The agent Jorge Mendes has cemented his position as a major driver of Manchester United's transfer business by brokering the deal which is likely to see Benfica's Argentinian midfielder Nicolas Gaitan sign for Sir Alex Ferguson at a price of €35m (£29.3m) next summer.
Mendes, who has delivered Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Anderson, David de Gea and Bebe to Old Trafford in the past eight years, is a respected figure at Old Trafford and helped secure the informal agreement which, the Independent on Sunday revealed, should make Gaitan a United player next June. Benfica did not deny the story yesterday.
The negotiating process has been complicated by a €45m (£37.7m) release clause, which United had categorically refused to meet, written into a new contract signed by the 23-year-old in October. Gaitan is also one of a number of players at the Portuguese club who are effectively only part-owned by Benfica, a proportion of their economic rights having been sold to the Benfica Stars Fund, a football investment fund set up in 2009 to raise short-term money for the club. Around 15 per cent of any transfer fee for Gaitan – around £5.25m – would have to be paid into the fund upon completion of the proposed move to Manchester.
Benfica's requirement to pay Boca Juniors 20 per cent of the final transfer fee – probably £7m – under the terms of the deal by which they signed him in May 2010, also explains the Portuguese side's firm negotiating stance. But after United's scouting efforts left them satisfied Gaitan could play a major part for them, Mendes has helped find a way through the complications. Gaitan's agent is Rafael Irribarren, though Mendes also concluded the deal which delivered Gaitan to Lisbon, 18 months ago. It remains to be seen what will happen if another club comes in with a far higher offer this summer.
While no firm contractual agreement has been reached between the clubs, The Independent understands that the loosely agreed deal could potentially see United paying up to €40m (£33.5m) if Gaitan has a particularly prolific second half to the season. The final fee will be contingent on the player's appearances and performances. Sources in Portugal say that United's own performances in domestic and European competition may also affect the final figure.
United's agreement with Benfica does not appear to involve a move for Gaitan's fellow midfielder Javi Garcia, who also impressed in this autumn's fixtures against United in the Champions League. This newspaper revealed earlier this month that United had asked Benfica to notify them of any moves from other clubs for both Garcia and Gaitan, who is also understood to have been the subject of interest from Valencia. United scouts watched both players at Benfica's recent matches against Naval and Sporting Lisbon – specifically to develop a clearer picture on them, rather than to prepare for United's encounter with Benfica on 22 November, in which both played.
Though Gaitan's services would be of immediate value to Ferguson, Benfica fans would respond fiercely to any sale in January. Many of them still blame the club's board for ceding the title back to Porto last season, having sold Angel di Maria to Real Madrid and David Luiz to Chelsea within six months of taking their first championship in five years. Benfica and arch-rivals Porto are again neck and neck at the top.
Third-party ownership arrangements are rare in Portugal, though Luiz fell into the same category as Gaitan in January, when £6.4m had to be paid into the Benfica Stars fund. Benfica's brinkmanship made that transfer complicated, though United's informal agreement may smooth progress this time around.