The high-stakes poker game between Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund over Jadon Sancho took another twist after the Bundesliga side claimed the England winger would remain with the club next season.
Sancho flew out to the Swiss spa town of Bad Ragaz with his Dortmund team-mates for the start of a pre-season training camp yesterday morning after an artificial deadline for United complete a deal passed with talks still at an impasse.
It is understood Dortmund have insisted that all negotiations are done through two intermediaries - Sancho's agent, Emeka Obasi, and Marco Lichtsteiner, brother of the former Arsenal defender, Stephan - and United are known to have become frustrated by the slow pace of the discussions.
It has meant there has been little direct contact between the clubs during what threatens to become an increasingly protracted process. Dortmund previously enlisted Lichtsteiner to work on the sales of Ousmane Dembele to Barcelona and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Arsenal.
The situation could yet accelerate quickly if one side backs down or a compromise is reached but Dortmund, so far at least, are refusing to budge from their €120m (£108m) valuation and, crucially, want a much larger upfront fee than United are currently willing to offer.
Other complicating factors are the agents' fees and the salary being demanded by Sancho.
Contrary to some reports, personal terms have still to be agreed and United are determined not to repeat past mistakes having only just managed to remove Alexis Sanchez's €465,000-a-week salary (excluding bonuses) from the wage bill after his free transfer to Inter Milan last week.
There is little expectation, for example, of Sancho being given a contract worth more than Marcus Rashford's current deal, which is a basic €222,000-a-week that could rise to over €333,000-a-week with bonuses and image rights.
Dortmund's sporting director Michael Zorc revealed last night Dortmund had extended Sancho's contract by an extra year last summer to June 2023 when the player was given a pay rise which, in theory, would reduce the need to sell this summer.
However, it is thought within United circles that Dortmund’s £50m outlay on Norway striker Erling Haaland and midfielder Jude Bellingham, and their considerable commitment to both players in wages this year, has increased the pressure to sell Sancho, particularly given the additional impact on finances caused by the Covid-19 crisis.
Privately, Dortmund dispute this but the club’s model revolves around buying young and relatively cheap and selling at the optimum point, and Zorc’s claims at a press conference that Sancho “will play for us next season” and that “the decision is final” are likely to be taken with a pinch of salt.
In June 2017, Zorc said Dembele was “going to be playing for Dortmund in the coming season” as he poured cold water on the prospect of the winger joining Barcelona but, two months later, the Frenchman had completed a projected £135m move to the Nou Camp.
And last year, Aubameyang reacted to insinuations from the Dortmund chief executive, Hans-Joachim Watzke, that he had joined Arsenal for the money in January 2018, by declaring: “Better for you I never talk about why I really left Dortmund Mr Watzke, you such a clown I remember that time you said we never gonna sell Ousmane then you saw more than 100M you were the first to take that money don’t talk about money please!!!”