Aaron Ramsdale: The inside track on Arsenal's £30m chase for the Sheffield United keeper
It has felt like waiting for Godot. Only in this case knowing, barring an unexpected change of heart, that he will definitely arrive.
Sheffield United have spent around a month now bracing themselves to receive a bid from Arsenal for their goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale. But, even though Mikel Arteta has teased them with a few deliberately opaque comments about new arrivals being imminent at the Emirates Stadium, nothing official has materialised.
Instead, what those of us watching the saga develop have been treated to, is a steady stream of hints, leaks and tip-offs emanating from third party intermediaries. Which might be hugely irritating for United as they try and prepare for the new season. But, according to one individual with a detailed understanding of how situations like this play out, suits the Londoners’ just fine.
“The people there, they’ve already let it be known they are interested,” he told The Star last night. “And they know that Sheffield United know as well because, let’s face it, there isn’t anyone who follows English football that doesn’t. It’s been out there for ages.
“So what they can do, and I’m talking about Arsenal here, is sit tight for as long as they want and just let things develop.
"Then, when they think all of their ducks are in order, they can come in with something concrete. But at the moment, and people have to do it because it’s a story, they’re letting everyone else do their work for them.”
According to the agent, who despite having no involvement with this proposed piece of business has helped broker hundreds of deals in the past, Arsenal are pursuing a tactic favoured by clubs who know their approach - when it actually happens - will not be well received.
It is designed to build tension, create uncertainty and, purely for selfish reasons, allow their intended target’s employers to begin quietly identifying potential replacements should things pan-out as they hope.
“I’m not saying that’s what Sheffield United are doing,” he continued. “Because I think they’ve made it pretty clear they aren’t looking to lose Aaron. The manager there talked about that explicitly when he came in didn’t he.
“But in football, you always need to have a plan if something happens. So unless someone has decided they’re not selling at any price, most people in the game try to work out a course of action for pretty much every scenario imaginable.”
As you would expect, United have so far refused to comment publicly on something that hasn’t happened yet. Privately, though, they have let it be known that only the promise of a cheque for at least £40m would persuade them to think about doing business. ‘Think’ being the operative word.
That would represent a £22m profit on the £18m they paid to re-sign Ramsdale last summer, having sold him to AFC Bournemouth three years earlier for around £1m. That package contained a sell-on clause, although no money was owed when Ramsdale was parachuted into the England squad for the recent European Championships.
Inevitably, Jokanovic was questioned on Ramsdale’s future when he was presented to the media soon after taking charge. The Serb’s response was both telling and intriguing.
Yes, Jokanovic confirmed, a “situation” exists with midfielder Sander Berge, who has also attracted admiring glances from Arsenal. But on Ramsdale and George Baldock, a target for Celtic, he was much more lucid.
“When you talk about your best players, you want to keep them,” Jokanovic replied. “I read things but I hope they’re not true. In any case, it is far too early to start talking about losing players. I want them here with us.”
That suggests Jokanovic has already been informed Ramsdale will not agitate for a move. The former Yugoslavia international is known to have taken part in a number of strategy meetings with United’s hierarchy before arriving in England on July 1. And despite Gareth Southgate’s decision to ban players discussing club business during England’s march into the final of the tournament, it would be a major surprise if United hadn’t sounded-out members of Ramsdale’s inner circle to gauge his thoughts on the matter.
Arsenal have also compiled a list of alternative options should Ramsdale prove unobtainable. West Bromwich Albion’s Sam Johnstone is chief among them, although the United man is their preferred choice as Arteta looks to strengthen following a disappointing campaign last term.
With United surrendering their Premier League status before Jokanovic’s appointment, Arsenal are convinced Bramall Lane’s board of directors can be lured to the negotiating table despite making it clear they have no intention of meeting Ramsdale’s valuation.
“Timing is everything,” the source said. “I reckon they’ll come in when they believe United might be more open to the idea of getting some extra funding. I’m not saying they need it, but that’s when it will be - they might be trying to put something together themselves.
“Arsenal won’t want to leave it too late, because they’ll want to give United some wriggle room if they (Arsenal) think they might need it. But they won’t come in too early either, because then talks can go stale. They’ll want to make the maximum impact possible.”
“Financially, even if United had stayed up, it would always have been a case of Arsenal having the advantage because they can pay much more,” he added. “But if United are adamant they don’t want to do anything, it could come down to emotion.”
After hearing Ramsdale talk about putting down roots in South Yorkshire midway through last term, United will hope that tips the balance decisively in their favour.