Tag Karim Benzema

Tag Karim Benzema

Bids reveal United’s weaknesses

Ed July 8, 2010 Tags: , , , Opinion 47 comments

Manchester United’s apparent bid for Wesley Sneijder, together with ongoing interest in Karim Benzema and Mario Ballotelli, is a better indicator of the squad’s current state than Sir Alex Ferguson’s public statements of happiness. Huge shortcommings in central midfield and attack were brutally exposed towards the tail-end of last season.

It’s a problem Ferguson at least recognises but whether the Scot is allowed to repair his ageing squad is another question altogether. The club’s £;20 million bid for World Cup superstar Sneijder hardly bore the hallmarks of authenticity, much akin to United’s late, undervalued, offer for Benzema last summer.

After all the market price for Sneijder has been set with City spending £27 million on Barcelona reserve Yaya Toure and even more on the brilliant Spaniard David Silva. Sneijder’s form is better than either, having won a treble with Inter Milan last season and guided Holland into the World Cup final.

Inter, quite rightly, stood firm and the player himself has indicated his preference to remain in Milan. Already on a wage superior to anybody at Old Trafford and winning trophies by the bucketload, why would Sneijder move? It’s a fact that United almost certainly already knew, having resisted the option to include the Dutch playmaker in Real Madrid’s deal for Cristiano Ronaldo last summer.

Indeed the bid for Sneijder now smacks of grandstanding from the club’s management, who have failed to sell out Old Trafford’s allocation of season tickets this summer, with executive seats again well down on last season too. No surprise then that Inter President Massimo Moratti described United’s interest as “an advertising campaign”.

Ballotelli, however, is available following a series of clashes with Jose Mourinho last season and a public expression of love for Inter’s crosstown rivals AC. Inter simply want to start an auction.

The talented Italian has plenty of critics in Milan, not least because the forward’s temperament is more that of a hormonal teenager than professional footballer. But with Manchester City sniffing around there’s little chance of United succeeding with a bid – if the interest is at all genuine. Take the speculation with a large pinch of salt.

While United supporters should drop any hope of signing Sneijder, Ballotelli, or indeed Benzema as Rant argued last week, Ferguson has at least revealed his hand. The World Cup has taught us nothing if not that ball retention, the playmaker and the 4-2-3-1 system are king at the highest level. Ferguson it seems has watched.

The club’s complete reliance on Rooney as the lone spearhead in the all but the games Ferguson is confident of winning handsomely was unmasked after the striker’s injury in March last season. Hope that Dimitar Berbatov will come good or that Javier Hernández can hit the ground running in England is no kind of strategy on which to base a season and Ferguson knows it.

The paucity of both goals and creativity from central midfield was perhaps an even greater problem though. Six of United’s losses last season came when Ferguson’s side failed to score. If the bus is parked, United’s strategy dries up with Paul Scholes playing deeper – and slower – than ever and Michael Carrick permanently out of form.

Anderson, Darren Fletcher and Owen Hargreaves will compete with Carrick for two deep central midfield slots next season, leaving Ferguson reliant on Darron Gibson to provide flair from midfield. Few believe the Ulsterman is the ‘world class’ option United requires.

But with Silva already off the market and Sneijder’s “heart in Milan,” Ferguson is left with few options even if he has the money.

Benzema – the numbers game

Ed July 2, 2010 Tags: Opinion 11 comments

Today’s report in Marca that Sir Alex Ferguson is once again on the Karim Benzema hunt should be taken with the large pinch of salt Manchester United supporters normally reserve for summer transfer rumours. The Scot’s long-term admiration for the French striker is undimished but it’s unlikely United’s finances will stretch to acquire the 22-year-old hitman.

Much apart from the £25 million fee the former Olympique Lyonnais striker is likely to command, Eurozone exchange rate changes and major differences between Spanish and UK tax law mean that United will have to fork out more than a quarter million gross per week simply to match Benzema’s current wages.

