Real Madrid’s Pursuit of David De Gea and Co Should Be Resisted

David de Gea’s proposed move to Real Madrid in 2015 fell through at the last minute but the Spanish club still have their eyes on the Manchester United keeper. Photograph: Jan Kruger/Getty Images

It isn’t difficult to understand why there are times when Real Madrid, with all their haughty self‑importance and the inescapable sense that they always seem to get their way, leave some of the other clubs at the higher end of the sport filled with moments of insecurity.

There are plenty of other great clubs who regard European domination as a legitimate ambition. Yet none, perhaps – not even Barcelona – have the same kind of magnetic attraction for the game’s superstars. None of the other superpowers seem so sure of themselves, bordering on a superiority complex, when it comes to luring their targets. No other club take more pleasure from flexing their muscles and reminding everyone about the order of merit that exists among the elite.

“Madrid paid £80m in cash, and do you know why,” Sir Alex Ferguson writes of Cristiano Ronaldo in his last autobiography. “It was a way for Florentino Pérez, their president, to say to the world: ‘We are Real Madrid, we are the biggest of the lot.’ It was a clever move.”

Ferguson, you might recall, was so incensed by Madrid’s pursuit of Ronaldo throughout the preceding year that he brought up the fascist dictatorship of General Franco to argue his point that one of the great sporting institutions was, in fact, morally bankrupt. Ferguson’s press conferences around that time presented the image of a man who refused to be cowed, leaning forward in his chair and promising he would “not sell a virus” to “that mob”. Ferguson, perhaps the greatest actor football has ever produced, struck a pose that day that Al Pacino would have been proud of. But it was all for show. Secretly, there was a gentleman’s agreement with Ronaldo, he just didn’t admit it until a few years later. “I knew full well that if they produced the £80m he would have to go. We could not block his fervent wish to return to Iberia and wear the famous white shirt of Di Stéfano or Zidane.” And Madrid, once again, got their man.

This is the problem for United now the relevant people at the Bernabéu have realigned their sights on David de Gea, even if it is also true the goalkeeper spent his early football years at the Vicente Calderón, home of Atlético Madrid, where the tribuna lateral held up thousands of red and white cards before their latest encounter with Real to make its point in a huge, defiant mosaic: Orgulloso De No Ser Como Vosotros. Translation: Proud of not being like you.

It was a nice put-down and that kaleidoscope of color, with the Almudena cathedral on the skyline, was a wonderful reminder why the old place will be missed when Atlético upgrade this summer to their new stadium out by the airport.

The bottom line, however, is that it was Zinedine Zidane’s players who finished the night doing knee-slides on the rain-soaked pitch. The club where Jorge Valdano once said you could never have too many stars even have a galáctico managing them now. They have won the European Cup 11 times, four more than Milan and six ahead of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Liverpool on the next rung down, and los blancos could add another when they meet Juventus in Cardiff on 3 June. If so, it will be the third time in four years that Madrid’s ribbons have adorned that 17lb hulk of silver. Of course De Gea must be intrigued. Of course there are temptations. How, possibly, could anyone think there are not?

That must be an alarming prospect for United if the club are serious about re-establishing themselves among the elite and Chelsea are probably entitled to a few concerns of their own when Madrid have also been fluttering their eyelashes in Eden Hazard’s direction.

Madrid might be a chaotic place sometimes – six managers and more crises than they will probably care to remember during David Beckham’s four years at the Bernabéu – but this is still the nearest football has to the Harlem Globetrotters. Or as the headline in USA Today once put it: the Yankees of Soccer. It isn’t easy for any player to say no.

There is, however, no rule in place that dictates other clubs must dance to their tune and it would be a pity if United and Chelsea do not have the will to stand up to Madrid at a time when the Premier League needs this kind of players and Match of the Day, a show with natural urges to make the sport feel exciting, had a debate recently about whether England’s top division had lost its stardust.

Chelsea, to give them their due, have already made their intentions clear. Hazard might have finished behind N’Golo Kanté when it comes to the season’s individual honors but the Belgian would have been a worthy recipient of the footballer-of-the-year awards. He would be an ideal wearer of Madrid’s colors and it makes perfect sense that Chelsea, with high ambitions of their own, have already initiated talks about replacing his existing contract, which runs until 2020, with a longer one that would reinforce his position as the club’s highest‑paid player.

