United Youth

Manchester United Reserves & Academy News

Confirmed: United pull plug on Ljajić deal

Posted by nickogs20 on December 3, 2009

I reported last night that several English media sources were reporting that United had backed out of a deal to bring Partizan teenager Adem Ljajić to Old Trafford in January, and in a statement on the official website this morning, the club have confirmed that the deal is indeed off.

Responding the media speculation overnight, the club released the following statement just before 10am:

It has been confirmed that United have decided not to take up the option to sign Partizan youngster Adem Ljajic.

The 18-year-old Serbian attacking midfielder had been lined up for a potential move to Old Trafford next year.

However, with a wealth of top young talent in that position already at the club, United have announced that the initial interest in Ljajic will not be followed up.

A club spokesman told ManUtd.com: “We had an option to buy the player but, having closely monitored his development over past 12 months, and taken into the consideration the young players emerging through the ranks, we have chosen not to pursue the transfer.”

Now at first glance, the explanation given seems fair enough. The likes of Gabriel Obertan, Nani and Antonio Valencia already occupy the same sort of role as Ljajić in the first-team squad, and then you have Magnus Eikrem, Davide Petrucci, Ravel Morrison and others potentially waiting in the wings ready to make a breakthrough. Tom Cleverley has also excelled out on loan for Watford this season, and he is another similar type of player. The sheer weight of numbers there may well have just led Sir Alex to believe spending an eight-figure sum on another player of that kind was unnecessary.

That said, Ljajić is by all accounts a special talent – it’s hard to see United agreeing to pay the reported £10m fee for a 17 year-old in the first place if he wasn’t an outstanding prospect. A first-team regular for the Serbian champions and a regular Under-21 international at the age of 17, Ljajić was attracting interest from several top clubs before United ‘swooped’ back in January, including Real Madrid. In comparison, those already listed at the club are comparitively unproven and a few have major question marks hanging over them (Nani’s future is a constant source of speculation for example).

In addition, a number of other things about the way this has panned out really don’t add up. Only now has it emerged that the club only had ‘an option’ on the player – as far as anyone was aware until yesterday, Ljajić was a United player. The young Serb was said to have signed a four-and-a-half year deal back in January, and Serbian press reports have stated that the Reds have been paying the youngster’s salary since the ‘signing’ was announced. While these reports were unconfirmed, it seems strange that everything over the past year has pointed to the signing being a done deal… until today.

Furthermore, the notion that the decision to call off the deal has come after closely monitoring the player’s progress over the past 12 months – thus implying that he’s not developed as expected or hoped – is a hard one to swallow given the club applied for a work permit for Ljajić at the end of October. Why do that, barely more than a month ago, if you were going off the idea of completing the signing? In the same vein, why did Sir Alex Ferguson say the following just last month if there was a doubt about the move going through?:

“Given all the talk about him and the fact he plays for Serbia’s Under 21s even though he’s only 18, we hope we will be granted the permit. I am looking forward to seeing him in January.”

And another comment from SAF, this time from September:

“Adem Ljajic is another player who we have on loan, at Partizan Belgrade, and he’ll join us in January. He’s doing very well. He was the star for Serbia at the UEFA Under-19 Championships over the summer.”

Do those sounds like the comments of a man unconvinced by Ljajić’s progress? If there was any doubt at all, surely the manager would have chosen to keep silent on the matter, rather than continuing to hype the player’s ability? Some would say the manager doesn’t always tell the media the whole truth, but I personally choose to believe Sir Alex wouldn’t have said these things about Ljajić if he was really thinking quite the opposite. Whatever the critics may say about him, Sir Alex’s reputation for dealing with young players is outstanding.

Also – the last time United’s coaching staff will have really seen Ljajić at close quarters was in September, prior to that second quote from the manager. Since then he was been in consistently good form for Partizan in both the Serbian league and the Europa League, as well as for the Serbian Under-21 side, becoming an undoubted star of both sides at just 18 years of age. Looking at all the evidence – and acknowledging that the coaches seem things that we don’t see, in training and so on – the idea that the player hasn’t developed and United have suddenly gone off him is a really tough sell.

