Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson pulled off one of the shock transfer deals of the season in July last year when he convinced 30 year old former England international Michael Owen to sign for him on a free transfer. The canny Scot is now reported to be poised for an encore by offering Chelsea play maker Joe Cole a contract to continue his career at Old Trafford.
The midfield man will be a free agent when his current Stamford Bridge deal ends on July 1 but although he has been unable to agree terms with Chelsea, Ferguson’s offer is only one of three bids alongside those from Tottenham Hotspur and Italian giants Juventus. Chelsea are not prepared to offer Cole similar wage terms as Frank Lampard and John Terry and are prepared to let him go elsewhere on a free transfer.
Spurs was thought to be Coles’ most likely destination at one stage with manager Harry Redknapp having worked with the 28 year old at West Ham as well as being able to guarantee Champions League football but the feeling now is that the player has already decided on a move to Old Trafford. That possibility may also partly explain the stalling of Ferguson’s negotiations with Real Madrid for the signature of Holland international Rafael Van Der Vaart which as late as last week looked likely to be successful.
Sir Alex has admired Cole ever since he came through the youth ranks at West Ham and with him soon to become a free agent, United would not have to pay any transfer fee. Such a deal would enable the club to provide the sort of wages that Cole has been demanding at Stamford Bridge while Ferguson will be hoping that the midfield man could provide the creative spark to help United regain the title.
Cole made a high profile move to Chelsea from West Ham in 2003 winning three titles, two Carling Cups and three FA Cups then went within a whisker of winning the Champions League in 2008 when beaten by Manchester United in a penalty shootout in Moscow.
Despite being hampered by a long injury lay off and a loss of form last season, Cole is expected to be named in Fabio Capello’s final 23 man England squad for the World Cup on Tuesday. He has frequently maintained that his entire focus has been on making the cut then giving his best shot for his country in South Africa.
A Cole exit from Stamford Bridge would have been unthinkable this time last year but Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti has given an indication as to why he sees the England man as surplus to requirements. The Italian is simply of the opinion that he has a number of players who can do Cole’s job. Many like Lampard, Ballack, Malouda, Essien and Ivanovic can perform in various positions while Anelka can be used out wide or through the middle.
Cole and his Chelsea team mates will head off to South Africa in peak condition according to Ancelotti. He believes that the tough Premier League programme has left his men battle hardened, dismissing suggestions that they will be too tired to give their best.
Ferguson has recently been linked with dozens of multi million pound deals involving all sorts of big name players from all over the world. It will therefore be one of the ironies that frequently arise in football if at the end of the day, the man he settles for has been right under his nose and available on a free transfer all along.
Are free transfer signings by Sir Alex indicative of the financial problems at Old Trafford?