Wayne Rooney (Manchester United to Chelsea) 7/10
It feels like the final scene of a Hammer horror film where a grave opens, a gnarled hand emerges and the hero is dragged down among the dead. Even in retirement Sir Alex Ferguson’s influence is being felt on Wayne Rooney, a man who in Ferguson’s view, has twice held Manchester United to ransom.
Although Rooney denies handing in a second transfer request at the fag end of last season, he appears to have comprehensively lost the battle for hearts and minds at Old Trafford. Today's Manchester Evening News had as its back page an interview with Joe Ruane, who as an 11-year-old held up a placard telling Ferguson: “Please buy Wayne Rooney”. He did and Joe was invited to the signing ceremony in 2004. Nine years older, Joe thinks Rooney “absurd” and “arrogant”.
The tricky part for United is that a deal with Chelsea breaks Ferguson’s rule about never selling a major player to a domestic rival – and also that David Moyes’s first home game is against Chelsea. It may be a long drawn-out affair. However, Rooney is discovering, as Beckham, Keane and Van Nistelrooy discovered, that Ferguson has the final word at Old Trafford, even though he has gone.
Luis Suarez (Liverpool to Arsenal) Probability 9 out of 10
A prime example of why footballers’ statements should never be taken at face value. During the Confederations Cup last month, Luis Suarez made it explicit that he wanted to leave England and especially the English media. “I have suffered too much. My daughter and wife have suffered. I am not prepared to put up with the English press any more.” The new season should have seen Suarez in a clearing in the Amazon rainforest playing football with the Guarani tribe as far from the internet or a copy of the Daily Mail as possible. Instead, he is agitating for a move to the capital of England, where every English national newspaper is produced.
Arsenal’s bid of one pound more than the £40m buy-out clause in Suarez’s contract is like a poker player saying he knows your cards. After wondering for five minutes where the Arsenal chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, could possibly have got this information, Liverpool’s only option is to extricate themselves from this with as much dignity as possible. The last club to try to block Suarez’s demands for a move, Groningen, found themselves sued by the player Kenny Dalglish used to call “a wee smiley guy”.
Gareth Bale (Tottenham to Real Madrid) 6/10
It was hardly Margaret Thatcher shouting, “No, no, no!” on the floor of the House of Commons. When asked about the finest Welsh footballer since Ryan Giggs departing for the Bernabeu, Andre Villas-Boas said: “He is a player we are willing to continue to have.” Still, Sir Alex Ferguson once announced he would not “sell that mob a virus” and ended up flogging Real Madrid £120m worth of footballers.
Swapping one white shirt for another seems a no-brainer. However, like a man who buys a Ferrari Testarossa without considering the fact he has three kids, Real Madrid is a club that goes for the glaringly obvious without considering how the transfer will impact on the player. David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo have only ever played in a European Cup final for Manchester United and Michael Owen would have done had he stayed at Liverpool.
Real’s mouthpiece Marca published a vivid account of a meeting between Bale’s agent, Jonathan Barnett, and the Madrid president, Florentino Perez, that climaxed with Barnett showing a picture of Bale, aged 10, in a Real Madrid shirt. It had the ring of truth but, far truer, was Marca’s observation that “they know negotiations are likely to be long and tedious”.
Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona to Manchester United) 8/10
It may seem like United are attempting to collect the Arsenal team of 2008 on an instalment plan but the Cesc Fabregas deal makes sense. It is the kind of big-name signing that David Moyes needs to put his stamp on Old Trafford and, should Wayne Rooney leave, it will render his departure that more palatable while introducing someone who knows instinctively how to play with Robin van Persie.
Fabregas may wonder why Arsène Wenger, a man he described as “a second father to me”, has not exercised Arsenal’s right to buy him back from Barcelona. The Glazers may wonder why they are offering increasing sums of money for a midfielder – a second £30m bid has gone in – who has seldom delivered anything truly substantial at the Nou Camp. Lars Bender at Bayer Leverkusen is two years younger and a more natural partner to Michael Carrick in central midfield. And yet the big question for Fabregas is: with Spain defending their World Cup in Brazil, will precious time playing first-team football be more likely to come in Manchester or Barcelona.
Roberto Soldado (Valencia to Tottenham) 9/10
Finally, a transfer that does what it says on the tin. Valencia’s president, Amadeo Salvo, admits the 28-year-old striker’s contract is “running down” – which is a way of saying it is unlikely to be renewed. Salvo added that if only someone met Soldado’s buy-out clause he would reluctantly have to agree to the move.
At Spurs, Andre Villas-Boas talks of “conversations” followed by photographs of Tottenham’s director of football, Franco Baldini, conversing with Soldado’s agent, Alberto Toldra. A bid suspiciously close to the buy-out clause is lodged and what could go wrong? Except for reports that Liverpool might “hijack” the deal. Transfer deals are hijacked more frequently than an airliner in the 1970s. But why would Liverpool need a striker? See Suarez, Luis.