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Money, politics & insult: Why Man Utd must grab shock Matthijs de Ligt chance

COMMENT: Money. Politics. Even a back-handed insult. Whatever's behind the hesitation. Manchester United need to take advantage. If Matthijs de Ligt is having second thoughts about Barcelona, United need to step in.

They're worried in Barcelona. Even rattled. The LaLiga champs, as they prepare to meet Valencia in Saturday's Copa del Rey final, are stuck. Frozen. Reality is biting. There is a real chance now that De Ligt will turn them down and head to England instead.

The deal was in place. Or so Barca thought. Despite the animus, terms had been struck with De Ligt's agent in April. Mino Raiola having settled on a €10m salary with approval from the Ajax captain. Wages similar to what close friend and teammate Frenkie de Jong had settled on earlier in the year. The difference being, Barca had found agreement with Ajax over a fee for the midfielder. In De Ligt's case, no real attempt was made. With his verbal commitment - via Raiola - there was a confidence the transfer would run it's natural course once the season concluded.

But with nothing on paper. And Ajax's thrilling run to the final four of the Champions League. De Ligt's profile. His reputation. It skyrocketed. And Raiola - ever the opportunist - spied his chance.

De Ligt was no longer a €10m-a-year player, he argued. If they still wanted him, Barca would have to up their offer. The board was rocked. Even on current terms, there was some protest inside the club. De Ligt's youth and inexperience didn't warrant such a salary, it was reasoned. And there was a risk of upsetting senior powerbrokers inside the Barca dressing room. Now Raiola was asking even more - a demand which the club flatly rejected.

And so today, United have come forward with a proposal which blows Barca out of the water. An offer to move to Old Trafford for €14m-a-year. A clear €4m more than what Barca settled upon with Raiola just a month ago. And De Ligt's head has been turned. The money tabled too serious to simply dismiss.

Barca are worried. We know this as both Mundo Deportivo and Sport - the city's two biggest sports dailys - are running with the same pessimistic byline. Those inside the board room fear De Ligt has slipped the net. Failing to tie everything down in April has come back to bite them. The presence of De Jong. The chance to play with Lionel Messi. These factors just may not be enough. Not when United are offering him so much more.

Sir Alex Ferguson, ever the influence on the current manager, recommended De Ligt two years ago after seeing Jose Mourinho's team beat Ajax in the Europa League final.

Former United Champions League winner Edwin van der Sar, now chief exec at Ajax, recalling: "Sir Alex Ferguson said two years ago when we played the Europa League final in Stockholm that De Ligt was going to be a very big player.

"We think so too."

For today's United. For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. They need De Ligt far, far more than he needs them. The most coveted young defender on the planet. One who could walk into any team in Europe. And he chooses United as the next step in his career? Solskjaer couldn't wish for a better way to kickoff the first full season of his era in charge.

And a step it will be. This column being told this week that a key reason why De Ligt would consider United ahead of Barca or Liverpool was playing time. The 19 year-old and family recognising at this stage in his career he needs to be playing regularly. At United a starting place would be guaranteed. This has been relayed to De Ligt via United's representatives. And from his end of the table, De Ligt has been urged to regard United not as a destination, but a stepping stone to a bigger stage. Two or three seasons of regular football under his belt with a club of United's status would set him up for a move to a more established team like Barca or Juventus.

And that's the reality for the United of today. The one of sixth place finishes and the Europa League. If they're to compete at the top end of the market, they'll need to accept their current place in the game. De Ligt won't be joining United for the badge. Nor the prestige of pulling on the Red shirt. This will be about money. And the suggestion of being a bridge to bigger things.

But no matter. United - if they want players of De Ligt's standard - will just have to wear it. Even if it means smoothing Paul Pogba's departure this summer. As Raiola has requested. For Solskjaer's sake. For the chance to genuinely begin with a clean slate. They should acquiesce and allow their No6 to seal his dream move to Real Madrid.

United are in no position to act precious. Player agent politics. Money. Even the veiled insult. Whatever it takes, this season's sixth place finishers need this deal.


Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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