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Is United being pound foolish with the below-26 policy?

Reports filtered in yesterday, starting with the Guardian and the Independent that United have made it a long-term transfer policy of buying players only under 26 years of age.

The reports go on to claim that Berbatov’s purchase was regarded as an exception to this rule. The main thinking behind this is that the resale value of a player would go down significantly if a player over 26 signed on for the club.

Now, on the surface, this could represent sound business sense — going into cashing in on players when their value shoots up; the most recent Ronaldo transfer being a case in point. But it assumes almost every player we buy will always come good.

Scouting talent, as Arsene Wenger would attest, is not exactly a science. It comes with experience, knowledge of an area, and a gifted ability to spot talent. There are a host of intangibles such as ability of an incoming player to adjust to surroundings, weather, food, and physicality, in the case of the Premiership.

The under-26 policy could however assume that we continue our policy of signing exciting talent that’s probably also well known the world around. Nani and Anderson have been examples. However, we can’t really say both have set the world alight like Ronaldo. They may come good in time, but when we buy a lot of young players — hedging bets that they may come good — we must take into account that they might end up being absolute duds too.

This could still make good business sense, but is a blind policy to close one’s mind over an outstanding player over 26 years of age really sensible? Arsenal are considered to be financially prudent because Wenger’s transfer policy mirrors spending well within the club’s means and actually making a profit. But how many trophies do they have to show for it over the past three to four years? It came to a head such that Wenger had to concede defeat and sign Andrei Arshavin.

United’s recent history of signing players has been not in securing some obscure talent out of nowhere like Arsenal, but securing young but expensive talent like Ronaldo, Nani, Anderson, the Serbian duo, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Park, Evra and Carrick to rattle a few off the top of my head. Of course, we also did sign the little known Brazilian twins, Macheda and Petrucci for a song, but at the end of the day, trophies and advancing deep into the Champions’ League would be more financially rewarding every single year, if debts are the main concern for the United board.

Currently this policy rules the likes of Ribery, David Villa, Samuel Eto’o out of the market. And whilst Klaas Jan-Huntelaar is 25 at the moment, he will turn 26 in August, and a strict transfer policy of this kind would completely rule them out.

And another crucial issue that would need to be addressed by the men in power at some point, in light of this policy, is the weight they are willing to put on money earned by selling players over the money earned by winning trophies. Winning more and more titles builds profiles. Building up talent that guarantees a £68m profit is harder to achieve. If more emphasis is put on developing players only to make a profit off them, it would represent a shift in thinking we Manchester United fans need to get used to: are we about to be a selling club? All this is fairly outlandish a thought, and I hope I am proven completely wrong over this.

But I personally think a close minded policy of this kind is foolish, and ridiculous. I really hope we aren’t really following this to the T and will make exceptions where need be. More likely than not, a player at 26 still will have about three years to offer at his peak. (Defenders can go even longer than that) A club must strike the right balance in flexibility of policy and financial prudence, and setting an age like that is far from smart.