So the brilliant Alexis Sanchez is off to Barcelona, with the Catalan giants paying the best part of €30 million for the 22-year-old Chillean winger. Little surprise there, with most observers rating Sanchez as a player with genuine pretensions to join a very elite group of players at the top of the world game. Diminutive, quick, with mesmeric feet, Sanchez will likely replace Pedro Rodríguez or David Villa in Barça’s starting XI next season. He is an archetypal Barcelona player and will surely rise to world stardom under Pep Guardiola’s tutelage.
Manchester United was reportedly interested in the player, whom the red tops have repeatedly suggested as Old Trafford bound. There was even an argument – baseless as it turned out – that Sanchez preferred a move to England, with more opportunities for first team football supposedly on offer. The Udinese player will achieve that and more at the European Champions.
Sanchez’ transfer could mean relegation to the bench for Pedro, sale of Jeffren Suárez and possibly Villa too, especially if Barça is still keen on adding Cesc Fabregas’ considerable talents to the squad. Villa is an outstanding marksman but one that has suffered for Guardiola’s decision to deploy the incomparable Lionel Messi in a central attacking role. Moreover, despite Barça’s massive revenues – considerably more than United’s – the club also boasts the world’s largest wage bill necessitating a period of relative austerity.
Despite this fact, United could not – or possible would not – compete for a player that Sir Alex Ferguson’s team has tracked for three years.
Similarly, Chelsea’s aggressive approach to acquiring Luka Modrić will surely end – despite Daniel Levy’s protestations – in a multi-million pound transfer across London to Stamford Bridge, and not Old Trafford. With Roman Abramovich’s lust for football reinvigorated and Tottenham Hotspur’s historically selling its best players, Chelsea will increase the bid until west London achieves the transfer it desires. It may take all summer, with Modrić keen to repair bridges before departing.
After all, while the Croatian is not widely regarded as a player to cause trouble the very reasonable argument that a midfielder of his calibre should be playing in the Champions League is hard to counter. Without European football it is widely understood that Levy will rationalise Spurs’ playing resources this summer. The chairman is heading for a collision with manager Harry Redknapp, after the former Portsmouth chief demanded Levy buy two “top class” players; this to compete for a place in the top four and keep Modrić at White Hart Lane.
Ferguson’s admiration for the diminutive Croatian is well known but United cannot, and surely will not, compete with Chelsea for the 25-year-old’s signature if it comes to a bidding war. Michael Essien, Arjen Robben, John Obi Mikel and Michael Ballack will attest to Ambramovich’s unique powers of persuasion in the face of interest from Old Trafford.
Then there is Wesley Sneijder for whom has there is not a shred of evidence that the player is interested, let alone prepared to agitate for, a move away from Milan this summer. More to the point, the economics of a deal remain eye watering, with the Dutchman’s lengthy contract enabling Internazionale to demand a huge fee, while the Sneijder’s net wages exceed those of Wayne Rooney. Supporters should take summer speculation with a large pinch of salt.
A similar attitude might be relevant when it comes to Arsenal’s Samir Nasri, who has played a smart game during contract negotiations at the Emirates. Arsenal may well invest this summer to quell the Frenchman’s unrest; the club will also substantially increase an initial £90,000 per week offer.
What then of United’s plans to rebuild this summer? The club is already committed to deals for the teenager Phil Jones, goalkeeper David de Gea and winger Ashley Young but at least one marquee central midfield acquisition is surely a priority. At a minimum Ferguson may want to replace Paul Scholes, Darron Gibson and Owen Hargreaves. After two humiliating defeats to Barça in three years, the Catalans utterly dominant in midfield, replacement of that trio is truly a bare minimum.
It is instructive to note that of Ferguson’s last 12 acquisitions, including this summer’s business to date, none has been a central midfielder. With Scholes’ ageing legs, Hargreaves ongoing injuries, Gibson’s failure to improve and Anderson’s inconsistency, the decision not to strengthen last season bordered on the negligent.
Ferguson surely cannot repeat the trick?
Yet, with United unlikely to spend more than £30 million on an established talent under the Glazer family’s ownership, it remains to be see whether the Scot can improve his options in central midfield. Indeed, it leaves Ferguson with a dilemma; persuade the Glazer family to change established club policy, or revert to type and invest in a younger player with a high potential resale value.