One of the more predictable descriptions of Manchester United’s negotiations to sign Raphael Varane are that they are ‘pretty slow’.
Three years ago, there was roughly a month-long wait for United to conclude deals for each of their three signings. By the time they had acquired Harry Maguire, they had run out of time and were without a midfielder and a centre forward.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had promised, “If we sell players we will have to replace them” yet Romelu Lukaku was not replaced. United lost three of their first eight Premier League fixtures and had four wins from the first 14 come December. January started with four defeats in seven.
During the 2019 pre-season tour, United exuded a quiet confidence in their bubble of positivity from the WACA at Perth to sunny Singapore. The players were fitter, there was no international tournament to compromise their itinerary and Paul Pogba’s prattling had not jeopardised the harmony.
But they couldn’t see the wood for the trees. The squad quality was so thin that Andreas Pereira started the season and an August injury to Anthony Martial led to a meagre three goals in the next five league games.
A week before Martial staggered to the Old Trafford turf, Ed Woodward was feeling vindicated at Molineux, where United were ahead at half-time and in assertive form. “Bloody brilliant,” Woodward described the feeling. It ended 1-1, the start of a sequence of one win in eight league matches.
United lost three of their first six league games last season and in 2018 it was three in the first seven. If they are to be treated seriously next season then a return comparable to the 19 points from a possible 21 in 2017 is required.
That means a squad enriched by essential targets. The transfer window closes on August 31 (seven weeks today) and it is inevitable United will sign off on incomings and/or outgoings after they begin their campaign when Leeds United pull into John Gilbert Way on August 14.
Woodward, serving out his notice, subscribes to the widespread belief that the sooner transfers are done the better, only four of United’s five additions last summer were announced on deadline day.
That was forgivable in the year of a pandemic. Daniel James, Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka were all on the pitch for the season opener against Chelsea in August 2019, a window complicated by the early closure for Premier League clubs. United aim for three signings per summer.
Sources involved in the Varane discussions say they would be ‘stunned’ if he does not join United. As gradual as the progress is, there is no rush for Varane to be driven into Carrington this month and train with Dylan Levitt and Ethan Galbraith, given his European Championship participation. Varane would have hoped to be visiting the Élysée Palace with his France teammates this week but is instead already on holiday.
France were eliminated by Switzerland on June 28 and Varane has most of July off. The preference is for him to complete a transfer to United upon his return from holiday. Frustration will only be felt if Varane has to report for pre-season training at Valdebebas, Real Madrid’s training complex.
Those who have sat at the negotiation table with United previously have said they ‘think they’re cleverer than they are’. Varane’s personal terms are close to completion and the transfer fee is not believed to be a sticking point. Madrid will not get a figure anywhere near the £80million they idealistically valued Varane at.
Boxing off Varane before August would leave United with another month to recruit. Whatever develops with Kieran Trippier, he is not a first XI target and there is a surplus of attainable elite midfielders, never mind the legwork required to sign one.
United have enough cash in reserve, with the £72.9m Borussia Dortmund are due for Jadon Sancho to be paid in five instalments. If Varane and Sancho are in the dressing room for Leeds then no pessimistic fan will be able to prick United’s bubble.