I will be the first to admit that I don’t know the full details of what happened in Spain last night between Manchester United, Athletic Bilbao, the Spanish Football League and three men widely dismissed as "imposters" in the British press.
It appears that United informed the press both here and in Spain that the chaps who turned up at La Liga’s offices on transfer deadline day had nothing to do with the club and were not acting on its behalf during the botched bid to sign Ander Herrera.
The young Spanish midfielder tormented United during the two sides’ Europa League meeting season before last, but I don’t know why United were pushing the boat out for a £30m+ bid.
As it happened, the deal collapsed, we’re led to believe for tax reasons. There are two different types of buy-out clause in Spanish contracts: one that allows the player (using another club’s money) to buy out his own contract, and one that allows clubs to buy the player out directly.
In Herrera’s case it appears his clause was the former, which is subject to income tax because the money has to be deposited in his account by any buying club. That tax was prohibitively high.
There are two theories about who these men were. The official United line is that they had nothing to do with the club. The thought had crossed my mind that they were frustrated fans, or supporters of a rival club, trying to have some kind of impact on the deal, for better or worse. More likely is that they were agents associated to the player, hoping they’d be able to ensure their share of a massive windfall.
The Spanish press now claims that the three men were lawyers from a Bilbao firm who had been employed by United to wait until a deal was agreed so they could complete the registration and contractual detail. It has been suggested that, once the deal fell through, United disassociated themselves from the men in order to save face.
Confused? I am. One thing is clear though, this has been an almighty cock-up for United.
Marouane Fellaini was probably always going to Old Trafford anyway, so to leave it to the final minute and forego the chance to get him for £4m less in July is bordering on the criminal. Perhaps David Moyes didn’t rate him as highly as some of his other targets – but the truth is that, for the kind of money United were offering for the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Fellaini was always the most realistic target in that price bracket. That they did not go for the £42m Mesut Ozil, who is an incredible player, says it all. The club, or Moyes, don’t want to spend that kind of money. But they'll spend £30m.
United have been too public from the start. Leaking the Fabregas bid to the press, submitting weirdly low bids for Fellaini and Leighton Baines, having random blokes loitering around in Spain... All this playground nonsense never happened when Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill were around. Moyes and Ed Woodward may be green at this level, but anyone could have told them to seal the Fellaini deal when he still had the £23.5m release clause, as there was no way Everton would sell for less once that expired. It simply doesn’t make sense to then offer £28m for Fellaini AND Baines.
Had Fellaini been signed in July, he would have been seen as a good starting point and a good signing. He’d have had time to bed in, and there would have been less pressure on United to force through late deals. They could have then focused on another left-back, if that’s what they wanted.
Now, paying over the odds in the final moments, it looks like a panic buy. Will that fill Fellaini with confidence?
I’m worried about the role Fellaini will play too. Moyes seems to have a problem with Shinji Kagawa, which I can’t understand. If that is the case, Fellaini is likely to play behind Robin van Persie. While he did very well for Everton there last season, even the player admitted he prefers to sit deeper, as a playmaker.
If Kagawa plays then Fellaini will sit deeper, and it will be a great buy. But I have a feeling that Fellaini will be used in a more advanced role, and that it will not work out. And if that is the role Moyes wanted to fill, then obviously Ozil was the man for it.
I am also worried because only one person felt that United played well against Liverpool and that was David Moyes. United were poor at the weekend as, while they had possession, there was no creativity or passion. They seemed unable to grasp the occasion, unable to deliver.
United weren’t fighting. Perhaps they need that man at the helm, the man who can get them winning the league even when they play poor. Without that person this squad does not have enough to win the league. They needed a boost in players to compensate for the loss of Fergie.
I hope I am proved wrong, but I really don’t think this side has enough. Forget about the Champions League, United are miles off that, but they need Wayne Rooney fit, available and on form for every Premier League game. He’s the only one apart from Van Persie with that big-game spark.
And to say that about a player who was on his way out – well that’s the sign of a poor summer for United.