Sir Alex Ferguson may have anything up to £125 million to spend this summer but it could be cash that burns a painful hole in his pocket by the time the transfer window closes on September 1. Top targets – depending on which tabloid you believe – who reportedly include Wigan Athletic’s Antonio Valencia, Olympique Lyonnais’ Karim Benzema, Valencia’s David Villa and David Silva, together with Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o, and the Brazilian teenager Douglas Costa may all end up elsewhere as Fergie remains frustrated in his attempts to build on the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Winger Valencia has seemingly been nailed-on for a transfer to United ever since stories leaked out about an agreement between the clubs during the January transfer window. Indeed, as much was told to both Chelsea and Liverpool who have made enquiries of Wigan about the player. But the signature has faltered because of a disagreement over the price, with United offering £12 million and Wigan demanding closer to £18 million. Unsurprisingly, Wigan Chairman Dave Whelan has latched on to United’s huge transfer budget and tried to ratchet up the price, while calling Valencia “the best right winger anywhere.” United may be confident that the Ecuadorian has ‘chosen’ them but the Whelan is digging his heals in and the deal could drag on for the best part of the summer. It’s a strategy that any selling club will adopt with United this summer in order to extract the largest possible fee.
If it’s proving problematic to bring Valencia to the club, then the transfer of Benzema will inevitably be even more complex, with Lyon’s Chairman Jean-Michel Aulas well-schooled in driving a hard bargain. Indeed, anybody who can squeeze €15 million out of Barcelona for France’s third-choice left-back must be. Benzema will of course move on eventually but Aulas will look for the best price for a player who appears in no desperate need to leave the French club ahead of next year’s World Cup. While Lyon may talk if the price reaches more than £30 million for the 21 year-old, Benzema may decide to stay put. Moreover, the club will want even more if Benzema does indeed do well at South Africa 2010. Ferguson’s would be wise to seal a deal this summer – and quickly – with a host of top European clubs all too keen to write Aulas the cheque he desires should United hesitate.
Any deal for Villa, Silva and indeed Eto’o seem even more fanciful right now. Debt-ridden Valencia has apparently called off the £30 million plus transfer of Villa to Real Madrid – most probably in order to drive a harder bargain from the capital side, whose bid was some way short of that offered by Barcelona for the Spanish marksman. With the player seemingly reluctant to leave Spain at all, United’s hopes if they ever existed, are dead and burried.
Villa’s team-mate David Silva may be a more reasonable target, with Ferguson short of left-sided quality for the coming season. However, with Nani, Zoran Tošić and the evergreen Ryan Giggs on the books, Fergie may have to offload Nani before any bid for Silva. With the Portugese international apparently rejecting the notion of any move back to his old club Sporting Lisbon, Silva may remain out of reach this summer.
Meanwhile, Barcelona’s Eto’o, who is out of contract at the end of next season, will seemingly go to the highest bidder. If United’s new youth policy – of only signing players under-26 years of age – is truly in effect, there’s little hope that the board will sanction both a £20 million fee and wages that are rumoured to be in excess of £200,000 net per week. A move to Manchester City awaits the Cameroonian international.
Younger players remain at the heart of United’s transfer policy, and Gremio’s Douglas Costa presents an interesting proposition, with Ferguson rumoured to be keen to add to United’s burgeouning Brazilian quotient. The left-footed attacking midfielder will come at a massive price, however, if the player’s parent club get the £20 million transfer fee they are apparently demanding. Costa may be talented but if the manager really is after the player – and this could just as easily be the player’s agent seeking a big money move to any European club – there isn’t a chance that the board will sanction a fee above £20 million for a player unproven in outside of Brazil.
With extortionate fees being demanded and Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid all spending big, it’s set to be a frustrating summer for Fergie and fans alike.