Tonight it seems the fun and games surrounding Manchester United defender Gabriel Heinze’s wishes to leave Old Trafford have come to an end, with the player reported to have signed a deal with one of United’s Champions League rivals Real Madrid for £5.5m.
Heinze was told he could leave United this summer as long as a club came up with a bid of €10m. Liverpool did come up with such a bid, but this was turned down with United claiming they don’t sell to rivals. Having sold Juan Sebastian Veron to Chelsea fairly recently that is clearly not true, and unless United do not consider the Champions League important then they must see that Real Madrid are also rivals.
United chief executive David Gill had made a mess in sending a fax to Heinze’s agents detailing that magic fee that would allow him to be sold, because they didn’t actually expect Liverpool to show interest in the player. The name Phil Chisnall has been mentioned more in the last month than it probably ever got mentioned in his playing career, a playing career which was the last one to include a direct move between the two big clubs of the two big cities of the North West. But it had become an unwritten rule that Liverpool and United do not do deals with each other.
So Gill didn’t stipulate in the fax that Liverpool were to be excluded, and Liverpool boss Rafa Benítez soon knew that Heinze’s agent was offering the player all around this country and the continent. Rafa, and the club’s new owners, know full well how the traditions of the club work, but didn’t see a problem in buying Heinze if the price was good and the player was right for the club. United blocked the deal but Heinze was still confident of becoming a Red rather than a Red Devil.
Somehow, in what seemed to be quite tenuous circumstances, a Premier League panel took two days to declare that this short fax was unambiguous and rejected Heinze’s attempts to be allowed to leave Old Trafford for Anfield. Earlier today his lawyer said he would be appealing against the decision, which would be in front of a different panel to the one that made this decision, featuring a former Sheffield Wednesday chairman who had, amongst other things, refused to allow a memorial to the 96 who died at his club’s stadium in 1989.
United were worried that the appeal could be won by Heinze, and in fact realised that had he dug his heels in United were in a no-win situation. A successful appeal would see the player join Liverpool anyway, but because the appeal would not happen until September they would be stuck with a player they could not use if he didn’t win the appeal. Tonight Real Madrid were able to make a successful bid of just €8m, around £5.5m, for the player United knew could never wear their shirt again.
Heinze had already discussed a move to Real earlier in the summer, and although they weren’t his first choice he seems to have accepted that the attempted appeal could have seen him left in limbo at least until January. Having been so confident that he would win his case, and then seeing it fail in strange circumstances, Heinze clearly decided it wasn’t worth taking any more of a risk than he had already taken.
Stories of one of Heinze’s agents contacting Crystal Palace chief executive Phil Alexander about them being used as an intermediary club have also emerged today. According to reports Alexander attended the hearing to give evidence about the approach, which seems to have been made without any knowledge from Liverpool.
Of course there is always a possibility that Real Madrid have agreed to be used in exactly this way – but that’s highly unlikely, despite Rafa’s links with the Spanish giants.