Manchester United say Real Madrid only have themselves to blame for failing to sign goalkeeper David de Gea, having concluded that the Spanish club may have deliberately sought to abort the deal which would also have brought their keeper Keylor Navas to Old Trafford.
A bitterly acrimonious dispute between the two clubs was provoked by Real issuing a statement suggesting United were to blame for the failure to register De Gea’s move in time with La Liga. But a bemused and astonished United provided a detailed rebuttal, revealing that they have secured the support of the Football Association to demonstrate that they worked professionally on the last day of the Spanish transfer window, Monday.
The club, who believe manager Louis van Gaal will win over De Gea, said they were “delighted that… fan favourite double Player of the Year, David de Gea, remains a Manchester United player”.
Behind the public choreography of the dispute, there is a sense of astonishment at Old Trafford about the way the deal started to unravel on Monday. Despite months of conjecture and rumour, Real did not make any contact with United about De Gea until the final morning of their transfer window.
They did not table a formal bid for the player until around 12.45pm, having spent the morning repeatedly urging United – through agent Jorge Mendes – to name their price for De Gea.
United reiterated that they were not selling and it was only after the low initial bid – €15m (£11m) plus Navas – had been rejected and a number of minimal add-ons offered that a serious sum of €25m (£18.5m) plus Navas was tabled. Aware that they would lose De Gea on a free transfer next summer and conscious that Navas was enthusiastic about a move to Manchester, United agreed to enter into negotiations.
Yet despite speaking at length to Navas, agreeing the terms of a transfer and having a private jet ready to bring him to their Carrington training base for a medical, there were – by the United version of events – a number of problems which suggested Madrid had second thoughts. They included:
• Real insisting that Navas should not fly to Manchester and did not need to be put through a medical, with chief executive Jose Angel Sanchez rejecting United’s demands for one until such a time that United had to agree to an exchange of medical information instead.
• Navas’ agent Ricardo Cabanas disappearing out of telephone contact with United for three hours on Monday afternoon, until such a time that it was too late to fly the 28-year-old Costa Rican to Manchester for a medical.
• Real sending De Gea’s transfer document to United minus the signatory page at 22.32pm, less than half an hour before the deadline
• De Gea’s transfer documentation being sent to United again – only this time with a significant technical change to the deal which made it far less attractive to United. This “mark-up” – which was certainly enough to be a deal-breaker – reached United with a mere 20 minutes to go before the transfer window closed.
• Real only sending the documents needed to cancel De Gea’s contract to United at 22.55pm – five minutes before the deadline.
By the United version of events, Madrid were entirely in control of the deal, by which De Gea’s £22m departure was dependent on Navas’ £7m arrival. Cabanas and Navas spent a substantial part of Monday afternoon at the Real training ground, putting them in a position where Sanchez could have pushed the agent into action. But United found Cabanas incredibly slow and unresponsive.
There was a sense of bafflement around Old Trafford as to why Real might not apparently want the deal to progress after all – an impression that increased when the Spanish club did not take up United’s offer of FA support, and instead quickly conceded defeat.
It does not seem entirely inconceivable that a Marca poll published on Monday afternoon, which indicated that 90 per cent of fans may be against the Navas/De Gea deal, influenced Real president Florentino Perez. To have withdrawn directly from the deal at that stage could have alienated Madrid from De Gea and jeopardised attempts to buy him next summer.
United certainly did not find Navas reluctant to join them. The Costa Rica international seemed to justify their belief in him when he contacted them, disappointed to find that the move was in jeopardy and asking what could be done to resurrect it.
United are confident that De Gea will be won around to throw himself into United’s Premier League and Champions League campaigns this season. The need to prove himself ready for the Spain side at Euro 2016 and what is described by United insiders as the player’s own immaculate conduct in recent weeks both lead the club to feel there will be no recriminations between the No 1 and Van Gaal.
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