United’s position with De Gea is not quite so clear but surely this is a time when they have to shut the door on Madrid if they have serious thoughts about returning to a position where their idea of success is something far more elegant than huffing and puffing through the Thursday-night-Sunday-afternoon churn of the Europa League.

De Gea has won his club’s player-of-the-season award for each of the three previous years. He is 26, which is still relatively young in goalkeeping terms, and approaching what should be the best years of his career. Most important, he has a contract until 2019 and there is an option his club surely should take to extend that by another year. United had to wait a long time before they found someone who did not make them pine for Peter Schmeichel; now they have that man it makes little sense that they would contemplate losing him.

Putting up those barriers will clearly not be straightforward if De Gea makes it clear that he wants to go and, unfortunately for United, he could be forgiven for wondering what adventures might have been possible had his proposed move to the Bernabéu in 2015 not fallen through at the last minute.

Hazard might have grown up with Zidane as his football hero and he might have made it clear that one day he would like to play in Spain, but his current club have just won the league and could turn that into a Double when they meet Arsenal in the FA Cup final a week next Saturday. He is the player, more than anyone, who opponents worry about the most. Chelsea have the Champions League in their thoughts again and even, hypothetically, if he asked to leave, the Premier League’s newly crowned champions should do everything they can to stop it happening.

The encouraging part for Chelsea is that there has been nothing to indicate that is in Hazard’s mind. United, however, are on the next rung down and, though the attractions of playing for England’s biggest club are obvious, De Gea is part of a team that have finished, in order, seventh, fourth and fifth over the previous three seasons and now look like coming in sixth.

The process of recovery, post‑Ferguson, has been slow and Roy Keane has described United’s league position, 22 points from the top, as an embarrassment for his old club. United are trailing one of the worst Arsenal sides of the past 20 years and are about to finish behind Manchester City for the fourth consecutive season, the first time that has happened since the early 1970s. Keane may have an old grievance against José Mourinho – and United as a whole – but that doesn’t make what he says wrong.

The one thing United have never lost, however, is their desire to get back to the top. This is a time when they, and Chelsea, need to dig in their heels because the alternative would not only undermine their chances of future success, it would also look like a white flag. This is what enraged Ferguson so much during the Ronaldo standoff: that Madrid were making them look weak. That one was a world record transfer fee. In another sense, it was one of the worst pieces of business United have ever pulled off.

Wolves look at risk of misdirection

Arsène Wenger sounded peculiarly out of touch with the modern sport when he said there was no place for a director of football at Arsenal and declared he did not even know what the position was supposed to entail. “Is it somebody who stands in the road and directs play right and left?” Wenger asked. “I don’t understand and I never did understand what it means.”

It’s quite straightforward, really – as Wenger probably knows – and it can actually be a useful role when managers at a lot of top clubs are simply too busy working with their teams to be flying around the world on scouting missions, negotiating transfer business, dealing with agents and a multitude of other tasks.

Wenger seemed to think it would mean signing players he didn’t necessarily want but the secret, generally, is to find someone who works alongside the manager, rather than against him, and when it happens that way there is plenty of evidence that it is something clubs should embrace rather than be afraid of.

Unfortunately it is easier to understand Wenger’s misgivings when there are so many clubs that cannot get the balance right and managers are marginalized when it comes to identifying the players that might just keep them in a job.

The latest is Wolves, where Paul Lambert has apparently been informed that Jorge Mendes – a football agent, last time I checked – will take control of the club’s transfer activity this summer.

Mendes does not have an official title at Molineux but that clearly does not matter when the man who represents Cristiano Ronaldo, among others, has an “in” with the club’s Chinese owners. How that qualifies him to pick the right players for a season in the Championship is anyone’s guess but that appears to be the plan and Lambert has duly found out that his own targets will probably be scrubbed because Mendes has an entirely different wishlist.

This includes a number of foreign players Lambert has never heard of and, not surprisingly, he is now considering whether this is a club where he wants to be employed. Keep an eye on Wolves next season: amid some stiff competition they seem utterly determined to be thought of among the Championship’s more harebrained operations.