Benzema joined Real Madrid for a reported €35 million fee, rising to €41 million with performance based bonuses. That’s £28.9 – £33.8 million at today’s mid-market prices. Meanwhile United, we’re told, had been prepared to go up to £25 million for the striker, who scored 43 goals in 112 Ligue 1 games for Lyon during his time at Stadium Garland.

Quite whether United’s bid was serious, with Benzema’s agent almost certainly telling Old Trafford’s management that a move to Santiago Bernabeu was his client’s preference, is now moot.

Benzema’s stint in the Spanish capital has been anything but auspicious though, with the Frenchman suffering a drop in form before being consigned to the bench for Real’s La Liga run-in. The striker’s 12 goals in 38 games last season tells a story; perhaps even more pertinent is that half the player’s appearances came from the bench.

Indeed, the striker’s form dipped so far that the former golden boy of French football was left out of Raymond Domenech’s squad for the World Cup in South Africa altogether. The decision didn’t go down well with everybody in the camp but Benzema can have few arguments on form alone.

As part of El Presidente Florentino Pérez’ Madrid ‘project’ Benzema has long been thought safe, with Gonzalo Higuain touted around Europe’s leading clubs at one point last season. But politics is never static at the Bernanbeu, with the Argentinian’s 27 La Liga goals and newly signed six year contract putting paid to that idea. It is now the Frenchman most at risk of Perez’ axe as Madrid attempt to improve on last season’s second place in La Liga.

Even with favourable Eurozone changes in recent weeks, Benzema’s less than spectacular form and the normal amortization of a player’s value over the length of a contract the Frenchman will be phenomenally expensive. In United’s current parlous financial state there can be few certainties that the club will – or can – spend more than £25 million on a transfer fee.

Perhaps an even greater barrier to any deal for Benzema is the player’s €8,500,000 – £7.02 million – annual contract that runs to June 2015. While the £163,000 per week before bonuses deal far exceeds United’s best paid player – Rio Ferdinand on £120,000 –  Spanish tax law places the Frenchman’s take-home pay into a relm United simply cannot match.

The UK’s 20 / 40 / 50 per cent tax bands would, assuming standard PAYE practices – in principal almost all footballers engage in legal tax avoidance schemes – leave Benzema with a net weekly wage of around £66,500 at Old Trafford. In Spain the player’s net is closer to £125,000 due to the so-called ‘Beckham’ law that enables the highest earning overseas workers to pay a flat-rate 24 per cent tax. While the law is being phased out it remains in place for current contracts, or the next five years in Benzema’s case.

The rub is this. United, to maintain the player’s current pay packet, will need to find an incredible £250,000 per week in gross wages unless the Frenchman accepts a huge pay cut. Footballers are many things. Philanthropists they are not.

The knock on effect on a Benzema transfer would surely be felt in the Glazers’ bean-counting office, with senior players such as Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra entitled to demand parity or close to it.

As the Americans are so fond of saying. You do the math.

Cole: Benzema is the man

Ed April 28, 2010 Tags: , Shorts 5 comments

Former Manchester United and England striker Andrew ‘Andy’ Cole says that Sir Alex Ferguson should make a second attempt to sign Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema this summer. United failed with a bid for the French player, after the former Olympique Lyonnais striker opted to join the Spanish giants in a €35 million deal last June.

However, speaking to the Manchester Evening News, Cole says United’s over-reliance on 34-goal striker Wayne Rooney this season means Ferguson needs to dip into the transfer market.

“I think Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen’s injuries have proved that United do need another body in their strike force,” said Cole, who scored 121 goals for United.

“It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the manager brings somebody in to add to the players he has. But the question is who do you buy?”

“I was speaking to Sir Alex Ferguson last summer at his charity golf day and we were talking about the fact there are no No9s around these days.”

“There are a lot of No10s, the playmakers who make things happen, about. But traditional goalscoring strikers are few and far between.”

“Everyone has got the same dilemma. There are hardly any of them about. I look around the world, there’s Fernando Torres, Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o in that No9 style, and then I’m struggling to name anyone else.”

