In the end, Real Madrid only has itself to blame. Whoever’s fault it was on the day, whatever document it actually was that meant that Madrid didn’t file David de Gea’s transfer until 28 minutes after the Spanish deadline–and Manchester United’s line on Tuesday morning, which seemed to be tacitly accepted in Spain, was that it had got everything done in time–none of the farce that has left Spain’s goalkeeper in limbo would have been possible had the deal been done weeks ago.
At the moment, it’s still unclear what de Gea’s position is. Both the buying and selling club have to register the transfer digitally with FIFA's Transfer Matching System. If the nine details match, the national association of the buying club–in this case the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF)–has to apply for an International Transfer Certificate, which should then be released by the association of the selling club. So long as the application is in before the deadline, other details can be sorted out later (if the Spanish league agreed to accept the late registration of a player), but it appears Madrid failed to complete its TMS form in time.
It’s not as though Madrid’s interest in the goalkeeper has only recently come to light: it was a constant topic last season as de Gea refused to sign an extension to his contract, which expires in June. Nor is it exactly a shock that de Gea is keen on a move. Although he himself was always diplomatic, his girlfriend Edurne Garcia, a singer and actress who represented Spain at the Eurovision Song Contest, is based in Madrid and described Manchester as being “uglier than the back of a fridge.”
Madrid had effectively cleared a space in their squad for de Gea by offloading Iker Casillas to Porto (it is, of course, complete coincidence that de Gea’s agent is Jorge Mendes, who happens to have great sway at Porto. That he is also the agent of Anthony Martial, the 19-year-old French forward who reportedly joined Manchester United for £36 million yesterday, and of Angel Di Maria, who left United for £44 million this summer, is further indication of just how influential he has become).
So why did they leave it so late? The suggestion is that, in part, it’s down to a political desire to have a great triumph on deadline day, for Florentino Perez, the president, to be perceived as the king of the market. Mainly, though, it’s brinksmanship. Madrid has become expert over the years at destabilizing targets. De Gea was so unsettled that Louis van Gaal felt he couldn’t select him. When that is the case, then selling the player becomes a matter of urgency, particularly when the player has a year left on his contract and will be available on a free transfer next summer. The closer the deadline draws, the more urgent that becomes and so the price drops.
That’s exactly how this played out. United wanted £33 million for de Gea, which would have made him the most expensive goalkeeper in history, breaking the record set by Gianluigi Buffon when he left Parma for Juventus in 2001. By the time a deal was agreed late on Monday afternoon (because Monday was a Bank Holiday in the UK, the Spanish transfer deadline fell 19 hours before the English one), de Gea was valued at around £22 million in a £29 million deal that would also have seen Costa Rica international goalkeeper Keylor Navas moving to Old Trafford.
For once, though, Madrid pushed the limit too close. Shortly after it became apparent there was a glitch, there were reports that Madrid was accusing United of having filed a document only a minute before the deadline, but with United insisting it had time-stamped evidence to prove that was not the case, that allegation had disappeared by Tuesday morning. The fault, it seems, was on the Spanish side.
There could still be an appeal, but if there isn’t, or if that fails (and the only real possibility of an appeal being heard favorably is if it could be proven that the Spanish authorities were somehow to blame), it means de Gea stays with United until at least January but more probably until next summer, when he can leave on a free for Madrid.
While that would be a frustration for United, there may also be an underlying sense, particularly given the sense that it felt it was being forced into undervaluing the keeper, who was probably the club’s most consistent player last season. Sergio Romero, signed as de Gea’s replacement/back-up was partly culpable for United’s defeat at Swansea City on Sunday. There’s no doubt that United would look like a better club with a focused de Gea back in the side. Whether that’s worth £29 million is another matter, but given how freely United has spent in other areas this summer, that’s probably not too much of an issue.
Certainly were de Gea, say, to produce a bravura performance as United beat Madrid in the Champions League, there would be few outside the accountancy department at Old Trafford with too many concerns.