This summer transfer window was always going to be a game of brinksmanship for so many deals, and so it’s proving for Manchester United as deadline day ticks closer.
At the moment United have refused to blink first when it comes to selling Chris Smalling or signing Jadon Sancho. The good news is we’re just over three weeks away from finding out how successful that strategy is going to be.
United have held their nerve in a transfer window that could have been sponsored by Tesco – every little helps. That hasn’t stopped the transfer hungry Twitterati growing impatient, however.
Many would like Smalling sold to Roma for whatever the Serie A giants want to offer, before United stump up the full £108million Dortmund want for Sancho. Football might be a business that billions of people are emotionally invested in, but it is still a business, and right now it’s a business that doesn’t know when a major revenue stream is going to open up again, or if it’s product will be halted completely once more. Caution is understandable.
Fundamentally, the issues around Smalling and Sancho are similar, even if their status is poles apart and the figures involved are in different stratospheres.
United have long been admirers of Sancho, whose performances for Borussia Dortmund have been exceptional. They have a vacancy to fill on the ring-wing and the 20-year-old ticks every conceivable box on a tick list for an ideal United recruit.
Yet the Bundesliga side know that and insist he goes for £108million or he stays put. They continue to claim their own artificial deadline for a deal has passed, but we all know if United wired them £108million tomorrow Sancho would be on the next private jet to Manchester.
On the other hand, United are the only club in town when it comes to signing Sancho this summer, and they consider the idea of nine-figure transfers in a summer when the true cost of the Covid-19 pandemic is still unclear totally unrealistic. Dortmund are traditionally a selling club, it’s their business model. Sancho will go at some point, as will Erling Haaland, as will Jude Bellingham and many others.
With the highest average attendances in Europe, they’ve been financially affected by games being played behind closed doors. The suspicion remains that Dortmund will need the money and at some point their idea of a good deal and United’s idea of a good deal could begin to align. That might not happen, but that’s the brinksmanship in play right now.
It’s similar to the issues with Smalling. He was superb for Roma last season and it’s clear why the Giallorossi want the 30-year-old back on a permanent deal. They also know he has no real future at United, who need to sell a couple of central defenders.
While Roma want to save every Euro they can, United don’t want a player who was impressive in a major European league last year to leave without extracting maximum value for him.
The Smalling case might be easier to solve than Sancho’s, with a move in the best interests of both clubs, but the time it is taking to conclude what should be a relatively straightforward deal shows why the Sancho saga is dragging on so long it could soon be commissioned for a second series.
Time will tell how successful United’s strategy will be this summer, but in Sancho’s case they’re not alone in believing that value will emerge towards the end of the window, when the financial picture becomes clearer for clubs. Plenty can happen on and off the pitch in the next three weeks that could affect Dortmund’s desire to do business.
The aggressive nature of Chelsea’s transfer window has added to the unease around United, given the two clubs occupied the same area of the Premier League table last season and had similar campaigns, but under Roman Abramovich, the Blues have always been a special case in the transfer market.
Manchester City have also made two new signings so far, but their drawn-out pursuit of Napoli central defender Kalidou Koulibaly shows that even they are determined to try and find value this summer, something they did with Ferran Torres and Nathan Ake.
That approach might yet serve United well, but to criticise them for not selling Smalling at the first opportunity and not paying the asking price for Sancho is to be on different sides in the same argument right now.