Manchester United has ruled out a bid for former Chelsea midfielder Joe Cole according to reports yesterday. But is United’s stance due to Sir Alex Ferguson’s reluctance to sign the midfielder or the club’s perilous financial position? Cole, a free agent, reportedly wants a £3 million signing on fee plus more than £100,000 per week.
Chelsea released Cole, 28, after the player failed to agree a new contract with the London club. The midfielder has fallen down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge, not only on the pitch but in the pay scale too. However, with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich having pumped more than £700 million into the club the Russian is reportedly insistent that the Carlo Ancelotti’s outfit becomes self-sufficient.
The race for Cole’s signature is now between Arsenal and Tottenham, with the player having begun his career at West Ham under Spurs coach Harry Redknapp. Chelsea signed the player for £6.6m in 2003 following West Ham’s relegation from the Premier League.
Cole, who scored 52 times in 396 appearances for Chelsea, has also hit 10 in 54 England caps. But a long-term knee injury ruined much of his season, with the international making 39 appearances for the club.
Tactically Cole offers creativity both from the flanks and central areas. Although predominantly used from the left side of an attacking triumvirate at Chelsea over the past seven seasons, Cole can also operate from central areas. Indeed, Fabio Capello deployed the player in that position during England’s recent friendly against Japan.
Meanwhile Ferguson can call on a plethora of midfield options next season. Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Darron Gibson, Anderson and Owen Hargreaves will compete for three central midfield slots. The Scot will also choose from Antonio Valencia, Nani, Park Ji-Sung, Ryan Giggs and potentially Gabriel Obertan in wide areas next season.
But many United supporters will find the club’s stance unusual, with Ferguson long known as an admirer of the attacking midfielder who scored the winning goal for Chelsea at Old Trafford in April. After all, although the Scot has significant numbers of midfielders on his books the shortage of central midfield creativity last season was palpable.
Scholes’ excellent form during the final weeks of the campaign masked a rash of age-induced poor performances during the winter months. Indeed there are question marks hanging over the club’s central midfielders, with Carrick out-of-form, Anderson and Hargreaves injured, Scholes now 35 and Gibson yet to prove his quality at the highest level.
United’s stance leaves fans wondering weather financial constraints have played a part in the club’s decision not to bid for the 28-year-old player. After all, although no transfer fee is due to Chelsea the player will command a significant signing-on bonus plus wages near the top of United’s pay scale.
The club’s £720 million debt has already eaten into Ferguson’s transfer budget, with less than half the cash banked by selling Cristiano Ronaldo last summer spent to date, let alone the £25 million per season transfer budget promised by the Glazers in 2005.
Many analysts believe that the Glazer family will also remove up to £95 million cash from the club’s reserves at some point this summer, with interest on family’s the so-called Payment in Kind (PIK) debt increasing to 16.5 per cent in August. The January bond also enables the family to remove up to 50 per cent of United’s profits on an ongoing basis in addition to the £45 million per season debt interest payable.
Further evidence of pay restrictions at the club come from the failure to offer either Wayne Rooney or Nemanja Vidić a new deal. Officially the Old Trafford hierarchy postponed Rooney’s contract talks until after the World Cup, with the striker looking for a significant pay rise on his £90,000 per week deal that runs to 2012. That Rooney, one of the world’s leading players, does not feature in the top 25 best paid stars in Europe is significant.
While few fans will countenance Rooney’s departure from the club this summer, Vidić’s position is far more precarious. Although the Serbian international has repeatedly said he wants to stay at Old Trafford the club’s failure to match his pay demands is likely to drive the 28-year-old defender out of Manchester. Vidić reportedly wants parity with Rio Ferdinand on £120,000 per week, which is now unlikely the club will meet.
It leaves United supporters wondering weather the club’s failure to land the best talent will now be compounded by significant departures from the playing staff.