward in these unpredictable times.

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