By Nick Harris
SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year
12 June 2011
Prompted by a ‘hardball’ attitude from Blackburn Rovers owners and a late £22m bid on Saturday from Liverpool for Rovers’ England under-21 defender Phil Jones , Manchester United have agreed to pay £20.5m for the player and the deal is expected to be completed imminently. It is mid-afternoon in India at the time of writing and the decisions were finalised this morning, Indian time.
As has been widely – and correctly – reported, there was a £16.5m release clause in the extended Rovers contract that Jones, 19, signed in February.
But the Rovers owners’ contention was that it didn’t necessarily force them to sell Jones as soon as one club triggered it with a bid of that amount.
A crucial fact that muddied the waters is United appeared to know precise details about the terms of the release before Rovers had given any club permission to speak to the player. The only way United could have known this is if Rovers had told them – and sources insist they didn’t – or if somebody else told them when they shouldn’t have done so under the letter of the transfer laws.
This fact, as well as Liverpool’s offer of £22m, gave Rovers some traction in negotiations. Well-placed senior sources in India have made it clear that a tapping-up complaint against Manchester United was an option open to them.
If Manchester United felt they the total deal was worth £16.5m and no more, that’s what they’d be paying. But they won’t be paying that. The deal has been agreed at £20.5m. They are paying more than £16.5m and a range of add-ons, ‘highly likely’ to materialise within two seasons, sources say, to take the total to £20.5m.
Venky’s did not want to go down the acrimonious route of official complaints if it could be avoided, and clearly feel there is no point in dragging the situation out further. In any case, Jones has made it clear his preference is to join United.
In the end, it was decided that holding out for more than £20.5m wasn’t going to help manager Steve Kean’s planning. Kean flew into Mumbai yesterday. The owners and Kean spent yesterday in Pune, discussing their options.
The Rao family, who bought Blackburn late last year, wanted to keep Jones. That was their preference. Income from a sale is of no relevance to them. But once it was clear Jones was never going to be persuaded to stay – even on £80,000 a week and with the future captaincy as bait – the issue was getting as much above £16.5m as possible.
Sportingintelligence does not know whether Liverpool would have gone higher than £22m but that bid was made yesterday. If nothing else, this saga demonstrates that United and Liverpool are both going to spend large amounts this summer.
Update on 13 June at 5.30pm, UK time.
Manchester United’s spokesman, asked to comment on the £20.5m total deal for Jones, has told sportingintelligence: “The details of transfers are a private matter.’
Manchester United’s official website, announcing the completion of the deal, says: “Phil Jones will become United’s first signing of summer 2011 after the Reds successfully negotiated a transfer with Blackburn Rovers.”
The word ‘negotiated’ begs the question: why negotiate if £16.5m was set in stone?
United are providing guidance that the price never rose but are not being specific that the total deal is worth £20.5m – and worth that much and not £16.5m because of add-ons.
Blackburn’s website reported “a potential club record deal with Manchester United”, reflecting the initial up-front buyout fee of £16.5m will rise with add-ons, negotiated at £4m.
This still leaves more questions than answers. One is: “When is a £16.5m release clause not a £16.5m release clause?”
Blackburn have a firm belief they had grounds for a complaint over the way United discovered the amount of the release clause.
Such a complaint – which won’t happen now – would have been made under the terms of section K3 (players’ contracts) in the Premier League rule book:
- 3. Any Club which by itself, by any of its Officials, by any of its Players, by its Agent, by any other Person on its behalf or by any other means whatsoever makes an approach either directly or indirectly to a Contract Player except as permitted by either Rule K.1.2 or Rule K.2 shall be in breach of these Rules and may be dealt with under the provisions of Section R.
The belief that United could be at least stymied and perhaps stopped from signing Jones gave Blackburn grounds to push for more than the basic £16.5m.
It didn’t hurt that United knew Liverpool and others were waiting in the background just in case the United deal faltered.
United have gone on record, albeit with a “we keep it private” about the negotiations. As and when Blackburn and the player’s agent go on the record, we’ll report it. [Add: Both actually speak in the piece linked here on 19 June].