Manchester United have done something Chelsea didn’t expect in Mason Mount transfer talks
It’s a fine line Manchester United are trying to tread at the moment, and one that is partly of their own making. They’re finding it’s harder to shred a reputation in the transfer market than it is to gain one.
For too long they have been considered a soft touch when it comes to deals and they’ve undoubtedly contributed to that perception in recent years. Club chiefs talk of a ‘United tax’ when it comes to transfers and there is an element of that, but there’s also a feeling that clubs believe they can be fleeced.
As one of the most famous clubs in the world, United sells. They get linked with hundreds of players every summer, the majority of them when there is smoke but no fire. Agents will use their name to flush out interest elsewhere in their client or earn a deal at their existing club.
There is also a feeling that as a commercial behemoth, the price can be upped when United come calling. They asked about a young striker last summer for whom there were bids of £15million in. When it was United on the other end of the line, they were told the price was £28million.
ALSO READ: United need to do what they did with Casemiro as third Mount bid rejected
This is what the club has to deal with in every transfer window. False rumours, the use of their name for no other reason than it’s one of the most famous names in the world, and selling clubs driving a hard bargain purely because of who they are.
But there is more to it than that as well. It’s four years since United agreed to pay a world-record fee for a defender of £80million for Harry Maguire. Not only was that price astronomical, but they paid almost all of it in one instalment to Leicester City. That is rare in modern deals, as evidenced by the fact that last year United still owed £307million in transfer fees.
It’s less than a year since United went to £85million to sign Antony from Ajax, an astonishing fee when United had threatened to walk away in July when the Brazilian winger was valued at €20million less by Ten Hag’s former club. When they resurrected the deal in the final days of the window, the price went from €80million to €100million because it was too late for Ajax to sign a replacement.
A study by the CIES Football Observatory in September last year reported United had overpaid on transfers more than any other club in Europe for the previous decade. The report looked at 33 major signings United made in that period and concluded the spending of €1.59billion was actually €238million more than the market value of those players at the time.
So it’s easy to see why Chelsea have felt emboldened enough to reject three bids for Mason Mount and still be confident United will pay the £65million they want for the 24-year-old.
United raised their third bid to £50million, with a further £5million in add-ons, only for Chelsea to turn it down and insist on £65million, a reduction in just £5million on their initial asking price. They even laid out the terms they would find acceptable via a favourable leak or two, settling for £58million and £7million in add-ons.
But United have, for now, had enough. They have resolved not to bid again and have moved to other targets, primarily Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo.
There is frustration at Old Trafford at Chelsea’s approach to negotiations. They dealt quickly with Manchester City to complete an initial £25million deal for Mateo Kovacic, who also had just a year left on his contract. A year ago the roles were reversed, when Chelsea signed Raheem Sterling, who was in the same contractual situation, for £47.5million.
But for Mount, it is a different story. Or for United, it is a different story. It would be interesting to see if Chelsea would have dealt by now if they were dealing with a different club.
Erik ten Hag had made Mount his priority in midfield and having followed the player closely since his season in the Eredivisie in 2017/18, he will be disappointed if a deal doesn’t come off. But there is also an understanding of the situation.
Supporters will be frustrated at the failure to agree a deal, but then the transfer market is considered a game in itself these days. Plenty will demand United just give Chelsea whatever they want, but that is clearly not a sustainable strategy, as the club are finding out now.
If United were to cave in and go to £65million for Mount, not only does it reduce their budget for a striker, but it will embolden the club of whichever player they target to try and rinse them again. You can’t keep being a soft touch in the transfer market and expect to drive a hard deal.
Maybe it’s belatedly, but on the evidence of their negotiations to sign Mount, United are realising they have to change. Throughout their attempts to sign a player who wants to come to Old Trafford they have warned there is a limit to how high they will go.
That limit has been reached. Now it’s on Chelsea to come back to the table, or United to stand firm and move on to other targets.