United and Liverpool kick off Premiership spending spree
Sir Alex Ferguson is aiming to clinch the £15m signing of Ashley Young within 48 hours after interrupting his summer holiday to beat Kenny Dalglish and Arsène Wenger to the £16.5m signature of Blackburn teenager Phil Jones.
Aston Villa winger Young, who is due to be married this weekend, has made it clear to the club’s owner, Randy Lerner, that he wishes to move to Manchester United after rejecting the chance to sign a new contract at Villa Park.
And having completed a move for Jones after identifying the defender as the long-term replacement for Rio Ferdinand., Ferguson is determined to add Young to his squad this week before concluding an £18.3m deal for Atlético Madrid goalkeeper David de Gea next month.
United are set to recoup £12m through player sales, however, with the club expected to accept Sunderland’s bid, lodged last night, for Wes Brown, Darron Gibson and John O’Shea.
The imminent capture of England international Young will enable United to focus on luring Inter Milan midfielder Wesley Sneijder to Old Trafford.
That deal could prove the most difficult to conclude due to the Dutch playmaker’s £175,000-a-week wages and Inter’s £40 million valuation, but the Italians are understood to be keen to take Nani to the San Siro, which could enable United to use the Portuguese winger as bait.
United have, however. beaten off their leading Premier League rivals to tempt Jones from Blackburn. The youngster underwent a medical at United’s Carrington training ground on Wednesday before flying to Denmark last night to link up with Stuart Pearce’s England squad for the European Under-21 Championships. The deal, somewhat bizarrely, was confirmed on the Chinese-language section of United’s official club website.
Liverpool had looked set to win the race for the Chorley-born defender following his admission to Blackburn manager Steve Kean on Monday that he wished to speak to any club that triggered his £16 million escape clause at Ewood Park.
But with Ferguson having made it clear to Blackburn that he would challenge for the player once he became available, the United manager instructed Old Trafford chief executive David Gill to prepare a bid last weekend before forcing Blackburn’s hand earlier this week.
Arsenal manager Wenger failed in an 11th hour bid on Tuesday evening to persuade Jones to consider a move to the Emirates with the player understood to have told his advisers that United’s entry into the race had made up his mind on a move to Old Trafford.
Chelsea, who inquired about Jones in January, also registered their interest with Blackburn, although Manchester City are understood to have cooled on the player in mid-season due to concerns over his value and a perception that he was prone to defensive lapses.
Despite Liverpool manager Dalglish having a firm interest in Jones, the Anfield hierarchy’s attempt to sign the player by quietly making moves behind the scenes – designed to outfox United – proved unsuccessful with the Premier League champions able to offer Champions League football and the opportunity to work alongside Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
Liverpool are now reconsidering their options, with Birmingham’s Scott Dann a target, along with Mamadou Sakho of Paris St Germain and Lyon defender Dejan Lovren.
Jones is understood to have rejected a substantial pay rise to stay at Blackburn, which would have made him the club’s highest-paid player on £65,000-a-week, in order to move to United for a less impressive financial package.
But the combination of Champions League football and working with Ferguson’s squad proved decisive for Jones, who has been tracked by United for over a year.
The youngster’s performance during Blackburn’s 0-0 draw with United at Ewood Park in April 2010 made a huge impression on Ferguson, who relayed his admiration of the player to former Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce and other senior figures at Ewood Park.
And with England international Ferdinand enduring more injury problems this season, Ferguson made signing a long-term successor to the £30m defender a key priority this summer.
Everton’s Jack Rodwell, Bolton defender Gary Cahill and Lens youngster Raphaël Varane have all been considered by United, but Ferguson believes Jones to be the most exciting defensive talent in England.
Jones spent the majority of last season playing in a central midfield role for Blackburn, but Ferguson has told the player and his parents that he regards him as a central defender who can forge a partnership with Chris Smalling which could provide the foundation of United’s defence for the next 10 years.
The retirement of Edwin van der Sar, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, plus the departure of Owen Hargreaves and likely exits of Brown, Gibson and O’Shea has eaten into Ferguson’s squad.
But with Jones, Young and De Gea due to arrive, and possibly Sneijder, the return of youngsters Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda is set to balance out the departures.
Old Trafford ins and outs
Age: 19. Fee: £16.5m.
Why: The long-term replacement in central defence for Rio Ferdinand.
David de Gea
Age: 20. Fee: £18.3m.
Why: Half the age of Edwin van der Sar, but must replace the retired Dutch keeper.
Age: 25. Fee: £15m.
Why: Adds pace and goals from the wing, eases burden on Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernández.
Age: 27. Fee: £40m.
Why: Could be the creative force needed to fill the void left by Paul Scholes’s retirement.
Danny Welbeck, Federico Macheda and Tom Cleverley
Returning from loan spells with Ferguson ready to give them a chance.
Retired: Edwin van der Sar, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville.
Sold: Darron Gibson, John O’Shea, Wes Brown.
Released: Owen Hargreaves, Tomasz Kuszczak.