There may be a new manager, new coaches, a new Chief Executive, a World Cup or European Championships. Every summer off-season has its own nuances which provide an ongoing sense of intrigue as to the direction clubs will take going into the new campaign. So many things change. At Old Trafford we have a new manager, the anti-Moyes, carrying our hopes and the expectation that our great club can be dragged from the dirt and taken to play with the big boys again. I wouldn’t bet against Louis Van Gaal achieving just that, but none of us know for sure. This is a time of uncertainty, of the unknown, a summer of a sort of tingling excitement few of us have experienced before, feeling that we are once again in the presence of greatness, but a greatness that we don’t know in contrast to that, in Sir Alex, which we did. So much about this summer has been enthralling, both at Old Trafford and in Brazil, where the best World Cup was played out that many can ever remember.
And yet, despite these annual variations, changes and intriguing sub-plots, some things for United fans will never change. No summer transfer window is complete without the traditional transfer saga – weeks and weeks of speculation, rumour, claim and counter-claim linking a World Class player from an elite continental club with a big-money move to United. As a fan of a certain age I can remember similar epics involving Gabriel Batistuta, Lillian Thuram, Alessandro Nesta and Patrick Kluivert. More recently the name sure to extract a groan from hacks and fans alike is Wesley Sneijder. Almost without exception, summers have been spent yearning for such a game-changing addition, only to face disappointment as it almost invariably never materialised. Back in the day these sagas were almost entirely press-driven, fans knowing little more than what they might read in the morning papers. Today, social media provides a platform for second-by-second updates, the immediate reporting of stories and quotes from around the world, the spreading of false reports and mistranslation and, in contrast, the showing up of journalists whose folly in doing just those things would have gone undiscovered in the pre-internet age. Now stories, true or false in basis, can take on a life of their own or twist and turn daily as clubs, agents and players manipulate the press to further their own contrasting agendas.
All of which brings me to the saga of this summer, the potential transfer of the Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal from Juventus to Manchester United. Newly flush due to the recent new Premier League TV deal, Chevrolet sponsorship and kit deal with Adidas, United are suddenly considered by many fans to have the financial power to turn the tide and provide such a saga with a rare happy ending. And yet, despite the 24-hour coverage and dissection over a period of weeks we still have absolutely no idea if the club are even interested in the player, let alone actively pursuing the matter with his agent and club. It seems that the more information we have, the less we know. Vidal himself has given a few bland, non-committal interviews, the press in Chile and Italy seem convinced that something is afoot but clearly have little idea what and the usually well-connected Manchester press pack continue to parrot the club line that there has been no move for the player whatsoever.
The problem we have with piecing all of the above together to provide a coherent picture of what exactly is going on is that everyone in football lies all of the time. It is hard to believe United, a club who now deny even the inevitable until the final seconds before it actually happens. On the other side of the coin, the fact that reports seemingly confirming a move are exclusively in the Chilean and Italian press suggest that the narrative may be agent or club driven, perhaps to stimulate interest, attract an auction, as a demonstration of strength or as a way of extracting a higher wage from Vidal’s existing employers. Manchester United are by some distance the agents’ choice, to be used and abused when angling for more security at a player’s current club or a lucrative new contract. The picture is blurred further by the fact that stories on all sides contain hugely conflicting information. In the UK press individual papers have flip-flopped from a deal being on to it having never even been on the table within a matter of hours. Some suggest that United did approach Juventus, others that Van Gaal has never requested the player.
Interest in and the clamour for such a deal is also at an all-time high this summer. After a truly dreadful 13/14 season United fans can see the gaping holes in the squad and the extent to which a player of the calibre of Vidal would help to plug them and elevate the club back to the top end of the table. Despite the perfectly reasonable excitement about the arrival of Louis Van Gaal and the belief that he can elevate a limited squad to the peak of their capabilities, as he so masterfully demonstrated with Holland in the World Cup, there is still a realisation that even he cannot work miracles. The club needs new players to supplement the encouraging signings of Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera and, since the flurry of activity during the week in which they joined, the season has begun to loom large in the distance. The fans need football and, perhaps, a deal or two to divert their minds or allay their fears. It is the Vidal deal about which there is most noise, the saga of the summer, and yet history and an increasing feeling that this may be a giant red herring point to many being left disappointed. It was always a long shot and something simply doesn’t feel quite right about it. Regardless of United’s desire to keep their transfer dealings as quiet as possible since radio traffic from Woodward Central went quiet some weeks ago, this has the feel of an artificially-driven narrative. No doubt the club are working hard to bring in their targets, and Van Gaal has the reputation and money to attract some very good players indeed, but all the will in the world from fans for the deal to happen doesn’t make the story of this ‘transfer’ coherent or likely to have a happy ending. That’s if there has even been a beginning.
For Manchester United fans looking for a bit of consistency in a summer of upheaval and change, the good old-fashioned summer transfer saga will always provide a consistent point of reference. Whilst history shows that there is rarely a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, United tend to go elsewhere shopping for seeds and grow a money tree of their own. I would be surprised if this summer were any different. The message is wildly inconsistent but, if I had to stake all of my worldly goods on an outcome by September 1st, I’m beginning to favour the belief that Arturo Vidal is not the droid the club is looking for. I hope I’m wrong, because he is most certainly a droid we need.