“Torres at Liverpool is a real old-fashioned English centre-forward. He’s a throwback but you don’t get many of them in England these days let alone from Europe. He is definitely a bit of a one-off.”

“Karim Benzema is not identical to Torres but I think he is the nearest you might get to him. I think he is fantastic. He has great ability.”

“I know Sir Alex wanted him last summer and if he can go back and try again and the lad decided he’d have more chance at Old Trafford then I think that would be really interesting.”

“It’s what United need.”

Whether Ferguson has the money to fund a deal is open to debate, with Benzema likely to cost more than £25 million. The Frenchman’s signature would add to the seven strikers already in the club’s first team squad.

Fergie out of options as Benzema joins Real

Ed July 1, 2009 Tags: Opinion 17 comments

It was the news that Sir Alex Ferguson was dreading – this summer’s principal transfer target, Olimpique Lyonnais’ Karim Benzema, has joined the Real Madrid gravy-train on a six-year contract. The striker, 21, has been the subject of a flurry of negotiations over the past 48 hours, with both United and Madrid seemingly making offers over £30 million for the French international. However, Benzema’s desire to join Real ahead of United, in addition to an extra £5 million in add-on fees that the Spanish club have offered, won the day.

The news means that United will now have to seek alternate striking options or trust in youth for the coming season after the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez. But those alternatives are thin on the ground, with top class strikers a rare commodity outside of the major European clubs.

While David Villa and Samuel Eto’o were seemingly available at the start of the summer, neither is a realistic transfer option for United now. Villa is likely to stay at Valencia for a further season, or move to Barcelona who are desperate to secure his signature, if he can force a transfer. Eto’o, meanwhile, is currently playing Barcelona off against Manchester City in one of the seedier transfers of the summer.

In a transfer saga that mirrors that of Ronaldinho’s from Paris Saint German to Barcelona in 2003, it appears United have been outbid for one of the world’s leading young attacking players. United’s board may have forced Real to pay over £30 million up front, with a further £5 million in payments dependent on clauses, but that will be no consolation to Fergie. This came after the Reds had offered a similar sum, without clauses, on Tuesday. Meanwhile, United was apparently in negotiations with Benzema himself. But it seems the Spanish club stole a march on on David Gill’s negotiation team, with Benzema returning from holiday this week to tell Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas that he wanted a move to Los Meregues.

Ferguson could now switch his attentions to Real Madrid’s unwanted Dutch forward Jan Klaas Huntelaar. Although it seems unlikely that United’s manager will opt for the Madrid outcast, having failed to follow up his reported interest 12 months ago. Elsewhere United are said to be interested in Atlético Madrid’s Sergio Aguero, but a £45 million fee being demanded by his club, plus £150,000 per week net required by the player make the transfer unlikely. The club has also been linked with AS Roma’s underwhelming Mirko Vucinic, who would add very little extra quality to Ferguson’s attacking options.

In keeping with United’s youthful approach to transfer strategy, the club could find an alternative in Wolfsburg’s 23 year-old Bosnian striker Edin Džeko, who has been the subject of intense interest from AC Milan. His club, however, appear reluctant to release him. Or perhaps Fergie could bid for Genoa’s Italian under-21 international Robert Acquafresca, who performed well at the recent European Championships. Newspaper reports have also linked United with Toulouse’s 24 year-old forward André-Pierre Gignac, who outscored Benzema this season in Ligue 1?

In truth though, with Ronaldo and Tevez gone, and his leading striking choice having joined the Madrid revolution, Ferguson’s options have significantly reduced. In the end, the Scot may now opt to place faith in youth, and offer Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda more game time next season while strengthening other areas of the squad. Either way, Ferguson is going to have to replace 41 goals next season if United are to maintain their pre-eminent position in the face of high-spending opponents.

Has United hit roadblock in dash to splash Ronaldo cash?

Ed June 23, 2009 Tags: , , Opinion 4 comments

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.