Maybe Manchester United got their PR tactics wrong on Jadon Sancho.
It’s always a struggle for a club of their size to successfully handle the media storm that surrounds them every time the transfer window rolls around. But having successfully negotiated both the media and the fees while signing Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes in the past two windows, the expectation was that they could do the same with Sancho.
Having held an interest in Sancho in 2019, United resigned themselves to going hard and trying to land the Borussia Dortmund star 12 months on. It was a sound strategy, but they could not have foreseen what would come next.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed so much in everyone’s daily lives, and as Ed Woodward said in April it meant football transfers would not be “business as usual” in the summer.
How far that can stretch as an excuse, however, has been tested to the limit at Old Trafford. The window closes in less than three weeks and Donny van de Beek remains the only acquisition, albeit on a sensibly-priced deal worth £35million from Ajax.
Fans are growing impatient and the likelihood of United signing Sancho appears to be diminishing. This is why United may have got it wrong while shouting from the rooftops their intention to sign Sancho.
The criticism for not completing a deal for the 20-year-old will be entirely justified, then, after Dortmund’s latest rebuke in the media, which came courtesy of head of football Sebastian Kehl.
“Jadon Sancho will play at Borussia Dortmund this season,” he said.
“Otherwise, of course, we are watching the market but we are very well positioned.”
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Kehl, sporting director Michael Zorc and BVB boss Lucien Favre have all spoken with confidence about Sancho, rubbing salt into the United wounds in a very public way.
And there is no doubt how the saga has unfolded will have hurt United. Being unable to land your Number One target is an error on the part of the club’s transfer decision-makers.
But one of the many areas in which United can improve with regards to transfers is in being opportunistic and reactive when things don’t go their way; having a Plan B. They gambled when in January when struggling to sign a striker, eventually rolling the dice with a loan for Odion Ighalo. Otherwise, the transfer business has been slow and considered under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
This is the test for United if they are to salvage their summer and come out with credit, even if Sancho does not arrive.
How can United make a success of a window in which they put all their eggs in the Sancho basket and seemingly disregarded other positions?
The possibility of a loan for Gareth Bale was briefly an attractive one, a temporary deal for a more experienced right-winger who could fill in for a year and allow United another pop at Sancho in 2021. Douglas Costa and Ivan Perisic have also been mentioned in this regard.
Yet perhaps the more prudent approach would be to sign a younger player who is a better fit for Solskjaer’s preferred strategy. Someone more versatile, who could potentially play alongside Sancho in the future. Bournemouth’s David Brooks is a player United have considered and who could be attainable for less than half Sancho’s price.
The other route to recovering United’s transfer window is to tick boxes in other positions, aside from the right-wing ‘priority. Sergio Reguilon may be Tottenham-bound like Bale but signing a left-back to give competition to Luke Shaw, and a centre-back like Dayot Upamecano to play alongside Maguire (or at least pressure Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly) would be smart.
It’s fair enough that right-wing has been United’s priority this summer, though their public and unsuccessful chase of Sancho means there is now nowhere to hide. United have to use the final weeks of the window to compensate for a thoroughly frustrating affair.