It was in August of 2011 when Wesley Sneijder gave the clearest indication of his interest in making a summer move from Inter Milan to a big Premier League club. Most knew that club to be Manchester United.
Speaking in a video interview with Dutch website www.nos.nl at the time, the Inter Milan midfielder talked about how he would like to play at Old Trafford (The Telegraph).
"Yes, but Manchester United have not made an official approach yet," Sneijder said. "There have been unofficial talks, there have been contacts, but I have contacts with everybody."
Elsewhere, Inter Milan's chief executive suggested that a deal for Sneijder's transfer would be considered if the price was right (ESPN Soccernet).
Is Wesley definitely not for sale? I don't think there's anything that can't be sold, it all depends on the price. You never say no if a big opportunity comes your way, but it does have to be a real opportunity.
Essentially, standard negotiation talk.
A little while after the transfer window had closed that summer and the Sneijder move was scuppered, Sir Alex would give an impassioned defence of his transfer policies to the United faithful:
As far as I am concerned, I am marching perfectly in step, true to my beliefs and principles. While recruiting some of the world's leading players can lift you into contention for honours, it doesn't necessarily take you all the way, as I hope we will be able to demonstrate before the end of the season as other factors come into play.
However, United would later exit from the Champions League in the group stages, be outplayed, outclassed and knocked out by Athletic Bilbao in the Round of 16 of the Europa League, lose the Premier League title to close rivals Manchester City and get knocked out of the FA Cup and League Cup in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively.
Transfers into the club since the summer of the Sneijder rumors have included Phil Jones, Ashley Young, David de Gea, Paul Scholes, Frederic Veseli, Shinji Kagawa, Nick Powell, Alexander Buttner and Angelo Henriquez, with the only big-name signing being Robin van Persie.
It is of consequence to note that of these 10 players, none had at any time in their careers to become a well-established fixture of atop European or third-country team outside England in either European or world football competitions (i.e., none of these players had set down real roots professionally or become coveted players).
I make this point because it seems that the reason for Manchester United's failure to attract the top names in world football is due in part to an overestimation by the coach and the people who run the club of the club's standing and that of the Premier League in world football and players' minds especially.
It is the lazy belief that the top players in world football want to play for the club because it is Manchester United.
One look at FIFA's 2012 World Team of the Year dispels any notion of the Premier League's supremacy. A look at four of the United's recent transfer woes does likewise about the club's supremacy.
Wesley Sneijder: The move for Wesley Sneijder reportedly broke down due to the midfielder's pay demands. In essence, any sort of move to Manchester United required Sneijder to take a pay cut for the privilege to play for the club.
Paul Pogba: For a youngster regarded as one of the most exciting prospects in world football, the decision to not give him more playing time in the United first team must look like an incredibly miscalculated move in hindsight. Having reneged on renewing his contract with United due to money, of course, and a lack of playing time, Pogba completed his move to Juventus last summer. Sir Alex Ferguson would later accuse him of disrespecting the club but failing to acknowledge that Pogba was simply ensuring his future.
Angel Di Maria: In late 2009, reports surfaced of a Manchester United bid for the current Real Madrid winger. That bid, which was Nani and €10 million, was rejected, and the next summer Di Maria would join Real Madrid for £20 million.
Lucas Moura: This was the transfer story that dominated much of United's summer in 2012. It ended with the Brazilian teen snubbing Manchester United's £30 million bid to join PSG.
Robin van Persie's transfer to United puts these snubs in context.
Unlike his former Arsenal teammate, Samir Nasri, who chose Manchester City ahead of United, the Dutch striker chose United over City. Was this for doubt of his assured place in the City team? Perhaps. Was it for money? Definitely not.
So what exactly informed that decision?
Simple. Having spent a long time in English football (seven seasons with Arsenal), whether he knew it or not, van Persie had slowly but surely bought into Manchester United's portrayal of themselves; getting him to sign for the club was an easy sell. It wasn't so easy for Sneijder or Lucas.
Other names include: Eden Hazard, Samir Nasri (mentioned briefly), Fernando Torres (before he joined Liverpool), Cristiano Ronaldo (choosing Real Madrid ahead of United) and Wayne Rooney (who threatened to leave the club—name, history and all—behind).
As evidenced by the Ballon d'Or 2012 shortlist, most of the best players in the world, the potential big-name signings, are abroad, which simply means there won't be too many more RVP-like sells recurring any time soon.
It will invariably be said that the club has a business model and a philosophy in place. Well, success on the football field is also part of that model and philosophy.
A rethink of the club's approach toward players they hope to sign is necessary. Humility, greater pro-activeness and a willingness to get the hands dirty is required for future success in the transfer market.
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