When Real Madrid tried to sell Gareth Bale, they had a problem.
Nothing to do with talent or the Welshman’s injury history. After all, he won four Champions League titles and scored a number of crucial goals for Los Blancos in those triumphs
Instead, when Bale fell out with Zinedine Zidane and Madrid attempted to move him out in 2019, they found that there was no market for a player being paid up to £600k-a-week.
No-one among Europe’s elite wanted to touch such a figure, especially with Madrid initially wanting a transfer fee.
A deal to China almost solved things when the European window had closed and Madrid decided not to ask for a fee if he went to the Far East – only for Florentino Perez to pull out, much to Bale and his representatives’ annoyance.
Perez moved the goal posts. Bale may have been unwanted and they may have wanted his mega-wages off the book, but he was still ultimately considered too valuable to just give away.
It took until last September for the Spanish giants to finally strike a deal, seeing Bale return to Spurs on loan with Madrid still paying a big chunk of his salary.
For Manchester United, a similar struggle could well be in their not-too-distant future.
Errors started creeping into David de Gea’s game towards the end of the 2018/19 season.
The Spaniard though had built up enough credit and the club, with his future winding down, rewarded him handsomely.
A new £350k-a-week deal keeping him in Manchester until 2023.
It means Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a rather expensive asset at his disposal for another two and a half seasons.
There’s one problem though – he might not need him. United clearly didn’t expect for Dean Henderson to continue his rapid rise and they also did account for De Gea’s continued error count.
The Spaniard is no longer the commanding influence he once was which is why criticism has continued to come his way.
Henderson has returned, but been unable to usurp De Gea as the club’s No 1.
Some may see having two quality goalkeepers as a win-win scenario, but it can also be interpreted as something of a winless scenario.
Henderson is the future and wants to be the present. De Gea is the past and, currently, the present.
Failing to show the Englishman that opportunities will come sooner rather than later could see him seek pastures new.
That would leave United looking for a new No 1 in the coming years.
But keeping Henderson and allowing him to replace De Gea means you have the club’s highest paid player on the bench.
Solskjaer has previously said: “I’m in a very fortunate position to have the goalkeeper department that I have – and it was a conscious decision to bring Dean back to have real competition.
“Dean has made it harder and harder for me, of course, to leave him out because whenever he plays he does really well.
He wasn’t wrong. The decision is getting harder and harder.
The smart money is on Henderson taking over as a starter – United need to take a long-term view to things.
But, just as Madrid showed with Bale, offloading expensive assets who are into their 30s is a near impossible task.
The chiefs at Old Trafford have hardly been hailed for their decision making in recent years so its perhaps in keeping with their methods that we’ve ended up at this junction.
Henderson will now get the chance to stake his claim to be No 1 as he is in line to start for a run of games.
De Gea is celebrating the birth of his first child in his homeland and has been advised to remain there until after the international break.
The 23-year-old kept a clean sheet in the draw at Crystal Palace and made a vital save late on despite being relatively inactive for much of the game.
It underlined his ability to remain sharp and produce when called upon – which is the remit for goalkeepers at top clubs.
Henderson will now play in the Manchester derby and is expected to start in both Europa League games against AC Milan and against Leicester in the FA Cup.
All of those are games where a quality goalkeeping performance could prove the difference.
Henderson’s future has very much been in Solskjaer’s hands up unto this point – his performances in the coming month could almost make him undroppable.
Upon returning from Sheffield United he set his stall out.
“I think it’s clear for everyone to know,” he said. “I want to play for Manchester United and England.
“It feels like I always hit a brick wall. Maybe I’ll get the opportunity [to play for Man Utd], maybe I won’t, then I’ll have to look down a different avenue.”
His avenue is now clearer than it has ever been with De Gea absent, but that doesn’t seem to solve United’s problems.
Their goalkeeping conundrum is something of a double-edged sword.
Few clubs are likely to be in the market for a goalkeeper who turns 31 later this year and earns over £300l-a-week.
PSG have been touted as a destination, but they’ve also been linked with Hugo Lloris. A cheaper alternative who has history with manager Mauricio Pochettino.
It leads itself to suggest that United will continue paying De Gea’s wages until his contract ends – just like Madrid have done with Bale.
The only question is whether they pay an £18m annual salary to a starting goalkeeper or a back-up.