Manchester United are on the lookout for a midfielder. Sorry, a world-class midfielder. A midfielder to replace the legendary Paul Scholes.
The Premier League champions, in their bid to find a replacement for the 38-year-old, cast their eyes far and wide in search for that central figure who would be their backbone for the years to come, in a fashion similar to what Scholes had achieved with the club.
New manager David Moyes at first honed in on Thiago Alcantara – a bright prospect ready to fulfil the huge potential everyone associated with the player believed he has.
However, United lost out on Alcantara to European champions Bayern Munich, with the player preferring to join up with former mentor Pep Guardiola. His decision was understandable and it was deemed that there was nothing to worry about, as the club still had plenty of time left to pursue other targets.
Enter Cesc Fabregas. After missing out on Alcantara, Moyes set his eyes on luring an already established world class figure with lots of Premier League experience. The reasoning behind the approach was believed to be that United wanted a player who would not require any bedding-in period, one who would straight away enter the starting line-up and start pulling strings for the champions.
As such, United went all out in their attempts to secure Fabregas’ signature, promising the player a salary of around €233,000-a-week, and tabling bids repeatedly for the former Arsenal star despite Barcelona’s reluctance to sell one of the most important figures in their squad.
In the end, Fabregas came out stating on August 8 that he had: “never thought about leaving Barca,” effectively ending United’s hopes of getting their man.
The Red Devils still had about a month to go after further targets and this time they looked towards Real Madrid’s Luka Modric. But a deal for the Croat ended even before it took off as Madrid were not welcoming to the idea of losing a player they had acquired after much haggling only last summer.
Days went by without any seeming activity and as the transfer window approached to a close, United seemed to have pressed the panic button as they went on a scatter gun approach for their targets. Overnight, names such as Wesley Sneijder, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Ander Herrera cropped up and started getting linked with a late deadline day move to the Theatre of Dreams.
And it is the case of Herrera where United, it seems, in the ensuing confusion as to which player to target definitely, lost their nerve most as, they gave false promises to players and misguided sense of authorisation to certain people to pursue their target on their behalf.
United first made a bid of around €30 million for the player which his present club Athletic Bilbao rejected straightaway with their chairman Josu Urrutia saying: “Our club is different, it bases itself on sentiment. Our goal is not to make money. We consider Athletic a unique club and the players have to think like that.
“We received the proposal [Thursday] night and we said that we don't negotiate for our players. For a player to leave, he first has to show that he wants to leave the club then deposit the clause.”
Urrutia’s statement made it quite clear that the Spanish club would not settle for any amount less than the release clause.
And according to regional Basque paper El Correo, United were fully aware that they would have to pay the €36million clause in Herrera’s contract when they proceeded to agree personal terms with the player.
The paper claimed last Saturday that United had agreed on a five-year-deal with the playmaker which would have seen him earn around €4million each season and had also promised Herrera that he would be a United player come September 3.
In fact Herrera was so convinced by United officials of their intentions that he seemingly even informed his present club of his desire to join up with the Premier League champions, which is quite a risk, as we all know from Bilbao’s handling of Fernando Llorente’s transfer to Juventus, after the striker had revealed his intentions to join the Italian giants.
However, El Correo say that Bilbao were quite acceptive of the fact that Herrera might move to United. The paper also explains that the Basque club were very pleased that United, despite being a very big club were approaching the transfer in the right manner and were rather proud that a Basque player had been chosen to replace the great Scholes at the Old Trafford.
With El Correo, El Confidencial, AS and several English papers as well, all claiming that United would up their bid to meet the player’s exit clause, everything seemed to be pointing towards a deal being agreed between the two clubs.
But the move collapsed as time ticked away with some people connected to the deal in Spain believing it was a case of either Marouane Fellaini or Ander Herrera and as United came close to sealing the deal for the big Belgian, they abandoned Herrera and the complicated tax issues associated with bringing a player from Spain.
