The silly season they say. It is as if the collective media doth protest too much. Silly is the faces pulled at an infant, or Shinji Kagwa’s karaoke routine at the end-of-season party. Silly is perhaps even the media’s reaction to José Mourinho’s slaying of the truth this week – how Rant chuckled. All very silly.
But when it comes to transfer speculation, at this time of year, in these times, silly is surely a malapropism. Downright stupid more like; an insult to football’s collective intelligence.
Take, for example, Manchester United’s apparent chase for Cristiano Ronaldo, the £80 million former Red now residing quite comfortably at Real Madrid. Silly. Just silly.
True, Ronaldo’s ‘people’ have sounded out his former employers – and United has considered a potential deal, bolstered by the apparent millions pouring in from every corner of the sponsorship globe. True, the Portuguese winger is yet to sign a new contract at the Bernabéu. Mind you, he also has two years left on the deal, with a €1 billion release clause studiously inserted into the deal four years ago.
Indeed, the road from here to Ronaldo’s Old Trafford return, especially in Sir Alex Ferguson’s absence, is fraught with more speedbumps than downward slopes. Not least United’s willingness, or otherwise, to fund an extravagant deal for a player who turns 29 next season.
But forget the fee for a moment – a sum that would approach if not pass that garnered by United in 2009 and concentrate on Ronaldo’s wages, which currently exceed £12 million per season. That’s netto, between you and Ruud Gullit, for a player just 19 months younger than Robin van Persie.
Over the course of a five-year contract United’s outlay might exceed £150 million, leaving the bean-counters to wonder just how many shirts the Megastore must sell, at pennies per additional nylon kit hawked under the current terms of Nike’s contract. You do the math, as our north American cousins love to say.
Then, of course, there is Real’s reluctance to part with a player who has scored at greater than a goal-a-game over nearly 200 fixtures for Los Merengues. Silly. Ridiculously silly, but Real’s antipathy to change is unsurprising given Barcelona’s recent dominance. After all, La Liga was lost to the Catalans by 15 points last season and Barça has already secured the outrageously talented Brazillian forward Neymar for next season’s campaign.
Yet, Ronaldo is not alone in the cavalcade of stars apparently on their way to Old Trafford. Make of that what you will. Take, for a start, Gareth Bale at £60 million. Add Marouanne Fellaini (£23 million), Thiago Alcantara(£18 million), Leighton Baines (£16 million), Ezikiel Garay (£16 million), Kevin Strootman (£12 million), and Dong Fangzhou (£5 million) to the list and United might need to file another IPO. At least one of those tales is completely fabricated.
The litany of newsprint is a Championship Manager fans’ wet dream – and not even nearly credible given David Moyes’ likely warchest this summer. After all, headline budgets and the Glazer family have always been an ephemeral relationship. No Rant can’t remember United spending £100 million after Wayne Rooney’s 2010 ‘October Revolution’ either.
Elsewhere, Barça kicked-off the transfer round robin by shelling out more than £55 million for Neymar. Newly enriched Monaco spent a similar sum on Colombian forward Radamel Falcao, while Manchester City lavished nearly £30 million on Brazilian reserve midfielder Fernandinho – a player who wasn’t close to making the Seleção for the Confederations Cup – and perennially homesick winger Jesus Navas.
One of Paris Saint Germain, Chelsea or City will happily part with more than £50 million for Edison Cavani. And don’t even look at Isco without depositing something far north of the GDP of a small South American banana republic.
Even heavily indebted West Ham United spent somewhere near £15 million to bring hard-drinking Andy Carroll to London on a permanent basis.
Silly money from silly boys with their football toys.
But there are bargains to be had this summer, with United likely to take a face-value loss on several players, including Nani, Anderson and Bébé. That’s £45 million worth of talent now likely to command less than half the sum no matter how foolish the owners that take the trio off United’s hands.
Rooney – now on to his second transfer request – might command more than £20 million, but it is a sum nowhere near what might have been for a player who once aspired to be the world’s best. Getting through 90 minutes without puffing is the new goal. Or at least it should be.
Far cheaper is CSKA Moscow’s Japanese playmaker Keisuke Honda who is available on a free transfer next winter, but unlikely to tax the budget of even the smallest Premier League outfit – not with next season’s bottom team taking home more than £60 million in revenue from TV rights.
Honda holds rank over Kagawa in the national team, often pushing the United man out to the left, although neither impressed in Japan’s 3-0 loss to Brazil in Saturday’s Confederations Cup opener.
Elsewhere free agents Andrei Arshavin, Yossi Benayoun, Chris Brunt, Florent Malouda, Carlton Cole, Mark Schwarzer, David Bentley and even Roque Santa Cruz will attract some attention, although surely not at Old Trafford.
While any deal for Ronaldo is still a long-shot, despite the speculation-fuelled short odds offered by some bookmakers in recent weeks, United will spend something this summer. Moyes’ apparent identification of the Reds’ major weakspot – central midfield – is a blessing at least. He could hardly fail to spot the problem given how Everton have dominated the area in recent matches against United.
The solution to that particular problem seems unlikely to be either, or both, of the Barça pair Cesc Fabregas and the aforementioned Alcantara. Many Reds hope that it is not Fellaini either given Everton’s propensity to play football of the agricultural kind last season the Belgian in the side.
All of which leads to the conclusion that despite press reports Moyes is still unlikely to spend silly money come silly season. Whatever the club’s new-found financial stability, albeit with £350 million of debt still loaded onto the books, this is still a business owned and run by the Glazer family.
Now that’s silly.