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Walking away from Sergio Reguilón is a win, not a loss, for Manchester United

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A bad deal is bad deal

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Sevilla - UEFA Europa League Quarter Final Photo by Ina Fassbender/Pool via Getty Images

Manchester United’s pursuit of Spanish left-back Sergio Reguilón came to a sudden end Tuesday night. Reguilón is set to join José Mourinho’s Tottenham in a €30 million deal.

The announcement came as quite a shock to many. United’s deal for Reguilón had been in the works for weeks. They’d reportedly agreed personal terms last week, but the deal kept dragging on because what United deal doesn’t?

Tottenham hadn’t been linked at all with Reguilón, and as of Tuesday morning, things were looking very positive for the Spaniard to be coming to Old Trafford.

Cue the overreaction from United fans — hysterical about being pipped to a deal by Tottenham, or putting this on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to say he can’t lure players to Old Trafford.

Those ideas are simply laughable.

Tottenham didn’t ‘hijack’ the Reguilón move. Reguilón chose United over Spurs, but he’s ending up at Spurs only because United said “you know what, no thanks.”

Given United’s relative inactivity in the transfer market this summer, failing to land Reguilón has been seen by many as a failure. It is most assuredly not. Walking away from a bad deal is better business than making a bad one.

And this most assuredly was a bad deal.

United and Real Madrid were never in disagreement about the price (roughly €30 million). The hold up was over a buyback clause. Real Madrid insisted on putting one in, United wouldn’t accept it.

That buyback clause — which is reported to be about €45 million — essentially turns this “sale” into a(n expensive) two year loan where the buyer assumes all the risk. If Reguilón turns into a star, Real Madrid buy him back for well below his market value. If he turns out to be a flop, then the buying club is stuck with him. At least ‘loan with an option to buy’ gives you the option to say “we’re not buying” and send him back, but this doesn’t.

That deal simply doesn’t fly for Manchester United. They want full control over all their players, and who could blame them? It’s the same reason they walked away from the Erling Haaland deal, which essentially allows Mino Raiola — not Borussia Dortmund — to decide if the player is sold next year or not.

The perception of the United fan base is that the owners aren’t doing enough to back Solskjaer, but not making this deal is very much backing him and his plan. Solskjaer wants players who want to be at United — not just right now, but for the long haul.

United’s hierarchy could have simply agreed to the buyback clause and pushed this deal through. They’d fill a hole in the squad and be able to sell to their fans that they’re signing new players. That would look great for them. But then they’d be giving the manager a player that he can’t build around because in all likelihood he’d just have to fill the same hole in the team again in two years time. Only by then, Luke Shaw will be 27.

That’s burdening the manager, not backing him.

The deal that was on the table didn’t make sense from a business standpoint or from a squad building standpoint. United’s ability to walk away from a bad deal (something they didn’t do in past years) should be commended. It sucks because the club very much need a second left-footed fullback, but that need doesn’t mean they should jump in to a bad deal. That will just hurt you in the years to come.

United have been relatively handcuffed in the market in the past few years thanks to costs of players (transfer fees, wages, agents fees, bonuses) rising at a much faster rate than income rose. They haven’t been good because they’ve misspent that money.

C: Kieran Maguire “The Price of Football”
C: Kieran Maguire “The Price of Football”
Kieran Maguire “The Price of Football”

Those mistakes in the market have consequences. While fans simply look at what United’s revenue for a particular year was and how much they spent on transfers, football finances are far more complicated. Just because the books close on a particular year doesn’t mean the expenses do.

These days, most transfer fees are paid out over the course of a player’s contract. Those costs have to be accounted for (and in the books they are — but the fans and media aren’t looking at the actual books). United are currently still paying for Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Fred, and even Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

In the summer of 2018, when United were also stagnant in the market, they were still paying for Angel Di Maria, Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Morgan Schneiderlin — none of whom were still with the club — among others. Spending more money that summer would have lead to United coming awfully close to landing in FFP hot water.

Avoiding bad deals now is just as important as making new deals.

A lot of the animosity towards United comes thanks to the backdrop of Chelsea going on a spending spree this summer (their ability to do so is largely thanks to their transfer ban a year ago helping them clear their books). Looking at Chelsea make five (so far) signings has fans and the media falling into the classic trap of assuming more transfers equals more success, or that every transfer will work out.

That is a bad assumption. The number of signings you make doesn’t have much positive correlation with on-pitch success. In fact, the more signings teams make, the more they typically drop in performance. That’s because most signings don’t end up working out, and that’s especially true when you look at Chelsea’s recent transfer history.

Despite all those fancy attacking signings, Chelsea were nearly played off the pitch by Brighton this week. The Seagulls out-possessed Chelsea 53-47 and finished with a higher xG (1.44 - 1.27 including Chelsea’s penalty). Obviously what matters most is Chelsea put the ball in the net three times, getting the three points, but play like this over the course of the season and that result will be a rare occurrence. I guess that’s what happens when your biggest problem might actually be Frank Lampard.

Contrary to popular belief, United are still working on other deals. Jadon Sancho is dragging along because the club are trying to save upfront money to clear space for other signings (accounting!). It’s hard to blame them for doing that in a year with so much uncertainty over incoming revenues.

Even if only one more player, or none, come in it’s important to remember that United are in a very good spot coming in to the season. This is a team that finished third last season and today have a much better squad than they did a year ago.

Unlike their rivals, United’s core is either right around — or hasn’t yet hit — their primes. Mason Greenwood is far better than he was a year ago. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial took off last season and are still getting better.

Yes, United need depth but it’s not as bad as you think. We know the back-ups simply aren’t good enough when they play together but we’ll rarely see that if Solskjaer rotates the squad wisely. Don’t forget United played half their season last year with only two of Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Martial, and Paul Pogba available. Fernandes and Pogba each only played a third of the season. For as tired as the United players got, they still finished third.

It’s certainly frustrating that things are taking this long, but as long as United get players in before the deadline, that’s fine. The reality is United shouldn’t need reinforcements to beat Crystal Palace, Luton Town, Brighton, and Tottenham.

United are going to be okay, and when it comes to this Sergio Reguilón deal, we should be praising the club for staying on track by avoiding bad deals rather than acting like the sky is falling.