It’s hardly a surprise to see Manchester United presently being linked with the crème de la crème of European talent, from its most coveted starlets to the household names of Gareth Bale and Antoine Griezmann.
With the 2017/18 season all but done, of course a club with such a vast fanbase is being paired up with an array of exciting names because for the media and transfer rumour industry it boils down to simple math in that A + B = C. The ‘C’ stands for ‘clicks by the gazillion’.
Just don’t believe that any of it will happen, not in the real world, because it won’t.
Lazio’s Sergei Milinkovic-Savic is not heading to Old Trafford this summer even for a fee way over his estimation. Gareth Bale meanwhile will do everything in his power to remain in Madrid but if the expected overhaul at the Bernabeu has him firmly placed in the out-tray he will explore every other alternative before committing to joining the 13-times Premier League champions.
Why? Because the institution that used to be any player’s dream destination is now on a downward trajectory and in charge is a busted flush.
We can stereotype footballers all we like for their avarice but when it comes to committing three or four years of a short career to a new employer money – in most instances, not all – becomes a secondary concern. Whether you are already an elite talent or en route to becoming one frankly it makes little difference if you join United, Real Madrid or even a club residing a tier below in terms of global status because if your agent is happy with his slice and your wages exceed a ballpark expectation then £190,000 a week compared to £175,000 a week is, to an extent, neither here nor there.
What matters more, in that rarefied stratosphere of top clubs competing to pay an individual the biggest fortune is which of those clubs additionally offers the best chance of winning trophies. Is it remotely plausible that United can secure a Premier League title next term, with their neighbours set to dominate English football for the foreseeable future and Liverpool putting together an exhilarating package to challenge that domination?
Is a Champions League medal a realistic proposition should you put pen to paper at Carrington and claim that you owned a United top as a child? Or is it more likely that you would have to settle for an FA Cup every two or three years? The latter is hardly an insignificant reward, for sure, but in comparison to what is possible elsewhere it swiftly pales to a consolation prize.
The world’s most sought-after players don’t settle for consolation prizes.
Next up the managers are assessed. If you’re the next Paul Pogba it would naturally greatly concern you what Jose Mourinho has done with thr real Paul Pogba. That could be you: a king without a kingdom. Similarly if you’re a free-spirited attacking dervish it would be remiss if you didn’t factor in what Mourinho has reduced Anthony Martial to and then compare that to Leroy Sane’s explosion of potential down the road under Pep Guardiola. If you’re a highly regarded full-back meanwhile it doesn’t require a huge flight of fancy to put yourself in Luke Shaw’s boots and recoil at the mere hypothesis.
The latter example can be extended to almost any player that United are eying up this summer. Mourinho’s habit of throwing his boys under metaphorical buses to avoid personal criticism or blame is unsavoury on its own terms but can equally be considered immensely damaging to his club’s transfer aspirations in the forthcoming window.
With some of the world’s most thrilling guiding lights available would you choose to work for a boss who is poisoned to the marrow? Who only looks after number one? Who traditionally implodes in his third season in situ? Elsewhere a number of other coaches genuinely excite.
Lastly we come to the playing style of a perspective buyer. Should you stay at that club for three seasons that is upwards of 150 games barring injury. Why would purposely choose to commit yourself to 13,500 minutes of being shackled to a stolid, negating mandate? Why would you opt for becoming a pawn in a never-ending chess game rather than being better taught in how best to express yourself?
The reluctance of football’s leading talents to join United is already very evident and conversely the most prominent example ended up there. It was never part of Alexis Sanchez’s masterplan to actually sign for the red half of Manchester. His intention – his dream – was to reunite with Guardiola and United was simply dragged into proceedings as a bargaining tool.
It was a scheme that spectacularly backfired when City refused to play along and pulled out of the race and desperate to leave the Emirates the Chilean had no other option but to sacrifice professional happiness for a burgeoned bank balance. In doing so he became a mercenary.
In the post-Ferguson flailing of a once mighty club United have had to resort on several occasions to over-spending in order to attract the highest standard of players. This summer it’s entirely conceivable that this recent dream destination for the world’s elite will reach phase two of their prolonged downgrading. A phase where not even the lure of lucre will suffice.