Belfast Telegraph

Manchester United's dignified strategy may conquer shameless Real Madrid

By Ian Herbert

Finally, amid all the talk of the bond issues, payment-in-kind notes and interest rate negotiations which have surrounded the Glazers' 10 years at Old Trafford, there was evidence late on Sunday afternoon of the small but hugely significant power of football supporters.

Manchester United have done all the talking they can to - and about - David de Gea. They have told him they will pay him well - better than Real Madrid will do, in fact - and they have told him that they consider him an incalculably valuable part of the fabric of their club. But they now know that none of that matters.

The money and the car and the house are insignificant because it is an emotional calculation that De Gea is making in deciding between his current club and the one that calls from Spain. Which is where the supporters came in.

Some at United wondered heading into the last home match of the season with Arsenal whether De Gea might receive the kind of rapture which would assist the effort to make him stay. He did, rare though it is to see a player who has resisted a club's contract offer eliciting songs in his name and applause.

The goalkeeper is not a badge-kissing, 'United till I die' type, but he knows that he is held in particular affection. That is why he appears torn by what to do next: whether to follow his heart to his native Madrid, or to acknowledge that Manchester holds a heart for him too.

On the face of things, the Madrid-Manchester calculation does not look difficult. If and when De Gea arrives at the Bernabeu, he will be installed as the club's number one goalkeeper and will subsequently become Spain's number one.

De Gea may reason that there will be more affection for him than most who tread the Bernabeu turf. There is a sense of fatigue with the strife between rival groups who either cheer or howl down Iker Casillas.

Such are the factors which led Louis van Gaal to make it clear that it will be some struggle to win this battle. But when you consider the way Real are doing what Real always do in their pursuit of the player - dropping stories into the Spanish media to suggest that he has agreed personal terms with them and using their adopted newspapers to agitate the selling club - you wonder whether United's more subtle and dignified strategy may actually pay off.

That strategy is not entirely benign. Victor Valdes is at Old Trafford to become De Gea's successor. Expect him to leave if that opportunity doesn't materialise. But the approach is to acknowledge all the reasons De Gea has to leave, to take a step back and grant him some space, and to make it clear that - if it really were about money - then the money is there.

"I don't have to say something in benefit of Manchester United because he can feel it every day," Van Gaal said. "You have seen the fans. Unbelievable. When he is going, he is losing that. Here he has a lot of credits. He has to decide."

The quiet way is the only one left to United. They are showing that there are more shades of affection in football than the one brought by a Madrid president and his chequebook. De Gea just might be convinced by that.

Belfast Telegraph


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