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Cancelo exit came as a surprise, but trouble had been brewing

Joao Cancelo’s loan switch from Manchester City to Bayern was a real surprise. Cancelo has since claimed it was a move motivated by game time, which is the PR thing to say and true to a degree. He only started three games for Manchester City since returning from the World Cup with 18-year-old academy graduate Rico Lewis increasingly preferred ahead of him.

Cancelo only signed a new five-year deal in February last year and has essentially been an automatic starter for much of his time at Manchester City. He’s also made the last two PFA Premier League Teams of the Season.

But there was a clear breakdown in the relationship between Pep Guardiola and Cancelo. Pep looked frustrated with Cancelo at times and Cancelo reacted angrily to being dropped. And I also don’t think he enjoyed playing on the right wing against Chelsea in January.

There wasn’t just one flashpoint. More like lots of small ones. Guardiola is quite prepared to rotate his squad and Cancelo didn’t deal well with being benched, especially against Arsenal in the FA Cup. That was arguably the final straw. After that match, Cancelo posted a picture on Instagram alongside the quote, “Don’t let anyone dim your shine.”

It can be tough for footballers used to playing every week to deal with less playing time, especially if it catches them by surprise. And the feeling within Manchester City is Cancelo didn’t respond well, losing a bit of focus, concentrating less in team meetings and being a bit of a negative influence. Of course, there’s two sides to every story and Cancelo would no doubt argue he remained professional and was just disappointed to lose his place to a teenager.

Joao Cancelo in action for Bayern Munich

But it was probably lucky Bayern came calling. And Pep and Cancelo both agreed an exit was best. Had the Manchester City boss known things would have transpired this way, I also wonder whether he’d have let Oleksandr Zinchenko leave for Arsenal last summer.

Bayern have an option to buy Cancelo at €70m, which is quite a steep price tag. That’s why Cancelo has said (at least publicly) his time at Manchester City hasn’t necessarily ended. Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic has also conceded Cancelo’s transfer fee is high. But there is still a very real chance Cancelo joins permanently and that Bayern don’t activate the option, instead trying to negotiate a deal for a lower number come summer.

Will Manchester United have new Qatari owners by summer?

There is a lot of excitement about Manchester United having new owners in 2023. It’s clear the Glazers prefer a full sale if their price is met – and that’s not a given considering they are hoping for in excess of £6bn. That’s almost three times the £2.3bn Chelsea sold for.

Raine Group are overseeing the sale as they did for Chelsea, so they are used to handling speedy takeovers. The Chelsea sale was quite a prescriptive process, with Roman Abramovich keen to safeguard the club. There were specific areas for suitors to address, including pledged internal investment and initial stadium redevelopment plans.

The Manchester United sale process is still relatively rigid with an important mid-February deadline to submit initial offers. But the timeline is not quite as fixed or urgent as Chelsea, whose very existence was under threat – and, as importantly, the Glazers could just sell to the highest bidder.

The Qatari interest, as revealed by the Daily Mail’s Mike Keegan, is genuine, but sources say several individuals or groups are still basically assessing the market. This may not appear to quite marry with a mid-February deadline given it’s just days away, but as the Chelsea sale proved dates for submissions often get pushed back. More than one interested party has told me they want more time to properly assess the club before committing.

What’s important to understand is a takeover is not like a transfer. You don’t just swoop in with a bid. Due diligence informs valuation, and with multiple suitors there’s potentially a bidding war aspect which is not usually associated with a traditional takeover.

The Qatar interest is complicated because any group or individual would still effectively (even if not formally) need government and Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) backing. That’s just how business works out there, which I know first-hand from living there.

QSI themselves, owners of PSG, won’t be directly involved. They remain committed to PSG. But QSI-chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi is still likely to be a key figure nonetheless.

Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) have refused to comment on stories linking them to both Manchester United and Liverpool, but their CEO Mansoor Bin Ebrahim Al-Mahmoud has hinted they are exploring the sports market. Al-Khelaifi also sits on the QIA board, again underling how influential he is in the region.

Whether a consortium is private individuals, or an existing singular group, it doesn’t really matter. Any bid would ultimately be aligned with government goals.

But there shouldn’t be any issues with PSG and Manchester United, since QSI would not be directly involved and haven’t held any talks with Manchester United. There is also no direct link (contrary to Wikpedia!) between QSI and QIA. It’s a common misconception that QSI are an affiliate of QSA.

There is a real feeling it’s a big year ahead for Qatar in sports investment. But multiple sources still say it’s “premature” to call anything advanced between Qatar and Manchester United yet, although there is a broad acceptance different investors are circling. But interest, or even entering the process, doesn’t necessarily mean anything concrete will materialise.

And there is still a sense a Saudi-led consortium may enter the race for Manchester United as well. This would actually be a perfect scenario for the Glazers since it would probably give them the best chance of getting the price they wish.

Coming back to QSI specifically, they have only held exploratory talks with Spurs over a stake to date and remain open to minority investment in the Premier League, further illustrating different groups from Qatar are very much exploring the market.

But the fact that Qatar have been linked with Manchester United, held talks with Spurs and are rumoured to be interested in Liverpool (there’s really nothing significant there to date), only shows post-World Cup different groups and individuals are intent on getting a foothold in the Premier League. Over the next few weeks and months, there will be some alignment on what route to take since, as I explain above, whoever moves forward will need wider support and alignment.

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