Sergio Ramos, David De Gea and the complex world of the transfer market
On Sunday, it was Sergio Ramos. On Saturday, it was Bastian Schweinsteiger. Last week, it was Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, Nicolas Otamendi and Hugo Lloris. Before that: Dani Alves, Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan, Mario Mandzukic, Aymeric Laporte, Edinson Cavani, Kevin Strootman, John Stones, Cristiano Ronaldo, Petr Cech, Ron Vlaar, Morgan Schneiderlin and Raphael Varane.
None of the aforementioned players have joined Manchester United, but all have been "linked" to the team -- that most intangible of terms which can mean everything and nothing in the war of bluster and brinkmanship that is the transfer market.
Some links are genuine while others exist in the imagination of the minds of agents. But United's interest in Sergio Ramos is genuine. They need a centre-half and the Andalusian is one of the best in the world.
Ramos feels he's not paid as much -- he earns €6 million net per year -- as befits his standing as one of the best players in the world. He's hugely popular in Madrid and scored the 93rd-minute equaliser that led to the club winning a 10th European Cup last season but his contract, which has two years to run, has not since been renewed or improved.
United have made their desire for a central defender clear. At 29, Ramos, who has won everything there is to win in football, would be an experienced top-level addition with a physical edge to his game that would be well suited to English football.
The danger for United is, once again, that a top player such as Ramos uses them as a bargaining chip to get a better deal at his current club. Several players have done the same in recent years and not all have made it public, including Andres Iniesta. Their agents have a flirtation on their behalf to gauge interest, then go back to the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid with more swagger in their step.
Despite laying a serious claim to being football's biggest club, United are not top of the transfer chain. Real Madrid and Barcelona are, and a Spanish or Portuguese speaker will almost always prefer a move to the Bernabeu or Camp Nou than to England.
Yet there are several reasons why top players like to be linked with United. Historically a parsimonious club when it comes to player wages, they are now big spenders -- the biggest if needs be -- thanks to burgeoning revenues and decreasing debt. Executive vice president Ed Woodward thinks the club won't be beaten on price by anyone, but there is more to deals than money.
With Ramos, Woodward and those assisting him would be trying to persuade a Spaniard living happily in his nations' capital to swap all that for a provincial northern English city with infamously poor weather. Beyond talking of his respect for English football, Ramos has never previously stated any desire to play in the Premier League.
If Madrid are prepared to let him go -- and club president Florentino Perez loves to gauge the public mood before a big sale or acquisition -- they have a huge bargaining chip in their pursuit of David De Gea. United also want Gareth Bale and are interested in several other Madrid players.
The 20-time English champions are resigned to De Gea wanting to play for Madrid, but don't want to give up the goalkeeper as easily as some in the Spanish capital might desire. In Spain, the angle peddled in the pro-Real media is that De Gea's fee should be low because his current contract has just a year left to run.
Events are viewed somewhat differently in Manchester. United have offered their No. 1 keeper a huge contract extension, which he has shown no indication of wanting to sign, even though it would earn him four times his current salary and lead to him being sold for a fee befitting a top-three goalkeeper in the world.
If there's to be goodwill then it needs to come from more than one party. By acting strong over De Gea, United can send out a message that they'll sell players when they want to and not when an under-contract player decides. Moreover, United will not make things easy for a club they think are trying to bully them, either.
While it's difficult for a club to keep hold of a player who wants to leave, there is always hope. Wayne Rooney wanted to leave in 2013 and is now United's captain. But his circumstances were completely different and it's implausible that De Gea won't leave; it's just a matter of when.
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The bottom line: If Madrid want to do business, United are amenable. Still, there is much posturing and brinkmanship going on and, with more than two months remaining of the open transfer window, parties feel little need to be rushed into a decision.
Valuations can also be far apart at this stage. For example, Ramos' buyout clause is €200 million. United would be unlikely to pay a quarter of that, but first they need to establish that the player is prepared to leave beyond hearing the line: "If they want to sell me then I'll leave."
Yes, it's far better if a player can sign at this stage and join up with his new club for the preseason -- De Gea did just that in 2011 -- but it is difficult to do business with the biggest teams, who are under no pressure to sell.
Before the end of last season, United were confident that two or three of their targets would come to Old Trafford and one, Memphis Depay, has signed. The club say they are relaxed about the current situation.
The fans, though, are extremely keen to see more signings secured as early as possible. What they want and what they get might be two different things.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.