WHEN Manchester United needed a new defender, they quite happily paid Leicester City £80m to sign Harry Maguire. A midfielder? Why not spend £82m to prise Antony from Ajax? A new centre-forward? Here’s £75m to sign Romelu Lukaku from Everton. And that was back in 2017.

None of the above helped address the long-term malaise that has set in at Old Trafford over the last decade or so, so rather than blow the budget on yet another big-name player, Sir Jim Ratcliffe has sensibly decided that his first move as part-owner of Manchester United should be the acquisition of a world-class sporting director capable of overhauling the club’s entire transfer policy.

If he’s deemed to be that important, though, it’s surely only logical that Ratcliffe will have to pay top dollar to get him. If an error-prone centre-half is priced at £80m, what is the value of someone who can ensure that similar sums are not wasted in the future? Twice that? Four times as much? That’s not the sporting world we live in, but it makes the point.

All of which brings us to Dan Ashworth, and the current stand-off between Newcastle United and Manchester United over the former’s sporting director. Manchester United want Ashworth to be the driving force behind the INEOS-led restructuring of the club’s recruitment operation. Ashworth wants to be allowed to swap St James’ Park for Old Trafford.

So far, so simple. But, understandably, Newcastle’s executive team do not really want to lose the figure they entrusted to lead their own rebuilding project. And if he is to go, they want to ensure they are properly compensated for the inconvenience of having to recruit a second new sporting director in the space of two years, not to mention the possible damage caused by the departure of someone with detailed knowledge of the club’s transfer policy to a leading rival.

Newcastle are understood to be demanding compensation of more than £20m, but the initial indication is that Manchester United’s new owners regard that as much too high.


Really? Is upwards of £20m too much to pay for someone who is being appointed in the hope of completely transforming the way an entire club operates? Pay £100m for a striker, and you might get a few goals over the course of the next couple of years. Appoint a world-class sporting director – and for all that his record at Newcastle is chequered, with major question marks hanging over the summer signings of Sandro Tonali and Lewis Hall, that is how Ashworth is regarded within Premier League circles – and you have the potential to supercharge your club’s fortunes for decades.

Newcastle are right to dig their heels in over Ashworth, not least because a large compensation fee potentially has major repercussions when it comes to the club’s ongoing attempts to stay on the right side of the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules.

If Newcastle receive more than £20m for their sporting director – the vast majority of which will be entered as profit on the P&S balance sheet – it potentially negates the need to sell a big-name player in order to fund purchases this summer. Allow Ashworth to leave for £5m, and you might be waving goodbye to Bruno Guimaraes at the end of the season. Bank £25m instead, and you might be able to sign a new striker while still keeping the Brazilian midfielder on the books.

And who are one of the clubs consistently championing the current FFP rules, largely because it enables them to retain their own privileged position as one of the Premier League’s biggest spenders? Manchester United, of course, desperate to keep upstarts like Newcastle in their box while they continue to outspend pretty much every team in the league even though they have not really challenged for the title since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson. Having made a set of rules that encourage clubs to hold out for the maximum possible fee for anyone that leaves them while under contract, it is disingenuous of Manchester United to start wailing and moaning just because they are having to live by them.

One more figure to throw into the mix. £14.5m. That is the sum, comprised of a loan fee and a Premier League survival bonus, that Manchester United were demanding when Newcastle wanted to sign Jesse Lingard on loan for the final four months of the 2022-23 season. £14.5m for four months of football from a fringe winger who left Manchester United as a free agent five months after Newcastle were quoted that figure, and who is now plying his trade in the South Korean league with FC Seoul.

That was an outrageous attempt to overinflate the value of an employee who was wanted by a Premier League rival. Newcastle’s demands for more than £20m for Ashworth are anything but.