Man United's stalled Bruno Fernandes deal exposes their naivety over the transfer market

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Nicol: Man United are where Liverpool were a decade ago (1:18)

Steve Nicol is unsure about Man United's ability to replace their current squad with superior players. (1:18)

In some ways, you have to admire Manchester United for their refusal to cave in to Sporting Lisbon's demand that they pay €80m for midfielder Bruno Fernandes.

Just over six months ago, Tottenham walked away from a deal for the Portugal international after Sporting resisted all attempts by the London club to chip away at their €45 million valuation of the player. Fast forward to January and Sporting believe that the 25-year-old, who signed a new contract just two months ago, is now worth almost double what they valued him at last summer.

Sources have told ESPN, however, that United's owners, the Glazer family, and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward have made it clear to Sporting that they will not do business unless they drop what United believe to be a vastly inflated figure for a player they scouted more than 20 times in 2019, but decided against pursuing when he was available for much less during the summer transfer window.

United, rightly or wrongly, are determined to bring some sanity to the transfer market by refusing to pay over the odds for players, and they will walk away from deals if the financial gap is too big to be bridged. But while it is an admirable stance, it also smacks of naivety on United's part and a failure to grasp that they are in a mess of their own making when it comes to improving the Old Trafford squad.

By failing to recruit properly last summer, United are now in a position of weakness in the transfer market, and selling clubs would be doing themselves a disservice if they allowed one of the richest clubs in the world to wriggle off the hook.

United need quality signings in all areas, and have for a while now, but don't be fooled into believing that this is all on Woodward, the man tasked with getting the deals done. United have been cutting corners in the transfer market for over a decade, attempting to find bargains and pay less than their rivals long before Sir Alex Ferguson and chief executive David Gill vacated the stage in the summer of 2013.

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Back in October 2010, Wayne Rooney threatened to leave United after voicing concerns over the club's ability to compete for the world's top players. This was three months after their summer window business amounted to signing Chris Smalling from Fulham, Javier Hernandez from Chivas, and Bebe, who cost £7m from Guimaraes and was signed despite Ferguson admitting he had only seen video footage of the winger's performances.

At the Old Trafford news conference when Smalling, Hernandez and Bebe were unveiled, Ferguson spoke about finding "value in the market" and condemned the "kamikaze" spending of Manchester City, who had just spent over £100m on Yaya Toure, David Silva, James Milner, Mario Balotelli and Jerome Boateng.

But time has shown that City were the smart guys in the market. They may have overspent and some players, such as Robinho and Roque Santa Cruz, were expensive flops, but they were playing catch-up and their self-styled accelerated acquisition strategy is what enabled them to become competitive as quickly as possible.

It is United who are now playing catch-up, not only to City, but Liverpool too, yet they are operating by the principles that they applied when the club was the dominant force in England, when they had the power to attract players because of the success they could almost guarantee. But now, they are in the position that City were 10 years ago and where Liverpool were in the early days of Jurgen Klopp in the sense that, to take a shortcut back to the top, they will have to pay inflated fees to get the players they want and need.

When City signed Carlos Tevez for £47.5m in 2009, they knew that a deal had already been agreed for United to pay £32m for the Argentine at the end of his two-year loan from his management company, but City did what it took to sign him. And when Liverpool needed a new centre-back and goalkeeper in 2018, they broke the world record for each position by paying £75m for Virgil van Dijk and £66.8m for Alisson.

United did the same last summer by making Harry Maguire the world's most expensive defender for £85m, but only after opening up with a £40m offer and taking almost two months to get the deal done. Their attempts to persuade Leicester to be sensible with their valuation proved utterly fruitless.

Now, they are haggling over a deal for Fernandes, with the two clubs almost €30m apart on valuations, yet it would be no surprise if United cave in once again and pay the asking price because they're in no position to tough it out and walk away. This is because the football world knows that United are in desperate need of new players and every club with a player to sell will look to cash in as best they possibly can.

United's failure to replace Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez with an experienced striker last summer, following their exits to Inter Milan, had already left them short of forwards even before Marcus Rashford's possible three-month absence with a back injury, but now they are faced with 11 days to find a replacement and are once again vulnerable to being forced to pay over the odds to get a new man in.

United have two choices. They either bite the bullet and pay more than they want to in order to sign the players Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's squad so desperately needs, or they continue to try to tame the transfer market by refusing to pay more than their own valuation. If they want to get back to the top, the second option may work in the end, but it will take an awfully long time to get there.