Tue. Sep 29th, 2020

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Why Manchester United are not giving up on signing Jadon Sancho

4 min read

In the space of a week Manchester United have made progress in discussions to sign Jadon Sancho and the Borussia Dortmund coach has dispelled the possibility of a transfer.

Positive guidance from United was countered by on-the-record confidence from Sancho’s coach days later. “Everyone was happy that he stayed,” was Lucien Favre’s exact quote to the Swiss news agency SDS.

The saga (it unfortunately qualifies as that) is as puzzling as Sudoku and some are so hooked an overseas sports desk wondered whether the puff of smoke rising from Old Trafford last month signalled an announcement, as if cardinals at The Vatican had elected a new pope. The groundsmen were removing dead turf.

Either United or Dortmund are going to look utterly daft on October 5. United warned they were prepared to walk away from a deal for Sancho amid reservations over salary and agent fee demands on the night of the Championship Play-off final. That was six weeks ago to the day and they are still conversing with Sancho’s agent, Emeka Obasi.

The Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc said over a month ago the decision on Sancho staying was ‘final’. So why is Obasi communicating Dortmund’s demands? And why have Dortmund hired Marco Lichtsteiner as the intermediary to act on their behalf.

United have earmarked the right wing as their ‘priority’, so it seems unthinkable even for them that they will end this window without recruiting one, be it Sancho, David Brooks, Douglas Costa or an alternative. It is such a problem position Ivan Perisic has been floated as a potential stop-gap and Gareth Bale’s name is being bracketed with United again.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Mick Court, the technical chief scout, have discussed stop-gap options akin to Bayern Munich’s strategy to offset their failure to sign Leroy Sane last year, when they brought in Ivan Perisic and Philippe Coutinho on loan. Both had telling impacts in the Champions League semi-final annihilation of Barcelona and final triumph over Paris Saint-Germain.

United only moved onto Daniel James last year after Dortmund refused to budge following early enquiries about Sancho and the relegation to Thursday night football scuppered the possibility of a deal. This summer is different and even the minor tremor caused by Dortmund extending Sancho’s contract by a year to 2023 has not deterred United.

They are counting on Dortmund folding like a pack of cards again, as they did with Ousmane Dembele and his nine-figure transfer to Barcelona three years ago. Dembele went AWOL to force through a move and was suspended indefinitely by Dortmund. Unbecoming though it is, United could do with Sancho agitating just as publicly.

Just as relevant as Dembele were United’s straightforward negotiations with Dortmund for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, a relatively routine deal Dortmund still dug their heels in to the extent Jose Mourinho sardonically bemoaned the inordinate wait at his press conference unveiling.

The contract situations of Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Christian Pulisic forced Dortmund’s hand in that they had all entered the last 18 months of their deals, in Aubameyang’s case, six months. With Sancho and Erling Haaland in the same attack for at least a season, Dortmund are a more formidable adversary for treble winners Bayern, enhanced by Sane.

United were again dismissive of Dortmund’s confidence and the question put to Favre began, verbatim: ‘Jadon Sancho is not (yet) moving to the Premier League’. Even the diplomatic Swiss are not wholly convinced by the posturing.

Sancho’s saga does not have the box office billing of Dimitar Berbatov’s in 2008, a tale of an attempted hijacking and alleged abduction – both on deadline day – headlined by Sir Alex Ferguson and Daniel Levy. “That whole experience was more painful than my hip replacement,” Ferguson recalled. Berbatov only arrived at Old Trafford on deadline evening when he was visible through the glass exterior of the East Stand.

Sancho at Carrington... in 2016
Sancho at Carrington… in 2016

“If they’re going to bring any new strikers – like they’re connected with Sancho for a long time now – if that’s going to happen probably we’re going to find out in the last days of the transfer window,” Berbatov told the MEN last week.

“Chelsea are doing some good business at the moment, they’ll be challenging the top teams. We will find out who is going and who is staying in the last two or three days of the transfer window. Sancho is a good alternative if it’s not too much money to spend on that signing, [then] go for it.”

Eighteen months ago, United bullishly outlined their desire for ‘game-changer’ additions and Sancho was at the forefront of Ed Woodward’s mind as the club started its recruitment reboot. He shone for the City Under-18s at Carrington in late 2016 and eight months later United explored the possibility of a cross-city transfer amid Sancho’s disenchantment under Pep Guardiola.

A little like the seemingly neverending pursuit of Bale, United rate Sancho that highly and last season one player was the difference between another campaign of Thursday nights and the glamour of the Champions League.

In the era of trial by Twitter, United are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Persist with Sancho and the only satisfactory resolution is his signing. Raise the white flag and most of the window has been spent on a target who is not signing.

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