If, like me, you don’t buy the reasons given in the official club statement, what are the alternatives? Some have queried whether there have been issues with the youngster’s work permit, but firstly it seems unlikely the club would have a problem securing one for Ljajić via the exceptional talent route, and secondly there would surely be no reason to outright cancel the deal upon failing to secure a permit – Ljajić could have spent the rest of the season with Partizan, maybe making a push towards a full Serbia cap in that time, and the club could have applied again in the summer.

Another suggestion is that maybe the club had concerns about the player’s personality – perhaps there were disciplinary issues or worries about the Ljajić’s dedication or professionalism, or with rumours of Zoran Tošić struggling to settle in Manchester, maybe the club feared a repeat. These possibilities can’t be ruled out, but there’s no real evidence to support them, particularly not with any concerns over the player’s mentality.

All of which ultimately leads me towards the conclusion I find hard to avoid – that the plug has been pulled on this transfer for financial reasons. While not wanting to go into great detail on this (this blog isn’t really the right place), United’s debts are steadily growing, many are wondering where exactly the £80m pocketed from the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer has gone and Sir Alex has recently talked of his reluctance to dip into the transfer market due to the inflated prices involved. This is again a bit of a tough sell given the club’s willingness in the past to pay above market rate for players, and personally leads me to wonder whether certain financial constraints have been imposed upon the manager. In that context, this deal being cancelled to maybe free up funds for other purchases, or even just because the club’s board don’t like the thought of ‘gambling’ £10m on an unproven 18 year-old, becomes a real possibility, albeit not one we’re ever likely to receive confirmation of.

One other thing to note – tomorrow’s regular Friday press conference is to be taken by Mike Phelan rather than Sir Alex as usual. Quite likely coincidental, but it does make you wonder if perhaps the boss wants to avoid any questions on this, or even if he’s perhaps unhappy at how it has played out…

Whether you believe the club’s explanation for cancelling the deal or think there’s something more sinister afoot, one thing I think everyone can surely agree on is that this whole affair has been handled abysmally by the club. As far as I’m concerned, unless you’re certain you’re going to be signing a player (and a 17 year-old one at that), you do not wheel him out in front of the cameras at Old Trafford to pose alongside Sir Alex Ferguson holding a United shirt, you do not interview him on the official site, asking questions along the lines of ‘how does it feel to be a United player?’, and you do not hype him up, praise him to the hilt and tell everyone he’s joining in January when speaking to the media.

If there were any doubts, a simple ‘the club has secured first option on the services of Adem Ljajić and will monitor his progress before deciding whether to bring him to Old Trafford’ would have sufficed. As it is, the club essentially seem to have led the 18 year-old on for a whole year. What’s more, they don’t even seem to have had the grace to inform Adem, or Partizan, of their decision before informing the press. In an update to his facebook page hours after the club statement this morning, the youngster was still reassuring people his dream move was still on.

Without wanting to be melodramatic, you can only imagine how devastated the lad must be after presumably finding out, out of the blue, that his dream move is off via a third party, after a year of looking forward to it and seemingly having no reason to think it wouldn’t happen. United come out of this looking very poor indeed, presumably seriously damage relations with Partizan Belgrade and may well give other young players pause for thought when considering agreeing to sign for us in the future. I’d go as far as to say the club should feel pretty ashamed at the way they’ve conducted themselves in this matter, and you wonder whether Fergie’s no-show at tomorrow’s presser is an indication that he concurs with that train of thought.

Hopefully Ljajić can overcome this setback and go on to have a great career in the game, although at the same time we should probably be concerned about him coming back to haunt us at some point in the future. Whether the club made the right decision or not will take a while to become clear, but in the short-term this leaves a sour taste in the mouth, for a number of reasons.

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42 Responses to “Confirmed: United pull plug on Ljajić deal”

  1. Ben said

    Hear hear, we look awful in this debacle. Can’t believe we’d do that to a kid, hope it doesn’t put youngsters off signing for us in the future.

  2. cem said

    im convinced this is a cash problem … im absolutley gutted

  3. yo said

    a really big mistake,this could be better than nani,valencia,park,or even obertan.imagine losing a player like kaka in a team.ive been watching his videos on you tube and i can tell,in 3 or 4 years time could the ballon dor winner.

