After the Lucas Moura and Eden Hazard transfer fiascoes last summer, Manchester United have faced a similar catastrophe this term as Spain international Thiago Alcantara, who had previously agreed personal terms with the Red Devils, has decided to make a move to the Allianz Arena instead.
The words of Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola at his presser, “It is either Thiago or nothing” still echo in the ears of the Old Trafford faithful as United endure another failed transfer.
Although the Red Devils have missed out on several transfer targets over the past few years, we take a look at the failed pursuits of Lucas and Hazard to analyse what’s exactly going wrong at the Theatre of Dreams.
After having missed out on Eden Hazard, Sir Alex Ferguson identified Lucas as the attacking midfielder to link up with Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa at United.
Having tracked the player for a couple of months, Fergie was convinced of Lucas’s potential and subsequently opened negotiations with Sao Paulo.
United’s initial bid of €32 million bid was turned down, while an improved offer of €38m was also rebuffed by the Brazilian club.
But the Red Devils continued to hold talks for a potential move, with Fergie even confirming in public, the club’s intentions to sign Lucas.
United eventually got the breakthrough, as can been derived from the quotes of Lucas’s agent, Wagner Ribeiro, after the player’s transfer to Paris Saint-Germain.
“Everything was agreed between Sao Paulo and Manchester United,” Ribeiro told UOL. “The contract had been written and just needed to be signed…”
As just mentioned above, the filthy rich Paris Saint-Germain intervened and out-muscled United financially.
Lucas agreed to join PSG for a sum of €45m and a better wage package as compared to that offered by United.
Why it came crashing down?
Sao Paulo preferred PSG’s bid as they were getting more money from the Ligue 1 giants but Lucas could have still chosen United as both the clubs had had their bids accepted and were entitled to hold talks with the attacking-midfielder.
However, PSG offered better wages, the demanded £6m agent fees and further money to the player’s relatives.
Ferguson ridiculed the ludicrous money paid by PSG, stating, “When somebody’s paying 45 million euros (£35m) for a 19-year-old boy you have to say the game’s gone mad. I find it quite amazing”.
Money was the prime reason, even though there were also some other theories:
- The Brazilian forces at PSG, Thiago Silva and Leonardo , would’ve helped Lucas to adapt to the lifestyle in Paris- United had their own Brazilian contingent who could have facilitated Lucas, albeit he could have preferred to play with Silva after the Olympics.
- Paris is a more “pleasant city” than Manchester-Manchester’s lifestyle surely isn’t that bad to put off a player from plying trades there. And the great Mario Balotelli will surely beg to differ with such claims.
- PSG allowed Lucas to make the transfer at the end of the year- Valid statement, but if this was such a big issue then why did Lucas agree the transfer in principle in the first place.
Eventually even the player agreed on the money issue, saying, “…PSG’s terms were better.”
Last summer, Eden Hazard was the most sought-after youngster in world football. Lille demanded £32m for their prized asset and the trio of Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea delved into the demands of the French club.
Ferguson held a personal conversation with Hazard and even took him to a stadium tour.
But the deal never materialized.
Why it came crashing down?
United were blown out of the water by the financial prowess of Chelsea. Fergie’s influence and talks with Hazard had put United in the driving seat for the Belgium international’s signature but the Red Devils refused to meet his astronomical wage demands and the agent’s fees.
They were not prepared to offer more than £130,000-a-week, while at Chelsea, Hazard is earning £185,000-a-week. Moreover, Hazard’s agent got a whooping cheque of £6m from Roman Abramovich.
Conclusion from the Two Sagas:
I believe the reason why we missed out on two highly-talented youngsters last year was because of Ferguson’s footballing ethos, United’s weak financial status, and United’s lack of talents in the team.
If United were debt free and Ferguson had optimum freedom to shelve £40m to sign Hazard, I don’t think so he would have done so.
The Scot has always believed in nurturing young talents and disliked those guided by the money-making motive.
Moreover, the 71-year-old has also spoken against the “greedy” agents in the past and it’s virtually impossible to imagine him paying £6m in agent fees alone.
Yes, Rooney was purchased for £28.6m when he was just 18 years old, but his wages crossed £185,000 only after he had spent six seasons at the club and United weren’t required to pay any hefty commissions to the middlemen during the transfer negotiations.
No matter what, Ferguson never over-spent unless he found a special or an extraordinary talent. Rooney was such an exception, Hazard and Lucas weren’t.
When I asked Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Max Towle about his views regarding why United missed out on Hazard and Lucas in a personal conversation, he held a similar viewpoint.
“Manchester United don’t want to seem like a club that pays over-the-odds for young talent. The club is based on the idea that young players have to prove themselves at the top level before they can be put on that pedestal.
In Hazard’s case, we put an offer on the table which was generous, but not excessive, and Chelsea simply offered the player more. Similar situation with Lucas. The player was all set to come to Old Trafford but PSG threw X millions more at him and he couldn’t say no.
