Thievery is becoming an art in the Premier League – and it’s the wealthy that are doing the stealing. Like a band of Robin-Hoods-in-reverse, the mega-rich have taken to thieving from the plain rich.
Jose Mourinho delighted in Chelsea’s gazumping of Willian’s transfer to Tottenham last season, and his club have pedigree in the field. Chelsea were forced to pay Manchester United £12m in compensation for essentially buying John Obi Mikel after United had already bought him. Neither Tottenham nor United could be described as poor, and neither could Manchester City. Therefore, United should have no qualms about budging in and taking City’s long-standing target, Eliaquim Mangala, from under their noses.
And anyway, when you’re paying £35million, it can hardly be described as stealing.
The increasing tendency for richer clubs to hijack deals in which their relatively poorer competitors are involved in puts the importance of scouting into question. Why bother with all that messy business of flying around Europe watching players when you can let others do the dirty work and then just come up with the dirty money at the last minute?
Reports suggest Manchester United are already planning to break hearts in Liverpool by signing Konoplyanka, the player the club have admired from afar for more than a year, and it increasingly sounds as if United will try and do the same to their City neighbours by sneaking in on Mangala.
That’s not to say Manchester United have not scouted Mangala. Everyone has scouted Mangala. Such have been the defender’s performances since his move to Porto that they’ve demanded attention. But it’s City that have gone through all the rigours of courtship. Still, if we’re talking morality, United’s need for Mangala is far greater than their rivals.
With Vidic’s departure and Ferdinand’s contract allowed to expire, the area that two years ago was the pride of the Manchester United team now appears its weakest link. The case for Evans can be argued, but the fact that this is necessary would suggest he is not of the quality required.
The signings of Jones and Smalling appeared as managerial gifts on behalf of Sir Alex Ferguson for his successor. But then the Scot got distracted by trying to win things and forgot about playing them. Development stalled, the pair that once had the potential to form the base of the Manchester United team for a decade now find their future uncertain.
While one, or both, could still conceivably become a top-level defender, neither are the man for now. Mangala could be the man for now. And Mangala is available. That is, available for a price.
All the talk around Old Trafford this summer has been of war chests of varying value, and whatever the number you wish to believe, the club’s willingness to spend is clear.
Mangala may prove an acid test of this willingness. £35m is a lot to pay for a defender but United haven’t balked from spending big on defensive players in the past. Although the £30m paid for Rio Ferdinand is less in literal terms, when adjusted for inflation, the figure comes to just over £44m.
At 23-years-old, Mangala could yet represent value for money and there is no doubt he would immediately improve the Man United first-team. There is also the fact that signing Mangala would mean Manchester City – or Chelsea – not signing Mangala, and in effect, represents a zero sum game.
Although David Moyes may have got a lot wrong during his time as Manchester United manager, the Scot was right in his insistence on only signing quality. In Mangala, United have a quality player available, whether they will be brave enough to spend the money remains to be seen.