Why Manchester United’s hardline approach over star is a watershed moment for European football
There was a perverse inevitability ringing around Old Trafford this summer as Real Madrid salaciously pursued David De Gea like a covert predator. Every premonition signalled that it wasn’t a case of whether De Gea might re-emigrate back to his motherland, but when he would. When Madrid and club president Florentino Perez come knocking, it’s usually the beginning of the end.
But in the least predictable turn of events, United have ultimately survived Perez’ galactico-bear-like squeeze- a quite resounding victory- and ‘summer 2k15’ in Manchunian talk shouldn’t be remembered by the marquee arrivals of a Schweinsteiger or a Schniederlin, but the watershed moment that Madrid did not get their way.
A more sombre storyline finale for Sergio Romero and Victor Valdes, perhaps, but otherwise this was a symbolic day for United and (to a lesser-extent) England in off the pitch terms.
We’re aware of it, but we’re probably not explicitly attuned to it because it’s so commonplace: if Real Madrid want a player in world football (barring one from Barcelona), they get it. The same can be said in the most part with Barcelona; both could be likened to wealthy-spoilt children in a candy store, ignorant to barriers of their desires, relentless in their approaches to obtain anything they want.
Both teams’ current squads are the product of a day-to-day purchasing man hunt that is as effective as it is potent. How many overwhelmed chairmen have we seen perplexed when one of their players’ is the subject of a bid from either Barca or Madrid? Too many. How many succeed in starving off that interest? None.
Until now. De Gea is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, if not one of the best, and at the tender age of 24 in goalkeeping terms he could be around for another 15 years. That’s one less position for Van Gaal to focus on, a dead cert starter sorted.
But this was a greater victory for Ed Woodward on a personal level; a lovely new point of reference for his CV when the usual comparisons between him and David Gill are made. Woodward’s resilience to risk losing De Gea has been rewarded over, an act of courage that initially looked to have provoked a bitter-losing struggle which would have slogged out for another 12 months. Perez fired back with a sulking barrage of slander, but he was- for once- on the losing side.
Perez’s anger may reflect the wider implications of this failed foray. A sign of the changing tides from the transfer-merry-go-round status quo.
Madrid and Barca have dominated English teams so convincingly for a while now because of their assembly of the world’s very best players. It’s exemplary to look at Tottenham and how the best team they’ve produced in quite sometime was quickly dismantled with the poaching of the supremely talented Luka Modric and Gareth Bale (despite Mr. Levy’s notoriously hardline approach). The same can be said for Barca’s profound improvements on adding Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez to their team last summer. Trophy-less to treble winners in 12 months, all through mega-purchases that simultaneously weakened those around them.
With a groundbreaking TV rights deal working against Barca and Real leading to a fall in their turnover (a decent explanation for Madrid’s smaller outlays this summer), we could now be moving into an age where both Spanish teams curtail their lavish outlays on world class players. If that, in turn, diminishes their gravitational pull for the world’s finest players, then it may be high-time to see the likes of United re-surface at the top of Europe’s elite competition. Perhaps Woodward would have played his hand with De Gea if a greater transfer bid comparable to the James’ of this world had been received. This could be the early trigger in the series of events that re-balances the distribution of strength across Europe’s great teams.
As much as Madrid will miss having De Gea, United’s perseverance to keep him is as much about status as it is anything. Gone, are the days where Perez gets what he wants and Europe’s biggest clubs find themselves bending to his ways.
Here, at last, might be the beginning of a new European age where the spread of the world’s best players play outside of Spain.