United must pay £35m for tricky Gaitan

 

Manchester United will have to pay Benfica at least £35m if they are to make good on their interest in Benfica's Nicolas Gaitan, the midfielder who excelled against them in the Champions League.

A new contract Gaitan has signed with his club earlier this week keeps his release clause at £39m and it is considered unlikely that the Lisbon side, who have seen many of their star players leave over the past two years, would be willing to negotiate down much further. Sir Alex Ferguson, whose tendency to sign players who have performed well against United has seen Cristiano Ronaldo and Phil Jones arrive at Old Trafford among others, is interested in the player considered by some Portuguese observers to be an even better talent than his compatriot Angel di Maria, who left for Real Madrid in the summer of last year.

The agent Jorge Mendes' links with United contribute to the sense that the Argentine playmaker will be a target next summer. Though Gaitan's agent is Rafael Irribarren, Mendes – who brought David de Gea to Old Trafford – concluded the deal with Benfica which delivered the 23-year-old to Lisbon.

Though Ferguson has had problems with Argentines, Carlos Tevez and Gabriel Heinze, in the past, the way Gaitan destroyed United's Fabio da Silva on Benfica's left in the first half-hour of the clubs' 1-1 draw last month impressed him. Chris Smalling effectively had to take over the Brazilian right-back's role for him in a difficult opening for United and Gaitan's superb ball for Oscar Cardozo set up the Portuguese side's goal, later equalised by Ryan Giggs. Ferguson's brother, Martin, who scouts for him, has watched Gaitan, though Cardozo is another who has impressed him.

A one-year contract extension has seen Gaitan committed to Benfica until 2016, though it is a typical Portuguese device to bring his wages in line with his performances, rather an expression of his devotion to Jorge Jesus's side – whom United meet at Old Trafford on 22 November. Gaitan was previously earning less than €1m a year and now commands a salary of €2m.

Though United look like a side in need of a playmaker – the role Gaitan held at Boca Juniors before his €8.4m move in the close season – Jesus has deployed him in a left-sided berth with which he is actually less comfortable. The view from within Portugal is that Benfica may try to keep him at the club for another season if they win the domestic title, though there is an acceptance that the form he has displayed may make him a target for one of Europe's elite. Less dangerous in one-to-one situations than Di Maria but a more intelligent footballer, he is the most influential player in the Benfica side. Any United move for him looks unlikely before the summer but with the prospect of Dimitar Berbatov remaining beyond then looking slim, a reinforcement is likely.

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