Saturday 27 May 2017

United tie up deal for Benfica's Gaitan

MARK OGDEN

Manchester United are close to securing a £29.3m deal to sign Benfica midfielder Nicolas Gaitan at the end of the season, with the Portuguese club understood to have struck an informal agreement with the Premier League champions over the sale of the Argentina international.

Gaitan, who can play as an attacking midfielder or left-sided forward, impressed against United during Benfica's Champions League group stage encounters with Alex Ferguson's team earlier this season.

United's European scouting team have monitored the 23-year-old's performances in recent months, with the player under scrutiny during last month's games against Naval and Sporting Lisbon, and the club moved to head off growing interest in Gaitan from Inter Milan and Paris Saint-Germain by opening negotiations with Benfica in late November.

The Portuguese club had been holding out for the player's full £38m release clause. But United made it clear they would not meet that, and an outline agreement is now in place for a move next June.

Despite United's mounting injury crisis, which has seen Darren Fletcher join cruciate ligament victim Nemanja Vidic in missing the rest of the season, with a chronic bowel condition, Ferguson has conceded Benfica will not sell Gaitan in January. United, who are also monitoring Benfica midfielder Javi Martinez, are prepared to wait until the summer for Gaitan however, with Ferguson confident his squad remains strong enough to compete for the title.

United, meanwhile, may be in line for a shock return to the Champions League after FIFA yesterday threatened to suspend Switzerland from world football if its national association does not discipline litigious club FC Sion within one month. If the suspension takes effect, Swiss champions FC Basel, who dumped Ferguson's side out of the competition, would be prevented from playing Bayern Munich in the Champions League round of 16.

"I am confident we will play Bayern Munich but I take [the threat] very seriously," said Basel vice president Bernhard Heusler yesterday. Switzerland's FA has a further incentive to meet FIFA's demand -- it is scheduled to host Lionel Messi and Argentina in a February 29 friendly in Bern.

Swiss officials will seek a meeting with FIFA lawyers in Zurich this week to clarify what football's world governing body requires from them. Sion has breached football's rules in a legal saga that began in 2009 when FIFA imposed a one-year transfer ban for breaking transfer regulations in the signing of goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary.

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