The news which broke from Old Trafford that the club would not be taking up their option to sign Partizan Belgrade’s 18-year old midfielder Adem Ljajic has sparked plenty of debate and discussion over the rationale behind Manchester United’s decision.
The climate of confusion has been heightened by the recent comments from Ljajic’s club, and also from a prominent member of the Manchester United supporters association which have blamed the constricted finances at Old Trafford and slammed the decision to pull the plug on the transfer.
Partizan Belgrade chief executive Dragan Djuric claimed: "Maybe the real problem is that they are in financial crisis."
It must be borne in mind that they will wish to protect the financial value of a young player, who has allegedly been subjected to “psychological shock” as a result.
United have strenuously denied that financial constraints are an issue, with Mike Phelan vigorously denying this in a press conference yesterday. But while the club are being questioned about their financial situation perhaps now more than ever, perhaps the reason for abandoning the deal is to deal with good financial sense, than financial strain.
Footballers, and especially young footballers, are like any other investment, judged in terms of profitability. Players with precious little in the way of resale value will not be bought because they can ultimately prove costly to a club.
When you consider that Ljajic, at 18 years of age will cost around £10 million, United must have weighed it up in terms of long-term value. If they viewed Ljajic as someone who could eventually exceed such a price-tag then there seems little doubt that they would have signed him.
But young players, as United have discovered with the contrasting developments of Nani and Anderson, do not necessarily develop at a set pace-and to assume he would improve could prove unwisely costly.
In this regard, United’s close monitoring of a player they signed over a year ago will have taught them a lot.
A statement by United said: "We had an option to buy the player but, having closely monitored his development over the past 12 months, and taken into consideration the young players emerging through the ranks at the club, we have chosen not to pursue the transfer."
When you consider that Ljajic’s compatriot, left winger Zoran Tosic, who is further along the footballing evolutionary scale, has made such minimal impact at Old Trafford that he cannot even break into the club’s Carling Cup team after almost a year.
Therefore, the decision to pull out of the signing of a player whose development has faltered, and whose ability to adapt to the demands at Old Trafford is perhaps less likely than his more experienced compatriot, then why would United sanction such a deal?
Furthermore, the other point of consideration will have been the progress of Manchester United’s other young players. Much has been made of Gabriel Obertan’s promise this season; Anderson continues to develop at a pace as a capable, versatile, midfielder and Nani, for all his inconsistency, has time on his side.
Then there are the younger players who are emerging on the first team scene. Federico Macheda has recently signed a new contract; Danny Welbeck is capable of filling a number of positions in attacking positions and has Sir Alex Ferguson tipping him to play for England at the World Cup, and young full-backs Rafael and Fabio look to have the world at their feet.
Perhaps even more intriguingly is the promise which lurks below these. Young players Joshua King, controversial signing Paul Pogba and Davide Petrucci have attracted rave reviews for their performances in United’s youth teams.
Yet the toast of Old Trafford is local youngster Ravel Morrison, a 16 year old attacking midfielder with a penchant for spectacular goals, who is two years younger than Ljajic and comes without the price tag.
Given the talent coming through at Old Trafford, perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson has reason to wonder about sanctioning an expensive, and risky transfer for a player whose potential perhaps doesn’t match his price. If United are to spend money, then perhaps it should be aimed at higher profile targets than on an unproven young player.
For all the headlines about how this move highlights the perilous financial reality at Old Trafford, in truth the decision really just makes good financial sense.
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