Wednesday 13 December 2017

Man United cannot be regarded as a big club if they sell David De Gea to Real Madrid

Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea illustrates his athleticism
Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea illustrates his athleticism

Jason Burt

There are still three weeks to go but it is already too late in this transfer window for Manchester United to sell David De Gea to Real Madrid; far too late if they want to be regarded as a big club.

Big clubs are not bullied into selling their best players when the clock is ticking. They are not strong-armed into a deal. They sell on their own terms and to their own timetable.

It is what Madrid do. It is what Barcelona, Bayern Munich and, now, Paris Saint-Germain do.

Maybe United will exact a world-record price for a goalkeeper for De Gea if he does eventually go – they want to beat the £32.6million it took to take Gianluigi Buffon from Parma to Juventus back in 2001 which is remarkably still the highest fee – and maybe they will still prise Sergio Ramos out of the Bernabeu in return.

Then they could sell it as a good piece of business. Anything short of that, however, and it is emphatically not. Even then they would have to quickly acquire one of the world’s best goalkeepers to replace De Gea. That would have to be someone of the calibre of Hugo Lloris – it is certainly not Sergio Romero and neither is it, at present, Ajax’s Jasper Cillessen.

The last time United sold their best player – the last time they sold a player to Real Madrid – was Cristiano Ronaldo for a world-record £80million in 2009. The deal was completed on July 1. Not September 1. It was done a full two months before the transfer window closed.

Even then it was not a good summer for United – after the sale of Ronaldo their only significant piece of transfer piece was signing Antonio Valencia from Wigan Athletic for £16million (they also brought in Michael Owen, Gabriel Obertan and Mame Bire Diouf) as they failed to retain their Premier League title. The mistake was to also lose Carlos Tevez.

Nevertheless United still finished second that season, they reached the last eight of the Champions League and they won the League Cup. Offer that to Louis Van Gaal right now for this campaign and the United manager would instantly take it.

But they still sold Ronaldo in June, effectively, not in August. They were prepared for it as well given Sir Alex Ferguson had persuaded the Portuguese to give him one more season before he then left.

United have tried a similar tactic with De Gea who has just one year remaining on his contract and could leave, for free, for Madrid next year. They were also right to link Ramos to the talks thereby ramping up the price.

But the fact that Van Gaal dropped De Gea, because he was not in the right state of mind, for last Saturday’s league opener at home to Tottenham Hotspur, revealed that so far that tactic has not worked.

So United – and Van Gaal – gambled. De Gea sat in the directors’ box with Victor Valdes and Anders Lindegaard, neither whom are wanted by Van Gaal, and watched as Romero made his debut. Later Van Gaal intimated that De Gea would not play for him again until the transfer window was closed.

It was certainly a decisive approach from the United manager and he has to see it through. There is no point capitulating now and it is not as if the United hierarchy do not have a strong line of communication with the De Gea camp – his agent is Jorge Mendes, Ronaldo’s agent, the agent also of Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao.

So United should be very clear in knowing in what De Gea’s intentions are and will also, hopefully, have made it very clear to Mendes what he needs to do to make the deal happen. So far that has not been achieved.

So there should be no deal. United spelt it out that they would not sell De Gea unless Real Madrid allowed them to buy Ramos (still to sign that new contract, by the way). That has not happened. Yet. So United must stick to their guns. They should also have set a deadline, their own deadline, by now as to when the deal should have been completed. And with the season underway, with United needing to do much better this season, with a vital Champions League play-off against Brugge to come, that deadline should have passed.

Does Van Gaal really want to bed in a new goalkeeper now when he as a new defence to mould together? His back four on Saturday was the impressive Matteo Darmian – a new signing – Chris Smalling, Daley Blind – in a new role – and Luke Shaw – effectively a new signing after last season was a write-off – with Romero in goal. The Argentinean played in last year’s World Cup Final but was hardly nerveless at Old Trafford. It all appears an unnecessary gamble.

"I am the victim, the fellow players are the victims, the club is the victim but that is why the transfer period has to change,” Van Gaal said after the unconvincing victory. The “victim”? At a club like United? Really?

Van Gaal reasoned it would have been a bigger gamble had De Gea played. Maybe so. But there would have been no pressure or criticism from the stands – De Gea’s name was chanted by the United supporters who are desperate for him to stay – and playing might have been a mental release for the Spaniard. The buzz of being back might also have helped make him stay.

Instead there is more uncertainty which is not what United and Van Gaal need. There has been enough of that in the past two years at the club. Now is the time to press on, compete and challenge. It is what big clubs do. United do not need to sell De Gea.

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