Okay, so what’s the deal here?
Well, Atlético Madrid and the club’s illustrious neighbour, Real, have been hit with transfer bans that span two windows.
Yes, that much is known. Uncle Sepp even warned us that both Madrid clubs could face a ban as early as last December. How will this affect the transfer market?
This January’s window probably won’t go into overdrive, we’re midway through the month and the only possible deals that the duo could pull off are probably for squad players rather than anyone of star quality.
So does that mean David de Gea is safe from Real’s clutches… for now?
That appears to be the case, if we believe everything that’s been reported. Real’s director general José Ángel Sánchez has said that Los Merengues will not make a big name signing this window. And when have Real ever pulled the wool over our eyes?
Don’t be flippant! What’s the most likely course of action that both Real and Atlético will take to overturn or, at the very least, delay the ban?
Well, both clubs have already confirmed that they will appeal FIFA’s decision to football’s governing body. Should that fail the case is most likely to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
And if they successfully overturn the ban?
Then it’s as if nothing ever happened.
What if the ban is upheld – is the fax machine to blame again?
Not quite. Both Atlético and Real were found guilty of breaching Article 19 of FIFA’s statutes, the same law Barcelona was punished for breaking not long ago. To be specific, FIFA’s statement says that “Both clubs are to serve a transfer ban that prevents them from registering any players at national and international level for the next two complete and consecutive registration periods for breaching articles 5, 9, 19 and 19bis as well as annexes 2 and 3 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (the ‘Regulations’).” There’s plenty more on FIFA’s regulations if that kind of thing floats your boat.
So what can we expect now – is there anything instructive that we can learn from Barcelona’s case?
In terms of time frame the Catalan club was initially banned on the 2 April 2014. Barça went to the FIFA Appeals Committee, which stayed the decision before upholding the ban in August ’14. The case was then taken to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which dismissed the appeal on the 5 December ’14. The case took nine months to resolve, and if Real and Atlético go down the same route each will appeal to the FIFA Appeals Committee, which is likely should stay the ban as the respective cases are considered. If the decision is unfavourable for both Madrid clubs it is likely the matter will go all the way to CAS once again. Either way, as things stand, the appeals process will take months. That should allow the two clubs to conduct transfer business in the coming summer.
Right, we’ve read the decision and heard the outrage from the two clubs in question, but how does this affect United?
Speculation is a wonderful thing. Let’s take a few educated guesses shall we? Manchester Evening News opined that United fans will be spared the drama of David de Gea transferring to Real in the near future. That would be the case if the ban is applied to this summer’s window and the one in January 2017. However, if Real’s management is successful in pushing the punishment back there is still the all-too-real possibility that De Gea could leave Old Trafford for the Bernabéu in the summer, especially if there really is a buy-out clause inserted in the Spaniard’s contract. If the clause does exist then Real holds the upper hand.
The second point raised is that Florentino Pérez is likely to be determined to hold on to his stars. The likelihood of United landing, for example, Gareth Bale and other key galacticos this summer is pretty much non-existent. That won’t stop Woodward from trying though. If Los Meringues are looking to rebuild the most saleable assets are probably James Rodríguez, Toni Kroos, Jesé and possibly, if Pérez can get away with it, Cristiano Ronaldo. Given the need to offload any dead weight Real could be forced to sell players for less than the club might like. With Real, in all likelihood, unable to do any transfer deals in 2017, Pérez should be looking to cash in on the expendable members of the squad as soon as possible. That could work to United’s advantage.
Of course, the predictable narrative is that Ed Woodward goes full pelt for Cristiano only for the Portuguese superstar to move to Paris Saint-Germain. The Parisian club could do with Ronaldo if, as expected, Zlatan Ibrahimović leaves. That would allow PSG to move Edinson Cavani to a central role and play Ronaldo on the left of the attacking unit.
So Woodward should target Kroos, James, and Jesé then?
Not so fast. There’s the very real possibility that there will be a new manager at Old Trafford in the summer. Unless Louis van Gaal can pull off something near-miraculous and actually win the Premier League the only certainty is another summer window filled with uncertainty. And if, by some sleight of hand, Woodward manages to convince Pep Guardiola that he should succeed Van Gaal then the Spaniard may not want Toni Kroos given their history together at Bayern Munich. Without a transfer strategy United could well be buying for the sake of it. And that’s never happened before, has it?
Steady on! What about Atlético – any luck raiding Vincente Caleron this summer?
It’s safe to assume that Atlético will try to tie down key players in the coming months. The chances of United acquiring Antoine Griezmann, Diego Godín or Koke are slim to say the least. How strongly the club will flex its financial muscle in the market is another question entirely. If, for example, United really is keen on Saúl Ñíguez it might be worth activating the player’s buy-out clause and bringing him to Old Trafford as soon as possible. Ñíguez might count as a luxury purchase, but with Atlético’s back to the wall it’s difficult to see Rojiblancos giving up key assets without a fight.
Nobody from Atlético will be moving to Old Trafford then…
No players, perhaps, but manager Diego Simeone could be an option. If the Argentine’s hands are tied in the transfer market until 2017 – and possibly this summer’s window too – it might finally be time for Simeone to move on. Simeone loves Atlético, there’s no doubt about it, and for him to truly blossom in the Premier League he will need a good command of English despite the Spanish contingent at United. Intriguingly, there have been reports that United’s players expect Simeone to take over from Van Gaal in the summer. If the former Inter player does decide to move on then Woodward can also expect interest from Chelsea for Simeone’s services.
Ok, lay it on the line, what should we expect to happen?
If Woodward has learned anything about the club’s past transfer window experiences, fanciful notion as that may seem, it should be to focus on strengthening the squad with pragmatic signings, rather than busting a gut to land a superstar. Van Gaal, or a new manager, needs a centre-back, a top quality midfielder, a speedy wide attacker, and a striker to grab the goals missing from this season’s team.
Appeals aside, Real and Atlético will batten down the hatches and fight hard to retain key personnel. United should look to acquire high-quality yet realistic targets. United, being United, means that supporters will be teased with a move for, among others, Ronaldo, Neymar, Bale and Paul Pogba, before Woodward calls up Jorge Mendes five minutes before the end of the summer window and overpays for one of his players, all under the watchful gaze of a certain José Mourinho.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?
Something like that.