Liverpool’s bid to sign Gabriel Heinze could go all the way to court, but a meeting between the player and his current manager tomorrow may help to bring some kind of resolution to the dispute. Heinze has been unhappy at Old Trafford for some time, and through his agent was offered a chance to get out this summer. United gave the player’s agent written permission to offer him to other clubs, with a £6.8m fee the requirement. The dispute centres on whether or not a later, verbal, demand from United that the offer didn’t include “rival” clubs was made, and if so whether it was in any way binding.
Alex Ferguson has fumed repeatedly in the press, blaming the whole issue publicly on Heinze’s agents. However behind the scenes his anger is aimed at United chief executive David Gill, who wrote the letter which omitted the option to sell to the team they hate most of all, Liverpool. Ferguson is now claiming that Heinze’s advisors have been doing all they can to unsettle Heinze, suggesting Heinze can’t make his own decisions, which in itself is going to strain the relationship between club and player even further. Heinze returns to training tomorrow for the first time since he was on international duty in the Copa America. It seems impossible now for Heinze to ever wear the United shirt again, their supporters unlikely to tolerate a player who wanted to ditch them for Liverpool. Ferguson is now desperate to speak directly to Heinze himself: “We have got to find out his role in this but I think the roles have been conducted by the agents. They were even asking last summer for Gabby to leave. They were wanting to find a club for him even then. We have got to understand where he is in all this, but it didn’t look to me that he wanted to leave the way he performed last season. We will speak to him on Monday.”
Is it a sign that Ferguson sees Liverpool as a genuine threat to United? Former Liverpool player Steve McManaman – himself a player who left his club against his club’s wishes – thinks Ferguson is indeed worried about Heinze improving Liverpool’s squad: “As soon as someone says the lawyers are involved it takes it to another level. I understand where Fergie’s coming from, I wouldn’t want to strengthen a rival, but you can see why Liverpool want to buy such a good, tough-tackling defender.”
Heinze himself has appointed lawyers who have asked the Premier League to arbitrate. He doesn’t want to play again for the wrong Reds but is not going to give them any ammunition by failing to turn up for training. He said last week: “This weekend I will travel back to England and, like a professional, I will go to work in Manchester on Monday. I have asked for a meeting with manager Sir Alex Ferguson on Monday about my future. I’m sure that this meeting will tell me what my future is. I know that the offer of Liverpool is a good one but Manchester United have rejected it for reasons that are really outside of normal sporting issues.”
As Heinze points out, United were happy to see him go in return for that £6.8m fee, otherwise no letter would have been written, but now that has changed given Heinze’s decision to try and make a move to Anfield: “I’m totally convinced that if this offer had been made by another club then Manchester United would have considered it. The rivalry between these two clubs is enormous and now I am at the centre of it. I always was a serious and professional player and during this summer I have not changed.”
The Premier League panel’s job will be firstly to decide whether or not Gill’s letter is legally binding, then to decide if any evidence of the verbal conditions added later exists, and if so whether they can be considered as additional conditions to the earlier permission that was granted in that letter. If United get the decision they want then they will be left with a player who has made it clear he’d rather play for their rivals, a player who is well within his rights to stay at Old Trafford until either his contract expires or his wish is granted. The battle at this stage is still between the club and its player, and both sides need to agree to accept whatever decision is made by the panel. If United lose then they will be left with no option but to allow the player to join their most hated rivals.
There is a feeling that Ferguson is hoping to use this meeting tomorrow to persuade Heinze to join any other club other than Liverpool, not to keep him, but that the club are resigned to him joining the Reds of Anfield. The deal could be tied up without the need for arbitration.