What defines value? A simple noun that has become a pseudonym for the Glazer era at Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson’s protestation over the past two summers – since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure to Real Madrid in 2009 – centred on the word. Value, said the Scot, was absent from the transfer market. Value, he insisted, is the United way. Forget the six occasions on which United had broken the British transfer record; value was now the sole moniker with which the Reds approached the market.
Supporters cried foul of course. Value has always had that ephemeral quality. Here in Javier Hernández, Mesut Özil, Rafael van der Vaart – Sneijder himself – Nurin Sahin and many others. Gone, some might say, in a half-a-dozen ringers brought to Eastlands, and Fernando Torres acquired so expensively by Chelsea. Add Andy Carroll, Bébé and £18.5 million Stuart Downing to that list.
What then to make of United’s apparent £35 million offer for Wesley Sneijder, the brilliant Dutchman employed by Internazionale. He is, after all, a player who led Inter to a famous treble 12 months ago and Holland to the World Cup final. For the quality Sneijder possesses the Dutchman is, arguably, cheap at the price.
Yet there is something unsettling too, exciting though the potential transfer is. Why, if Sneijder is the player so admired by Ferguson, did United not acquire the 27-year-old when he left Real Madrid just two years ago? Hungrier, younger, more dynamic in 2009; one wonders whether Sneijder is the same player after a relatively mediocre season with Inter over the past year. This question is especially pertinent given Inter paid around £20 million less for the player.
Of course, Ferguson retained Paul Scholes in his squad over the past two years. Yet, the now retired Scholes has not started 30 Premier League games for the Scot in six years.
Ferguson did not mention Sneijder in a remarkably open press conference in Boston last night but the heavy recognition of United’s requirement for quality laced the Scot’s comments. In the midst of a youth-driven evolution of United’s squad, value, it seems may be cast aside.
“We try to look ahead, we try to make sure we have an influx of young players coming through to replace the older players,” said Ferguson.
“We’ve been well aware of the need to replace Ryan Giggs. And with Gary Neville , Paul Scholes and Edwin van der Sar leaving, we were well aware that we were going to have to replace them at some point.
“So the work we’ve done in the last few years has been centred around that. The big problem, of course, is how do you replace somebody like Paul Scholes? It’s very, very difficult. If you bracket four of the best midfield players in the world, Scholes would be there along with Xavi and Iniesta.
“How will we overcome it? Maybe the next few weeks will help us in that respect. As they often do at Manchester United, maybe somebody will emerge out of the youth team or one of the young players emerges. It would be impossible to get another Paul Scholes, but if we can get a player along similar lines in terms of the quality of his passing and vision, then yes we’d have to do something.”
If that fourth player in Ferguson’s quartet of midfield quality is indeed Sneijder the acquisition will transform United’s midfield. The party now touring the United States includes just Anderson and Michael Carrick as recognised central midfielders, with Ryan Giggs and Tom Cleverley providing potential support.
Yet the economics are truly eye-watering on any deal to bring Sneijder to Old Trafford; a point fans might do well to remember until the Dutchman is sitting beside a beaming David Gill, signature pen in hand. The £35 million transfer fee will be augmented by a salary not less than £200,000 per week, or £10.4 million per year.
Even if United knock Sneijder down to those wages it will represent a significant pay cut for the player and a total investment of more than £80 million over a five-year contract with the club. With Sneijder 32 at the contract’s end, and therefore commanding little resale fee, one wonders where the deal sits in Ferguson’s characterisation of value.
Indeed, United’s decision to pursue multiple targets this summer is unlikely to have ended, despite Ferguson’s apparent admission that Samir Nasri has slipped through the Scot’s fingers. Label it ‘mind games’ perhaps, but Ferguson’s assertion that Arsene Wenger is “brave” to make Nasri wait out the final year on the Frenchman’s contract is more than a little cheeky.
“I don’t think he’s coming to United. That’s all I can tell you. I think he’s agreed to go somewhere else,” added the Scot.
“Maybe he has to stay at Arsenal, also. That’s a possibility. That’s a decision [Wenger] has made. If he stands by that decision it’s a brave one. I’m not sure the Arsenal directors will enjoy that one, but it’s possible.”
United had remained confident of luring the Frenchman to Old Trafford up to and beyond faxing a £20 million bid to Arsenal three weeks ago. This for a player available for nothing in 12 months time. Some reports even suggested that the club is countenancing acquiring both Sneijder and Nasri this summer.
It’s a proposition that brings the question right back to the issue of value and what it means.