(The Guardian)

10 Talking Points from the Weekend’s Upcoming Premier League Games

League

London – Bournemouth may struggle to hold on to Joshua King, Leicester got no help from the broadcasters, but Daniel Levy deserves his due for Spurs’ fine season:

King could attract interest from high-profile suitors

Once the fight for Premier League survival is over, Bournemouth might have another battle on their hands: retaining the services of Joshua King. The striker, signed by Eddie Howe for a snip at £1m from Blackburn Rovers in the summer of 2015, scored his 13th goal of the season against Chelsea on Saturday evening. Despite winning several admirers since gaining passage to the top flight, Bournemouth are yet to be scavenged for players by bigger clubs. Matt Ritchie was sold to Newcastle United last year but they have not had to regularly bat away interest in key players. Until now, perhaps, with King, the 25-year-old Norway striker who signed a new four-year deal in August, enhancing his reputation week-on-week. “When we started to work together, I found him a great lad, really wanting to achieve, and we’ve just given him the opportunity to do that,” Howe said.

No help from the money-men for champions’ European push

Leicester City lost their winning momentum in a hugely entertaining contest at Everton but fortunately no more players to injury before their first appearance in a Champions League quarter-final at Atlético Madrid on Wednesday. The club’s interim manager Craig Shakespeare did all he could to utilize his resources ahead of the showpiece European occasion, shifting Riyad Mahrez and Danny Simpson to the bench at Goodison Park, withdrawing Jamie Vardy after 61 minutes and giving Christian Fuchs, Shinji Okazaki and Wilfred Ndidi the day off. But where was the help from the broadcasters and Premier League for the country’s last representative on the Champions League stage? Being forced to kick off at 4pm on the Sunday before the quarter-final, with alternative TV slots available, showed a dereliction of duty towards the Premier League champions. If Leicester do continue their outstanding run in Europe it will be despite the influence of the money-men.

Bravo’s failings remain overlooked by blinkered Guardiola

David Silva played his 300th game for Manchester City and Pep Guardiola, who revealed he was once urged to sign him for Barcelona but considered him too expensive, said he was in the same bracket as Xavi and Andrés Iniesta. Few would disagree, but when Guardiola went on to list Claudio Bravo alongside Marc‑André Ter Stegen and Manuel Neuer as the best goalkeepers in the world at joining in buildup play, he was going out on a much less sturdy limb. It is debatable whether the Chilean belongs in that company for his footwork, while he was involved in the intricate passing move that led to City’s second goal his contribution was nothing out of the ordinary. What is not up for discussion is that his shot-stopping is feeble. The recalled Bravo had only one attempt on target to deal with all day, a weak effort from Andrea Ranocchia, and it went right through him. Anyone can make a mistake, but it must concern Guardiola that the last seven shots on target Bravo has faced have all resulted in goals. It is a fairly safe bet that neither Barcelona’s Ter Stegen nor Bayern Munich’s Neuer have ever been likened to a hologram.

Dismal decision-making has destroyed Boro’s season

Middlesbrough have won only four Premier League games all season. There have been 16 matches this term in which they have failed to score and their last game was their seventh 0-0 draw. This is why the Teesside club are destined for a swift return to the Championship and shows Steve Gibson, the owner, should surely have sacked the ultra-defensive-minded Aitor Karanka much, much earlier. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but there is also a strong case for arguing that the former manager’s decision to swap his popular, incisive, winger Albert Adomah for Aston Villa’s rather more erratic Adama Traoré last August probably forfeited the club vital points. The same can be said about Karanka’s sidelining of Jordan Rhodes – whose specialty is goalscoring – before loaning him to Sheffield Wednesday in January and Stewart Downing – Boro’s best crosser – from the first XI for so long. Loyalty can sometimes be misplaced.

