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Javier Ribalta & Man Utd: Why his departure a massive summer blunder

COMMENT: What a waste. What an absolute waste. Manchester United really blew this one. The board. Ed Woodward. How could they let this lad slip through the net...?

Who?! What?! Well, we're talking about Javier Ribalta. The Catalan. The man described as a "phenomenon" by the father of Alvaro Morata, the Chelsea striker. The whizkid who was on the books at United for a year - but is now sitting in Russia on a three-year deal with Zenit St Petersburg.

Need to know the heart of Jose Mourinho's frustrations? Need to know where it all stems? Go back to July. Post- the Fred deal. Post- the arrival of Diogo Dalot. Things were rolling along. United had burned off Manchester City to land Fred. They'd convinced Dalot's camp to quit Porto ahead of schedule and build a career in England. It was promising to be an exciting summer.

But then came the announcement. Well, little more than a statement - if that. Ribalta, among United's lead scouts, had accepted an offer from Zenit St Petersburg. Just a year after being tempted away from Juventus. The 38 year-old was on the move again. Now to Russia. But not as a scout. Not even as chief scout. Ribalta had been offered the post of sporting director at Zenit. The pay-rise was attractive. But that's not why he walked out on United. It was for the responsibility. The chance to move up in the game. He's now running the place at Zenit. They've offered him everything United could not.

Mourinho frustrations this summer aren't about personalities. He and Woodward, the club's vice-chairman exec, do get along. It's more than a positive working relationship. Even after Sunday's friendly against Bayern Munich, Mourinho was again stressing to fans that grievances over their market progress weren't based on a lack of effort from the higher ups.

"My CEO knows what I want for quite a long time," Mourinho explained. "He knows what I want, I know that he tries to do the best for me and I still have a few days to wait what is going to happen."

Mourinho has never inferred that Woodward and his team aren't trying. But it's actually having the nous to get a deal done which again is rearing it's head.

Some pundits have asked out loud why United haven't found themselves a 'technical director'. A bridge between Mourinho and Woodward. Well, they had one. He was ready to step up. But Ribalta's talents are now Zenit's to exploit.

A Turin source told this column late, last season there was surprise at Juve that Ribalta had accepted his role at United. At 32, he was managing the club's entire scouting network. Year upon year, his influence on Juve's transfer policy was increasing. So when he left for a scouting position at United, those in and around Juve were bemused.

A year on and our source was convinced Ribalta was "frustrated". He's always been ambitious. A man on the move. This isn't the first time he's quit a giant to meet his ambitions. He did the same at AC Milan, leaving a plum scouting job to take charge of managing little Novara's network. It was his work at the minnows which landed him his post at Juve. Driven. Determined. Even earnest. Is it any wonder Mourinho wanted him at Old Trafford?

But that "frustration" at Carrington has now been confirmed in Russia. Ribalta couldn't see a way forward for him at the club. Jim Lawlor and Marcel Bout run the operation - with little chance of either man moving on. So when Zenit came knocking...

"His reverent attitude has become the key to our peace of mind," so said Morata's father, Alfonso, of Ribalta when his son moved to Juve. "He knows football well and always is in contact with us.

"He is a phenomenon."

For Ribalta, Morata is no one-off. Paulo Dybala, Alex Sandro, Paul Pogba and Fernando Llorente were all among deals - and relationships - that Ribalta successfully worked on during his time at Juve.

"He doesn't believe in the flashy," says our Turin source, "but the 'functional'.

"And he recruits in a very different way to many others. He works for the club, but the player signs knowing the deal will be mutually beneficial."

United had their football director waiting in the wings. Mourinho, after Rui Faria's departure, could have had a new sounding board to bounce market ideas off. But now that man is in St Petersburg.

As crazy as it sounds, United just couldn't match the ambitions of Javier Ribalta.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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