  4. elvido said

    It’s very strange! Considering that we have a new policy of mostly recruiting promising youngsters and given the potential that this kid has, I am not sure we would dither financial constraints or not over 10 mill. Not like we are sanctioning a big buy this window, which I think could be the only reason for the change of heart. I would rather we sold the likes of Nani, Gibson and Park to balance the books, if that’s the real reason. All in all, bad taste in the mouth and all that!

  5. elvido said

    If it was/is a question of funds , why not Tosic back to Partizan considering that he is not likely to play for us. That would take some of the weight off the proposed fees! Or for that matter talent, in which case if Tosic is not good enough, Ljajic could have been given a fair chance too! Hope we hear something from Fergie or Phelan this weekend.

  6. Nick said

    This is very very disappointing and as the above poster says, it leaves a very bad taste in the mouth. Ashamed of the club’s handling of the situation, regardless of the reasoning behind this. Not at all impressed! Poor boy, I hope he goes on to have a brilliant career.

    A very disgruntled fan…

  7. JLC21 said

    Great stuff. Thanks for putting that together. Really curious about what SAF will say about it, if and when he addresses it.

  8. […] […]

  9. max said

    Lucid explanation. Thank you. What’ll happen to the club after SAF?? ‘m really nonplussed.

    this is heartbreaking .. it must have been tough for Ljajic .. he looks awesome from the videos already upped in youtube. Hope he recovers soon from the debacle.

  10. harts83 said

    What if, we have a talent in the ranks that is better than him? Do you really expect united or any business in the world to pay it??!

    if you bought something from shop but realised you have it in house would u go back and get a refund?? of course you would.

    The talk about we are in financial trouble is a joke aswel.

    • harts83 said

      Yes nick i know its wrongly mishandled, but what if that was the case. United misjudged the quality of cleverley say. What if back in december last year they thought cleverley wasnt going to be a good as ljajic.

      But now they think cleverley is proving to be better than ljajic. If so then why pay it?

      Is the embaressment of revealing ljajic to the public really worth paying the money?! (10m?) I dont think so. United will move on.

  11. Ashwin said

    That’s one of the worst things United have done . Something to be expected from Chelsea , Madrid etc . Not us , we are not unethical , atleast that’s what i thought . It seriously risks a teenager’s career and i am afraid to say this but him haunting us in the future would be the perfect reward for such behaviour .

  12. Everestmindz said

    I don’t think it has to do with Ljajic but lack of funds. I also think this is a clear signs that many players will be leaving the club to generate funds.

    If we have some players better than him, he would have added to make a powerful team with them.

  13. edwin said

    Cant believe we would act so shamefully. I dont know about you lot, but I thought we had secured what would be a world class player, with the right guidance, of which we have plenty of course. I feel for the player, I looked forward to seeing him play as a United player.Hopefully, the press conferences will give us, an the player, some well deserved truths.
    Well, there isn’t much left to do but wish him well in his career, and hope that this calamity does not hurt us hugely in he future.

  14. Ben said

    Great summary; the last few paragraphs in particular echo my own thoughts. It’s not the actual cancellation of the deal that immediately sticks in the throat (there’ll be enough time to analyse that later), but the way in which the club went about it according to the information currently presented. I can’t remember being this disappointed with the club in a long time. Hopefully we will get a truthful response from Fergie, though either fortunately or not you can’t imagine him speaking out against the club all the time he’s here. Another reason to appreciate his presence and fear the day he steps down, I guess.

  15. nickogs20 said

    harts83 – you seem to be missing the point by an alarming margin. If SAF does genuinely consider Ljajic not worth bringing in then of course the club shouldn’t push the deal through, but that then leaves them open to criticism for the way they have handled it. They paraded the player at Old Trafford with a United shirt – you just don’t do that to a kid unless you’re certain he’s signed. It’s absolutely classless.

    In addition, the explanation that we’ve suddenly decided he’s not good enough/we have better in-house just doesn’t seem to add up, as detailed above. A month ago we applied for a work permit, so he was clearly considered worth bringing in then. Tell me – what’s changed in a month? Where have we suddenly discovered a better player already in our ranks?

    That’s what leads people to speculate about finances, and if your only contribution to that is that ‘it’s a joke’ then you’re either lacking the ability to understand simple arguments or form those of your own, or you really have your head in the sand.