Stoke need to plunder results to fend off relegation battle

Are Stoke City in trouble? They are eight points clear of the relegation zone, which feels like a healthy cushion at this stage of the season, but their form is woeful. Mark Hughes’s side have lost their past four league matches and won only four out of the past 18. The alarm bells will be ringing if that run continues in their next two games, which are against Hull City and Swansea City – two of the clubs fighting for their lives at the bottom. Either way, something is not quite right at a club who seem to be drifting, caught between trying to become more expansive and playing with the grit and tenacity that made them such awkward opponents in the past. Perhaps more than anything Stoke need a prolific striker. The jury is out as to whether Saido Berahino, who is still looking for his first Stoke goal since his January move, can be that man.

Brazilians change Klopp’s fortunes after squad gets exposed

Most teams would expect a drop in performance if you removed four of their best players, but Liverpool’s manager Jürgen Klopp now knows just how heavily his team leans on the quartet of Sadio Mané, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino. With the first two injured and the Brazilian pair only deemed fit enough for bench duty, a youthful XI were all over the place in the first half against Stoke and looked little better than mid-table jobbers. At 1-0 down, Klopp sent for Coutinho and Firmino and saw an immediate uptick that led to victory. To achieve their goals, Liverpool need more top-tier performers for their elite quartet.

Has De Gea’s suspect season finally caught up with him?

In his pre-match interview at Sunderland, José Mourinho was asked about the absence of David de Gea. “A small problem,” he said, his lack of specificity enough to get people wondering what was going on. Probably, the most obvious explanation is the correct one: De Gea has a minor injury and Mourinho felt he’d be more gnomic and irritating if he neglected to supply full details. Yet even the suspicion of something more was telling. De Gea, brilliant though he is, has not been especially good this season, making fewer astounding saves and several more goal-costing errors – most recently against Everton, last week. It is true Sergio Romero has been playing in the Europa League, so it made sense to give him a game before the trip to Anderlecht on Thursday, but that explanation also contained an undertone of suss: given the competition is now United’s priority, would Mourinho really pick his team based on anything other than merit? Either way, the point remains: in any of the four previous years, such a thought would have been inconceivable – De Gea must improve.

Levy deserves his due for another fine Spurs season

Another excellent season for Tottenham Hotspur has rightly led to praise for a number of individuals at the club. One person whose contribution has gone practically unmentioned, however, is the chairman, Daniel Levy. Renowned as someone who drives a hard bargain and is not afraid to sack a manager, it is worth remembering he is the person who brought in Mauricio Pochettino and is overseeing the club’s move to a shiny new home. Credit for Levy feels due and after Spurs’ win against Watford, Pochettino for one was happy to oblige. “If I am doing well, it’s because he believes in me,” the manager said. “He deserves full credit for all that’s happening in the team. And the club’s financial side is one of the most healthy in the world. We had a difficult relationship at the beginning but we built a very strong relationship. I trust in him and I hope he trusts in me, too.”

The curious case of Pulis and the 40-point barrier

It’s happening again. Tony Pulis teams are predictable beasts: in general, they will always reach the magical figure of 40 points and, in general, they will not get too many more. Last season, West Bromwich Albion achieved that number with seven games remaining, but only managed three further draws as the season wound down. Indeed, in the six full Premier League seasons Pulis has managed, his points totals have been 45, 47, 46, 45, 42 and 43. It looks to be the same this term: they reached the magic number with a win against Bournemouth in February, but have won only one of their subsequent six games (admittedly against Arsenal), their defeat against Southampton on Saturday the latest in a long-established trend. While West Brom’s league position of eighth is excellent, the Pulis habit of doing enough to survive but little more is frustrating, to say the least.

Swansea hope low-wattage encounters can arrest latest slump

Life looked rosy for Swansea City a few weeks ago. The home win against Burnley in early March put them in 16th, five points clear of the bottom three and six ahead of Hull City, second-bottom at the time. Now, having taken just a point from their past five games, they are in the relegation zone and two points behind Hull. “The players’ ability to do the things we normally do wasn’t there,” Paul Clement said after defeat against West Ham. “It was a combination of fatigue from the other night [the late defeat against Tottenham], and anxiety.” One is not exactly filled with optimism about their survival chances if their manager admits they cannot deal with a high-pressured game, although their upcoming fixtures may not be so tense. At least four of their remaining six opponents will probably have nothing to play for in the league, so perhaps some low-wattage encounters will give them hope.

The Guardian Sport