There was a strange non-transfer tale recently where a Premier League club briefed they were interested in a player they had no interest in signing.
The player is represented by the same agency with elite clients already at the Premier League club, who agreed to fuel publicity around the player in an attempt to smoke out an actual interested party. The uninterested club soon signed a player who occupies the same position as the player they were supposedly interested in signing - but had no interest in signing.
"Are you watching closely?" Christian Bale intones at the start of The Prestige. Transfer windows are rife with illusions and Manchester United are often an unwilling part of the act. Only two weeks ago, it was reported by RTP in Portugal Raul Jimenez 'is on his way to Manchester United' and the Wolves striker soon started trending on Twitter.
United clarified there was 'nothing in' the report and, in this instance, even the most gullible fans ought to know better. In the five-paragraph story, Jimenez's 'is on his way to Manchester United' was not mentioned until the end of the fourth paragraph and it was the only reference to the player or United. The story could not be found on the RTP sport landing page, either. You did not have to be Edward R Murrow to tell something was up.
A friend holidaying in Portugal once bought one of the sports daily 'papers and counted Benfica were linked with 16 players. A colleague at the MEN last week penned an opinion piece on the Porto full-back Alex Telles and the next day A Bola wrote Telles was a target for United to replace Luke Shaw.
Journalists and other industry members refer to it as the 'circle of s---e' and sections of the British media are not immune from fuelling the despair and hope of the circle. Opinions are spun as news items, gossips treated as fact and wannabe football journalists who hate football journalists depend on the scuttlebut.
The Jadon Sancho situation is becoming tedious and Borussia Dortmund's Comical Ali-style communiques will do little to discourage United, frustrated by the slow pace of discussions with Marco Lichtsteiner, the intermediary acting on Dortmund's behalf. Sancho is represented by Emeka Obasi.
United described it as 'unusual' of Dortmund to have hired Lichtsteiner, brother of erstwhile Arsenal defender Stephan, when United brokered the club-record deal for Juan Mata without any of their representatives dealing with Chelsea face-to-face. An agency is understood to have overseen the sale of Alexis Sanchez so United could concentrate on Sancho.
Sancho's wages and the intermediary fees are proving to be an 'obstacle' and senior United sources stressed they will not make 'mistakes of the past'; references to Sanchez and the £41million Mino Raiola pocketed from the Paul Pogba transfer four years ago.
In a desperate and caveat-laden explanation for their failure to sign a centre half in 2018, United expressed horror at the agent's commission had they taken a punt on Yerry Mina, hawked around Europe after a reasonable World Cup with Colombia. Before Everton clinched a deadline day deal for Mina, a high-ranking United official expressed their hope Everton would give Mina a swerve as they felt the market could be distorted by the agent's cut.
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The blame-the-agents excuse was ridiculed by an intermediary who works for one of football's most high-profile agencies and has a client at United. It was also rich of United to reach for that excuse without acknowledging the precedent set by Raiola's commission, though face-saving was paramount after Jose Mourinho had backed them into a corner.
Liverpool paid agents the most (£30.3m) for the second season running and United were third (£27.56m), up from the £20.75m in 2018-19 due to four major additions and the loan arrangement of Odion Ighalo. Even during that period, United blamed 'extraordinary' demands for the collapse of their fleeting interest in Paulo Dybala. Dybala's agent Jorge Antun said 'the stories about the commission were not true'.
Raiola wanted to secure a share from future sales of Erling Haaland that United were unwilling to meet, with sources describing the terms as 'bad for the industry'. United signed four Raiola clients across two summers but have cooled their relationship since the £75m signing of Romelu Lukaku, no longer a Raiola client, in 2017. The Haaland fallout triggered Raiola on Twitter, although he showed 'solidarity' with Woodward over the unsettling attack on his home and Woodward is believed to enjoy Raiola's company.
Ed Woodward arranged for Jorge Mendes's daughter to have a work experience placement at the club and, without Mendes' influence, a move for Bruno Fernandes would not have materialised. Fernandes's agent agent Miguel Pinho was said to be so out of his depth in fielding enquiries in the summer that intermediaries went to the player directly to ascertain how much Sporting Lisbon were demanding for him. Tottenham had dispatched two intermediaries to Lisbon in vain and Mendes then touched base with the promise of a transfer in 2020.
Woodward or Matt Judge speak frequently with the figureheads of the major agencies and three of United's substitutes in Cologne on Monday night are clients of the Stellar Group, co-founded by Jonathan Barnett. Sergio Romero, Dean Henderson, Luke Shaw, and Marcos Rojo are looked after by Stellar, as is Jack Grealish.
However much United's principals are undermined by their past dealings, they are entitled to change, just as Jurgen Klopp was after he derided the Pogba deal two years before shattering the world record fees for a defender and a goalkeeper. United have prioritised players primarily enchanted with playing with the club, hence why they are prepared to move onto an alternative to Sancho.
People are watching closely.