Manchester United's technical director can't arrive soon enough as Ander Herrera becomes first to sign Bosman deal
Manchester United did not do enough to keep Ander Herrera, and will now lose the midfielder on a free after he told Paris Saint-Germain that he would be accepting their offer of a Bosman move this summer.
That is the top line, but it is not a problem in isolation. If Man United didn't want to move forward with Herrera then finding an upgrade who can be a midfield regular is not impossible.
It is the missteps and mistakes that ended up with Herrera walking away for nothing that are alarming. And when these are repeated, and become a process in which some of United's most-used and widely-respected players are being allowed to leave for free, that it begins to baffle.
The way that arguably the world's biggest club negotiates its contracts now only serves to highlight just how much work there is still to be done on a club yet to recover, really, from Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement. And that goes way beyond the crippling overpay that Alexis Sanchez received, and continues to receive every week.
Ferguson himself is now more actively involved in the club than he has been in recent years. It helps, of course, that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has leant so heavily on the Scot, seeking him out for advice and relying on his backing in being handed the permanent post of manager.
For all the stories of Fergie's hairdryer and the like, however, few players ever lament a lack of the personal touch. In fact, it was one of the Govan-born knight's greatest qualities when you talk to former United stars from flamed-out academy products up to household names. He talked with the players all the time about business and pleasure. He knew them and their problems.
Craig Cathcart revealed last week that even as an 11-year-old scholar, Ferguson would say hello by name in the corridors of United's training centre.
"He'd be talking to you around the training ground, it makes you feel brilliant," Cathcart added.
"You'd go and tell your Dad – ‘the manager spoke to me today' – he had that personal touch, which made him a class above."
Players still at Old Trafford and those who have left in recent seasons complain that this element of the club is now non-existent. Communication from the top is not forthcoming, which isn't a problem necessarily until it comes to the business of contract renewals and that is, increasingly, where United are dropping the ball.
Herrera's first choice was to remain at Old Trafford, and his friends say that he loves the club more than any other in the world except his father's old team, Real Zaragoza. Herrera made his name at Zaragoza too but made his impact on the world stage at United. Make no mistake, the Spaniard wanted to stay.
One year removed from winning the Sir Matt Busby award for United's player of the year - the only person not named David De Gea to do so in the last five seasons - Herrera entered the final year of his United contract this season looking for answers but none ever came. United were told of his demands, the starting point in a negotiation, but never responded. Other clubs who were much later informed of what deal Herrera was looking for matched the terms instantly.
The Independent understands that Solskjaer's permanent appointment changed the club's stance and they tried to keep the Spanish international, but it was too late by that point and Herrera had given his word to the French champions.
United are still on the hunt for a technical director - and, as an aside, they prefer that title to its similar alternatives, the sporting director or director of football. The search for the right man to fill the role has now gone on for over a year, hoping to conclude by September, and the aim for United has to be that whoever it is they eventually find to run the footballing side of the world's biggest club takes charge of contract negotiations.
Because for all of Ed Woodward's business acumen in building other aspects of United's corporate might, it seems nonsensical to run down the contracts of assets with value and let them leave to rivals with no compensation. The smartest clubs in football not only buy at the right time but sell at the right time too, they maximise the value of players and know when to stick or twist. Their chief negotiators don't alienate players or potential signings.
Having more money than everybody else is not an excuse for letting a player, who could potentially have been sold for an eight-figure sum, leave for free.
A player who is proven at the top level and on a reasonable salary (for a club who spend exorbitantly on wages) has gone to a Champions League rival for no fee and Juan Mata could - and probably will - do the same. No contract extension has been agreed with United for Mata who, assuming he receives the same treatment as Herrera, likely hasn't heard from the club either.
Two of De Gea's best friends leaving the club at a crunch point in the goalkeeper's own decision-making process is also a risk that seems unnecessary. Taking this tactic with Mino Raiola as he seeks to negotiate either an extension or move away for Paul Pogba might well have explosive results. Talking to people within football it becomes clear these decisions have a human element as much as anything. Nobody likes feeling disrespected. Nobody likes feeling like they are not valued.
While Herrera was popular for all the clattering tackles and roaring fists pumps he gave to United, for 'getting' the club better than some of the mercenaries who have passed through in the last decade, it doesn't seem as if their fans will mourn his departure. They should, however, pay attention to the lessons of his exit.
In a year's time, the Old Trafford club should have someone new installed and taking charge of football operations. The hope for United should be that he can change a rich, historic football club into a rich, historic and well-run one.
Independent News Service