    • harts83 said

      Yes nick i know its wrongly mishandled, but what if that was the case. United misjudged the quality of cleverley say. What if back in december last year they thought cleverley wasnt going to be a good as ljajic.

      But now they think cleverley is proving to be better than ljajic. If so then why pay it?

      Is the embaressment of revealing ljajic to the public really worth paying the money?! (10m?) I dont think so. United will move on.

      • harts83 said

        Im getting the impression you was so excited about ljajic coming that this has hit a nerve.

        Because we didnt spend millions on the sale of ronaldo, and we pulled out of a deal for a player doesnt make us in financial crisis! thats just stupid.

        Many fans live in a fantasy land. You dont need to spend money if you dont need to. FACT.

  16. Mikke said

    Good move. Ljajic is overrated and not worth the money!

  17. jonathan said

    Nick – great article.

    I think it’s most likely a combination of many of the items you speculated on above. First, I think there is/was a concern related to Tosic’s inability to settle in Manchester and also adapt to the style in the Premier League, and with constant rumors of Vidic leaving for Spain in the summer I think there might have been serious worries about Ljajic settling without any compatriots at the club. Second, as you mention, there are a number of talented players coming through the ranks (and Anderson already playing in the first team) and if Ljajic didn’t project to be substantially better than them as an attacking midfielder then I think is appropriate to look at the fee and determine it is too high. Third, I do think that the money was an issue but financial concerns are prevalent at almost all of the top clubs (bar Man City). Chelsea spent very little money over the last year (Zhirkov came from a team Roman already had interest in so it’s unclear how much money actually changed hands), Madrid financed their summer spending spree through favorable loans to the club, Barca spent their entire wad on Ibra, and we all know how hilarious (and hopefully not prescient) the situation at Liverpool is.. Looking at all that, I don’t think this necessarily spells doom and gloom for the finances of the club moving forward.

    One more point – I don’t think applying for the work permit necessarily says anything. If the club was unsure about whether or not it would complete the transfer, then following the standard application timetable for a work permit was the responsible thing to do. What would it say if they decided to go ahead with the transfer and not receiving a work permit because of failing to file the paperwork on schedule.

    All that being said and understanding that the club is a business (however much we want to pretend it isn’t), this situation could and should have been handled with much more class. If the kid really did only find out about this development after the press release than that is a very insensitive act from a organization that should do better.

  18. Issac said

    To me, i dont think the important thing is we got the player or not. Its the way the club handled the issue. What a way to treat a teenager. And to think that the poor boy was still assuring people that his move was on! The club should be ashamed of what they had done.

  19. Abhay said

    Its an absolute disgrace…..Not becoming of a club like Manchester United.
    I am disgusted with this….other youngsters will not like to sign for us now!

  20. […] A very good breakdown of the Ljajic non-transfer by Man United Youth. 2. Soccerlens – Are Manchester United screwed? 3. United Rant – United’s […]

  21. unitedrant said

    Good analysis and let’s face it you’re spot on. It doesn’t add up at all. United needs to answer some questions and fast because right now this is embarrassing for the club.

    It seems that United made work permit inquiries – at least that’s what they told me – and were told one wasn’t forthcoming and the club wasn’t prepared to pay 10m euros on a player that might not be able to take up his job. I would have thought the contract was ‘subject to work permit’ mind you, but apparently not.

    Apparently the exceptional talent rule has been abused in some recent cases and United was given the impression that a much more rigorous interpretation would take place.

  22. […] Essential reading: United Rant – United’s reputation for youth under threat Red Rants – Ljajić transfer about face is a strange one United Youth – United pull plug on Ljajić deal […]

  23. […] Essential reading: United Rant – United’s “financial crisis” as Ljajić deal called off Red Rants – Ljajić transfer about face is a strange one United Youth – United pull plug on Ljajić deal […]

  24. […] United Youth – United pull plug on Ljajić deal […]

  25. Owenzy said

    We have a tradition of taking risks on players here at Utd, C.Ronaldo was a largely unproven teenager when we signed him for 12.5 million, also Anderson for 18 million. It is clear Fergie rates Ljajic, the board have obviously restricted spending so we couldn’t take the risk seen as we probably won’t have the money to spend for at least another 3 years. A goalkeeper is probably a priority, so maybe we’re going to spend the last of our money on a keeper like Neuer, a keeper who has over a decade of football ahead of him. It’s clear that we’re gonna be very wise when it comes to spending.

