News that Juventus may be willing to sell goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has already sent the rumour mill into overdrive with speculation that his destination could be Manchester. Both Manchester United and Manchester City have already been linked with the Italian number 1 as reports claim the ‘Old Lady’ is ready to part with one of her favourite sons. Although it has been suggested Buffon would only leave if Juventus were to fail to qualify for the Champion’s League, with the Turin club currently occupying sixth place in Serie A, that is becoming a distinct possibility.
Buffon is regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world by many and rightly so as his performances over the years have been nothing short of exceptional. It will come as no surprise to anyone that City, with an Italian manager and limitless funds are supposed to be interested in making Buffon another one of their ‘big name’ signings. The price for the 32 year-old is rumoured to be anything between £25-35 million and while that may make many clubs baulk, to the ‘richest club in the world’ it’s merely pocket change, after all City have already spent a combined total of £38 million on gems Joleon Lescott and Kolo Toure so spending less on a player who could actually help prevent goals must seem like a no-brainer.
United on the other hand are nowhere near their ‘noisy neighbours’ in the financial stakes but they may be able to stump up the funds for a bid after all the comments made by their chief executive David Gill recently. Gill, in response to criticism over the Glazer’s ownership of United and subsequent amount of debt the club are now in, has claimed that anything up to £100 million could be available for Sir Alex Ferguson in the summer. Although that figure seems about as likely as a ‘we want Glazers in’ protest at Old Trafford there could be at least enough money to launch a decent attempt to get Buffon.
While City may have a financial advantage over their more successful neighbours they may not have the appeal to lure a player of Buffon’s stature. One thing which may scupper any chance of getting the Italian will be whether they’re in the Champion’s League. After seeing his side crash out of the Europa League-albeit from the sidelines- to Fulham, Buffon may not wish to spend another season facing some of Europe’s lesser known sides. If City do make the Champion’s League they will be in a strong position to tempt Buffon, but regardless of what City fans- or Gary Cook may claim- they are simply not as well thought of in terms of history, prestige, fan base, or appeal as Manchester United are, in Italy or anywhere else in the world. If City are to get Buffon, it will be because he decides that money is the motivating factor-either that or he’s a secret City fan who always wanted to wear the shirt of men such as Andy Dibble, Martyn Margetson, Nicky Weaver and John Burridge.
Another factor which may prevent City even trying to get Buffon is the form of Shay Given. Ireland’s number one has been pretty exceptional since his move to Eastlands and while he may not be as good as his Italian counterpart, replacing him could have a detrimental effect on others in the team. If Mancini is willing to drop players who’ve performed outstandingly for him, who else on the City team would feel safe? It may sound a little bit far-fetched, after all Mancini didn’t buy Given so doesn’t really owe him anything, but even trying to buy Buffon could send the wrong message to the City players. You could argue it would merely keep everyone on their toes, the idea that no matter how well you play you can always be replaced, but in a squad that’s already seen a transfer merry-go-round, not to mention 4 managers in as many years, getting rid of one of your best performers may just ruin team morale and add to the sense of instability.
Manchester United have no such worries about stability with the longest serving manager in the Universe and one of the world’s oldest keepers. While Edwin Van Der Sar would hardly be thrilled at the prospect of moving aside for a younger model, at nearly forty years-old he will surely see the sense in it. Fergie’s problem will not be upsetting team morale should he go for Buffon, it will be actually outbidding his neighbours. The best way for the Scot to get Buffon at Old Trafford will be to convince the keeper to come, thereby making a decent bid acceptable to Juventus. If Buffon says he wants to go to United and they put in a reasonable offer, then it may just be enough to scupper any plans city have regardless of their wealth. Not only would the sight of Buffon at Old Trafford, mean that United fans can again see a lovely headband on display- since Dimitar Berbatov had his haircut- it would also mean that the team would have arguably the best ‘back five’ in world football, some may argue, of recent times. That may sound ridiculous but if they can keep Vidic and Brown returns with some of the form he showed in 2007/08 the defence with Buffon behind them would be a truly mouth-watering prospect for any United fan-and a nightmare for the opposition. Replacing Van Der Sar should be a priority for Fergie, as for me Tomasz Kuszczak and obviously Ben Foster are not the answer, after all the years it took to replace Peter Schmeichel, Fergie may realise that leaving his successor the task of replacing VDS would make a tough job even tougher. One thing Sir Alex will want when he finally hands over the reins is to be able to know that the team he’s leaving behind is in good shape, without an established keeper that may not be the case.
There is one final reason-as if creating the best defence in world football isn’t enough- for Fergie to really aggressively pursue Buffon- to quieten the anti-Glazer mob. The United manager has made no secret of the fact he is a little worried the protests may distract his players, and while I do not agree with that idea- he could feel a real marquee signing would bring about a bit of harmony. If United bought Buffon, for £30 odd mill, could the Green and Gold brigade really argue that the Glazers are not backing the club financially? It would certainly go some way to calming a lot of angry United fans.
From Buffon’s point of view going from arguably the biggest club in Italian football to the biggest in Britain may appeal to him. From a United point of view I certainly hope so.
Read more of Justin Mottershead work at his blog ‘Name is on the Trophy’