Date: 4th December 2009 at 3:29pm
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It is still unclear why Manchester United pulled the plug on the deal to bring Adem Ljajic to the club in January. The young Serbian, touted as a hot prospect, would have cost 10m but United decided not to pursue the transfer. The reasons are vague, to say the least.

After the news broke a club spokesman revealed that the management had not been impressed with Ljajic’s improvement over the past 12 months and that is the sole reason of scrapping the whole thing – and it is NOT down to financial issues at all, no matter what the papers suggested.

However, Mike Phelan offers a slightly different explanation:

“We went down the road of trying to obtain a work permit,” he said.

“We made a tentative approach to get one, and what we got back from the Home Office (or these people you deal with) is that we couldn`t get it through in time for when we had to make a decision on Adem in January.”

“The point then is do you lay out the money for Adem when there is the possibility you could or couldn`t get the work permit? We decided it wasn`t the time to do it.

“I`m not sure how we`ve left the situation to be honest, the manager would be better to answer that, but as it stands at the moment Adem Ljajic won`t be joining us in January.”

What do we know? It is still not certain that Ljajic will not be joining us although it is likely. Second: even official sources have different explanations for this and that’s weird, not to mention disturbing.

If the decision is NOT down to financial reason (as everyone connected with the club insist) then why aren’t the stories checking out? ‘Not impressed by his improvement’ and ‘not being able to secure a work permit’ seems quite different to me – and if a spokesman whose job is to deal with the media does not know the proper answer, well, that’s a pretty major PR mess-up.

So what is it all about? I can offer an explanation for the difference between the explanations but it’s stretching it to breaking point. Here it is: as Ljajic did not progress sufficiently the guys at the office indicated that he could not get a work permit on the grounds of exceptional talent which would be his only chance as he hasn’t played a sufficient number of games for Serbia yet.

But I don’t really believe that and I think that the confusion over the whole business shows that something’s wrong, something’s fishy. Phelan says it’s nothing to do with money and that we tried to secure a permit but it does not sound really convincing, especially with the ‘I’m not sure how we’ve left the situation’ line. We can only hope that it is not about debt repayment and that it’s really only a footballing decision.

What Phelan said made sense: it’d be insane to pay 10M for someone who would not be able to play until next season the earliest. And if that explanation had come straightaway, not after we had heard a different reason from a spokesman, most of us would have accepted it.