  26. […] Confirmed: United pull plug on Ljajić deal […]

  27. nickogs20 said

    harts83 – again you’re missing the point by an absolute mile.

    Seeing as your assessment of any suggestion of financial concerns playing a part is the extremely constructive ‘that’s just stupid’ then I’m not confident you’re ever going to actually stumble upon the point either sadly.

    • harts83 said

      You talk as though you know everything about united. About the finances etc. Or am i missing something. Have united come out and said we are making losses???

      If no, then why are you going on about financial concerns.

      Its like you cant get your head round that its a footballing decision.

      End of day this seems to be your opinion. I dont buy it.

  28. nickogs20 said

    Which is obviously your look-out. Bury your head in the sand by all means :)

    I’m not saying this unquestionably IS evidence of financial problems, but rather speculating that it’s a possibility, because the whole situation is confusing at the moment and nothing adds up. You keep going on about ‘it’s a footballing decision it’s a footballing decision’ but Mike Phelan has today said it wasn’t, so you can see how there’s cause to wonder exactly what the hell’s going on? And if you really think there’s no cause for concern regarding our finances, I can only assume you missed the whole debt-laden takeover thing.

    • harts83 said

      As again, your getting abusive because i dont take your view.

      What Phelan said today could be a smoke-screen to any of our arguments.

      But in my view united make way to much money to be in any financial bother.

  29. […] news came as a shock to many United supporters, after Ljajic had already trained at United’s Carrington training complex and posed for pictures […]

  30. nickogs20 said

    Harts – I’m responding in kind. You’ve told me my arguments are ‘just stupid’ and so on, remember?

    All I can say is that your last sentence is just stunningly naive. At this point in time, our profits just about pay the interest payments on our debt, and that is after three great seasons in a row. There’s no guaranteeing that success continues (we could easily not reach the CL final for example), and the payments are getting higher every year.

    We’re not about to go bust but to say there’s no way we could be in any financial bother is… well, you keep believing it if you want.

  31. harts83 said

    ok i went over the top with the stupid remark, i suppose it is possible but i dont believe its an issue. At this moment in time at least. If we fail to get into the CL a few times then i will be concerned about finances.

  32. Willojay26 said

    It’s really a big shame and disgrace for a big club like Manchester United to treat a lad of 18 like that…Truse me,,,from now on, all lads will be very much reluctant to sign for United…You lied to the public that your policies are to get young Players and train them to be world class proffessionals…As at time time of the announcement, i was a United supporter…but immediately after the announcement, i stopped being a supporter because you are a disgrace to the public…Are you not ashamed of yourself, SAF and CO?Not even my DOG will ever support United let alone play for them..Tosic, you better find a club now before it is too late as these SAF use you and dump you like your colleague.I wish you well

  33. […] Confirmed: United pull plug on Ljajić deal I reported last night that several English media sources were reporting that United had backed out of a deal to bring […] […]

  34. negosyo said

    Awful. Can’t believe we’d do that to a kid…sad…

  35. […] of all, anyone reading this should have a look at this article first. It explains the entire situation and provides a great analysis from a supporter’s […]

  36. Pius said

    Ljajic can be compared to youngsters like Eden Hazard and Georginho. £10 million shouldn’t have been a problem for united. The excuses for the withdrawal are not viable to me. After confirming his purchase on their official website, they suddenly pull the plug on a supposedly complete transfer. We the fans hope united haven’t made the same mistake they made on Ronaldinho and Torres where they gave excuses for not signing them and ended up losing them to other big clubs from where they ended up punishing united for it. Anyway, we hope reserve players like Eikrem, Cleverly, Tosic and others impress well enough to be given a shot in the first team.

  37. […] in the region of £16m. Or so we thought (and were told) at the time anyway… as we now know, there was an unexpected twist as far as Ljajić was concerned. There remains a sense of mystery around the Tošić signing as well, with the 22 year-old […]

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