The case of Rooney I think was Sir Alex just saying “There is no way we are not getting this player” – he was an exception to the financial structure of United, just like Robin van Persie was last summer.”
Weak Financial Status
There’s another theory to believe- even if Ferguson would’ve thought that either Lucas or Hazard was worth the humongous money (like Rooney was), United wouldn’t have been able to provide the gaffer with the required funds.
The Glazers have put United in a fix since taking over the club in 2005 and the Red Devils can’t make gamble buys anymore.
After all, Lucas and Hazard were largely unproven players before moving to PSG and Chelsea respectively.
If a big transfer fails to yield the required results, it can imbalance United’s financial structure as the club’s debt will worsen.
Many argue van Persie was a risky signing due to his injury issues. The truth is, the Flying Dutchman was a proven goal-scorer who was on a rich streak of scoring form and not motivated by money.
In addition, after having missed out on Lucas and Hazard, van Persie was the final “marquee” transfer signing available for Ferguson.
I contacted United expert Doron Salomon for some input and he agrees with the above two points.
“There’s no doubt that United can’t compete in monetary terms at the very top – Chelsea, City, Madrid, Barcelona, PSG and Monaco are all in a different league in that respect. There’s also no doubt that United won’t ever be bullied into paying over the odds for a player in terms of fee, wages and agent fee.
United aren’t the only club to have suffered in that respect though – Arsenal have missed out on quite a few players due to be unwilling to pay high agent fees for example.”
Lack of talents
Although the “Fergie factor” elevated United’s performances, talent-wise, the Red Devils’ squad hasn’t really been “attractive” enough since the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez.
Hazard and Lucas rejected the illustrious history of Untied and the aura that surrounded the club.
Money matters nowadays and if you have the funds, you can get success in football.
Although the English champions, United have been disappointing in Europe over the past two years. Frankly, neither does the team possess many ‘world-class’ talents and by the general perspective, nor do they have the money to buy such players. Not to forget, the youth products have also been mediocre of late.
And this situation has arisen because of the two following two factors.
1. Poor Past Dealings
Although Chelsea have struggled to promote academy players, their squad is oozing young prodigies due to exceptional transfers. Hence, it can be understood that Hazard wanted to join the Blues.
In the next two to three years, one can surely see Chelsea as one of the favorites for the Champions League. Yes, some of their signings have been poor, but they are often forgotten due to success of the likes of Juan Mata, Oscar, Ramires and now, Hazard.
It can be argued that United have a better record than Chelsea in the Champions League, but the young players feel they are more likely to compete on the European front with the Blues rather than the Reds.
This is because, an owner like Roman Abramovich assures you big, capable signings every summer and that’s what wins you the silverwares after all.
Any deficiency will be solved no matter how much it might cost. Chelsea have a weak attack and are likely to solve this issue this summer, even if it means paying more than £50m on a striker.
On the other hand, it’s been years since United last signed a decent central midfielder, despite the fact that they are horrendously poor in the centre of the park.
Moreover, a player would rather like to be teammates with Oscar, Mata and Ramires, than Anderson and Tom Cleverley.
United eventually won games and championships under Ferguson but on the outlook one surely finds Chelsea with the more secured future.
United are themselves to be blamed for this ruckus. Had their past signings lived up to their billings, the Red Devils would have appeared much more enticing to Hazard and Lucas.
Due to the financial problems, United can’t really allow the relatively expensive transfer flops to stay at the club and continue to make big signings.
Real Madrid have been paying Kaka’s insane wages over the past years, yet they have gone on to sign Mesut Oezil and Luka Modric in the same period.
United don’t have the same luxury.
If they want to buy a top-class winger, they’ll first need to sell Young or Nani for a significant amount to clear the wage bill and keep the debt in check.
For this reason, Ferguson was sometimes way too patient with some players- hoping they’ll improve to become a mainstay in the United team or at least sell for a decent sum.
With clubs like Madrid, PSG and Chelsea you know that the team will only go from strength to strength. If one transfer is a flop, a better player will be purchased the next time. Gambles are allowed.
Chelsea have had more transfer busts than United over the past few years, but they have also had more transfer hits than their counter-parts.
2. Lack of Youth Products
United have also failed to produce talents from the academy as the ones who showed promise were lured away from the club, owing to lack of playing time, wiz, Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison, Mats Daehli.
Ferguson can be blamed here as he often preferred ageing veterans over the youngsters during his final few years at United.
Frankly, apart from Danny Welbeck, United haven’t had a top-notch academy graduate for several years now.
People don’t view United’s academy as good as that of FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich. And, well a better youth academy means a better future for the team. Moreover, add the financial prowess of the two clubs to the mix and they become much more attractive options than the red half of Manchester.
Thiago is choosing Bayern Munich ahead of United because he will have much better teammates at the Bavarians, which is a result of the latter’s excellent youth academy and transfers.
The Fergie factor hid these facts to a large extent but that magic is gone now.