Whereas losing one prominent player this summer was unfortunate, and two somewhat careless, three would represent an unmitigated disaster. It is for this reason that no amount of money will take United’s Player of the Year, Nemanja Vidic, to European Champions Barcelona this summer. No matter how much his wife, Ana, is apparently demanding it.
While in this case there is no smoke without fire – rumours have been circulating about Vidic for months – United’s refusal to even countenance a transfer of the giant Serbian defender this summer is about more than the short-term impact on the team. United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson and his board know that the club must reimpose itself in the European hierarchy if it is to not fall behind its closest rivals. Usurped as European Champions by Barcelona, outspent by Real Madrid, and upstaged by neighbours Manchester City, United risks losing its status as one of the premier destinations for the continent’s leading players.
But attracting and keeping top talent its no easy task for United in the current environment, even without taking into account the impact of the club’s £700 million corporate debt. Tax changes and the degradation of the Pound against the Euro means that continental clubs effectively only have to offer half the amount United are willing to pay players to remain competitive. Barcelona, for example, can probably make a net offer that is 50% more than United’s mooted new contract offer of £100,000 gross per week to Vidic. Mrs Vidic can buy an awful lot of designer handbags for that.
The impact of these changes has been felt across the Premier League this summer, with fewer big money overseas imports arriving in England. United, for example, saw Karim Benzema’s price rise an equivalent of about 40% simply because of the forex market impact over the past 12 months. However, the club by refusing to pay market prices this summer, no matter how overinflated, has moved itself down the football food chain.
The loss of Cristiano Ronaldo has also sent out a clear and unambiguous message; unhappy players will eventually be allowed to move, albeit at the right price. “It would be a dream for Vidic to play for Barcelona as he wants to play in La Liga,” Vidic’s agent Paolo Fabbri reportedly told Catalunya Radio RAC1. Note the word ‘dream’. While rapidly denied, his agent’s quote would appear to be no accident. Vidic has been linked with AC Milan prior to Barcelona, and Real Madrid would jump at the chance to sign a defender of Vidic’s quality.
The rapid development of Johnny Evans means that United could probably afford to lose Vidic in a year’s time. Although with Vidic the younger of central defensive pairing with Ferdinand, Ferguson would have earmarked Evans as the England international’s natural replacement. United may have stocks of talented defenders in reserve – Corey, the younger of the Evans brothers, James Chester and Craig Cathcart – but their promise is no match for the proven talents of the Serb.
As for Vidic, United will need to come up with a big new deal to test the player’s ‘commitment’, pr his wife will get her wish to stroll Las Ramblas rather than the Trafford Quays in 12 months time. In the meantime, as United’s hugely embarrassing 1-0 loss at Burnley demonstrates, the team will welcome the defender back with open arms once he has recovered from a long-term calf strain.