Sheffield United: Why, rather than ending their pursuit of Aaron Ramsdale, Arsenal have just signalled they remain determined to sign him

At first glance, it appears to be the end of the saga.
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After spending the best part of a month trying to barter with Sheffield United, Arsenal are now apparently ready to end their pursuit of Aaron Ramsdale.

But the more you consider it, peer beyond the private briefings about moving on to alternative targets, the greater the suspicions grow this simply marks the opening of another new front in the battle for the 23-year-old.

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Certainly Slavisa Jokanovic was in no mood to declare victory when he addressed journalists earlier today.

Sheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale: Andrew Yates / SportimageSheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale: Andrew Yates / Sportimage
Sheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

“Probably, yes, they still have an interest,” United’s manager responded, when asked if he felt the Londoners really have stepped away from the negotiating table. “ I am really happy working with him. On the other side, he is an expensive ‘keeper too. I have to repeat, because you ask me, I am thinking about the next game and he will be in my starting eleven. I hope he stays with me all of this season but what happens, really, that is out of and beyond my control.”

Jokanovic’s latest media conference was supposed to be about Swansea City, where his team returns to action on Saturday night. But coming only hours after officials at the Emirates Stadium began leaking the news they are preparing to call-off their talks with United about trying to sign Ramsdale, transfers again dominated the agenda.

Having represented Partizan Belgrade and Chelsea during his own playing career, the Serb knows all about the politicking and chicanery which can take place towards the end of a window. So, although he might not like it, Jokanovic recognises exactly what Arsenal are doing. Hence his refusal to guarantee Ramsdale will remain at United’s disposal for the rest of the campaign.

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Rather than being an admission of defeat, or acknowledgement that their bid to capture him is floundering, officials in north London believe that leaking the fact they are exploring other lines of enquiry as Mikel Arteta looks to bolster his options between the posts will weaken rather than strengthen United’s hand. The stories which greeted Jokanovic and his staff when they reported for training at the Steelphalt Academy are designed to provoke a response from Ramsdale who, despite clearly being attracted by the possibility of returning to the Premier League following United’s relegation last term, has so far shown no indication of agitating for a move. If he does, which Arsenal clearly want to happen, Bramall Lane’s board of directors could be forced to reconsider their valuation of the former England under-21 international, who was also a member of the senior squad which reached the final of this summer’s rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament.

Arsenal still want to sign Aaron Ramsdale: Simon Bellis / SportimageArsenal still want to sign Aaron Ramsdale: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Arsenal still want to sign Aaron Ramsdale: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“Listen, I don’t come here to sell my best players,” Jokanovic said. “If something happens, that one Championship team like Sheffield United can not say ‘no’ to then I must accept this situation. If you ask me if I am happy if that happens then ‘no’, because I don’t need the money. I prefer to have the players.”

“I told him (Ramsdale) I can’t stop him,” Jokanovic continued, indicating there has been more dialogue between the pair about the situation. “But he accepts my words in a good way. I was informed before I signed the contract that this is the possibility. He will stay with us, if it is in my hands. This is part of business. We will see what decision the club makes.”

Although Jokanovic did not day so explicitly, reading between the lines it appears as if Ramsdale has indicated he would welcome the possibility of meeting Arteta to discuss a move to the capital. In truth, the pair have probably already been in communication with a salary package and development plan likely to have been relayed via intermediaries.

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But what Arsenal’s latest plot does clearly confirm is that United, who paid £18.5m to re-sign Ramsdale at the beginning of last season, have been tough negotiators. With his former club AFC Bournemouth entitled to a percentage of any fee they might receive, United are demanding between £35m and £40m to sanction the Steelphalt Academy graduate’s release. Arsenal, who want him to provide competition for Bernd Leno, are unwilling to meet that asking price. After unsuccessfully trying to broker a compromise, possibly involving a player exchange, they are now relying on Ramsdale to convince his employers to lower their demands. Even though that could leave him in an unenviable position if United still refuse to budge and a deal is not completed before the deadline.

Slavisa Jokanovic: Simon Bellis / SportimageSlavisa Jokanovic: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Slavisa Jokanovic: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“Aaron has told me he wants to improve,” Jokanovic said. “I believe, and he believes, he can improve with us.”

Despite the predicament he finds himself in, Ramsdale is poised to start at the Liberty Stadium after also being selected for last weekend’s Championship opener against Birmingham City. Jokanovic, who expects Sampdoria’s Ronaldo Vieira to complete his loan to South Yorkshire next week, is also keen to recruit Liverpool centre-half Ben Davies after conceding “fresh faces” are required if United are to give themselves the best possible chance of winning promotion.

Acknowledging the defeat by Lee Bowyer’s side exposed the need for reinforcements, Jokanovic, who took charge of United on July 1st, said: “ I believe Ronaldo Vieira, he will soon be with us. I hope after Saturday’s game he will start working with us.

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“For another side, I need additions and new teammates and fresh blood. The club needs it and the supporters need it too. I know business is so quick at the moment. But I trust that we move as quickly as we can, and in a few days we can be thinking about more additions.”