Clubs are required to pay five percent as tax in Spain known as ‘youth levy’ which is collected for the training of the player by the parent club. It ensures a steady flow of cash towards youth development in the Iberian country and the inclusion of the levy would have increased Herrera’s transfer fee to about €38million which, as it now seems, was too much for Moyes.
However, the big fuss regarding the transfer was yet to arrive as prominent Spanish journalist Guillem Balague, who works for AS, while appearing on Sky Sports News with Andy Burton on transfer deadline day had this to say on United’s failed attempt to land Herrera.
“Some of the details we'll find out in the next few hours, but some of it is quite bizarre. As we were reporting representatives of Manchester United went to the Spanish league about 7.30pm this evening, saying that they were willing to pay the buyout clause. Now, even though they were for an hour in the building and they left without paying the buyout clause and they quoted, erm, coming out of that building that there were bureaucratic problems.
“Now it seems that they may not even be representatives of Manchester United, that they said they were, perhaps trying to get part of the deal, we have a bizarre situation which made the player believe, and Athletic Bilbao believe that the deal was about to happen and it seems that that's not the case. We'll know more details, but it's interesting how some people just try and get in the middle of deals without having, well not being representatives of one side or the other.”
Upon further asked by Burton if he meant they were imposters in the LFP’s offices in Madrid, Balague replied: “It seems that that could have been the case, or that they tried to represent Manchester United without having the right permission.”
In case you didn’t know, what Balague is referring to here is the presence of three men at the LFP’s (Professional Football League) headquarters on Monday, in order to seal Herrera’s deal on behalf of United.
With United maintaining that they had not sent any representatives to Spain on their behalf, and insisting that the deal fell through simply because the two sides had different valuations of the player, media outlets in both Spain and England had picked up on Balague’s comments and spread the word that some people were trying to pose as United’s agents in the hopes of grabbing a piece of what was a multi million pound deal.
However the three men - Guillermo Gutierrez, Alvaro Reig and Rodrigo Garcia are not some random people and are instead lawyers from Bilbao who work for the law firm Laffer Abogados.
A quick look at Laffer’s website points out that the firm are specialists in handling issues relating to sports laws in Spain and have worked beforehand with clubs from Germany and England.
According to Marca, during Javi Martinez’s transfer to Bayern Munich last summer, it was Laffer who had done the necessary paperwork on behalf of the German club. Bayern employed the help of the firm in getting the complex tax issues resolved, which as we all know took several weeks, for the deal to go through.
And according to El Correo, Laffer are a very prestigious firm in Bilbao who were at the LFP’s offices representing both Herrera and United, trying to get the deal done according to their clients’ wishes.
The men reportedly spent an whole hour inside the LFP’s offices getting together the documentations required for the deal to go through but in the end came out saying that they had run into an “administrative issue” and as such the deal was off.
Surely, no firm, let alone a prestigious one who have a history of dealing with such situations for overseas clubs, or any lawyer associated with such a firm would travel from Bilbao and turn up at Madrid on their own accord without any green light from the purchasing club.
A deal could have been agreed and with the help of Laffer, the tax issues could have been resolved, had United gritted their teeth and stayed true to their words, both to the player and the firm.
However, the English club abandoned their pursuit abruptly without giving any clear explanation and as such have lost a lot of credibility in the market.
Pulling out at the last minute after encouraging a law firm to act on their behalf and later dismissing any links to it, haggling for a lesser fee in-spite of knowing well in advance that Bilbao would not budge, convincing the player to such an extent that he goes for a medical and later backing off has completely dented United’s image in Spain and has led to much anger being directed at the English club.
All in all, United’s handling of the transfer left much to be desired and it was a very bad PR episode for one of the most popular clubs in the world. The champions of England could have done much better and the new management have a lot of questions to answer, their transfer activity a far cry from the authority and conviction with which Sir Alex Ferguson’s team had functioned.
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